Ahmadiyya Muslims, New Agers and a few Western historians are among those who’ve speculated that Jesus Christ traveled to subcontinental Asia — further proof that when wanted badly enough, the Son of God (like Elvis) can sighted anywhere. If said concept seems a bit of a stretch, imagine it utilized as vehicle for a stoner comedy. The thought itself induces a stonerish “Whoa,” but taken without chemical additives, Lloyd Suh’s Magic premiere “Jesus in India” emerges as a one-joke proposition spread very thin over 80 minutes of actual stagetime.
It’s most tiresome at the outset, when Suh really seems to have nothing more in mind than calling some guy Jesus and handing him a lot of hemp-impaired dudespeak. This particular Jesus (Damon Daunno) has “run away” from Galilee, initially in the company of Abigail (Jessica Lynn Carroll), a not-quite-girlfriend who’s a bit of a nag and a downer. Needing “some ‘Me time,'” he strands her in the desert and takes their three-wheeled “camel” for a solo spin.
The path soon leads to Gopal (Bobak Bakhtiari) and Sushil (Jomar Tagatac), wannabe-musician slackers. Asking if he can join their “band,” Jesus turns out a natural on the bass. Sushil’s comely sister Mahari (Mahira Kakkar) is their first groupie-slash-merch-table-salesgirl — never mind that she occasionally, disconcertingly speaks in the voice of Mother Mary, urging her errant son homeward to deal with those persecuting Romans and face His destiny.
It is that destiny — a huge bummer for any bro just wanting to chill like a regular mortal — which chased J.C. away, of course.
In “finding himself” on this road trip, he must accept adult responsibilities involving truly Biblical levels of suffering and sacrifice.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” already bent the New Testament thataway 40 years ago. Suh’s replacing a hippie aesthetic with a punk one — though only one song here is more than a jokey snippet, a pondering of Heaven quite appealingly written, strummed and sung by Daunno — feels pretty lazy as a hook to hang an entire play on. Just when it seems to be developing an ounce (ahem) of narrative heft, the play ends, leaving Jesus to live out his more familiar later history offstage. So…India was just a phase he was going through?
With its liberal profanity, mild goofy humor and stray theological riffage, “Jesus in India” is one long non sequitur, ultimately trivial despite some late indicators of earnestness. Director Daniella Topol’s actors are agreeable enough, the physical production (graffitti’d and sticker’d like a basement punk club) likewise.
But even the simplest joke needs a punchline, and all Suh has is the novelty setup.