"Tent Meeting" is a comedy about the Second Coming. Does that sound like blasphemy to you? Then don't go see this play.
But if you like fine acting and black humor and don't mind a few uncomfortable moments - venture into Walker Hall this month."Tent Meeting" is set in 1946 in Arkansas. There, a crazy evangelist named Reverend Ed is about to take to the road with his trailer-house, his son, his daughter and her miracle baby.
Raymond Hoskins plays Reverend Ed. He is hilarious. He has a Southern preacher voice, and he's supercilious from his eyebrows down. He is rigid. He is foolish.
The script is good, it gives him great lines, but Hoskins makes us laugh even when he's not speaking. Just the way he holds his Bible is funny.
Rebekah Folsom is Becky Ann, the stupid and annoying virgin mother whom the audience came to adore by the end of the play. She was wonderful, too, except occasionally when she looked like she was going to laugh as she did the hand motions to her hymns.
And Darrell, the WWII veteran son, is played by Jeffrey Owen. His character is a little darker than the others. He is just sane enough to see how crazy his family is. Owen gives Darrell the proper balance of intensity and silliness.
This play holds an audience, and not just with laughs.
The character of Reverend Ed is as full of grandeur and violence as the Bible itself. The mysteries in his life are never fully explained. His sins seem dark. But all we ever know for sure is that he cheats at cards.
Darrell, too, has a clouded past and grows ever more violent. He starts by saying, "To hell with family time." It goes downhill from there.
As the play progresses, the story becomes stranger and less funny. Becky Ann seems sweeter by the minute, and we become more and more uncomfortable with the thought that she may have been hurt by someone in her family.
Our feelings for the baby evolve, too. By the end it seems more like a saint (after all, it neither wets nor cries) and less like a horrible mistake.
"Tent Meeting" is a play that gives you plenty to think about on the drive home.
What if the miracle were true? How could it be true? Would the Savior come to us in the body of a deformed child? Would three fools from Arkansas be chosen to announce his coming?
If the play is about depravity, then why is Becky Ann so touching and so good?
If it is about faith, then why did we laugh so hard?
In her director's notes, Debora Threedy offers one interpretation of "Tent Meeting"; it's from Corinthians. "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise."