Unconventional may be an understatement when it comes to trying to describe Alternative Canon: A Sacrilegious Romp. This new play by Erin Proctor is running for only three more performances next weekend, courtesy of fledgling theatre company LakeHouseRanchDotPng and creative collective Artistic Vibes.
And, if you hadn’t guessed from the title, which Alternative Canon: A Sacrilegious Romp very much lives up to, you know you’ll be in for something out-of-the-norm when you enter the “theatre,” which is a room equipped with two sets of folding chairs arranged in rows on either side of the stage as opposed to a more traditional playing space.
Especially given its small space, this play also boasts an impressively big cast of 10 actors, who together play 12 characters in this compelling romp. When I arrived, around 20 minutes before the show was scheduled to start, lead actress Sabrina Mendoza was already working to create the atmosphere as she lounged about the space appearing to be getting ready for something in a striking red robe.
Then, if that weren’t intimate enough, the play certainly starts off with a bang as we watch her character, Sarai, inspired by the biblical character eventually known as Sarah, being deflowered by her new husband Abram. Abram, referred to in the dialogue as an older man though played in this production by relatively young actor Kyran Wright, is apparently her father’s choice of a match rather than her own, and there’s a union of necessity. Sarai’s true love is her beautiful handmaiden Hagar, and we also get to eventually observe the two’s relationship in some quite sensual scenes that Mendoza and her co-star Maleeha Naseer bring to tantalizing life.
This queering of the canon is only one of Proctor’s brilliant moves in her deconstruction of the “conventional” biblical narrative. This approach also allows the characters to comment on modern sexual politics with lines like “I forgot how hot the bare minimum is,” or to be shocked that people are “capitalizing off religion now” as if it weren’t a cornerstone of the system.
Sabrina Mendoza and Maleeha Naseer [Photo by Juan Gamero]
But Proctor’s most notable departure from the established story, which forms the play’s basic premise, is that she imagines a world where it’s Sarai rather than Abram who becomes the first prophet and founding mother of the Jewish people. However, the God who appears to Sarai is also one who defies all usual conceptions; instead, they’re a flamboyant, erratic, and cosmically sexy non-binary figure played to the hilt in this production by Gabriel Perez.
And this God’s increasingly inexplicable decrees—including that Sarai and Abram must change their names to Sarah and Abraham, as I’ll refer to them from now on—end up being not only incredibly amusing, but a clear comment on the arbitrary and frankly bizarre nature of some established Jewish traditions. And while he grants Sarah permission for Hagar and she to continue their rendezvous, the only reason he grants for not allowing marriage between two women is that he’s “kind of a dick.”
According to Proctor’s Playbill notes, the purpose of this poking fun is not to demean religion, but merely to question it—something she also notes that Jews have been doing for the past five thousand years. And perhaps because Proctor manages to include moments of genuine pathos for Sarah and co. amidst the play’s many broadly comedic sequences, the questions the script goes on to ask ultimately include some incredibly profound ones; namely, why is life so damn hard?
While God tries to explain that it’s all a part of his “five thousand year plan”— which he at one point attempts to convey to us via Powerpoint in one of the play’s many witty uses of anachronisms—unsurprisingly, even he doesn’t have many satisfactory answers for his own destructive actions.
Yet while it may not have answers to the fundamental uncertainties of human existence, what this play does have in spades is humor, inventiveness, and spunk. Lack of conventional props and other resources ultimately work to the advantage of the piece and actors as it all becomes part of the play’s cheeky, metafictional fun, such as during a laugh-out-loud sequence where an actor dons plainly visible knee-pads and technicolor “shoes” attached to his shins as he plays a child.
Gabriel Perez [Photo by Juan Gamero]