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Spotlight: The Gospel According to Saint Mark

Whatever one's leanings toward worship (including not engaging in it), the story of Jesus warrants close inspection both on the grounds of its foundational influence on our world and for its status as a weird and ambiguous story. John Kunik's one-man dramatic reading, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, presents the oddest and most elemental gospel with appropriate gravity, and with flashes of the uncanny in a tale drenched in the supernatural. Dressed in a black tuxedo and using simple props, Kunik pins down the details--Jesus finding the apostles, making his name on a string of faith healings. Next, he sets off on a tour that sees his profile skyrocket, along with his potential danger to the establishment. It's a world of demonic possession and leprosy, and the gospel paints a picture of Jesus moving through it with a combination of grace and strange power (a recurrent line in reaction to his works: "they were afraid"). Ultimately, he has the ability to bend the rules of reality to his will. Kunik handles the strangulated King James translation with a good sense of control, and he shows an admirable restraint in not going for thunder and lightning except when necessary. During the show I saw last week, he steamrolled over a few passages, particularly some of the words of Jesus that I always read with a good deal more ambiguity, and even irony. But he's got good stage presence, and he proves to be a skilled storyteller. Small touches abound that had vanished from my memory, such as Jesus' proclivity for performing mind-shattering miracles, then insisting no one spread the word of his feats (on second thought, it comes across as a little coy). And then there's the sheer nuttiness of his end-of-days prophesy and his exhortations to his followers after his rise from the dead. Experiencing the entire gospel at one go can be a bit draining--despite the presence of an intermission--but then it's not a story about comfort and ease. Quite the opposite: In Kunik's hands it emerges as a lofty philosophical challenge--profound insights delivered as intellectual poetry. And they said that oddball Jeshua would never amount to anything.