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Off Broadway Reviews

Your Own Personal Exegesis

Theatre Review by Kimberly Ramirez - December 5, 2022

Annie Fang, Cole Doman, Savidu Geevaratne, Hanna Cabell,
and Mia Pak

Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Stepping inside Lincoln Center's Claire Tow Theatre for Your Own Personal Exegesis instantaneously transports you to "Redacted Church in Redacted New Jersey." Take a seat with the rest of the congregation in the house-cum-nave. Thumb through the church bulletin that accompanies your program. Listen to the solemn organ prelude. This clever, captivating show chronicles the 1996 calendar year, observing traditional Christian religious holidays at Redacted Church from epiphany through nativity. Satirical scenes prompt pulpit interactions and point to private parts in the parish. Strange secrets transpire beyond the church's closed doors and open archways.

Teenage congregants Addie (Mia Pak), Chris (Cole Doman), Beatrice (Annie Fang), and Brian (Savidu Geevaratne) explore scripture with Reverend Kathy Redacted (Hannah Cabell). Cabell exudes a cool and commanding presence as youth group leader "Rev Kat," the play's only "fully adult" character. The clergical nickname connotes cougar-esque qualities as Rev Kat's devotion to 18-year-old Chris parallels her commitment to the eternal Christ. Teen Chris' "high wide chest" and "smooth marble pallor" inspire impure thoughts and preferential casting as Jesus in the annual Lenten promenade. Rev Kat directs several plays-within-the-play, including Chris' cross-carrying spectacle, an uproarious 24-hour religious experience Danceathon, a liturgical Vietnam War era play adaptation of Old Testament David and Bathsheba, creative remixes of prayers and psalms, and an expressionistically melodramatic Maundy foot washing ceremony. Brett J. Banakis's fluid set design features a retractable stage-within-the-stage–critical for maneuvering metatheatrical feats over rec room courts inside the chambered layout of this typical church. Stowe Nelson's seamless sound design helps delineate the play's layered realms, with brilliant probes into Rev Kat's conscience.

Each character's own personal exegesis of Biblical passages becomes subject to social circumstances. While learning about the penitent prostitute Mary Magdalene, a troubled but tender Chris concludes that tremendous transgressions earn exhilarating absolutions: "The more bad you were ... further away you are, if you come back, the better the forgiveness is." Fascinated by Jesus' 40-day fast and Jatinga's suicidal birds, fragile Addie's advancing anorexia aspires toward an avian apex: "Soon my bones will be bird bones / Points out of my down." When her skin develops "the fur" (a protective hairy layer of lanugo is the emaciated body's way of compensating for lack of fat), Beatrice becomes jealous of Addie's soft, small figure. Marvelous wings appear to sprout from her bony scapulae. Addie protects her protruding shoulder blades, refusing massages during the danceathon and shouting the safe word when Brian touches one during intimacy rehearsal for the liturgical play. Bea sucks at starving and feels stuck in an average, unacknowledged existence. She's skeptical about scripture, "we're all pretending to feel stuff because of beliefs," but she still struggles to fit in with peer believers. Original yet impressionable, she's sidelined by social class, commuting from another neighborhood with her mother, the unseen albeit ever-present church organist. Ultimately, this is Beatrice's memory play, the action culminating in a time shift through 1996. This subtle ending may prove unsatisfactory for some. It was the year she exposed Chris' secret, annoyed by his claim that someone saw her, that she'd already satisfied her urge to feel seen. Bea might have taken her mother for granted, but unlike Chris, she had a mother watching over her.

Pak, Doman, Fang, and Geevaratne are transcendent as the quirky quartet of adolescent parishioners, each manifesting distinctively awkward cadences and stances across shifting social situations. Key musical interludes showcase the company's impressive vocals with tight choral harmonies. ...Exegesis has an exceptional ensemble.

Some of the play's most climactic and comical moments consist of tableaux vivants, smartly sequenced by Annie Tippe (simulating Rev Kat's direction), ethereally illuminated by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew. Wendy Yang's convincing period/contemporary costume combos evoke a chic sheets-over-street clothes aesthetic for Redacted Church's young players (Chris' Christ sports Adidas slides in his pietà with Rev Kat). Addie's complete transformation into a glittering, downy, and wild-beaked crow stays stunning beyond the crucifixion, clawing and flapping among Banakis's sanctuary stars.

Your Own Personal Exegesis
Through December 31, 2022
Claire Tow Theatre at Lincoln Center
150 West 65th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam)
Tickets online and current performance schedule: