Alley’s religious satire ‘…Illuminati’ mocks, shocks and explores

Stars JP Lebangood (Top) and Paul Curry

‘Some Things you need to know before the World Ends: A Final Evening with the Illuminati’ is an appropriately long-winded title for a two-man meditation on sanity, religion and paranoia. Appropriate in that ‘…Illuminati’, which debuted at Louisville’s The Alley Theater last weekend, is anything but concise, and yet strangely compelling and thought-provoking as tiny glimmers of truth peak through amidst a wave of mockery, calamity and human frailty. This piece will outright challenge all but the most existential of audience members, but for those willing to meet the material halfway in the contemplation department there is a lot to latch onto.

The primary narrative of ‘…Illuminati’ takes place within a derelict church as Reverend Eddie (Paul Curry) haphazardly vacillates between crafting his ultimate sermon, acting as a mentor of sorts (often abusively so) for his physically challenged assistant Brother Lawrence (JP Lebangood), conducting an actual protestant service with the audience serving as the congregation and scurrying around in fear of a secretive organization known as the Illuminati. Mixed in throughout the production are brief vignettes which serve as bizarrely off-color parables to the main story, and allow for Curry and Lebangood to assume the roles of Saints Paul and Timothy alongside Death and others. Written by Larry Larson and Levi Lee, and here directed by Joey Arena, ‘..Illuminati’ made its original mark on the Derby City with its 1986 debut at the Humana Festival.

Paul Curry’s Reverend Eddie speaks in strings of broken thoughts and emphasizes key words with jarring shouts reminiscent of someone doing an impression of Captain Kirk with Alzheimer’s while JP Lebangood’s Brother Lawrence is equal parts Hunchback of Notre Dame, Howdy-Doody and Gomer Pyle. And, yes those are positive qualities, as both performances go a long way towards completing the illusion of madness at hand. Indeed, this central dynamic of the deranged but well-intentioned mentor and the affable simpleton capable of moments of unintended revelation (and perhaps even more) is just about the only anchor through which general miasma of ‘…Illuminati’ can be navigated and as such it is a great credit to both Curry and Lebangood that each carries his respective cross (obligatory religious pun) with impressive ease and instant charm.

The aforementioned service and sermon takes place in disjointed chunks throughout the material and acts as a through-the-looking-glass butchery of form that would do James Joyce and his stately, plump Buck Mulligan proud. More often scolding that preaching, Curry and director Joey Arena have a lot of fun here by repeatedly turning up the audience lights and even sending a basket around for the collection of donations, the meagerness of which the Reverend also scolds his congregation for. Meanwhile, the parable vignettes allow for an impressive display of range, especially in the case of Lebangood, and include a number of memorable moments such as musical performance called ‘Jesus was a Lutheran’.

‘…Illuminati’ could be defined as an apocalyptic religious satire or as a study of insanity but both monikers are ultimately lacking for a production as dense as this. It is an explosion of hopes and fears, of mortality, of innocence and regret. It is a parable in itself and it is unapologetically challenging in its execution. That being said, whether it be the excellent performances, the tight writing or the moments of sincere hilarity, it also provides plenty of lines by which to be hooked and brought into the fray. Audience reaction will vary greatly, but if accompanied by deliberate and open-minded reflection, it would be difficult for most to walk away from ‘…Illuminati’ without some morsel of newfound insight.

More information available via The Alley‘s website.

More articles by me here.

Chris Ritter <<<<<< <<<<<<