Christ is a stranger in a strange land in 'Jesus in India' 

click to enlarge Missing years: Damon Daunno plays the title character in Magic Theatre’s “Jesus in India,” an appealing, satirical account of Christ’s life when he was a young man. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Missing years: Damon Daunno plays the title character in Magic Theatre’s “Jesus in India,” an appealing, satirical account of Christ’s life when he was a young man.

So apparently there are a bunch of years in the life of Jesus that are unaccounted for, when he was a teenager. Playwright Lloyd Suh, whose dysfunctional-Korean-family comedy “American Hwangap” was such a hit for the Magic Theatre three seasons ago, let loose his imagination to create a theatrical explanation for those missing years.

In the hilariously anachronistic “Jesus in India,” a premiere at the Magic, the 18-year-old titular character (a curly-headed and appealingly affable Damon Daunno) has run away from home after receiving disturbing news from his presumed father, Joseph the carpenter.

Jesus, in shorts and T-shirt, is riding a camel-headed tricycle-built-for-two on the Silk Road with another runaway, Abigail of Galilee (Jessica Lynn Carroll, amusing but annoyingly screechy-voiced).

He takes off for some “me time,” leaving über-bitchy Abigail stranded, and falls in with the only other people in the desert, a pair of really bad musicians who are trying to form a band: glassy-eyed, permanently wasted Gopal (Bobak Bakhtiari) and high-strung Sushil (Jomar Tagatac).

There’s also Sushil’s 15-year-old sister, seductive Mahari (Mahira Kakkar).

This is very funny, satirical stuff. Suh has a finely tuned ear for nonsensical and faux-philosophical stoner banter and pontification.

Michael Locher’s colorful set design enhances Suh’s goofy pseudo-biblical world: a pile of old bicycle parts in the center of the playing area; rock ’n’ roll stickers affixed to every available surface, including the four structural pillars that define the stage space; little sparkly blue, red and yellow lights overhead, some extending into the seating area; and a sort of mandala design painted onto the floor.

Of course, comedy or not, at some point in the play Jesus has to start becoming Christ-like.

Unfortunately, this happens by way of a theatrical device, involving a vision of Mother Mary, that lacks internal logic and results in our hero’s unconvincingly sudden — rather than more gradual and organic — transformation from irresponsible pothead to savior-to-be.

There’s a slack period around the middle of the play — with the band on tour in ancient lands and playing to empty houses — when the story slows down for the sake of a lot of purposely bad, and some quite good, music (original songs by Daunno, who plays a mean guitar and sings soulfully).

But the play’s ending is wry and affecting, and director Daniella Topol and her multicultural ensemble squeeze every ounce of humor from Suh’s script. Above all, the laughs just keep coming.


THEATER REVIEW

Jesus in India

Presented by Magic Theatre

Where: Building D, Fort Mason, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 19
Tickets: $45 to $60
Contact: (415) 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Bio:
Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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