'Scientology Pageant' needs further clearing
The title is not only long, but hilarious in its own right: “A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant,” Know Theatre of Cincinnati’s off-the-hook holiday offering.
If only the production lived up to the promise.
The Pageant won an Obie Award for its off-Broadway premiere, with predictions of a cult phenomenon as a dead-pan musical rendering of the life of L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer who was fond of saying that his craft was a waste of time when a guy could get rich by starting his own religion. Then he started a religion and got rich (and I am confident that I will get a stern letter from a Scientologist for writing this — it’s happened before).
The premise, and the hoped-for charm, of the Pageant is that it uses the trappings of a church or school Christmas pageant, calling to mind ubiquitous “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” in telling this story, substituting Hubbard’s life and doctrine for that of Jesus.
But this show is not about making a pageant, but a parody of one, and as such falls victim to the imitative fallacy by being self-consciously, but not skillfully, exactly what it should only be pretending to be.
This is the second show of its kind in the Know season. But with “Reefer Madness,” with the premise of being a school production warning of the evils of marijuana, there was constant winking and nudging at the out-dated propaganda. When the character did something cheesy and over-the-top, we knew that it was a comedic choice (whether it was funny or not).
But the humor doesn’t work when the production doesn’t have something in it to let us know that they’re trying to sing off-key, rush their lines or hesitate on a cue. These things could happen with comedic intent and result, but there’s nothing here to clue us in that this isn’t just a poorly-cast and under-rehearsed show, but a parody of one. There’s no wow factor, no moment when we are awed by either the talent of the cast or the brilliance of the material. We may have had both, but the production seems so poorly-conceived and tossed-together that nothing stands out. Since we never see the man behind the curtain, never get a sense of his presence, we presume he’s not there. Consequently, the show doesn’t seem campy and silly, but pathetic.