Sifting out the hearts of men

“Religious Pretense” sets up a mock court to judge slightly blemished souls

by Claire Joseph

If “Whose Line is it Anyway?” just isn’t cutting it anymore, maybe it’s time to find some live, unedited improvisational shows.

This weekend offers an opportunity to do so, and it’s right on campus.

The University’s student-run Xperimental Theatre is putting on “Religious Pretense,” the first improvised show created by the University’s department of theater arts and dance.

University student Dave Jennings, the director of the free-flowing show and member of the Idol Eriks, an improvisational group on campus, said he hopes this event will allow people to learn that improvisation is fun and available in various venues in the Twin Cities.

“There are literally a hundred improvisational groups in the Twin Cities,” Jennings said.

“Religious Pretense” is set in the courtroom of God, where one newly deceased soul is tried for his crimes against the Ten Commandments and human decency. The audience plays an interactive role in the production, giving suggestions at the beginning of the show regarding the defendant’s career, crimes and manner of death.

Depending on who gets called to be the defendant on a particular night, various types of witnesses are called to the stand. These witnesses can be a family member, a hook-up or a co-worker, and these characters can be either alive or dead.

“We had Chevy Chase on the stand a couple weeks ago,” Jennings said.

In the end, audience members (who play the role of souls trapped in limbo) must decide whether the defendant should go to hell.

Although this concept of judging whether various sins are horrendous enough for hell or pardonable enough for heaven seems controversial, Jennings said they haven’t received many complaints.

“It’s not designed to offend anyone. And, frankly, if it does offend anyone, I’d be surprised,” Jennings said.

The show isn’t based as much on Christianity as on respect, Jennings said.

“The show is not pronouncing anything major about religion. It’s not saying, you know, ‘This is how it is,’ ” he said.

Jennings said the Ten Commandments were chosen only because they are so well-known in the United States.

In fact, one interesting aspect of the show is when the improvisational actors ask the audience to name one thing that should be, but is not, a sin (according to the Ten Commandments).

Jennings said some of the suggestions so far have been answering a cell phone in class, spitting on the sidewalk, belching and having annoying ringtones on a cell phone.

“Religious Pretense” allows the audience to do what everyone loves but can’t really talk about – judge. And the material never gets too heavy, Jennings said, because “everybody should be able to make fun of themselves.”

With the popularity of improvisational theater on the rise, “Religious Pretense” is offering a taste of what is sure to be an upcoming, mainstream trend.

“It’s kind of this underground hit right now,” Jennings said.

And with entertaining shows like “Religious Pretense” right on campus, students have the opportunity to be the first to explore this new trend.