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ion scores again

By Charlene Baldridge

Prepare for ‘tighty whiteys’ and bawdy language

Hardly anyone makes a big deal of its consistent excellence and ion theatre at Sixth and Pennsylvania avenues just keeps turning out splendid little miracles in the dark.

A case in point is Wayne Lemon’s “Jesus Hates Me,” a dark comedy so wacky and off the wall it might have been written with ion co-directors Glenn Paris and Claudio Raygoza in mind. “Jesus Hates Me” continues at the Hillcrest theater through May 14.

The two directors have a knack for casting talented actors, melding them into a tight ensemble and building jaw-dropping sets that fill their comfortable and compact playing space. Most of all, though, they have a talent for finding and staging what’s visceral and rings true. Some may complain about “language” — and do — but it is real and gritty, just like life.

Richard Johnson and Connor Sullivan (Courtesy ion theatre)

Richard Johnson and Connor Sullivan (Courtesy ion theatre)

“Jesus Hates Me,” which really skewers the state of Texas and the state of its denizens, concerns a loosely-related group of small town folks who live somewhere in West Texas today. Most of the characters are likely to live there forever; the protagonist wants to escape.

Raygoza’s design encompasses a miniature golf course replete with an Airstream travel trailer and, a short distance away, a bar run by Lizzy (Dana Fares), who’s been in love with 25-year old Ethan (Connor Sullivan) since they were in high school. Her brother Georgie (Charlie Gange) is the bartender. Having failed to kill himself in a suicide attempt, Georgie speaks with an electronic device that replaces the larynx he lost.

Ethan, who is “a stranger in his own life,” wants to escape to Colorado where his cousin has offered him a job on a dude ranch, a perfect means of escape, but he worries what will become of his mother, Annie (Lisel Gorell-Getz), with whom he runs the Blood of the Lamb Miniature Golf Course.

Other than Ethan, the mentally unstable Annie’s current obsession is Jesus, a manikin filched from the trash bin at Wal-Mart and beautifully appointed. He keeps blowing off his cross on the 17th hole despite duct tape and other ministrations.

Ethan’s best friend, the play’s truth-teller, is Trane (Laurence Brown), who prides himself on being the only African-American deputy sheriff in Texas. He and Ethan toke a bit and talk outside the trailer where Ethan still lives with Annie.

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Connor Sullivan, Dana Fares, Richard Johnson, Laurence Brown, Lisel Gorell- Getz and Charlie Gange (Courtesy ion theatre)

When the ne’er-do-well Boone (Richard Johnson), long a butt of their practical jokes, gets caught by the cuckold having an affair with the undertaker’s wife (the undertaker was his boss) and has to go on the lam (everyone in West Texas has a rifle), he heads to the Airstream for refuge, something that eventually blows the lid off Ethan’s escape attempt.

Anyone who’s experienced Gorell-Getz over the years knows her prowess. She assays the conflicted Annie splendidly, without over emoting. Brown, too, is a known quantity, and he is excellent here.

Having heard about Sullivan and seen him in small roles in big theaters, it is thrilling to see him in a big role in a small theater. No faking it up close. He is the genuine item, natural and convincing. There’s plenty of hilarity and Fares offers depth and poignancy as Lizzy.

The play is bound to please those who love beefcake as well as fine acting. My eyes knew not where to go during an extended scene played in Jockey briefs by Johnson and Sullivan.

JesusHatesMesidebarCostume design is by Mary Summerday, fight choreography by George Ye, choreography by Michael Mizerany, and exceptional sound, scenic and lighting design by Raygoza. Don’t miss this one.

— Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenebaldridge.com or reach her at charb81@gmail.com

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