Friday, 17 March 2017

Religion and Triple Threat and Propaganda

L'espirit de notre Religion est directement oppose a celui de la Tragedie. L'humilite et la patience de nos Saintes sont trop contraires aux vertus des Heros que demande le Theatre.

Saint-Evremond, De la Tragedie ancienne et moderne (1672)

Eric Bentley's defense of the Spanish 'Christian tragedies' (The Life of the Drama, 117 - 119) presents The Trickster of Seville and Damned for Lack of Trust as 'plays of ideas'. The theology that underpins both scripts is tested against 'the natural impulse' and Bentley recognises in their authors - both 'priests without heretical tendencies' - as dramatists rather than simple propagandists for their God. 

Lucy McCormick is doing something rather different with Triple Threat: it takes Jesus and exposes the familiar story of the New Testament to popular culture. What emerges is too easily enjoyed as a blasphemous mockery - tedious liberals invoke its potential blasphemy to remind themselves how liberal they are, not to add to the show's power. It takes a tiny shift in perception to see it not as a critique of Christianity through pop culture, but a critique of pop culture from a Christian cynicism. Triple Threat tells the gospel in a time when sanctity has been stripped away and, for all McCormick's skills as a singer - or the sharp moves of her to 'buff' co-stars - exposes the failure of contemporary culture to offer anything more than celebrity and half-remembered porn tropes.

Watching Jesus - performed by a woman, already a challenge to orthodoxy, natch - getting fingered off Doubting Thomas; replacing frankincense with frankfurters; having Jesus get a snog off Judas; dismissing the teachings of Christ with a shrug: McCormick doesn't undermine the validity of religion, she ignores it. Driven by her (character's) desire to be famous, the Messiah is replaced by a performer who is only concerned with their ego, trying to find meaning in a familiar mythology but only twisting it to promote herself.

It's a bit like watching the career of Madonna reduced to an hour. It plays off a series of lively tensions: McCormick's sly performance art sensibility and her musical theatre chops undermine her egotism but allow her to deliver the emotion in even the most obvious musical choices. When she arrives on stage, singing into a dildo (which she mistook for a microphone), she is already revealing her (character's) absurdity. Taking on all of the important roles in the New Testament raises the stakes. Reducing the Bible down to a few theatrically effective moments reflects a crass ambition that refuses to be impressed by anything.

It's surprising how robust Christianity can be: even in mockery, it holds a seriousness that undermines the critique and offers a quiet counterblast to the roar and display of contemporary pop culture (which is all a bunch of empty tropes, anyway). 

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