BWW Reviews: Wilbury Group Offers Something Different with A VERY MERRY UNAUTHORIZED CHILDREN'S SCIENTOLOGY PAGEANT
Every holiday season, along with all the usual theatrical suspects, there are always a few unique and surprising choices that pop up on area stages. There's usually some kind of strange or twisted take on A Christmas Carol. There's often some kind of musical revue, or two, featuring favorite holiday tunes. Oftentimes, there's a comedy show, or four, usually sending up much of what happens during the season. This year, one such non-traditional offering can be found at The Wilbury Group, where they are presenting A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant.
For those who don't know, Scientology is a religion founded by fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard was best known for writing science fiction and fantasy novels, before becoming even more famous as the creator of Dianetics, a sort of self-help system which primarily deals with the connections between the mind and the body, the various different "parts" of the mind and how we can improve our lives by removing some of those parts. By following the practices of Dianetics, people could supposedly remove the painful memories and experiences of the past, thereby becoming more fully aware, happier and saner.
Much has been made out of the more outlandish aspects of Hubbard's religion, including some which sound like they are little more than the plot of one of his science-fiction novels. For example, the idea that our true self is actually a "thetan," an immortal and powerful being which has become trapped and powerless inside our body and must be "rehabilitated" by following the doctrine of Scientology. If that sounds strange, don't worry, it gets much stranger.
Having as much fun as possible with that strangeness is pretty much this show's only reason for being. Written by Kyle Jarrow, from a concept by Alex Timbers, it is exactly what the title sounds like, a pageant, just like the kind of pageant you might see during the holiday season. Except, instead of telling the story of the birth of Jesus and the true origins of Christmas, this pageant tells the story of the birth of L. Ron Hubbard and the true origins of the Church of Scientology.
At a slight hour, if even that long, the script doesn't waste any time getting right to satirizing Hubbard and the religion he created. It dives right in with both feet, as a cast of children fill the stage, singing and dancing as they excitedly prepare us for the true story of Hubbard's life. Using song, dance and storytelling, they take us quickly through the life and times of "L. Ron" and there are some genuinely funny moments along the way. Those zany, laugh-out-loud moments are complimented by others which are undeniably charming, especially as performed by these adorable kids.
Bringing all the song and dance and fun to the Wilbury's stage is a talented group of young actors and actresses, mostly in the third to seventh grade range. They are a lot of fun to watch and are unquestionably full of energy and enthusiasm. Director David Tessier has really gotten a lot out of them and kept them engaged and enthusiastic throughout the performance. They never seem bored or disinterested and seem always confident in what they are doing. Jenny Sullivan as L. Ron Hubbard and Ally Gower as Angelic Girl really lead the way and carry the show. They are both fun to watch and have a surprising and impressive amount of stage presence and charisma for such young thespians.
Wilbury Group has also, as usual, provided this production with excellent technical elements. The props are perfectly child-like, as if a group of elementary school kids made them, and in this case, maybe they were in fact made by the cast. There are also fantastic video projections that work very well and add a number of very humorous moments.
Still, it's hard to find many good reasons to attend this show, especially at this extremely busy time of year. If one of the kids is a friend or family member, then it's definitely worth seeing. Otherwise, it's a very short show that doesn't really have any purpose other than to make fun of Hubbard and Scientology, which has been made fun of so much in the past few years that to make fun of it is kind of passé. Or, at least, it's very "been there and done that." There's really no other message or theme to the show, and no connection to the spirit of the holiday season. So, to spend the time and money to sit and watch it for an hour just doesn't seem to be worth it for most audience members.