By Jeff Kubik
Rick Miller isn’t actually Jesus, but he plays one on TV, onscreen at any rate… on stage. In a postmodern, theatrical liturgy complete with projectors and digital recording equipment, it becomes a little difficult to say.
"It’s a multimedia mass for a multimedia age," says Miller of his one-man show, Bigger Than Jesus. "With meaning for anyone disenfranchised with organized religion."
Though theatregoers and cultural aficionados are likely familiar with Jesus’ portrayal on stage and in print, adaptations aiming to distance themselves from traditional, organized religion have taken a critical, even offensive edge. Taking the words of the Catholic liturgy and familiar stories surrounding the death of Jesus, Miller’s production offers a religious approach not often seen on stage: reverence.
"I had realized that I knew the entire liturgy by heart even though I hadn’t been in years, and that these words were really beautiful outside of their immediate religious context," explains Miller. "I began to understand why my mother goes to church every day. There’s definitely a sense of comfort in the ritual."
Though the show borrows heavily from the Catholic canon, Miller explains the production is intended to be a personal exploration, independent of rigid dogma and opting instead for an open-ended questioning of the character of Jesus.
"I think there’s a real hunger for spirituality disassociated from religion," he says. "Because these questions are unanswerable, they’re powerful themes to explore."
Originating in the travelling morality plays of the Middle Ages, the bond between spirituality and theatre remains a persistent theme in drama-there is the sense that a spirit has passed between audience and performer. For Miller, despite the extensive use of multimedia in the production, it is this spirit that defines his production, uplifting audiences with the assistance of shiny new technology.
"There’s an almost spiritual mystery in theatre and I think technology can be used in a truly transcendent way. Even the projector is incorporated as a sacred element of our own liturgy, making my character literally ‘bigger than life.’ I want to share that feeling of wondering with the audience."
Bigger Than Jesus runs through Sun., Jan. 25 at the Vertigo Mystery Theatre.