What is it that God does to keep the world in order? That question — and others like it — are at the core of “The Amazing Jesus,” Ixion Theatre’s season opener. The world premiere, penned by Michigan-based artist O.G. Ueberroth, is a magical realism play about life, death and the afterlife that takes place in a small Mexican village.
It is an odd moment in theater criticism when stage make-up and exotic costumes get top billing. But in this case, after a very slowly developing first act, the wild and crazy second act, featuring characters in chalk-decorated masks, takes this play to a whole new level. That face paint, interestingly, can actually bring out nuances in actors — including some who plodded through Act One.
Opening night seemed to bring anxious jitters to actor Susan Chmurynsky, who played central character Tia Nacha. At times, it seemed she had forgotten her lines completely. This is somewhat understandable, insofar as her character provides multiple mundane self-help bromides to her niece, Leticia, played extraordinarily well by Lauren Ezzo.
Ian Henretty plays Jesus (pronounced in the Hispanic manner), a street magician whose magic powers seem to come and go randomly. The dynamic duo of Henretty and frequent LCC Theatre Program partner Heath Sartorius, as Tio Bocho, continues an unbroken run of solid performances. When the two are on stage together, the dialogue moves along briskly with vigorous animation. On the other hand, actors Angela Dill, as Moon, and her counterpart Charlsie Cole, as La Lorena, spend a lot of time on stage at a table without much of substance to say. It’s an odd pairing, as Dill is overly exaggerative and Cole is close to deadpan.
To some extent, however, both characters redeem themselves in Act Two. The action begins with Moon peering through the curtains, revealing the bizarre, textured richness of brightly painted Dia de los Muertes masks and elaborate rainbow-colored costumes. Kudos to make-up artist Sadonna Croff and costumer Katy Kettles for waking up the audience, energizing the actors and assisting in pulling the message of the play together.
This is a play that raises questions and provides few answers. If one’s faith is absolute, unequivocal, if one never has doubts, never questions notions about the nature of life, is that really life? There are serious existential questions in this play, including what one does to make sense of life after major traumatic losses. Ueberroth has done a good job of stirring the pot here, reminding us that trauma and death are not quite as easy to explain away as some might wish.
“The Amazing Jesus”
8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1; 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2
$15 The Robin Theatre
1105 S. Washington Ave., Lansing
(517) 775-4246, ixiontheatre.com