Los Angeles -- And a happy L. Ron Hubbbard-mas to you, gentle reader.
For, in playwright/composer Kyle Jarrow's scathing satire of the Scientology movement, 'tis the season for E-meters, engrams, and Thetans.
Jarrow's slyly ironic idea of sending up the tenets of Scientology by staging them as a conventional Christmas pageant is all the more ferocious when you consider that most of the presentation is handled with nary a wink of editorialization. The text contains only facts from the commonly available Scientology texts, and you are left to make your own judgments about the religion's philosophy. Turn one direction, and the show seems like a bona fide Christmas show in honor of Scientology. Turn the other way, and it's a relentless shredding of many of Scientology's ideas.
Director and show conceptualist Alex Timbers has gathered a cast of kids ages 11-13 to recount the Nativity of Mr. Hubbard, which is described with the wide-eyed excitement of any religious history. "This is the story of stories! The tale of tales! The life of L. Ron Hubbard," chirp the little ones, dressed in angelic robes. Hubbard, portrayed by cherubic teen Kyle Kaplan, sweetly enacts the Scientology religion founder's exploits and reveals the evidence that he was touched by superior intelligence, which can be found in his holy books of science fiction, including Battlefield Earth.
The play's core ultimately consists of matter-of-fact descriptions of the fundamental "mysteries" of Scientology, including the psychological gobbledygook surrounding the use of "auditing." There's a jaw-dropping description of the alien Thetans -- the mythological basis for some of Scientology's beliefs. This tale is recounted by a little boy who waddles onto the stage dressed like a little robot; it's hilarious. There's also a funny sequence in which the "suffering of L. Ron" is portrayed as his church is stripped of its religious tax status.
Ultimately, though, the show's juxtaposition of cute kids and oddball -- to an outsider -- Scientology conceits are faintly disturbing. And the final, inevitably creepy image -- the kids are seen holding candles and singing a cheerful song as a huge iron door slams shut in our face -- provides a capstone coda to the show's provocative mix of Christmas-pageant sincerity, Christopher Durang-like irony, and unexpected rage.