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The Messiah: The silliest story ever told (That’s a compliment.)

by | Dec 5, 2022 | Review | 0 comments

publicity photo for Pacific Theatre's The Messiah

The happy couple: Peter Carlone as Mary and John Voth as Joseph
(Chelsey Stuyt Photography)

You have to be smart to be dumb. Or wily. Or at least have good instincts. Okay, I don’t really know how they do it, but, playing a couple of goofballs in Pacific Theatre’s production of The Messiah, Peter Carlone and John Voth are very funny and very engaging.

For the first few minutes, I didn’t think I was going to get into The Messiah: something about the set-up seemed cliché. Two guys let us know they’re going to tell the story of the birth of Christ — as a two-hander. Voth plays John Oliver Bunion, the artistic director of the National Theatre of Port Coquitlam, and Carlone becomes a character named Peter, who’s new to the acting game but throwing himself into it. Bunion is a pompous performer, which is a stereotype: I think that’s what put me off.

But stereotypes have their uses. Bunion’s pomposity is part of a time-honoured clowning dynamic: the relationship between stock characters called the Joey and the Auguste. The high-status Joey is the embodiment of social order: he bosses the Auguste around, enforces the rules, and can be cruel, while the Joey is like a little kid or a puppy, a force of innocent chaos. Because he’s so openhearted and full of surprises, the Auguste is the one who wins our hearts — but you need both types to make the dynamic work.

And Carlone’s performance as Peter won me over: I could not resist his characterization of Mary. When Joseph arrives at her workshop and she sees him for the first time, Carlone’s inflection of “Hello!” lets us know right away that she’s a little fox. Later, when Mary’s pregnant and feeling a bit tetchy, she says of her older and equally pregnant friend Elizabeth, “She’s having John the Baptist, isn’t she? And doesn’t she just know it!” Playing across gender, Carlone nails these moods and the accuracy of his observations, combined with the drag spin, makes them hilarious.

Carlone also brings fantastically random creativity to the table — his pronunciation of the word baby, for instance. Just wait.

Joeys are rarely as directly funny as Augustes, but, committing himself to Bunion’s narcissism, Voth knows exactly what he’s doing, including in his sincere/self-satisfied delivery of the line: “I myself look within myself to find myself … all by myself.”

There’s also a third character in The Messiah, a soprano named Mrs. Iris Flowers, who shows up (slightly late) and, throughout the story, sings snippets from Handel’s oratorio Messiah — but I could never really figure out Mrs. Flowers’s function in this piece. Performer Karen Ydenberg has a ravishing voice, but playwright Patrick Barlow doesn’t give the character enough stage time for the beauty of the music she sings to really sink in. And, if the idea was to provide gravitas in counterpoint to the silliness of the rest of the show, Barlow undercuts that by making Mrs. Flowers a standard-issue diva. But my bafflement about this element didn’t really get in the way.

Two days after seeing Pacific Theatre’s The Messiah, I’m still laughing out loud about it. That’s a high recommendation.

THE MESSIAH by Patrick Barlow. Directed by Ian Farthing. A Pacific Theatre production at Pacific Theatre on Saturday, December 3. Continues until December 17. Tickets and information

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