In my lead-up to seeing this show, I was experiencing a dual emotions of euphoria and stress. Euphoria from a week spent visiting a friend I hadn’t seen in a full decade. Stress from the fact that FringeNYC doesn’t seat after the show starts and I only made it to the show about thirty seconds before the doors closed.
So, I’m in my seat now, and my heart is pounding from sprinting down four city blocks. Now, I wanted to see The Unusual Tale of Mary & Joseph’s Baby because I always find myself gravitating towards shows that have a religious theme. But, I had no idea what the show was going to be about. I knew the basic summary, but the entire time I’m waiting for the show to start (heart pounding, head aching) my thoughts are assembling into the expectation that this show is going to be some tragic thing. I’m honestly expecting the show’s tone to be serious and no-nonsense. I’m expecting and preparing for it.
The lights dim. A man in flannel with a hammer in his belt steps on stage. It’s dead quiet. The band on-stage starts playing music and a song bursts from Joseph’s lips, and he opens up with a joke about being a carpenter.
I had severely misjudged the content of this piece before attending.
As the initial shock of learning that this was a comedy/musical fades, I find myself getting really into it. Characters come and go, and soon Jesus is born. At this point in the show, which I thought was actually the end of the show, a thought finds its way racing into my head that invades my brain for the rest of the show. What kind of toys did Joseph make for Jesus?
So, hear me out on this, right? Jesus was a normal human child. The accepted biblical doctrine is that Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus to Egypt. At some point, they returned, and the Bible picks up on that with Jesus being about 12 years old. I’m sure there are knick-knacks and all sorts of things you could buy a child at this point in history, but Joseph is a poor carpenter. He had to have been making toys for the young Jesus!
So, while the show starts asking the questions of how Joseph feels about raising this baby that is God’s and not his, I’m wondering about how Joseph tried to have fun with his kid in the early years. While this strange looking puppet (The Angel Gabriel), which strangely looks like the CGI Trumpet from Courage The Cowardly Dog...
... this strange puppet is singing to Joseph about listening to God’s Will, I’m wondering at what age Joseph would have decided to teach Jesus carpentry. Did Joseph have any issues or doubts with the idea of teaching the Son of God how to do manual labor?
As Mary and Joseph argue about following God’s Will, I wonder how often the couple would have had this fight. How much did this married couple, in possession of Heaven’s Harry Potter, fight and argue about the things they needed to get done for Jesus? Did they pray over the baby Jesus a lot? Or did they just go about their daily business and often forget that he was even from God (a question broached in the show as well).
As the show closes, and they sing about faith and fear, these thoughts are still lingering. I’m still thinking about Jesus's life growing up, and the toys he got to play with. As the actors and the band leave the stage (following our applause, of course), a Fringe representative hastily asks us to exit. “We have another show we need to seat for,” she pleads.
As I’m leaving the theater, preparing to grab the nearby train and meet some friends, I’m thinking back on the show. The unexpected turn the style of the show took, for me. Thoughts of a serious tragedy dashed away by a comedy musical. I know that I’ve enjoyed every song and story beat (even the Angel Gabriel’s disturbingly contorted face). Even now, however, I find one thought as my most prevalent when thinking about this show: Joseph couldn’t make a soldier toy for Jesus to play with, because the only soldiers he knew about were Roman.