by Lynn on August 24, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ont.

Written by Robert Winslow, Ben Henderson, Marianne Copithorne, Murray McCune & Edward Lyskeiwicz.
Directed by Kim Blackwell
Costumes by Anne Redish
Choreography by Monica Dottor
Performed by: Dian Marie Bridge
Alison J. Palmer
Jeff Schissler
Robert Winslow
Tim Ziegler

A rousing televangelist tv show complete with all the hucksterism one might expect and a dandy performance by Robert Winslow as the charismatic huckster himself.

The Story. Reverend Bobby Angel has brought his bible-thumping, sin-blasting televised revival meeting to a barnyard in Cavan Monaghan Township, Canada, 2015. Normally he tours the United States with his sermons against sin and evil ways, and now feels Canada could use his hell-fire and brimstone. He rails against everything from same-sex marriage to Twitter. He heals on cue. One of his followers is Dean Goodman. He was married but had cancer. He saw Reverend Angel on TV reaching out to him and so Dean left his good wife to follow the Reverend. Dean is convinced that his cancer is in remission as a result. But then Angel is challenged by an unbeliever and matters take a turn.

The Production. We are in the barnyard of a farm that looks like the idyllic setting for Winslow Farm, near Millbrook, Ont. The dark-suited Orville, all smiles and oozing good will and excitement, announces that Reverend Bobby Angel is on his way. Orville is a member of Angel’s flock and softens up the crowd with hymns and lame jokes. He is joined by his over-enthusiastic and over-made-up wife Tammy. She does a lot of the singing and dabs at her constantly runny mascara. Tammy cries a lot in sympathy for any sad or unhappy or even ordinary moments. Think Tammy Faye Baker, of course.

Both Orville and Tammy work the crowd, microphones in hand, until the Reverend arrives. He doesn’t need a fanfare since he arrives in style around the barn as he’s driven in an impressive limousine. Angel gets out of the car when the chauffeur comes around to open Angel’s door. Angel wears a dazzling white suit, white shoes and red tie. Playing him is Robert Winslow who is absolutely dashing, longish hair fluttering in the breeze.

Cameras are in the barnyard operated by two camera people, ready to record Angel’s every utterance. He checks to see where his camera is. He pumps the crowd; talks about the sin that is everywhere and definitely in that audience. He hears confessionals from Orvile, Tammy and a reluctant Dean.

He goes deep into the audience in search of lost souls who need healing. He finds one but this does not work out quite as he expected.

Director Kim Blackwell first directed this in 2002 when she was just starting out. She revisits the show displaying a sure hand and a keen sense of how to sell hokum. Both Orville (Jeff Schissler) and Tammy (Alison J. Palmer) are energetic and have that unctuous attitude that seems to go over big on TV. With Blackwell’s direction they really pour on the blarney. They perform Monica Dottor’s deliberately cheesy choreography (hilarious) with verve.

Robert Winslow at Reverend Bobby Angel is something else again. I have never seen Winslow so seemingly possessed by the ranting and raving of this compelling religious fake. He thumps his bible. He condemns to hell any sinner in the crown—and there are plenty of us. The words pour out of him in a torrent. He is almost possessed with his own fervour. Very impressive.

As Dean Goodman, Tim Ziegler seems meek, except when playing the keyboard. He gives a convincing speech about finding faith when he turned on the TV and saw Reverend Angel.

While Reverend Angel does find someone in the crowd to heal he is given a hard time. At last, someone who challenges him and questions his boast of healing sick people. I don’t think this goes far enough. Without giving anything away, to really work, and to unsettle the audience, I think the challenging character should have begun the questioning before being chosen from the audience, as a heckler. The point of Reverend Angel going into the audience is to find a person who looks like they needed healing. Only after that character is brought on stage do the challenges begin.

I think it would have worked better dramatically if the character caused a fuss and challenged Angel before being brought on stage. Then Angel could address the problem squarely by offering to address the doubt after the heckling on stage, his territory.

Comment. Gimme That Prime Time Religion is not like a usual 4th Line Theatre show. It is less a play that uses the history of the area and more a televangelist TV show that put the fear of damnation into the hearts of the audience but still asks for money for no purpose. Terrific performance from Robert Winslow, though.

Produced by 4th Line Theatre

Run: August 10 – 29, 2015
Cast: 10: 6 men, 4 women
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes, no intermission

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