|Laura Irene Young shines in one-character play Credit: Heather Mull|
When I first heard of the title of the new play that opened Friday evening at the Carnegie Stage, I was immediately aroused.
Was this the work of a mystical playwright who thought of herself as a contemporary version of St. Catherine of Sienna, a saint who had a vision of going through a mystical marriage ceremony with Christ in the presence of the Virgin Mary?
On further reflection, I thought it might be that I was pronouncing the word Jesus wrong and that it should be pronounced Hay-seuss, like Hispanics say the name? The play, then, might be the work of some South-of-the-Border playwright who recently went through a traumatic divorce and wanted to tell the story through the vehicle of dramatic art.
I was wrong on both counts. It seems that the author is an actress who married an actor who worked at a religious theme park where he either portrayed Jesus or the one who crucifies him in the guise of the Centurion Guard.
The drama with music is based on the ten-year relationship of playwright, Laura Irene Young, with a man she was smitten with ever since they both worked one season at the same summer stock theater. At the time, the actor, whose name is left unmentioned, was dating another woman in the troupe, but eventually Young and her fellow Thespian grew so fond of one another that they shared the same apartment.
During a production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, the actor, who played the role of an Elvis-looking pharaoh, called Young up on stage and proposed. The actual video footage of the proposal (the man’s face is blotted out by a cartoon image) is projected on a screen at the back of the off the Wall stage.
An elated Young coyly accepts the proposal with visions of marital bliss in her future. Oblivious to the red flags projected on the screen as cautionary symbols and the previous warnings uttered by her mother, a palm reader who foresees trouble in the actor’s future, she seals her fate with a marriage contract.
Things appear to go blissfully well until Young learns about an actress from a nearby theme park who plays the role of Mary Magdalene and is having an affair with her husband just a few months after their marriage.
Not only does the young bride have to cope with her husband’s adultery, she also learns that he wants her out of the apartment in a few days. How much more can one woman handle?
To keep her mind off her woes, she plunges into work, juggling class time with studying while trying to earn a Master’s Degree and cope with her mental anguish. Adding salt to her wounds, the adulterous couple sends her Biblical text messages that underscore the importance of forgiveness.
At some point, the nameless ex-groom tries for a nuptial rapprochement, but Young will have none of it. For the next ten so years, however, she continues to have deep feelings for the cad she can’t seem to shake.
If you can believe it, this one woman show has many humorous moments, intermixed with the palpable pain you’d expect for someone so dastardly treated. There’s a smile across Young’s face for much of the evening as she relates her tale of distress, bravely letting it all hang out in front of her audience. Talk about transparency. This woman could be the poster child for honesty and frank talk of the most intimate kind.
Entwined in the narrative are moments when Young plays a ukulele or electric keyboard and sings her heart out with lyrics nothing short of luminous.
Projections on the wall add color and context to her monologue, which, though a mere 80 minutes in length, touch on so many emotions and insights, I was thoroughly captivated by almost every word and gesture.
Young provides and uplifting coda to her story, one that seems to mollify her angst and point her towards a more contented, hopeful and enjoyable future. With unconfirmed rumors swirling around the lobby after the show that it might move on to New York City, there’s also talk of a sequel. This is definitely one play to take note of.
Note: I just received confirmation that When Jesus Divorced Me will open in a New York theater on November 8.
When Jesus Divorced Me is at the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main Street in Carnegie, through October 21. For tickets, go to https://www.ticketor.com/carnegiestage/tickets.