Bible tales … with spice

For his stage entry in Philly Fringe, Mi­chael Tait has craf­ted a re­li­gious mu­sic­al that isn’t quite G(od)-rated.

(L to R) Alex Fa­lone and Alissa Nesson act in North­east writer/dir­ect­or Mike Tait’s “Saucy Bib­lic­al Tales” on Sat­urday, Au­gust 20 at the Second Bank of the United States, 420 Chest­nut St. Kev­in Cook/for the Times

As a North­east Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic through and through, Mi­chael Tait has heard plenty of Bible stor­ies over the years.

In fact, thanks to his many years of school­ing at St. Bern­ard’s par­ish grade school, Fath­er Judge High School and Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity, Tait prob­ably knows more than most about the good book.

Even so, the bib­lic­al tales that seem to in­terest him most these days are not the ones they teach you on Sundays.

The 38-year-old play­wright, lyr­i­cist and dir­ect­or is ex­amin­ing a more erot­i­cized side of the Old Test­a­ment in his latest mu­sic­al pro­duc­tion, Saucy Bib­lic­al Tales, which will de­but from Sept. 2 to 10 as part of Philly Fringe, the al­tern­at­ive-style spin-off of the an­nu­al Phil­adelphia Live Arts Fest­iv­al.

The ven­ue will be the 150-seat theat­er at the Eth­ic­al So­ci­ety of Phil­adelphia, 1906 S. Ritten­house Square. Ad­mis­sion costs $20 for the two-hour per­form­ance.

Ac­cord­ing to Tait, “the Fringe” is an ideal vehicle for pro­mot­ing Saucy be­cause of the show’s so­cially, cul­tur­ally and theo­lo­gic­ally con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject mat­ter.

“When I first tried to pro­duce this last year, I had some per­formers back out,” he said. “They were a little too re­li­gious, and my show was a little too blas­phem­ous.”

Tait, who de­scribes him­self as “spir­itu­al but not re­li­gious,” has no such qualms. In the past, he notes, many main­stream shows have been vil­i­fied for chal­len­ging con­ven­tion­al de­pic­tions of re­li­gion, only to gain wide­spread ac­cept­ance and ac­claim in time.

“There were people protest­ing Je­sus Christ Su­per­star when it first went up (on­stage),” he said.

The premise of Tait’s show is to por­tray se­lec­ted bib­lic­al stor­ies all too lit­er­ally and to comed­ic levels, with nar­ra­tion by the forth­right Fath­er Ru­fus.

“Ba­sic­ally, the priest, Fath­er Ru­fus, is tak­ing a dif­fer­ent tack on preach­ing the Bible,” Tait said.

“Most people take the word of God lit­er­ally, like you be­lieve it or you go to hell. But (the Bible has) le­git­im­ate at­tempts at his­tory, areas that are purely folk tale and sec­tions where there is beau­ti­ful po­etry go­ing on. (Fath­er Ru­fus) takes the ap­proach that there are also areas that are a little racy, but (priests) don’t usu­ally get in­to that.”

One of the good fath­er’s les­sons, for ex­ample, is the story of Ab­ra­ham and the slave girl. As the story goes, Ab­ra­ham’s wife, Sarah, was un­able to bear him chil­dren, so the proph­et and tri­bal pat­ri­arch pro­cre­ated with his wife’s much-young­er hand­maid in­stead.

Adul­ter­ous per­haps by today’s stand­ards, the ar­range­ment prob­ably seemed like a pretty good deal for the aged Ab­ra­ham at the time, but not so much for his wife.

“(The girl) be­came more of a sex slave than a slave,” Tait said. “The hu­mor is in the way the char­ac­ters handle it, and the in­ter­ac­tion between the slave girl and Ab­ra­ham’s wife.”

Sarah ends up on the short end of the stick in an­oth­er story loosely por­trayed in Tait’s show. Forced to leave their home­land be­cause of drought, the couple enter Egypt. As they do, Ab­ra­ham lies to the Pharaoh and pre­tends that his wife is ac­tu­ally his sis­ter.

Ab­ra­ham fig­ures that the Pharaoh will take Sarah in­to his har­em and will kill Ab­ra­ham if he finds out that the two are hus­band and wife. Yet, the Pharaoh will be­stow Ab­ra­ham with great wealth in ex­change for a sis­ter.

“The wife is like, ‘What’s in it for me?’” Tait said.

As ex­pec­ted, the Pharaoh takes Sarah in­to his har­em, much to her dis­may. Then, a series of plagues rav­age Egypt and the Pharaoh kicks both Ab­ra­ham and Sarah out of the king­dom.

Yet an­oth­er story with heavy sexu­al themes is that of Judah, who meets a wo­man while trav­el­ing and pays her a goat in ex­change for sex. The wo­man turns out to be his daugh­ter-in-law.

It all makes sense for her, though. She had wed Judah’s first son, but he died be­fore they could con­sum­mate the mar­riage. Then the same thing happened after she mar­ried Judah’s second son.

“This is her last at­tempt at sal­va­ging something,” Tait said, ex­plain­ing his take on the tale.

The dir­ect­or wrote and com­posed more than a dozen songs for the two-act per­form­ance. Mu­sic was a prefer­able op­tion to po­ten­tially raunchy dia­logue for tak­ing some of the edge off, he noted.

A half-dozen act­ors will each fill mul­tiple roles, wear­ing peri­od cos­tumes that will stop short of bur­lesque.

“They’re right where we need them to get the point across,” the dir­ect­or said. “It’s like if you go too far in one dir­ec­tion, you take something away from an­oth­er dir­ec­tion.”

Tait’s dir­ec­tion of choice is ir­rev­er­ence with an un­der­ly­ing mes­sage.

“I want to show people that there are stor­ies in the Bible that people don’t know,” he said.

He also wants “to en­cour­age the audi­ence to think things out.”

“There’s noth­ing wrong with ques­tion­ing things,” he said. ••

For in­form­a­tion about Philly Fringe, vis­it or call 215-413-1318.

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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