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All production photos Copyright 2012 by Paul Gillis Photography

"JESUS le MOMO" in the 2012 CAPITAL FRINGE FESTIVAL


Le MOMO in the Bardo

WASHINGTON CITY PAPER Review: Hip Shot: Jesus Le MOMO by Sophia Bushong Jul. 24, 2012

“Our sensibility has reached the point where we surely need theatre that wakes us up heart and nerves.” Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and its Double

In the case of Jesus le MOMO, heeding the advice of an artist trying to entice me with a postcard totally paid off. I went to this show on a whim. Once or twice per Fringe I head to the tent, assignment- and notebook-free, to see whatever suits my fancy. I mention this because had I planned to go I would have boned- up on the manifestos and biography of Antonin Artaud. A prior knowledge of this avant-garde playwright’s work isn’t strictly necessary in order to enjoy the show, but it will certainly enhance the experience. As will fluency in French. Jesus le MOMO is not the easiest play to understand, but even unprepared I was intrigued and entertained.

In playwright J.R. Foley’s story, Artaud’s anti-religious philosophy and Christian fervor collide. The title is a reference to Artaud’s 1947 essay Artaud le Momo. Momus is the Greek god of satire and mockery, whose relentless criticism got him expelled from Mount Olympus, just as Artaud was expelled from the Surrealist movement. When a prayer circle, led by a minister who has also been rejected by his order, inadvertently conjures up the spirit of Artaud instead of Jesus, chaos, terror, and just a little blood-jetting ensues.

“The actor is a heart athlete.”

The preshow performance alone is almost worth the price of a ticket. Liz Salamon, who plays Artaud, leans in the left corner of the stage as the audience enters the theater. The set is simple, a backdrop with a sign reading “There is Room at the Inn.” Salamon doesn’t do much besides run her fingers along the walls and think, but this physical performance is so sensual and strange that I couldn’t take my eyes off it. And I wasn’t alone. As the lights went down for the start of the show, the audience, with no clue yet as to the meaning of what we’d seen, gave her a quick round of applause.

The whole cast is impressive. Sean Sidbury, Liz Kinder and Molly MacKenzie all bring a startling energy to the prayer meeting and to speaking in tongues. Rachel Viele as Gretchen and Tyler Budde as Fr. Jim are believable as an estranged couple, balancing the frenetic presence of the mad playwright with moments of levity. The show, however, belongs to Salamon. She is enthralling as the hissing, writhing, demonic Artaud.

”Let us do away with this foolish adherence to texts… theatre’s effectiveness and poetry is exhausted least quickly of all, since it permits he action of movement and spoken things, never reproduced twice.”

Much of Artaud’s dialogue is in French. When speaking English, Salamon adopts an accent so thick that it’s difficult to discern what she is saying. As a result, the nuances of some interactions are not always easy to follow. It’s to the credit of the cast and director Adi Stein that the plot comes across very clearly. At no point did I want to stop putting in the energy that this show requires.

Disrupting the audience’s ability to engage with the play through language is also a part of why Jesus le MOMO succeeds. Artaud believed that language had stagnated society’s ability to discern meaning. He believed that in order to compel an audience to question reality, theater should be a disturbing aural and visual experience. He experimented with plays that employed only grunts and screams.

Featuring sound and light design by Elliot Lanes, Jesus le MOMO harnesses this sensibility without alienating the audience. I wouldn’t say that the piece is so innovative as to be worthy of the term avant- garde, but it sure is one heck of an homage.

See It If: You like a bit of a challenge, or one kick- ass performance justifies your time and ticket.

Especially See It If: You’re a theater geek and having no clue how to apply Artaud’s ideas never stopped you from underlining passages in his essays.

Skip It If: The term avant-garde makes you roll your eyes.

Le MOMO materializes, summoned by tongues

DC METRO THEATER ARTS Review: ‘Jesus Le Momo’ by Don Michael Mendoza July 17, 2012

JR Foley’s play Jesus Le Momo is an exciting 50 minutes of a wild ride through the story of a wife and husband’s prayer meeting interrupted by the ghost of mad playwright Antonin Artaud. A meeting led by Father Jim (Tyler Budde) and his wife, Gretchen (Rachel Viele), started off in a hushed, solemn moment with their inn-mates Paul (Sean Sidbury), Debbie (Liz Kindler) and Sue (Molly MacKenzie) until speaking in tongues summons a ghost who calls himself “Le Momo” (Liz Salamon). The show gives a look at how supposedly spiritual people handle the appearance of the supernatural in their holy space. Faced with the unimaginable, the characters struggle with pacifying the ghost while playing along with his outlandish requests to help resurrect him without God.

For a small space at Fort Fringe such as the Bedroom, the director, Adi Stein, did a great job with adapting a show with such large physicality into such tight quarters. With the help of fight choreographer Kyle Encinas, the collaboration created an action-packed experience that never has a quiet moment. Lighting and sound designed by Elliot Lanes made the whole package complete by stimulating the audience visually and wrapping the room with edgy sound elements that suited the show’s content extremely well, especially in scenes when Le Momo would throw temper tantrums.

The ensemble meshed very well together to create an enjoyable performance, but the highlight for outstanding performance must go to Liz Salamon because of the powerful energy she brought to her undead character. There was never a moment where Le Momo wasn’t engaged in the action on stage and interacting with the characters around him, especially in instances when he would attack other characters out of frustration that they didn’t listen to his direction. Her ability to bounce around the space and hold the audience’s attention without going too over the top in her movement was excellent, which the conception of said movement can be attributed to Stein and Encinas as well. She is definitely a character you do not want to miss in the festival this year.

The only part of the show that peaked my critic’s ear was that sometimes moments were lost on the fast-paced French that were scattered throughout the script. It is wonderful to have actors that can play with foreign languages and accents in practice, but sometimes moments that deserved a laugh or a reaction were lost on those that didn’t have any prior experience with French, which is easily solved my more specific physicality for those phrases or just simply slowing down the delivery a little to show the subtext.

Jesus le Momo is not your typical show about people handling the undead, but a heart-racing flash of dark comedy. It was definitely not what I expected when I walked in and I was surprised in a great way!

For more information and to purchase tickets, please go to our Fringe Preview.

The SWORD of TOLEDO

MARYLAND THEATRE GUIDE Review of “JESUS le MOMO” by Erica Shadowsong July 17, 2012

“No, I will not waste on you a scream,” Monsieur ‘le Momo’ tells a terrified woman cowering before his restless spirit. Written by JR Foley and directed by Adi Stein, JESUS le MOMO is one of the headier, stranger, brasher shows playing now at the Capital Fringe Festival.

My interest was definitely piqued by the show’s description, depicting it as some kind of philosophical clash between famously “mad” playwright Antonin Artaud and what I could only guess would be his most extreme opposite, a commune of religious devotees led by some sort of priest. Le MOMO despises his devotees’s insistence that they need divine intervention to help achieve his resurrection. He pounds them over and over again with the assertion that all beings who live do so from their own volition. I personally enjoy plays that examine philosophy, as they have a way of getting across concepts that are not nearly as tangible through simple reading. Plus, they bring out enormous creativity from those daring enough to stage them. I have to say, though, this one was just a little over my head—but I’m all right with that.

First and foremost, the small cast was excellent; they were a fine-tuned machine that seemed to really know each other. Every beat, every exchange, and every cross was in perfect harmony; at least, that’s how it felt to me. I think the casting choices were excellent. Liz Salamon was simply brilliant as Le MOMO; there’s simply no better word for the way she portrayed a male character, while speaking in such a fluid, torrid French accent. The only downside was I understood about 60% of what I heard. It was enjoyable to watch and listen to, and it was more than the accent; she must have been channeling the madness somehow. Le MOMO in this production is just frightening enough to be kin to Dracula, and just fun and mischievous enough to be kin to Puck. Bravo! I found Paul (Sean Sidbury) to be very funny. The same goes for all of the actors; they were funny and believable at the same time, and established distinctive identities in such a short amount of time. One can tell they enjoyed doing this production very much.

If you go to see JESUS le MOMO—and I do recommend seeing it—just know that seeing the play alone will probably not be enough to appreciate what it has to say. If you know something about Artaud already, which I did not, you’re probably in good shape. If you don’t, and you’re anything like me, you’ll come away wanting to look him up first thing and find out all about his “Theatre of Cruelty;” it is fascinating. For those of us who like plays that require a little bit of intellectual muscle-flexing, this is a great show.

Running Time: About 45 minutes.

JESUS le MOMO plays through July 28, 2012 at The Bedroom at Fort Fringe, 610 L St. NW DC. For tickets, purchase them online or at the venue before the show.

Climax — the Stigmata

DC THEATRE SCENE Review of “JESUS le MOMO” by Tim Treanor July 16, 2012

We walk into the darkened Bedroom of Fort Fringe. There, in the shadowy corner of the stage, is a mannequin, with snow-white face above black clothes. The mannequin stares at us. Her eyes begin to move. She twitches, snarls, comes to life.

This is le Momo (Liz Salamon), and she appears to be imprisoned in this dark corner by some gravity she cannot shake. She pulls herself a few feet along one wall, and collapses back into the corner. She rolls a few times against another wall, and then rolls back. (I realize “le” is the masculine form, but the character is clearly a woman.) She is imprisoned. And then the play begins.

Father Jim (Tyler Budde), a Catholic priest, is presiding over what appears to be a homeless shelter. There, by a combination of fundraising, social activism, and hard service on his part and that of several volunteers, he manages to keep a hundred or so of America’s least wanted from starvation and the elements. He is in a room, conducting a prayer meeting with some young volunteers: Paul (Sean Sidbury), Debbie (Liz Kinder) and Sue (Molly MacKenzie).

Gretchen (Rachel Viele) is also there. Gretchen is Father Jim’s wife, and thus the magnitude of his dilemma becomes clear early. Having chosen marriage over his priestly vocation, he has been defrocked, and although he has appealed, the Church has told him that he must reapply for the priesthood. It is unclear whether he will; it is also unclear whether Gretchen wants him to do so.

Suddenly, the young people begin speaking in tongues. After a few minutes of this, le Momo appears, and answers them in tongues. The tongue, in this case, is French.

le Momo is a tortured spirit of an unspecified kind. She coerces those in the room to participate in some sort of ritual which will, she promises, allow her to resurrect herself. She hands each of them a few pages from a script. Gretchen believes that it is the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but Father Jim has a more sinister explanation: it is an effort to stage a black mass. He attempts an exorcism. It does not go well.

Jesus le MOMO deepens the air of mystery by having much of le Momo’s dialogue in a different language from that of her fellow characters and most of the audience. About a third of her dialogue is in English; English comes in at crucial moments when it is necessary to move the plot along. For the rest of the play, the other characters are merely guessing at what le Momo means as she furiously rages out her commands. (I do not know what this experience is like for French speakers in the audience).

Salamon is fabulous at all this. She spits, jumps and whirls her way through the dialogue like a demonic dervish, her body quivering in intensity and frustration over the ignorant and recalcitrant responses of the people she is trying to work her will upon. Although we do not know what she is saying, her intent is unmistakable.

Of course, such a performance is impossible without appropriate responses from the rest of the cast, so it is fair to call it a six-person conspiracy (seven, counting director Adi Stein).

Playwright JR Foley attempts an enormously ambitious thing with Jesus le MOMO. It is not Dadaist or absurd, as some of the play’s publicity suggests. It is a conventional narrative, which Foley has honed by working with Ernie Joselovitz’s excellent Playwright’s Forum, and Foley’s care and polish is evident.

Regrettably, it has too many loose ends for my taste. Late in the play, le Momo invokes Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty, which sought to shatter what Artaud considered a false reality shrouding us from the truth. Is le Momo actually Artaud, come to rid Father Jim and Gretchen of the delusions which prevent them from honestly confronting his choice between marriage and the priesthood? The program’s cover graces us with Man Ray’s photo of Artaud, and the final speech le Momo prepares for reading is actually derived from Artaud’s final work, Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de dieu (To Have Done with the Judgment of god). But we never know for certain, and we never know how things are resolved.

Foley’s real nemesis may be the nature of a Fringe show, where the steaming heat and the semi-comfortable seating operate to limit our attention spans. Developed into a more leisurely length, Jesus le Momo might be a provocative piece which accomplishes some of the things Artaud himself sought to accomplish; at forty-five minutes, though, it just scratches the surface.

Tim rates this 3 stars out of a possible 5.

The prayer meeting — speaking in tongues

“JESUS le MOMO” Cast Saluting Crew

Author Saluting Le MOMO’s Side Business

IN REHEARSAL: Le MOMO (Elizabeth Salamon) directs SUE (Molly MacKenzie), DEBBIE (Liz Kinder), & PAUL (Sean Sidbury)

Le MOMO threatens GRETCHEN (Rachel Viele), freezing PAUL

FR. JIM (Tyler Budde) under Le MOMO’s Sword of Toledo

Le MOMO attacks!

GRETCHEN levitates the Sword of Toledo

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