The Art Inventory

Second Coming Of ‘Jesus’ Son’ At West Of Lenin

by Kirby Lindsay, posted 4 November 2013


At West of Lenin, November 6 - 24, see this new production by Book-It Repertory Theatre

At West of Lenin, November 6 – 24, see this new production by Book-It Repertory Theatre

Through November, Book-It Repertory Theatre will bring their progressive and alternative Circumbendibus series to Fremont audiences.  As Circumbendibus, well-regarded, well-established Book-It stages smaller, less conventional works in venues like Fremont’s smaller, less conventional West of Lenin.

November 6th – 24th, a collection of stories called ‘Jesus’ Son,’ written by Denis Johnson will be performed, under the banner of Circumbendibus.  Johnson’s poetic and fractured prose, which has enjoyed a cult following, focuses on the ideas of brokenness and redemption – two ideas familiar to Fremonsters.

A Chance For Smaller Works

As described by Book-It’s Literary Manager, Josh Aaseng, with the Circumbendibus series, “we’re experimenting with a lot of different stuff.  We are fans of all different types of literature.”  This series, Aaseng explained, gives Book-It the opportunity to bring graphic novels, short stories, blog writings, and other, less straightforward prose to the stage.

The word ‘circumbendibus’ means ‘an indirect or roundabout course,’ and it describes both the content of the works being developed for the series, and this production.  As Jeff Schwager described Johnson’s book, “it’s a collection of connected short stories.  Essentially, it’s an exploration of his aimless searching.”

Over the last decades, Schwager has become a local expert on ‘Jesus’ Son.’  He interviewed Johnson on the collection in 1991.  Then, in 2012, he adapted some of the stories, and Aaseng directed the production, for the inaugural Circumbendibus presentation in October 2012.  For this follow-up production, they’ve changed the venue as well as incorporating more material from the book.

An almost autobiographical story, ‘Jesus’ Son’ follows an addict wandering through his world, one populated by dreamers and lost souls.  “We’ve done our best to capture the book,” Schwager explained, “The book has a very elastic sense of time.”  In many ways, it manages to capture the circuitous route of an addict on drugs, and the confusing path he takes as he tries, as Schwager described, “to find a greater goal than the day-to-day life.”

An Opportunity For Original Works

From 'Jesus' Son', Zach Adair and Scott Ward Abernethy perform for Book-It Repertory Theatre.  Photo by Shannon Erickson

From ‘Jesus’ Son’, Zach Adair and Scott Ward Abernethy perform for Book-It Repertory Theatre. Photo by Shannon Erickson

With Circumbendibus, Book-It can bring to life works overlooked or undervalued, while still producing well-known, widely published books on its main stage.  For instance, this season Book-It has planned productions of ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley, ‘Truth Like The Sun’ by local author Jim Lynch, and ‘The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay’ by Michael Chabon.  The final show, the much-anticipated ‘Kavalier & Clay,’ is based on another script adapted by Schwager.  When comparing the two adaptations, Schwager acknowledged that, with ‘Jesus’ Son,’ “because it’s such a short book, it’s easier to get most of it in.”

Instead, ‘Jesus’ Son’ poses other challenges – and opportunities.  As Schwager observed, “the language in the book is so beautiful.  There is a lot of pleasure in it, as well as pain.”  Yet, it is also a multi-layered story, and as Schwager said, “I feel that Jeff has done a great job to capture the humor.”

Aaseng certainly didn’t choose an easy story.  It ends, but Johnson’s collection doesn’t tie up into a nice tidy bow.  As Aaseng explained, “it’s a very tentative redemption/recovery that he has.  I feel that we’re really trying to honor that.” Perhaps more difficult, “only a couple of characters recur,” in the source material, he observed, so all but one of the eight actors in the play – Scott Ward Abernethy who plays the main character, named ‘Fuckhead’ – must play multiple characters.  “He’s a drifter,” Schwager said of ‘Fuckhead’, who meets a variety of people in his confused wanderings.  As Aaseng observed, “there’s like 48 characters in the story.”

Still, Aaseng is very confident in the abilities of the cast he’s assembled – Zach Adair, Tonya Andrews, Sydney Andrews, Adrienne Clark, David Goldstein, Kevin McKeon, and Evan Whitfield – and their ability to capture shifting roles.  “Most of these actors are experienced on the Seattle stage,” he said, “It’s a great, talented cast.”  Schwager agreed, “I’ve been living with this book in my head for 20 years, and to see them realize these characters has been impressive.”

A Creative Look At Venues

The most progressive aspect of the Circumbendibus series may be the decision to use creative venues.  For ‘Jesus’ Son’, “we’re trying to create a space that is as seamless between the audience and performer as possible,” Aaseng explained.  With the talents of Scenic Designer Catherine Cornell, they’ve transformed West of Lenin into a dive bar, where much of the story takes place.

The premiere production of ‘Jesus’ Son’ took place in a bar – at The Rendezvous.  In West of Lenin, this time, they can create the same feel but with more control over the comings and goings of customers.  Aaseng reported that the Circumbendibus series will continue with future works being considered for the Dahlia Lounge and a ‘Geek Out’ at the Erickson Theatre.

With Circumbendibus, and ‘Jesus’ Son’, Book-It can bring the same respect and sensitivity to alternative literature that they’ve shown to the classics – and soon-to-be classics – on their main stage.  More importantly, for Fremonsters, Circumbendibus will bring more quality theater to Fremont, at West of Lenin.

Purchase tickets for ‘Jesus’ Son’ through the Book-It box office at 206/216-0833 , the Book-It website, or at the door one-hour prior to each performance.  Take advantage of this opportunity for quality literature, and quality theater, without leaving Fremont, while we can!




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©2013 Kirby Lindsay.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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