This weekend at the Power Center, God and the Devil will fight an epic battle of wit and will. They will test human faith and endurance. They will drag one man from the zenith of success to the pit of destruction and back again.
And all this takes place within a traveling circus populated by student actors and, believe it or not, football stars.
The Department of Theater and Drama presents Pulitzer Prize-winning play “J.B.,” a sweeping tale of morality and humanity based on the Book of Job. That’s right, the biblical story of a virtuous man put to the test by combined efforts of a punishing God and Satan who tortures the believer with all manners of misfortune.
The third Theatre Department production of the semester, “J.B.” is faculty-directed and student-performed. Music, Theater and Dance junior Dylan Saunders plays Job with seniors Pat Rourke as God and Alex Polcyn as Lucifer. However, in modernist poet Archibald MacLeish’s world, God is Mr. Zuss, the Devil is Mr. Nickles, and Job is J.B. – all members of an ensemble of circus performers.
A biblical tale may not strike you as a particularly entertaining way to spend a Saturday evening. But Music, Theater and Dance Prof. Philip Kerr assured us that “J.B.” is a piece of theatre students will not want to miss. He explained that the play “is an immensely accessible, powerful piece of theater. It points to our humanity and what we as a people have in common.”
Questions such as the idea of an omnipotent God, why things happen and how we can possibly deal with them are the backbone of the story of Job.
Asked about the story’s contemporary significance, Kerr suggested contemplating some of the lovely bumper stickers on highways. One that comes quickly to mind is “Life’s a bitch, and then you die,” or the more concise, “Shit happens.” The late MacLeish lived through WWI, WWII, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, Vietnam – he saw a lot of shit happen. “J.B.” was his way of exploring how humans can cope with such devastation while still maintaining something akin to hope.
Lofty ideas abound, but dry is something “J.B.” is not. Kerr makes that point clear. “We want (the audience) to have a compelling and thoughtful two hours of theater,” he said. “The show is entertaining: not heavy, not sentimental, but palatable, accessible, enjoyable and just plain fun.” After all, this show is set in a circus.
Kerr described MacLeish’s work as “a play that deals with big issues, in a big way.” “J.B.” will be performed in the Power Center, a formidable theater of more than 1,300 seats. The soaring proscenium frames a dynamic and diverse cast of young actors and the aforementioned football players.
Chad Henne, Jake Long, Jamar Adams and Will Johnson will be on stage, out of uniform and into costume. They are treading the boards, gunning for a new experience and some extra academic credits (all actors receive credits for their work in University productions). Quarterback Henne – cast rather appropriately as the Ringmaster – advertised the play in a recent interview for EBuzz OnSite Blog.
“It’s a serious play, but there’s a lot of laughs, there’s a lot of good times in it and I think everyone will enjoy it,” Henne said.
Complete with God, the Devil, a circus and a few fabulous football celebrities, “J.B.” brings it all – or, at least, most of it.
Tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
At the Power Center