The Pine Curtain of East Texas is not a translucent one — it blocks out the greater liberal universe like an opaque blindfold of bibles and barbecue. Which makes it prime pickin’s for Sam (Jakie Cabe), a grifter who, with his unwitting sidekick Al (Jeff Swearingen), has hustled more folks out of their money than he can count. His latest scam? Spending a year as a preacher at a congregation itchin’ to believe that the rapture is coming… in fact, this evening. At 8:20. Give or take time for intermission.
Matt Lyle and Matt Coleman are friends and writers who survived the homespun horrors of provincialism and lived to make fun of it, which they do well in Raptured, a world premiere at Theatre 3. Lyle especially is adept at absurdist, Texas-based comedies (consider Cedar Springs Or Big Scary Animals and Barbecue Apocalypse), and he has a good-ol’-boy-time poking the bear of Baptist hypocrisy. Sam may be the resident con artist, but most of the town is conning one way or another — sometimes themselves, even. Like Martha (Shannon J. McGrann), a hot-to-trot cougar who bed down Sam once and wants to do it again before Christ whisks her to heaven; or Gracie (Sally Soldo), the proper church lady who has conveniently omitted a sordid past; or Robin (Jeremy Whiteker), the youth minister… which should immediately tell you he’s a closet case masking his unmaskable flamboyance behind religious devotion; or Troy (Christopher Lew), a 25-year-old virgin whose balls are so blue, they look like Smurfs. Like Troy, the rapture isn’t coming, but the tithes sure are, and Sam plans to spirit them away, until abused church secretary Ruth (Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso) beats him to it as a way to escape her brutal husband Dick (Chad Cline).
There are many, many Dick jokes in Raptured… and just as many dick jokes. Plus a droll amount of zingers hiding behind bless-your-heart twangy Texas charm. “You can’t argue with Bible math,” Sam insists about his Second Coming calculus, “cuz it’s math, which is real… plus… the Bible.” “I want to enjoy life but I know God hates that,” another person laments. “We thought we were left behind — like the terrible book series!” another sighs. And on and on.
Already a mix of Boeing Boeing, Weekend at Bernie’s and What’s Up Doc, director Jeffrey Schmidt keeps the action coming with brisk entrances and exists and a deadpan style that accentuates the outrageousness. Following her role in Hand to God at WaterTower least fall, McGrann has carved out a particular niche as the horny lady defiling younger men in a church (apparently, she likes it in the rectory). Cabe, with an uncanny resemblance to Tom Arnold, is both odious and oddly sympathetic; Swearingen turns a gimmick about lube being used as hand sanitizer into a full-on comedy set piece.
But the major standouts are Whiteker as the wholly relatable Southern gay, and Lew, who exudes an energy I might call “the Asian Swearingen.” When they’re onstage — or anyone with a bag of dildos, which happens several times — the laughs fall like rain upon the ark. Can I get an amen?
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Now playing at Theatre 3 through May 19.