With the biblical epic regaining popularity at the movies, the Flea Theater of Tribeca is invoking the medieval tradition of mystery plays, where bible stories were dramatized in all-day events, in one of the most ambitious and unapologetically messy shows of the year.
“The Mysteries,” a five-and-a-half hour series of scenes depicting stories from the Old and New Testament, features the work of 48 different playwrights and a cast comprised of 50-plus members of the Bats (the Flea’s resident troupe of young actors).
Dinner and desert are also thrown in and are served by the actors, who interact with audience members with absolute friendliness.
The recent History Channel miniseries “The Bible” was technically twice as long as “The Mysteries” but viewers were not required to watch it all in one sitting.
Separated into three 90-minute acts representing the Old Testament, the life of Jesus and the spread of early Christianity, it is staged around a red runway with little scenery. Low-budget costuming is combined with quite a lot of nudity.
Due to the multiplicity of authors (which include David Henry Hwang, Craig Lucas and Billy Porter), it was inevitable that the project (directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar) would be extremely fragmented in structure, schizophrenic in tone and uneven in quality.
For the most part, the short plays (plus a few songs) share a contemporized, satirical viewpoint. Joseph selects Mary as his wife by presenting her with a rose a la “The Bachelor.” Jesus spreads the word that he will be traveling to Jerusalem on Twitter.
Although using a single playwright would have made it more coherent, and shortening it would have made it more manageable for audience members, “The Mysteries” makes for an adventurous, freewheeling downtown theater thanks to its rough, oversized nature.
If you go: “The Mysteries” plays at the Flea through May 25. 41 White St., theflea.org.