JESUS TONIGHT, at the Performance Loft, Second Unitarian Church of Chicago. A one-man play about Jesus starring the playwright might seem an audacious proposition. But there's no evidence of offensive intent in Neil Elliott's gently fanciful speculations on the "lost years" in Christ's life, between his birth and the start of his ministry.
Adopting a gruff, good-humored tone practically devoid of actorly affectation, Elliott introduces his persona, who then proceeds to discuss his life and times, presenting a vivid picture of the ancient world--diverse cultures filled with discovery and tension--and placing the events recorded in the Gospels in their historical, political, and social contexts. Elliott also paints an intimate picture of everyday life: Mary weeps, as any mother might, on her son's first day at school. Jesus's reply ("Don't cry, mother--I'll come back") is of course premonitory.
Jesus Tonight touches only briefly on its subject's well-documented public appearances. And some of its more imaginative claims--that Jesus was briefly married, for example--may be plausible yet stretch the credulity of the devout. But there's no denying the educational value of Elliott's provocative, intellectually stimulating (if theologically fuzzy) insights in this refreshingly anti-mystical "biography."
--Mary Shen Barnidge