"THE Gospel of John" is just that: actor Brad Sherrill performing a word-for-word reading of a complete book of the New Testament. As such, it hardly counts as standard D.C. theatrical fare. Theater Alliance Artistic Director Jeremy Skidmore says that's part of the point.
Referring to his company's new home on the northeastern edge of Capitol Hill, Skidmore says, "One of the major challenges we've had creating a theater space in this community is finding a way to incorporate as much of the community as possible. It's incredibly diverse -- Hill staffers plus a lot of low-income families. We wanted to find ways to bring them in so that we're a part of the community, not just inserting ourselves into it."
Noting that there are some 30 churches on Capitol Hill, Skidmore felt Sherrill's one-man piece -- performed to great acclaim in his native Atlanta and now on an ad hoc national tour -- seemed like a perfect fit.
What essentially started as personal challenge -- memorizing more than 20,000 words from the Bible -- has evolved into an opportunity for Sherrill to combine his faith and his craft in an unexpected way. "I'm not trying to convert or proselytize," he says. "The mission for me as I was called to do it was to just use my talents to dramatize, to bring this 2,000-year-old text alive for people to hear it today in a way that is somewhat unique. John seems to be trying to convert people to Christianity, but I'm just offering it out there."
The gospel of John is generally considered a thing apart from the more "and then this happened" writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke. John offers contextual and explanatory passages intended to prove Jesus was, indeed, what he claimed to be: the son of God. Sherrill uses the New International version of the text, a modern-language translation of the Bible published in the 1970s. The choice of translation was dictated by convenience -- "It's the version I had in my home, the Bible my mother had given me" -- but the conversational text serves the actor's purpose well.
"It was very important for me that it be easy on our ears," says Sherrill. "All my years of doing Shakespeare -- poorly, mediocrely and very well, I guess -- were preparation for doing this. To be able to do Shakespeare, you have to understand language -- you have to know what verbs to hit, you have to know the simple rules to be able to make things understood and clear. For something that's just one voice for two hours and 20 minutes, you'd better be on your mark with the language."
For Sherrill, the text is the thing. "I don't want people to look at this and say 'what a great actor,' " he says. "I want them to look at it and say 'what a great story.' The words take precedence."