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Saturday, December 02, 2023

Getting the hell out of Heaven in 'Tales for Another Millennium'

In a hilarious take on the traditional Christmas show, Broom Street Theater’s production of “Tales for Another Millennium” is a comedic work of art. Written as the third and final installment in the “Tales” trilogy, Brian Wild finally closes his 15-year project with the final journey of Jesus and company. Even without the context of the first two installments of the trilogy—“Tales for a Millennium” (1997) and “Tales for a New Millennium” (2002)—the show still makes plenty of sense and follows a very individual storyline.

Grace is an old soul taken from the world too early—at least in her eyes. While she is (fittingly) graced in Heaven and living out her afterlife with Jesus, she sets out on a journey to escape the paradise she is in and return to Earth to help her daughter, Anne, cope with the loss of her mother. While plotting her escape, Grace meets a mysterious character who informs her that it is absolutely possible to get back to Earth, despite warnings to the contrary by Jesus, Mary and God himself. Grace continues to struggle with her choice between obeying the rules of Heaven or helping her daughter, but eventually chooses the latter, invoking chaos among the holy crew. Once down on Earth, Grace discovers that her secretive friend was in fact Satan playing with souls for a personal game. Jesus now must find Grace’s soul on Earth and return her to Heaven before his father discovers that she has escaped the Pearly Gates. With St. Peter and Mary Magdalene, Jesus ventures down to the ground below to make a deal with Satan that could make or break the rules of faith. Though “Tales” absolutely fits the comedic drama, it succeeds at presenting the ideas of tested faith and the afterlife as well.

Broom Street Theater always surprises me. The set design may not be extravagant and the costumes may not be over the top, but the quality of entertainment is equivalent to that of many other much larger, more excessive theaters. “Tales” fits right in under this umbrella. Beneath the sometimes cheap jokes and somewhat questionable subject matter, there are very personal stories. Grace, for instance, must decide what she values more—her family or her faith in God. Jesus must dissect his respect for his father and his duty to protect his people in order to make the right choices.

With a cast of 14, the show makes it seem like there is half a city behind the curtain. Almost every character transitions parts throughout the show, even to background characters that add little quirks to each scene.

Each of the main characters—Jesus, Satan, Grace and St. Peter—create a unique identity for their characters. Instead of the traditional Jesus most people typically imagine, the Son of God is presented as a good-looking, suave young man complete with suit and skinny tie. Played by Craig Alan Schlagel, Jesus is most memorable in this show for his kind demeanor with a hint of sass. While Schlagel plays up the soft side of his character, he also responds to situations with sarcasm that adds a comedic touch to a serious character.

Satan, played by Sean Strache, has an identity all his own as well. Strache does a great job of slipping right into character and not breaking scene. He was one of the few actors who had no word slips or line mishaps throughout the show. His perfectly evil laugh and witty dialogue create a convincing and powerful, yet hilariously bored, Satan, tired of ruling the underworld and looking to stir up some trouble.

Heather Renken also plays a very strong character as Grace, but she is not quite as convincing as Jesus and Satan of her emotional side. Grace intends to be a caring mother, and while there are some very strong scenes from this character, each major event is hit-or-miss on Renken’s reaction. Mary of Bethlehem, portrayed by Grace Grindrod-Feeny, and God, Eric Futon, also add an energetic touch to the show, which helps keep it from being too slow at any point. Other very memorable characters include the flamboyant St. Peter (Adam Williams), the comically obsessed Mary Magdalene (Erin Ronayne), the sarcastic and giddy Devil’s Advocate (Brendan Hartmann) and the wildly hilarious chicken, Gabriel (Kyle Harrklau).

In general, “Tales for Another Millennium” does what it sets out to do—make a comedy out of a religious context, while still keeping the message serious and respectful. A round of applause is owed to playwright and director Brian Wild for completing his 15-year journey with a hit. “Tales” is playing at Broom Street Theater located at 1119 Williamson St. The show starts at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday nights, and runs through December 22.

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