The clamor of competition has momentarily ceased, and the three finalists embrace the much needed downtime: Contestant 1 tries on a pair of prosthetic breasts; contestant 2 polishes her toenails while sipping a Tab; contestant 3 sets her hair in hot rollers and thumbs a copy of Family Life. These girls could use a break before the grueling rounds ahead. What could be worse than the baton twirling of the talent competition, crueler than the preening of the swimsuit showcase, more formidable than the evening gown round? Try the Crucifixion, Deposition, and Pietà. In Pageant, Ken Nintzel’s splendid dance-theater piece, these young women compete not for Miss Teen USA, but for the title of “Most Blessed Among Women.” They’re candidates for the Virgin Mary.
Nintzel commits the most giddy and worshipful act of sacrilege imaginable—creating a miracle play indeed. He pokes playful fun at Christian hagiography and iconography without ever dismissing or cheapening it. The Angel Gabriel may proclaim the Annunciation via a bullhorn, Saint Francis of Assisi may stroll by with mechanized pigeons fluttering upon his arms, the pretenders to Mary’s throne may even share a joint before the final round, but it’s all done with a gentle beauty and wonder.
And Nintzel’s obviously a true believer in the powers of lo-fi theatricality. His menagerie of props (baby dolls, scepters, crowns, and powder puffs), his ingenious devices, and the excellent simplicity of his sets and costumes all create a uniquely delightful scenic world. Hail Mary, and her first and second runners-up as well.