Tuesday, April 29, 2008


There's no way to put this gently: I hated 'Magdalene,' which continues through May 11 at the Sacramento Theatre Company.

Singer/songwriter Katie Ketchum wrote and performs her one-woman musical translation of the 'Gospel of Mary of Magdala,' as seen through the eyes of a 1950s rockabilly singer. The show toured throughout California for the past two years, before coming to Sacramento, which made me wonder how it survived long enough to get here in the first place.

I searched the Internet and discovered that it has received rave reviews wherever it has played.

So why did I loathe it so much?

Well, at some point, someone got the bright idea to add additional people: Jessica Goldman, to portray Ketchum's dream visions of Mary Magdalene; and musicians Myke Kunkel (percussion) and Michael LaPlante (electric bass).

The expansion of the cast was so recent that an insert had to be placed in the program, to explain that this no longer is a two-act/one-woman show, but a one-act/ multi-performer production.

I assume the changes also were so fresh as to 'justify' Ketchum's need to have a script in front of her, from which she read for a good portion of the performance.

This also would explain all the lines she stumbled over, in a show she already has performed for many months.

Ketchum's narration is just plain stupid, whereas Goldman - who positively sparkles when on stage, and makes the hour bearable - seems to have the best parts of the show. I question whether this was intended, but that's the result of dividing the script.

It does not help that the few plot elements, onto which Ketchum attempts to hang the role of Mary Magdalene in modern Christianity, are so convoluted.

Basically, Ketchum plays a trailer park chick named Marlene, who tries to hold her band together after the leader, Joe (also her partner), is murdered. She's having a hard time; the boys in the band don't want a female leader, even though this is what Joe wanted. Pete, the bass player, is especially confrontational, she tells us, because he's what Marlene calls 'mishomogenized': He doesn't like women.

Get it? Joe and Mary, and then Pete, who really wants to be head of the band?

Goldman pops in from time to time, to play Magdalene in the various roles she has been assigned throughout history. One finds her as Jesus' wife, who leaves Jerusalem to go to France ... a country that didn't exist at the time.

Some of these stories, Marlene tells us, come from 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to Mary Magdalene,' which may explain a lot.

With two exceptions - a lovely brief duet between Marlene and Magdalene, and the closing number - the music is forgettable. The lyrics sound like something you'd get if a bunch of kids started singing songs on a long car trip, without any sense of rhyme or reason, but just to tell some sort of story.

I detested the fact that the small theater house lights never came down, which put me under a spotlight for the entire show. To add insult to injury, the patrons were expected to sing - in English and Yiddish - and clap along.

And were scolded if they didn't do so enthusiastically enough.

I can only assume, from the Web reviews, that Ketchum's original work was outstanding ... but has been ruined by the suggested changes at STC. Sometimes it's best to leave well enough alone.

I'll give Ketchum the benefit of the doubt: She seems to be a genuinely talented singer and musician.

But I wouldn't recommend the show - in its current state - to anyone.

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