A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant

Deck the halls with Dianetics

by Jenna Scherer
Issue 8.48
Wed, November 29, 2006

Even as I’m typing this, overpaid celebrity handlers are packing Suri Cruise into an infant-sized space pod, swathing her in thetan-shielding blankets and praying for her safe journey to the intergalactic realms of her alien forebears.

But the good Lord commandeth: Let us not cast barbs at the Church of Scientology, for yea, it is too easy a target. Seriously, we might as well make fat jokes about Roseanne. So how do you approach something so absurd and so widely practiced as Scientology? You could make another damn-the-man documentary dripping with doomsaying voiceovers. But we don’t really need someone to remind us that L. Ron Hubbard was a bugshit-crazy con artist. No, the best way to approach a towering fortress of colossal stupidity is with catchy music, a gee-whiz grin and a whole lotta cute, lisping children in tow.

That would be Kyle Jarrow’s A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant, a cute little production that upends the cringe-inducing Christmas pageant tradition, substituting Jesus with L. Ron. Like any kiddie holiday production worth its salt, Scientology Pageant opens with paper snowflakes, piped-in keyboards and a pint-sized angel singing about hope and love. Soon, the whole cast comes out sporting purple choir robes and baby-toothed smiles, singing with unchecked jubilation: “Hey! It’s a happy day / Hey! It’s a holiday!” There’s no self-aware wink here; it’s a setting fit for Charlie Brown and his dinky Christmas tree.

In the mold of an old-school nativity performance, the hour-long show celebrates the life and teachings of Our Lord and Savior, L. Ron (Jacob Rosenbaum). We’re talking the official Church of Scientology version here—L. Ron the guru, world traveler and war hero, not L. Ron the sadistic con man extraordinaire.

The kids enact his birth (in a manger, natch) and rise from sci-fi novelist to religious leader. Along the way, we’re introduced to the main tenets of Scientology through song, dance and a whole mess of logical leaps. A dancing brain (Gianna Beniers and Sasha MacDonald) explains the theory of Dianetics: “Now the sun will shine / Now we’ll be just fine / Now we’ve got the science of the mind.” L. Ron travels the world converting naysayers, Buddhist monks and IRS agents to his way of thinking, and they sing his praises (“Thank God for Dianetics!” “No, thank L. Ron!”).

Scientology Pageant even includes a scene where cast members act out the Church’s auditing procedure with wooden puppets; there’s also “The Way That It Began,” a song presenting Scientology’s intergalactic creation myth. It all seems like perfect fodder for children’s theatre—far-fetched, Day-Glo and ridiculous—until we remember that people actually believe this shit.

In cribbing the kiddie pageant format, Jarrow has found a perfect arena for his subject. When you’re writing for children, you can get away with a lot—specifically, a wide-eyed simplicity that would come off as idiotic in the hands of adults. Plus, there’s something wonderfully creepy about putting terrifying words in the mouths of babes (“And I will do, do, do anything that you tell me / ‘Cause it’s you, you, you who can set me free”). It’s a kind of earnestness that no one past puberty could ever hope to pull off.

If anything, the kids in Boston Theatre Works’ production seem a little too in the know—most are relatively seasoned performers, complete with irrepressible hamminess and an over-developed sense of irony. Still, their level of experience pays off with truly quality singing and highly watchable acting. As L. Ron, seventh-grader Rosenbaum oozes enough charisma to be a cult founder himself. Laura Morell, the cast’s oldest (and tallest) member, plays Scientology convert Annie with a weight and presence that stands out against the overwhelming jollity.

Director Jason Southerland knows when to rein the kids in, and more importantly, when to let them go nuts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a finer “time passes” moment onstage than the cast’s 20-second squirt gun reenactment of World War II.

Jarrow’s got a promising career ahead of him. Scientology Pageant has already taken the off-Broadway scene by storm, and deservedly so. Social commentary aside, Jarrow’s melodies are insanely catchy. BTW has already commissioned the Brooklyn-based whiz kid to write a new musical, Love Kills, which workshops this month at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Though Scientology Pageant will mostly make you piss your pants with laughter, it never lets you forget that this cult religion is very much alive and well, and screwing its converts out of cash and sanity by the hour. Not that the idea of the human race being born from the souls of dead aliens scattered around volcanoes is any more improbable than a hippie carpenter rising from the grave and making us drink his bodily fluids; but still, ick.




THROUGH 12.16.06