A look at faith, a slap at morality

For a while now, D.C.’s Cherry Red Productions has been touting itself as the city’s only theater company dedicated to Jesus, and it’s finally making good on its promise.

Cherry Red’s new play, “Anger Box,” is a collection of 10 monologues by playwright Jeff Goode (of “Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays for Children” fame). It takes a long, hard look at God – and fisting Satan with a hockey mitt and wanting to birth the Pope’s illegitimate child – with gusto that only Cherry Red could muster.

The phrase “If you like, you can pretend that none of this is really happening, is displayed on the first page of the play’s program. While this announcement may be a tad self-aware, “Anger Box” does raise interesting questions, even if it doesn’t answer them.

“Anger Box” is book-ended by two especially serious monologues that serve to maintain the gravity of the play’s purpose while it takes some distinctly Cherry Red-esque diversions.

Jason Milner, stepping out of his usual role as stage manager, performs the first monologue, appropriately titled “Anger Box.” This is perhaps the play’s strongest piece.

Milner plays the classic everyman, discussing the gas station attendant who was shot not too far from his home. As Milner speaks, the many layers of hate, resentment, fear and shame that surround both his situation and the general relationship between working Americans and working immigrants begin to unfurl. Yeah, it’s a shame the attendant got shot, but no one really liked him, and it’s hard to start a business these days – and why did he get to be the successful one? And so what if my date with his daughter didn’t go ‘well’? These are the American everyman’s thoughts. Milner’s unassuming demeanor lends the monologue a chilling resonance that manages to hang over the rest of the play.

“This Rock,” performed by Kathleen Akerley, sits on the other end of “Anger Box.” It is an unabashed meditation on faith, and the impossibility of faith, in a post-9/11 world. It is here that Goode’s impetus as a playwright becomes clear. September 11, in some shape or form, has been shamelessly invoked over the last two years to do a whole lot of things, not least of which is lend an air of gravity to otherwise empty and meaningless excuses for art. Its invocation at the end of “Anger Box,” then, is interesting but unnecessary.

Yes, the events of September 11, 2001, have undeniably raised questions of faith and morality for all sorts of people, but Goode does not need to say it so directly. Faith and morality have been suffering for a long time now, and his other monologues do more than enough to relay that point in more accessible ways.

Furthermore, the variety and humor of the other monologues does not structurally sustain such a grave ending. With titles such as “Santa Worship,” “Popophilia” and “Fucking Satan,” the play’s other pieces approach questions of faith and morality in a much more backhanded way. While “Anger Box” is serious, it is also subtle, and it is a shame the play’s closing monologue could not achieve that same resonance.

Still, “Anger Box” is worth seeing, and it does actually engage questions of morality, even if Jesus only comes up a couple of times.

In the end, perhaps the best point is made by Monique LaForce, playing a deliciously drunken goddess named Nike, when she says, “Jesus is just a catchphrase away from being nothing but a name on a pair of high-tech water skis.”

We all ask the same questions in slightly different forms, and “Anger Box” gives us 10 good examples.

“Anger Box” is playing at the Source Theater, at 1835 14th St. N.W., on Fridays and Saturdays at 11 p.m. Call 462-1073 for more information.

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