The atmosphere of the MainLine Theatre before the preview of Jesus Jell-O: The Miraculous Confection was positively festive. MainLine staff, volunteers and friends decorated the lobby as Jesus Jell-O directors and co-founders of the Sheep In Fog theatre company Joanne Sarazen and Lindsay Wilson ran around, helping out and preparing their actors for their first show since the Montreal Fringe Festival this summer.
Actually, the show they staged over the summer was also Jesus Jell-O. At the Fringe Awards, or Frankies, Wilson and Sarazen won the “Next Stage” award, which allowed them to remount the show at the MainLine theatre for a second run in December. Since then, a lot has changed. According to Concordia theatre program alumni Sarazen, it’s a new show, even though the themes and writing have not changed much. “Hopefully people will come out and see our new show,” she shared.
No matter how much Jesus Jell-O has changed, the story has stayed the same. The Wilson family is shaken up when 17-year-old Miles sees Jesus in a bowl of hospital Jell-O after fainting at Christmas Mass. His mother aggressively promotes the “miracle,” and the already dysfunctional family is driven further and further into chaos. Their relentless religious exploitation gets the attention of a recent widow and a gay couple. And who else could narrate the tale better than God itself?
Jesus Jell-O was unexpectedly popular at the Fringe Festival, quickly selling out of tickets nearly every night the show was performed at the tiny Freestanding Room. “We were quite shocked, in the most positive way possible,” said Sarazen. Now, the larger MainLine Theatre has given the cast more space to play around with the storytelling. “We’d always wanted to experiment with projection and stuff like that, so to be able to have the tools to do that is quite thrilling,” stated Sarazen.
Although the process of remounting the show was fun, Sarazen admitted that it was a lot of work. “When we won, Lindsay Wilson, my co-founder of this company and my co-director, was jumping up and down, and I was a little terrified,” she confided. The long process of rethinking, rewriting and recasting started through meetings with MainLine Theatre artistic director Jeremy Hechtman. “Once you see a show up on its feet, you have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t,” said Sarazen.
The second run of the show features some different cast members. “We sat down and we made a list of the people that we wanted to ask,” explained Sarazen. “We actually got all the people we asked first, which was tremendous.” Notable additions to the cast include Scott Humphrey, who is convincing as Miles, the confused teenager. Lucinda Davis gets the job of filling Tristan D. Lalla’s large shoes in the role of God, the narrator (and creator and everything else). While her presence isn’t as commanding as Lalla’s, she presents a softer God, although one who gets more and more frustrated with the human race as the play goes on.
The play has also been lengthened since its time at the Fringe Festival. An entire scene has been added and others have been rewritten to further develop its characters. “We were able in the rehearsal process to create deeper relationships with the characters and do exercises as opposed to just very practically blocking things out and give the actors a chance to experiment and do new things,” stated Sarazen.
Sarazen said she feels the play is worth a look from both fans from the summer and those totally new to it. “In the process, things that were at first very funny got sort of dark, and then funny again. So it’s a darker show, but it’s still quirky and fun and Christmassy.”
Jesus Jell-O will be playing at the Mainline Theatre until Dec. 18. Tickets are $23. For exact times and more information, check out www.mainlinetheatre.ca.