The Mysteries is a theatrical and musical journey through most of the love, violence, power struggles, betrayals, and miracles from the Bible. The show is a compilation of short plays from 48 different playwrights that rework themes and stories chosen from both the Old and New Testaments. Every element of the performance works to take the audience through a closer experience of the Bible. Spectators sit in two rows of chairs on two sides of a long passageway, where most of the action takes place. The relatively small area is surrounded by transparent vinyl strip curtains, just as those used in meat lockers, stained with blood. These curtains work as walls to confine the audience within a space of religious myth and give an ingenious visual clue about the bloody events that they will witness. Yet Jason Sherwood’s scenic design does not only emphasize the violence since it also opens the possibilities for beautiful moments, as when performers's heads holding apples in their mouths come through the vinyl curtains tempting Adam and Eve with the forbidden fruit. Seth Reiser’s lighting design works harmoniously alongside Sherwood's designs. Reiser’s effects range from the intense red light that drowns the performing space in blood to the softer lighting that engulfs in shadows the more intimate moments.
Some of the plays are more directly linked to the source material, such as that of Noah, Abraham, and the life of Jesus, among others. That is not to say that these were performed in a traditional way. For example, in Mallery Avidon’s The Flood, humanity reacts in unison to the coming of the deluge with a resounding “fuck!,” while in Nick Jones’s Fruitful and Begettin’, the characters in Abraham’s story come from the deep South and seem to be directly related to the Duck Dynasty family. Most of the plays included in the second act, such as those by José Rivera, Jeff Whitty, and Gabriel Jason Dean, depict various moments in Jesus’s life. Most of the plays portray Jesus as a polyamorous and pansexual leader who is seriously conflicted about the decisions he must make, which will lead him to his ultimate sacrifice. Nevertheless, Whitty’s The Last Supper also underscores Judas Iscariot’s secret sacrifice since he was not only Jesus’s most loved disciple, but he is also persuaded by Jesus himself to betray him thereby laying the foundations for the new church. These playwrights throw new light on these familiar stories.
Other playwrights, such as Max Posner, Bill Cain, and Lloyd Suh, anchor their plays on certain themes; yet depart from the source material. Posner’s The Woman Taken in Adultery focuses on the hypocrisy of those who judge others when a man discovers his neighbor’s adulterous secret as he was coming to ask for some butter. While Cain’s Resurrection proposes that Jesus resurrected as a homeless person in Brooklyn, Suh’s The Next Supper explores the meeting between Jesus and his father, Joseph/God, after he died in the cross. These plays illustrate the smaller moments that escape the epic proportions of the more familiar stories.
The Mysteries has a cast of 54 great actors who are able to muster very energetic performances throughout a show that lasts five hours and a half. All performances shine as part of the ensemble. Matthew Jeffers’s tyrannical God works marvelously together with Asia Kate Dillon’s defiant yet tender Lucifer. At the same time, Rory Kulz’s nosy neighbor is fun to watch as he squirms when accused of being a hypocrite by Janice Amaya’s strong woman. The director, Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, does a great job of weaving together the different short plays into one mostly cohesive show. Yet this is also one of its main downfalls since some of the pieces do not quite come together and the audience is confused when going from one play to the next. The director must pay closer attention to those transitions. Nevertheless, in the end, the audience is made part of a truly communal experience that is not religious, but human at heart.
The Mysteries is playing at The Flea Theater until May 25. The performance has two intermissions and includes nudity. Tickets range from $15 to $125 and include dinner and dessert.