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A story of Jesus with present-day issues

Times Staff Writer

Once again, Christ is humbly born, but this time, the setting is a Chicago housing project. In the minutes before his return to Earth, the messiah’s soon-to-be father, Joe -- a hard-luck, wannabe musician -- is cleaning his handgun when, for the thousandth time, he picks an argument with Mary over her unexplainable virgin pregnancy. In a rush of anger, he points the weapon at her.

This manger scene serves as the provocative story launch for “He Came Not to Destroy,” a new play given a do-it-yourself staging at the Inglewood Playhouse. The show is written, directed and co-produced by Anthony “9ine” Mills, with substantial support and a headlining performance by his wife, Tasia Sherel, known for portraying Pam the hairstylist on “Everybody Hates Chris.” Earnest and well intentioned, the play touches on such present-day issues as poverty, hopelessness, violence, drug use, prostitution, racial profiling, use of the N-word, AIDS and Hurricane Katrina.

Were these topics given more than glancing attention, the text might provide worthwhile answers to the popular catchphrase “What would Jesus do?” In its unfocused current form, however, the play is superficial and, often, unclear as it reimagines, in present-day context, such biblical events as the Sermon on the Mount, various acts of healing the sick and raising the dead, and the Last Supper.

This is no play for Sunday school class outings: The Mary Magdalene counterpart (played by Sherel) is seen on her knees at the conclusion of a sex act. Later, when the U.S. president (Jeff Sable) sneers “You’re nothing more than a whore” at her, she replies: “And Jesus is my pimp.” And though he professes that he “came not to destroy,” Jesus -- known here as Horus (Tee C. Williams) -- orders his Magdalene to “torch it” after she and a couple of angels have splashed gas around the site of a presidential news conference.

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The painted backdrop has the amateurish, scrawled look of a youth production; the performances reflect little exploration or connection; and Mills’ direction lets silence stretch, interminably, between lines, lengthening perhaps 90 minutes’ worth of material to 2 hours, 20 minutes.

As the tale progresses from street preaching to a planned electric-chair execution on trumped-up charges, Mills tries to underscore Jesus’ lessons in love and acceptance. The message often gets obscured, but at least it’s there.

daryl.miller@latimes.com

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‘He Came Not to Destroy’

Where: Inglewood Playhouse, in Edward Vincent Park, 714 Warren Lane, Inglewood

When: 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, except dark May 5

Ends: May 6

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Price: $15 in advance, $20 at the door

Contact: (310) 412-5451 or www.tasiasherel.com

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes


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