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Jawbone of an Ass

Wednesday, 24 August, 2011

Knockabout religious satire

Edinburgh – Hill Street Theatre – 5-29 August 2011 –  2000 (1hr)

Jawbone of an Ass begins in gentle, suburban America as playwright Nan Schmid takes to the stage in a pink quilted and embroidered housecoat and slippers, playing Paige Marie Hollister. The darker nature of the world she inhabits becomes clearer immediately as the radio is turned on to reveal fervent religious broadcasts and the fact that some form of respected religious figure. Dr Peter Admore is coming to town to offer his assistance after the disappearance of Paige Marie’s husband Roy.

The atmosphere is built further by the arrival of Paige-Marie’s untrustworthy friend Cora Ann – portrayed with aplomb and a spooky fervour by Liza Coyle –  who repeatedly subjects herself to electric shocks my licking her hand then sticking it into the socket.

When the suited preacher, played by Jim Anzide (who also directs), arrives, he weeps as he sheds tears of love, not for his followers or even his deity, but out of appreciation for the words he himself has just said. Dr Admore doesn’t even seem to be a figure who deserves to have followers, as in his office he will dress up any manner of slacking by claiming that he’s praying.

The mystery surrounding Roy’s disappearance is heightened by the constant references to his ‘condition’. It is then explained that Roy has a tendency to get to know himself personally, in the Biblical sense, in public. Moments like the ensuing array of great euphemisms for masturbation are those which demonstrate the strength in Nan Schmid’s writing.

The piece as a whole runs at a screwball pace with surreal elements including cross dressing, Pillsbury bake-offs  and murder thrown in. The cast carry off the swift changes in location and costume well and while the set is very simple with different scenes displayed on a roller blind, there are several costume changes and the selection on offer is well chosen. Particularly the use of a black tutu.

The female actors were very obviously wearing wigs, and that didn’t really seem justified unless it was a particular aspect of the characters’ beliefs that they should not expose their own hair, but that wasn’t a detail which was touched upon in anyway.  It’s a knockabout comedy with some messages about the wisdom behind blindly following anything – one repeated sound effect is the bleating of sheep which punctuates the play and appears after the characters’ mantra “We Are Saved To Serve”.

This is not an overtly offensive play as the characters clearly represent extremes and their beliefs aren’t what anyone in the audience would (we hope) completely share. It may not fully serve as a detailed satirical mocking of Christianity, but it creates a fun world for an audience to visit for an hour.

Cast credits:  Jim Anzide – Dr Peter Admore.  Liza Coyle – Cora Ann.  Nan Schmid – Paige Marie Hollister.

Company credits:  Writer – Nan Schmid. Director – Jim Anzide. Company – Mortimer Olive Productions.

© Chandrika Chevli 2011

Reviewed on August 22nd 2011

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