Heresy, playing Off Broadway at the Flea Theater, is an ill-conceived leap for playwright A. R. Gurney, who’s best known for his Cheever-esque examinations of the lives of upper-crust New England WASPs.
His latest work goes uncharacteristically high-concept: Sometime in the near future, Mary (Annette O’Toole) and Joseph (Steve Mellor) appear before local Homeland Security officer Pontius Pilate (Reg E. Cathey) to plead on behalf of their college-aged son, Chris, who has been imprisoned for spreading anti-capitalistic — and therefore anti-government — propaganda with the help of a viral YouTube video.
Chris’ college roommate, Pedro (Danny Rivera), and tarty call girl lady friend Lena (Ariel Woodiwiss) appear as witnesses for the persecuted campus radical. With the help of Pontius’ blowsy socialite wife, Phyllis (Kathy Najimy), the negotiation for Chris’ freedom devolves into a boozy cocktail party and a well-meaning but exasperating political debate. The characters spout off arguments like, ”The American Dream has been reduced to mean a mini-McMansion bought with an unaffordable mortgage,” and ”The American dream has dwindled into a vulgar, materialistic view of life.” And so on.
Gurney’s efforts to recast the New Testament saga as a partisan political allegory come across as lazy. Lurking under every line of dialogue seems to be a wink paired with a ”Get it?!” Pedro is the disciple Peter; Lena, who speaks with a brash southern accent and dresses like a Real Housewife, is Mary Magdalene — ”Get it?!” Laziest of all, Gurney’s script makes cheap use of a military orderly named Mark (Tommy Crawford), who types up the minutes of the meeting, and in doing so, is presumably writing the Gospel of Mark (”Get it?!”). He constantly interrupts people’s accounts of Chris’ messianic actions with a clarifying question — ”Were there any Pharisees or Sadducees there, murmuring threats against him?” or ”Did he say ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me’?” — only to be met with confused stares. One or two clumsily shoehorned Biblical references are forgivable, but when the same joke keeps repeating throughout the play, you can eventually hear the eye-rolls.
Given the stinker of a script, only a water-into-wine-level miracle could save Heresy. One saving grace is Najimy, whose performance breathes a little life into the play — primarily because her character seems to want everyone to stop talking. We agreeth. C?
(Tickets: 212-352-3101 or theflea.org)