‘Teeth’ in Playwrights Horizons review: A biting satire on religion

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By journalsofus.com

NEW YORK – There’s a hidden problem at New Testament Village Church. What was once holy ground has been turned into a breeding ground for sin by a zealous man known as Pastor (Steven Pasquale), model evangelical teen Don O’Keefe (Alice Alan Lewis) and his angelic group of Promise Keeper Girls. Is.

In her new musical “Teeth,” which is making its world premiere at Off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons, writer Anna K. Jacobs and Michael R. Jackson dives straight into this dark world, especially the shameful and insidious secrets that preside over it. The show clearly presents acts of rape and assault that may be difficult for some people to watch (or even read about). But “Teeth” is a brazen, unique, wink-worthy piece of musical theater, even if, at times, it stumbles from grace.

According to the teachings of the priest, virginity is the fastest way to salvation, so the young women in this strange, imaginary city of Eden must stand firm in preserving their “precious gift.” But as the Promise Keeper teen’s sexual desires begin to grow, keeping the promise of piety becomes difficult. Especially when Dawn’s boyfriend – a basketball star named Toby (Jason Gotye) – looks great wearing jersey No. 7 (the Biblical number of perfection) across his chest.

As co-authors of the book, Jacobs and Jackson cheekily weave such biblical allusions and popular Christian rhetoric into their satirical take. Jackson — who earned a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for her breakout meta musical “A Strange Loop” — fearlessly writes lyrics with shocking rhymes (“My panties are wet / But it’s not blood or sweat”), which the director Sarah Benson encourages singing. With passionate faith.

The music inverted the tenets of evangelicalism by mocking the rigidity of humility and purity culture. Early on, Jacobs’s music also welcomes Christian rock into the soundscape, mixing it with American folk and brassy pop. The result is the kind of simple, whimsical music you might expect from Natasha Bedingfield… if Natasha sang about tightening her belt.

Lewis is a great physical comedian and emotional genius here, skillfully swinging between Don’s purity and his sexuality; Sometimes, she even grinds on the church’s red carpet floor (absolutely wet and dilapidated thanks to beauty designer Adam Rigg) as if it will give her orgasmic release. Don is so dependent on “the sting of shame” [her] The body’s role as a moral compass becomes confusing to the character when she begins to feel seriously ill, as if there is something wrong inside her. And this is when the “tooth” starts bleeding.

Those familiar with director Michel Lichtenstein’s 2007 horror film of the same name, which is the basis of this musical, will already know Dawn’s diagnosis: vagina dentata, or vagina with teeth. For centuries, this mythical disorder has served as a sexist exaggeration of the serpentine “evils” we women carry between our legs. with his music, Jacobs and Jackson attempted to reclaim the misogynistic myth, establishing Dawn as an anti-heroine: fangs emerge only when she is raped or attacked.

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The first few times this happens, she blames herself – a sharp criticism of the Book of Genesis – society’s old habit of assigning full responsibility to women for the sins of men. But after becoming the victim of a series of immoral affairs, including with her stepbrother Brad (Will Connolly), Dawn’s female rage takes over and she transforms from cherubic church leader to murderous siren.

Benson is in complete control of all this, steering her group through these tonal shifts – from radical satire to serious representation of sexual violence to castration. Jacobs’ score rushes to follow suit, evolving into a cacophony of punk rock numbers that energetically propel Dawn and the Promise Keeper Girls (at this point, like the Phallus Killer Girls) into their rage. .

While it’s all noisy, rollicking entertainment, one can’t help but yearn for more of our hero. The pastor, Brad, Toby – these people control every aspect of Don’s inner and outer life. As pleasant as it is to see her rejecting her influence, alienating members, and leading “women’s democratic liberation”, what kind of woman is she? between That overwhelming guilt and boiling rage? “Teeth” doesn’t know. Or if it does, he never opens his mouth to tell the rest of us.

teeth, at Playwrights Horizons in New York through April 14. One hour 55 minutes without any interruption. playwrightshorizons.org,

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