BIBLE STUDY FOR HEATHENS
May 30, 2016
As you receive your ticket to Bible Study for Heathens, the box office manager
points you to a graph where you are invited to draw a self-representing symbol
along perpendicular axes of belief and practice – Cartesian Faith. Once ascended to
the choir loft of Judson Church, you can contribute to a sand mandala before taking
your seat, at which point the neighbor-greeting is well underway. A trilogy of logical,
impermanent, and social contexts of spirituality warms up NY Neo-Futurist Yolanda
K. Wilkinson’s marathon through ten religions.
Joey Rizzolo directs Wilkinson in environments that shift radically through
simple means. Crude sensory aids allow each scene to mirror the faith discussed, as
in Wicca, lights are cut, leaving Metallica to demolish an organ’s lull by electric
candlelight. Such coarseness helps to get points across immediately where scenes
are short and manifold.
Additionally consistent are Wilkinson’s lucid post-hoc reflections of her
misunderstandings in each phase, delivered, however, in the sentiment of the time.
As a young Presbyterian she describes believing taking communion turned her into
Jesus with the perplexed wonder of actually feeling divine. Keen insights then
emerge, highlighting suppressed female figures to expose religion’s misogyny-
reinforcing appropriation as well as cross-cultural faith fusions as Western
Still, the piece is structured as a Christian service – an expression of how
Wilkinson came into faith, how it grounded her experience of other faiths, and
ultimately how difficult it is to ever fully escape. The program is referred to as a
missal. Stagehand Connor Scully is an altar boy. Wilkinson lectures on Scientology as
long as we put money in a traveling tithe basket. In expressing the Greek practice of
pre-performance libations honoring Dionysus, she takes communion – over and
The joke becomes poignant when, lamenting on being unable to understand
Buddhist chant, Wilkinson turns to the Lord’s Prayer, and has us all join in. It
somehow works, compared to her earlier attempt at the Apostle’s Creed, floundered
by line two. Participation is relentless. Intended audiences, educated and cynical,
may be hip to this, but power is no more tangible than when such an audience
cannot remove themselves to recite the words to a prayer from a satirical distance.
Despite an externally episodic setup, Wilkinson revisits charged areas of her
life as she travels from faith to faith. This yielding to humanity, present in each
phase of her journey parallels the most pivotal participation: a single spectator
reading the golden rules of every religion – loving neighbor as self, present in each
phase of humankind.
Heaviness is offset by referential humor. Wilkinson prides herself on the
Defense against the Dark Arts professor she could be after changing the names in an
angel summoning with those of the Beatles. Theatrical artifice indicts artificial ritual
– Wilkinson’s ultimate protest. To combat, she ends with a communion of unusually
fine bread and wine (“Jesus is tomato basil tonight”), inviting us to honor that which
inspires us to go the extra mile – to live well and allow others the same.
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Jonathan Matthews