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I'm Not Jesus Christ

Maria Manolescu
Paper Cut Theatre
Theatre N16

I'm Not Jesus Christ

This short play by award-winning Romanian playwright Maria Manolescu presents eleven-year-old Mihai Ionescu whose mother claims he is Jesus Christ in his Second Coming. She has brought him up to believe it, protecting him from contact with the bad people outside so he has never been to school and never seen television which represents the baddest of badness.

His father is referred to as "Lordy-Lordy", never seen but she says always on the lookout for him. They may be very poor that but doesn’t worry him: if they ran out of food he could miraculously make some and mum could easily make them rich. Her tears turn into pearls, though she never cries now because, she says, she is always happy.

Mihai doesn’t really want to be Jesus. His hero is racing driver Michael Schumacher; he wants to be like him. Now he believes it is his birthday: his birth certificate says so, his twelfth one, naming his mother Maria and father "unknown", but his mum says his birthday is Christmas. What hope has he got of getting the car that he wants for his birthday?

While mother is out, he innocently invites in the girl outside with a promising cake. She is on the game and thinks he’s a client but anyway she’s hungry. But he doesn’t have cake and when praying very, very hard doesn’t produce any miracles. Except one: he can stop time, freeze the moment.

Though apparently based on a real-life story, this is no documentary drama. It's a play lacking ordinary logic—how has Mihai even heard of Michael Schumaker for instance—but in its surreal way it is probably trying to say something serious. Something about the enveloping nature of belief, the need for love, the way in which Caeusescu’s Romania was cut off from things, references to Romania’s formerly horrific orphanages as palaces adding to the irony. But, however savage the satire, it seems too generalised to carry political or emotional bite. What we have is a surreal farce splattered with grand guignol gore.

Andrei Costin gives this Christ Child, who isn’t a vulnerable innocence, a genuine lack of worldly experience.

What work best in Melissa Dunne’s production are the moments when this Christ Child, a boy waking up to sexual stirrings he doesn’t understand, performs his theatrical trick of stopping the action, usually to interrupt violence.

It is then that he tells New Testament stories, acted out to his narration. He shows us his own Immaculate Conception, his mother visited by an inseminating angel played by an actress with a bright orange carrot for a cock; he escapes Herod (Caesescu?) in his imaginary car and a succession of other incidents in cartoon modern versions.

With mother Maria going wild with a hatchet, an angel attempting to resurrect corpses with a kiss of life that isn’t so innocent and an escalating carnage that has to end with the cross, it's a savage attack on all kinds of dogma that is surely meant to be funny. Indeed, it is being promoted as “a darkly humorous tale” yet, despite blow-up sex dolls as blood-smeared, butchered bodies corpses it raised little laughter.

With a thin house and an aerobics or Zumba class going on below to compete with, the cast had a hard time of it. This kind of comedy needs a lighter touch. When audiences sniff serious content, they need a not-too-discreet nudge to tell them that laughter is intended. That, or a very different audience, might have made the play to take off. When I saw it, it didn’t.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton