EFR - Reviews of Cleansed in Blood

Isabella Goldstein

at 14:38 on 22nd Aug 2015

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Cleansed in the Blood of the Lamb, one may be forgiven of any sin, it is written in the Book of Revelations. This claim is one which is explored by Thom Jordan in Cleansed in Blood, a one man spoken word show which illustrates the hypocrisies and dangerous self-delusions which underline religious radicalism.

The protagonist Paul is Jordan’s own fictional creation – inspired by both his experiences as a minister’s son and by true events surrounding an Australian Pentecostal Minister, who was exposed as a fraud after having faked cancer for years.

Jordan is a talented actor – managing to conjure up a backstory with only a rack of costumes and a few chairs. His theatrical style is emphatic and engaging and he managed to command the audience’s interest and attention throughout the story’s unfurling.

The plot is cleverly structured through a series of anecdotes where Jordan re-enacts some of the “defining moments” of Paul’s life, the first of which is the family intervention staged by his father upon discovering porn on the family computer. Paul’s matter-of-fact description of his father’s threats to cut off of his right hand - is as humorous as it is disturbing.

But not only does Paul have to wrestle with the weight of teenage sexual repression, he also has to deal with the pressure of being a “miracle child” – saved by God to serve him and his higher purpose. We hear about this through Paul’s description of his first day at school, also the day that his childhood battle with lymphoma began.

Paul eventually moves to Sydney in pursuit of his ‘God-given gift,’ and when he fails to advance in the way he thinks is ‘God’s’ will, Paul takes it upon himself to further the Lord’s promise and gets caught up in a cancerous lie.

The play undoubtedly does a good job of illustrating the way in which some religious rhetoric exploits human vulnerability. We feel genuine pathos for the ill-fated Paul - the hubris ridden tragic hero whose attempts at self-justification are manifested in his long, convoluted soliloquies.

However, as a concept, Cleansed in Blood is odd; it feels almost too personal, like a stranger is reading to you from his diary of secrets.

But in spite of all its strange quirks and sometimes pretty dire dialogue, I found myself drawn to Jordan’s charisma and enthusiasm to tell his story. So, if you’re in the mood for something that’s free and thought-provoking, pop along for watch.

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Luke Howarth

at 20:27 on 22nd Aug 2015

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In 2006, following a hospital visit, Australian pastor Michael Guglielmucci announced that he was suffering from cancer. Also a bass player with the band Planetshakers, Guglielmucci released a single allegedly based on his struggle, titled ‘Healer’. Two years later, it emerged that the illness was a complete fabrication, in an attempt to distract from the pastor’s 16-year addiction to pornography, at which point Guglielmucci suffered a - ahem - fall from grace.

Thom Jordan takes this biography as a point of departure for Cleansed in Blood, which is delivered – ostensibly – by a similarly fraudulent, if charismatic, evangelical preacher. A spoken-word narrative is interspersed with less convincing dialogue as Jordan bounds around his small stage, manipulating the tired chairs of the King James hotel; donning a new costume for each episode of his story; delivering everything by himself, even down to a remote-operated Spotify playlist.

It is – intentionally, I think – an uncomfortable experience. Jordan is in character from the moment he meets us at the door to usher us to our seats; he comments on the weather, asks about our plans in Edinburgh, remarks on the dreariness of the venue. For almost the entirety of Jordan’s play, we sit through the sometimes heart-stopping experience of attending the sort of evangelical performance we usually see from safe distance - watched with cynicism or disgust from behind a television screen. Jordan’s climactic altar call swells seemingly interminably, as each tragedy in the pastor’s self-composed fiction is supposedly conquered through submission to deific power and love.

We sense an impending punchline, of course, and wait much longer than expected for it to arrive. The conviction of the piece is propelled by Jordan’s rhetorical power; he is a capable performer, and this is a play about the capacity for delusion in the hands of a capable performer. It is also, perhaps, about appropriation of experience. I sense that Jordan’s parting message is more than a middle finger to the ruthless and exploitative evangelists that inspire his character. Cleansed In Blood asks us why lived experience is so important- how we choose our inspirational figures, and how they help us – or should help us – to believe in them.

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