Atlanta actor Brad Sherrill spends part of each year in the Bible business, and lately, business is booming. For the past decade, Sherrill has toured with his one-man performance of The Gospel of John in its entirety. March 24-28, he debuts a kind of prequel show, Prophets, at Georgia Shakespeare. Here, he talks about the relationships between the Old and New Testaments, and about how the likes of Ezekiel would have a lot to say about today's public policy debates.
How long have you been doing The Gospel of John?
I first performed The Gospel of John at my church, Chamblee Methodist, in 2000, so this could be considered the show's 10th anniversary. I'm nearing a total of 600 performances in 40 states, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Canada. You can be in a 1,000-year-old church in England, then in a small town with one traffic light. I've done it in towns where some of the people have never seen a professional actor before. The different places and people help keep it alive for me.
What's the most unusual place that you've performed?
Doing it in cathedrals in England was pretty astounding. You're literally walking over the tombs of people. Logistically, there's no lighting, the sound is awful and it's freezing. They don't heat them because they usually only get tourists. I've done a great number of runs in theaters, but most of them have been in churches, and some of these new churches are better than theaters.
What inspired you to develop another show based on prophets such as Ezekiel and Isaiah?
I'm intrigued by the prophetic writings, what Christians would call the Old Testament, but what's really the Hebrew Bible. Jesus quotes the prophets, and says, "I have come to fulfill the prophets." I'm really interested in the biblical imperative to take care of the poor and oppressed. There are at least 2,000 verses involving the poor and oppressed. Whenever there's injustice and the suffering of the poor, God is scandalized. The texts are so relevant, they sound like they're speaking today. It's like the health care debate, when Ezekiel says, "They've not healed the sick. They've not strengthened the weak."
Is the format like The Gospel of John?
It's 90 minutes because I'm getting too old to do a two-and-a-half hour show. It's a multimedia show, and the audience sees images that correspond to the ancient text. One of my favorites is when we hear about the golden calf and it morphs into the Merrill Lynch bull. I don't think there's anything subtle about the Bible. [Laughs] I feel these texts are indictments coming down, although a reprieve is given, because mercy trumps justice. But they also have a strong message of hope, which I include in the show because who wants to hear just gloom and doom?
Some people have problems with the way God is so harsh in the Old Testament.
We can't work our way around that. I think that's why so many Christians stay away from the Old Testament. I call the God of these scriptures "a recovering agent of violence." It's not so much an angry, wrathful God as a loving-but-disciplinarian God. God's so pissed off because humankind's cruelty is so intense.
I almost hate to bring up Glenn Beck, who recently criticized churches that advocate for social justice.
The churches are responding like mad to Glenn Beck. A lot of people are up in arms because these texts are nothing but social justice. If you want to be specific about it, Moses created the first social safety net system. Glen Beck, I don't know what Bible he's reading.
On Sunday, you do the monologues back to back. Have you ever done that before? In general, what's your routine when performing?
I've never done them back to back – and it still may not happen. [Laughs] It helps that Prophets is 90 minutes. The Gospel of John is in my long-term memory because I've been doing it for 10 years, although it still requires concentration. Prophets, being new, is in my short-term memory, so it's harder. The routine when I do eight shows a week is sleep, eat and do the shows. Because it's long talkin'. Nobody's coming out to save me.
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