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‘Your Own Personal Exegesis’ Off Broadway Review: This Passion Play Is Really Passionate

Organized religion takes a hit in Julia May Jonas’ sly, new comedy

Sometimes a show’s tone and rhythm are so off you sit up in your seat to pay immediate attention. In Julia May Jonas’ new play, “Your Own Personal Exegesis,” there’s a loopiness in the delivery of the four teenage characters that is also oddly reflected in the far more constipated delivery of the one adult, a reverend who leads a youth church group. Under the both sneaky and sharp direction of Annie Tippe, Jonas and her five actors turn the play’s plethora of ellipses into a work of sly, dark humor. “Your Own Personal Exegesis” opened Monday at LCT’s Claire Tow Theater.

The four teenagers here aren’t the only ones having to cope with hormonal drives gone wild. The Rev Kat (Hannah Cabell) possesses her own wily desires, and in the course of this 90-minute play, the good minister exposes how sex and the theater are the twin pillars of organized religion. That the reverend was a drama major in college before seguing to a life in the church is one of the play’s lesser surprises, as are the hots she develops for one of her students.

“Your Own Personal Exegesis” is at its funniest when its characters are at their most repressed. Intimations of bulimia, hardwired celibacy, scarring and parental neglect, among other problems, are established immediately and with comedy. When the play turns really bizarre – one of the characters morphs into a bird – Jonas’ writing is actually more predictable. It’s very likely that this playwright owns a well-worn DVD of Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan.”

Rev Kat’s choice to dramatize the near-pornographic story of David and Bathsheba fits a little too easily into Jonas’ axis of sex, theater and religion. More effective is her staging of the Passion Play. Rest assured you will never look at Michelangelo’s Pieta in quite the same way.

Cabell’s transformation from a controlled figure of authority to a babbling, nearly incoherent nutcase is subtle and remarkable. In her journey, she is aptly supported by the young actors Annie Fang, Mia Pak, Savidu Geevaratne and especially Cole Doman, who makes Rev Kat’s fall from grace a foregone conclusion.