Jesus was, by most accounts, the original hippie—sporting long hair and sandals, and spreading peace and love among Jews and Romans alike. But even if you’re on board with the idea that Christ belonged at Woodstock, you probably don’t imagine his flower-powered teen phase extending much further—to spiritual enlightenment through yoga, say, or to stoner punk-rock rebellion. That is, unless you’re Lloyd Suh, whose new play Jesus in India—directed by Daniella Topol, produced by Ma-Yi Theater Company—proposes just that, staging a wild and frequently amusing rumspringa for the adolescent Christ.
Suh’s comedy, performed amid sand-colored fabric and vaguely Eastern-looking rugs, proposes that the Galilean’s early teens were troubled years: His carpenter father kept insisting someone else was his real dad, and he was getting stir-crazy in the Holy Land. So the wanderlusty Christ (Justin Blanchard) hopped a camel with his gal pal, Abigail (Molly Ward); we meet the pair as they bicker and bump through the desert to India.
There, Jesus meets a pair of aspiring punk-rockers—one seeking fame, fortune, and religious guru-hood, the other hoping music is his escape route from an uninspiring destiny as a mung-bean farmer. Electric bass guitar comes as easily as walking on water for our wandering Jew, and the brand-new ensemble embarks on a tour of the Indian peninsula, disbanding only when egos begin to fray—and Christ finds new a new kind of enlightenment shacking up with his bandmate’s chipper slave, Mahari (Meera Rohit Kumbhani).
Jesus in India is filled with entertaining incongruities, along with some interesting insights: Suh gestures to the parallels between the hippie thirst for new spirituality and the flowering of new faiths in the first-century Middle East. Every major religion, he reminds us, started out as an obsessive cult. And the punk-rock buddies are often quite charming in their talentless angst (a headline song, before Christ joins the band, is entitled “ARGH,” which is also its sole lyric).
Toward the end of the play, Suh gets bogged down in tracing Jesus’s emotional trajectory—a sappiness that feels out of place in this mostly upbeat tale. Aside from that detour, Jesus in India is a cheerfully enjoyable contribution to the Christ-comedy genre. You’d never know that crucifixion was just around the bend.