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Review: 'Jesus Hates Me' at Chance Theater

February 11, 2009 |  5:30 pm

Jesus3Deep in the heart of South Central Texas, disillusion butts heads with zealotry, nowhere more than the Blood of the Lamb Miniature Golf Course, with its crucified Christ over Hole 17. That alone is sufficient impetus for Ethan (Chance Dean) to retrench, as if his shattered football dreams and Nietzche readings weren't enough. Ethan's escape has one inexorable obstacle: Annie (Karen Webster), his bipolar single mother, who swipes mannequin parts from Wal-Mart. That's just for starters.   

This is "Jesus Hates Me" at the Chance Theatre. In its West Coast premiere, Wayne Lemon's irreverent dramedy about the search for meaning may offend as often as it convulses, but it's certainly vivid. 

On Starlet Jacobs' superbly evocative set, "Jesus Hates Me" suggests a putting match between Del Shores and Larry McMurtry refereed by Ricky Gervais. From the first scene of drunk-driving Ethan and pot-smoking deputy Trane (the excellent Timothy Covington), Lemon's narrative is both wildly inappropriate and keenly idiomatic. 

Jesus4_2 Doubly remarkable, given that Ethan and his fellow denizens are full-blown archetypes. There's bar-owner Lizzy (nuanced Jennifer Ruckman), Ethan's biggest missed opportunity; suicidal Georgie (unaffected Ben Green), her larynx-free brother (don't ask); and Boone (fearless Dimas Diaz), the town's resident doofus, who is responsible for the most riotous twists. 

That they surmount their Southern Gothic contours is a testament to Oanh Nguyen's detailed direction, an impressive design effort, K.C. Wilkerson's lighting (a show in itself) and the wonderful cast. Dean, rangy and sensitive, is a find, the disturbingly invested Webster has never been better, and so goes the roster. 

A principal flaw: Former TV scribe Lemon laces his debut play with acerbic zingers, often when narrative and characters are otherwise most authentic. Yet if "Jesus Hates Me" isn't actually as outrageous or original as it behaves, there's compassionate point beneath its quirky corrosion.

-- David C. Nichols

"Jesus Hates Me," Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 1. $30-$35. (714) 777-3033. Running time:  2 hours.

Top photo: Chance Dean and Jennifer Ruckman in "Jesus Hates Me." Bottom photo: Timothy Covington and Dimas Diaz. Credit: Doug Catiller / True Image Studio

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