Ken Jennings is a very engaging actor. THE BOOK OF JOHN, which he conceived as well, is being presented at the Sheen Center in a crisp, clean, but simple production.
Unfortunately, this play has to pull itself out of a hole unnecessarily dug before the actual play begins,. Upon entering the auditorium, the audience is faced with the actor, Jennings himself, wandering around the three sides of the stage, often coming uncomfortably close to the front row. Nothing much is happening though, but he occasionally refers to notes and stetches leg muscles. Doesn’t he have a dressing room? It was quite off-putting to the audience, at least those seated in my row and behind me, who were wondering aloud what he was doing. It had the appearance of being ego-driven. This conceit should probably be re-thought.
Therefore, by the time the actual play started, the audience was anticipating possibly an indulgent and self-important performance. Those fears dissipated eventually. Jennings was outstanding. The play moved along at a brisk pace and did not feel over-long, despite it’s intermissionless two hour length.
Not being a Biblical scholar, I was only marginally familiar with the content of the story being told, which heightened the drama for me, although I am sure more knowledgeable theatre-goers would be able to take away more from the performance that I was able to.
A directorial question I had was why Jennings kept moving back and forth from the bench, to his knees, back and forth on the bench, etc., when trying to relate conversations betweeen two or more people.This device could be established early, but relaxed eventually and not maintained so vigorously. When the audience starts to notice, it becomes a distraction.
The physical production, primarily Charlie Corcoran’s simple. but stylish stage, allowed us to focus on the actor solely.
THE BOOK OF JOHN should have a successful life in other markets as well. Now, if they can just keep the actor off stage until the play begins.