The Gospel According to Lucy Blood

Review by Ramona Pula

“Biblically Speaking” opening night 7-20-15, MITF 16

Writer, Composer: Lucy Blood
Director, Make-Up: Kate Gilbert
Stage Manager, Lights, Sound: Deborah Lane
Starring: The Reverend Lucy Blood

Davenport Theatre, Black Box, 354 W. 45th Street (between 8th & 9th Avenues)
16th Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival
Remaining Performances: Sat 7/25, 1:30 pm; Sun 7/26, 2:30 pm
Running Time: 60 minutes

“Biblically Speaking” is a campy one-woman show that presents five biblical women: Eve, Ena, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Mary Magdalene. Women underrepresented in the Bible come forward to speak to us, and for themselves.

The show’s producer is the Reverend Lucy Blood, who is also the writer, composer and performer. She plays a version of herself – named simply “Preacher” – and speaks as herself, recounting events from her life.

Preacher provides the framework within which the biblical characters appear. Entering to a funky beat and wearing a scarf the colors of a rainbow, Preacher holds her Bible up to the heavens. She then places the “Big Book” on a pulpit, where there is also a tea light candle, Preacher’s school notebook from seminary, and a red apple.

As Ms. Blood raps, “I speak to you today about women’s equality”, she wonders what the women in the Bible would say.

Director Kate Gilbert does an efficient job with staging. The space is used well whether the Rev. Lucy Blood is portraying Preacher or one of the other women. Deborah Lane does fine with lights and sound, and there were no glitches, which can be unusual for a show’s opening night at a theatre festival where there is limited technical rehearsal time.

The simplicity of the set-up for this show is effective. Using a black-draped container upstage center for costume pieces and props allows the small changes between characters to go smoothly. While the actor changes to another character, verses from the Bible related to that character are heard via voiceover. Ms. Blood uses the rainbow-colored scarf in various ways for each woman and sometimes wears multi-colored sparkly glasses of various styles or a colorful head covering. Rainbow colors are also featured in magic tricks sprinkled throughout the action.

The first Bible verse recording played is from Genesis, and the first woman is, of course, Eve, who speaks with a Southern accent.

Eve lets us hear Ms. Blood’s penchant for corny, sometimes “off-color”, jokes, that remind you of jokes your dad or your fun-loving lesbian aunt would make. They’re usually groan-worthy, although many times you can’t help but smile.

Eve comes across as comical, but then gets serious when talking about losing her son Abel to murder at the hands of her other son. “I am the first mother to outlive her child. That should never happen.” (The transition from comical to serious is repeated with others too, like Ena, Noah’s wife, when she touches on the horror of the flood.)

The pattern for the show is thus established. Preacher, Bible verse voiceover while the actor changes, biblical character, music while actor changes back to Preacher, and so on. The structure is straightforward and works well.

During the sections when Preacher raps, much of it based on her notes from seminary classes, it sounds like the Rev. Ms. Blood stuck to her actual notes without adapting anything to a true rap structure. She’ll say a few lines to a simple beat, and then often abandons the rhythm. I say go all out and really make these as hip-hop as possible (along the lines of Queen Latifah or Public Enemy, rather than gangsta or T&A.) The worst that could happen is that it would be hilarious!

Each biblical character has a distinct accent and vocal quality, and some work better than others. Eve’s Southern accent is fine. Ena’s raspy voice works. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, sounds convincingly like a socialite. Then we get to Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife and John the Baptist’s mother, who sounds like she’s partly from the Middle East and partly from West Virginia coal mining country. If that’s a real accent, I want to know from where.

Mary Magdalene sounds somewhat like she’s from Brooklyn, although by the hippyish way she dresses, while watching I wished she could also sound more like a stoner love child. At one point Mary’s voice slipped into Ena’s raspy one, and then the actor started coughing, so I think she needed water. And really, it might be helpful to keep some onstage, in a chalice perhaps, because talking and singing for an hour straight without water can’t be easy.

When Mary Magdalene first appears she says “Not what you expected, eh? Many people get me mixed up with the other Mary, you know, the good one… they say I’m a prostitute, a whore. There was supposed to be a whole book about me in the Bible, but somehow it got lost.” She says she was with Jesus at the beginning of his ministry and was with his mother Mary at his crucifixion when he said “it is finished.”

The Rev. Ms. Blood is clearly saying that Mary Magdalene was a disciple of Jesus. My understanding is that Mary was never a prostitute, and the lost book referred to is actually the Gospel according to Mary Magdalene.

“The theory is that certain early-church historians… couldn’t abide that Jesus had chosen a woman (Mary Magdalene) as one of his first and leading disciples. So, they mixed her story up with other stories of biblical women (such as the unnamed woman who sensuously anointed Jesus’ feet using her long hair and the unnamed woman caught in adultery), inventing the fiction that she was a reformed prostitute. Apparently – then as now – small-minded people aren’t willing to let go of certain salacious sins, even after a person has repented of them, and they knew that this false label would permanently besmirch Mary’s reputation. The Bible doesn’t say she was a prostitute. It says Jesus healed her of “seven demons.” She could have been bipolar or schizophrenic, or maybe just afflicted with multiple physical illnesses, but there’s no indication that she was immoral.” The Rev. Dr. Carlos Wilton

“It’s pretty clear that from the second century on Mary Magdelene was conflated with the other two stories, which happen pretty close to her brief introduction in Luke 8. It was a concerted smear campaign which Renaissance painters were all too happy to accept!” The Rev. Ms. Claire Pula

I would have preferred if the Rev. Blood went further to clarify this for the audience, especially because Preacher drops some truth earlier about how the Bible was written not by individuals, but by groups of men.

Every biblical woman tells corny jokes and each one is campy in her own way. Each tells us a truth about women, and thus people, and thus life. For example, Elizabeth says “It is fear that makes us kill each other.”

Although she doesn’t have an extensive theatre background, the Rev. Blood has been a preaching minister for many years, which is itself a type of performance art. She uses the space to advantage and is well grounded, and she has a quirky, oddly charismatic stage presence. Her rapping needs work, however her singing voice is decent, and at times soulful. She is also a talented composer.

In the Preacher sections, we hear several instances of gender discrimination experienced by Ms. Blood, for example, shortly after she was ordained. As an associate pastor, she discovered that the previous male associate pastor was paid $2,000 more than her per year (equivalent to nearly $10,000 today) with equal experience. When pressed for a reason, the pastor told her “You must understand, he had a wife and child to support.” When the Rev. Blood then quit, the pastor’s reaction was pretty much “don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

As the show closes, Ms. Blood says “so here I am, some 40 years later, an ordained minister, B.S. and Masters in Education, Masters in Divinity…” What is her final analysis? “Such a fuss over different plumbing.”

The Rev. Lucy Blood, Preacher, lights a candle and directs that the house lights be brought up, saying “look at each other” and then sings “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…” On opening night, the audience joined in the singing and clapped along.

Rainbows are a constant image in this show and central to its theme of a gay woman preacher breaking through to speak to us, and for herself. Ms. Blood’s final act is to turn a black scarf into a rainbow scarf as she dances offstage with the closing line “Let it shine!”

The Rev. Ms. Lucy Blood is endearingly kooky. Shine on, you crazy diamond!

“Biblically Speaking” has two more performances, this weekend on Saturday at 1:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:30 pm. If you see it either day, you can skip church this week.