From the moment Treeligion begins, it jars the senses. This isn't always a good thing, especially when the actors start banging bamboo sticks on the floor. Sorry, this is a show about religion, and throughout the centuries, there has been an awful lot of stick banging in the name of God. And that is precisely what Treeligion has set out to explore.
A 2010 Charleston City Paper Best of Charleston critics pick, the show's concept and content springs from several audience surveys that Deuce Theatre conducted on the subject of religion during last year's Spoleto. Creators Michael Catangay and Andrea Studley asked questions like, what does religion mean to you? Why does it exist? And does one religion have it right?
The responses were then blended into a tightly knit theatrical collage of quotations from myth, folklore, and religious texts, which is actually very entertaining. Sometimes the true beauty of a written passage comes through. Other times, they serve to point out how silly humans (and religion) can truly be. There are some lovely, haunting moments utilizing the musical quality of the human voice in the play, as well as a surprising amount of modern movement and martial arts that come together to keep the audience guessing. The end result is something that will leave you feeling as though you've just experienced something intrepidly original.
The production does a lot with a little. The stage is spare, and the costumes simple, putting the responsibility on the energy and commitment of the artists to fully bring the production to life. They don't disappoint.
My main quibble is that the show's message is far from groundbreaking. Anyone with a passing interest in religion is already aware of the corresponding stories found among various world religions: the idea of a great flood, the similarities between creation myths, etc. And the main message of the show is "Everything is connected to everything else." That said, the way in which Catangay and Studley have interwoven the quotations is fresh, and that makes up for a lot.
I wouldn't agree this production should have been a critic's pick, but the inventive roots of the show's concept intrigued me. It holds up a mirror to humanity — it is based on our very own quotes and fervent opinions — so perhaps that alone makes it worth seeing.
At the end of the day, Deuce Theatre wants to break the barrier between the audience and the artists. If you enjoy somewhat avant-garde theater, or simply want to tickle the edges of your intellectual horizon, you just might find something to worship in Treeligion.