Reg E. Cathey and Annette O'Toole in <i>Heresy</i>
Reg E. Cathey and Annette O'Toole in Heresy
(© Hunter Canning)
No one will accuse A.R. Gurney of subtlety in his mildly entertaining polemic, Heresy, at The Flea Theater. The veteran playwright is heavy-handed with his metaphors and doesn't mince words in expressing his opinions.

Set in a near-future scenario that has an Orwellian bent, the play begins as Mary (Annette O'Toole) and Joseph (Steve Mellor) are escorted into the "Liberty Lounge" to meet with local prefect Pontius Pilate (Reg E. Cathey), an old military buddy of Joseph's whom the couple hopes can help them regarding the arrest of their son.

If the names involved sound somewhat familiar to you, there's good reason for that. Characters also include Mark (Tommy Crawford) and Pedro (Danny Rivera) who correspond to the apostles Mark and Peter, while former sex worker Lena (Ariel Woodiwiss) is a stand-in for Mary Magdalene.

The names are probably enough to make Gurney's comparisons to the life of Jesus Christ apparent (Joseph and Mary's unseen son is simply called "Chris"), but the playwright belabors the point with constant interruptions by writer Mark that put things into anachronistic language that sounds more "Biblical." In moderation, this could be a cute device, but it's way over-used here.

Still, the game cast helps to make the intermissionless work fly by – particularly Kathy Najimy as Pilate's wife, Phyllis, who has a remarkable sense of comic timing and physicality. Conversely, O'Toole gets overly strident, and while Mary's aggravated emotional state is apparent in the script, director Jim Simpson could have guided the actress in presenting more nuances.

At the end of the day, though, it's Gurney's ideas that are at the center of the work and are conveyed in exposition-laden fashion as Pedro and Lena summarize Chris' speeches about consumerism, the American Dream, and violence in society. The arguments made are compelling -- as well as highly critical of the status quo. And Gurney includes just enough humor to make this information easily digestible while not diluting its bite.