Slappin’ God in the Face
@ University Theatre, N.C. Central University
Through Oct. 11; 530-5170

It’s the greatest story ever told, and now it’s getting told again. Written and directed by Dr. Asabi (also known as Stephanie Howard, professor of theater at N.C. Central University), Slappin’ God in the Face depicts the life and aftermath of Jesus, setting the action from A.D. 31 to 131 in Galilee and Jerusalem. It could be same old death and resurrection, but Asabi’s direction and script punch up the familiar tale.

We all know the story, but Asabi incorporates modern touches to hold the audience’s interest. Mary Magdalene is thought to be “raunchy” by her fellow townswomen, and the disciples and Pharisees execute complex, friendly handshakes and break into beatboxing.

This being a gospel music take on the gospels, the music is crucial to the show’s success. Memorable production numbers include “Somebody’s Talking About Jesus” and “What’s the Matter with Jesus.”

Unfortunately, the absence of personal microphones sometimes resulted in certain performers’ vocals going unheard. This was most evident with the first act’s “Get Up, Stand Up for Jesus,” where it was difficult to hear the solo lines. Tyrone Gooding avoided this pitfall during his rendition of “I Want To Be a Christian,” his powerhouse voice filling the Farrison-Newton Theatre.

The show benefits from jazzy instrumentals and drumming interludes that serve to propel the action forward, and the tiered set, with its lone tree, is used for maximum effect. There are a few standout performances among the cast, including Gerard Williams as Jesus, who projects a regality and compassion that belies his youth. Pharisees I and II (Chase Rivers and Anthony Johnson) often circle the action like vultures, commenting on the goings-on (and their own diabolical plans) like an evil Statler and Waldorf.

Like an old dish newly spiced, it’s a fresh twist on a perennial classic. Seeing this production beats sitting passively in a pew.