When you think Tribe of Fools, you think "devised theater." You think of ensembles of nimble physical-theater masters. You also think comedy, as in last year's School Play. Now the Tribe shows some new moves in Magdalene (April 5-22 at the Adrienne Theatre). It's only the second one-person show in the Tribe's history. Its subject matter represents a new direction. And there is a decidedly feminine tenor to the production: Starring Colleen Hughes, directed by Brenna Geffers, and written by Rachel Gluck (the production manager and lighting designer are also women), Magdalene is an attempt to re-brand this singular follower of Jesus.
"The show grew out of our discovery of the Gnostic Gospels," says Hughes, sitting with Gluck in a coffee shop. "That includes the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary, different versions of New Testament stories." "We're trying," Gluck says, "to tell a story that's different from the one you've been told."
But how does movement, for which Tribe of Fools is known, fit into this? Isn't the story of Mary Magdalene part of sacred literature? How does that fit in with the iconoclastic, explosive Tribe of Fools movement vocabulary?
It's perfect, say the principals.
"Movement lets you explore that which is mystical, which takes place outside of ordinary experience," Hughes says.
"It lets you step out of the literal, and show experiences that can't be told as a conventional story," Gluck says. "Movement helps you do that."
In more ways than one, this is a good time for Magdalene. It's Lent, the time of the Passion. And it's also a time, as Gluck says, "When women are beginning to speak in their own voices." And Mary Magdalene has been, for centuries, the most ambiguous of figures, celebrated as "the 13th apostle" and portrayed as a camp follower, even a prostitute. She is a woman who is famous, but largely via the words and attitudes of men. The most we've ever heard from her were her two hit songs in Jesus Christ Superstar: "Everything's Alright" and "I Don't Know How to Love Him."
This is not going to be that Mary Magdalene. "Imagine a world," Hughes says, "in which she can tell the world what she really is."