Theater

'Children's Scientology Pageant': Mind Control Over Matter

From left, Anthony Carrington, Zachary Pinkham, Martece Caudle, Nell Bayliss, Savannah Miller and Cody Boehm.
From left, Anthony Carrington, Zachary Pinkham, Martece Caudle, Nell Bayliss, Savannah Miller and Cody Boehm. (By Amanda Williams)
By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"I'm part of something special," sings a young girl in white robes. Her eyes have gone glassy and her face kind of limp. Not to worry, though: The special thing she's become a part of has helped her to see the light.

"They give me answers," she intones robotically about her newfound faith, to the drone of recorded music. "And tell me what to do."

A blissed-out ode to the glories of mind control is perfectly in step with the pseudo-reverent sensibility of "A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant," the slight and intermittently diverting put-on at the District of Columbia Arts Center in Adams Morgan.

The Landless Theatre Company explains, both in its program and over the tiny performance space's PA system, that the production is not affiliated with the Church of Scientology. As if! Kyle Jarrow's playlet with music makes gentle sport of the biography of Scientology's founder L. Ron Hubbard by playing it out as the source material for some type of religious school assembly.

The idea has some comic heft, especially when cast members -- all elementary and middle-school students, by the way -- emerge to defend Hubbard in the guise of such celebrity church adherents as John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Kirstie Alley. In the context of a children's play (with the requisite use of hand puppets, including one wittily representing Katie Holmes), the details surrounding some Scientology principles actually benefit from a simple, clarifying narrative.

Still, the joke of "Scientology Pageant" wears itself out, even at a running time of less than an hour. Part of the problem is consistency of tone: The show at some points seems to hold up Scientology precepts to ridicule, and at other times adopts a more benign attitude, particularly in Jarrow's rather colorless songs. And aside from a weird sci-fi back story involving Prince Xenu, a figure from Scientology lore, the incidents the playwright relates that shape Hubbard's belief system unfold choppily and dryly.

Andrew Lloyd Baughman's production feels a bit more disheveled than is absolutely necessary. Slickness would no doubt diminish the piece; the innocence of childhood is a tonic for the show's jaded conceit. The director wisely has not drilled the children to perform like little adults, and so the pageant itself conveys the authentic sense of having been stapled together. The production radiates some of the amateur glow that enveloped Abigail Breslin's dance routine in the beauty-contest finale of "Little Miss Sunshine."

It would be a help, however, if a few of the youngsters were instructed to articulate more clearly and slowly; some have a tendency to rush through their speeches, and although pacing is important, nothing makes a scene drag more than unintelligibility.

Among the actors, Anthony Carrington makes for a dashing Prince Xenu, and Zachary Pinkham does enjoyable work as a pint-size Hubbard, spreading the good news of "Dianetics."

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant, by Kyle Jarrow. Directed by Andrew Lloyd Baughman. Set, Jared Davis; lighting, John Sadowsky; costumes, Elizabeth Reeves; choreography, Barbara Munday; sound, Nathan Leigh and Baughman. With Nell Bayliss, Michael Bayliss, Cody Boehm, Martece Caudle, Avery Mulligan, Kiley Mulligan. About 55 minutes. Through Jan. 13 at D.C. Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. Visit http://www.landlesstheatrecompany.org.


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