'Magdalene' by Tribe of Fools: Feminist sermon on the woman who knew Jesus, and women through history

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Colleen Hughes in “Magdalene,” through April 22 at the Adrienne Theatre.

The last time I saw the Tribe of Fools was their terrific production Fishtown: A Hipster Noir.  Like that show, their new production, Magdalene, by Rachel Gluck, is topical in its message and highly choreographed in its performance. But unlike Fishtown, Magdalene (through April 22 at the Adrienne Theatre) is dead serious; some humor would go a long way to leavening this show that seems more a feminist sermon than a play.

The central figure – the only figure – narrates the entire story. It is rare that a performer is skilled as both an actor and a dancer, and Colleen Hughes delivers the play with a clear voice and fluid grace.  Mary Magdalene is, she tells us, “the 13th saint,” the Biblical woman who knew Jesus, here called “The Teacher.” She hung out with all the apostles, who turn out to be heavy drinkers and great dancers. It was Peter who turned conservative, who preached a hard line in a movement leaving no room for women with radical ideas, Peter who wanted global domination by creating “the world’s most powerful cult.”

The central idea of the story is that Mary Magdalene embodies all women through the centuries, including a Jew from New Rochelle, a French woman with a shaved head who was branded as a German collaborator during World War I, and the lesbians, “the Lavender Menace” that Betty Friedan and the NOW movement scorned, and so on and so on. Each name is intoned as Hughes points out their offerings of jewelry, flowers, books, and “the occasional baby,” all arranged with lit candles, making the stage a lovely altar to women’s rights. (Much credit here goes to Doug Greene’s set and properties design.)

Brenna Geffers, the show’s director, fills the hour with music, fragments of off-stage male voices, and with enough motion to keep it from becoming static (although eventually I found the gestures and inflections repetitive).

Mary Magdalene and, by implication, all the outraged women who came after her, will lead the revolution for their era, demanding equality and the rights that have been denied women for 2,000 years. Nothing is said about the thousands of years preceding Christianity, but never mind; women were hardly well off in ancient Greece, either.  Perhaps Mary Magdalene was one of the many preceding her and not the first, but such a notion would undermine Gluck’s Judeo-Christian framework.

The play ends perfectly with “They can’t shut her up,” a nicely pointed reference honoring Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s tenacity; “nevertheless, she persisted.”

Theater

Magdalene

    • Through April 22 at Second Stage at the Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St. Tickets: $15-20.  Information: tribeoffools.org.