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Oh, Jesus

Playwright concerned fringe show could land him in holy water

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Jesus' 13th video

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Jesus' 13th video

An executive of a national church organization is hiding his identity over the fear his fringe show -- in which he is critical of the way Christianity has abused Jesus -- will get him fired.

The author of Jesus' 13th Video, which premi®res July 18 at the Playhouse Studio, is not Frank Bowman, the name printed in the festival program and in its promotional material. Nor will the 57-year-old theologian divulge his church's denomination or even where he went to school to prevent himself from being associated with the 60-minute drama about a man claiming to be the Lord.

The description of the drama in the program is accompanied by a quote from a Winnipeg church leader proclaiming that Jesus' 13th Video is "pure heresy from start to finish. Watch it at peril of your soul." Bowman, as he identifies himself at the beginning of a recent interview, confesses he quoted himself.

His position in his church requires he uphold the main tenets of that faith, which Bowman has been at odds with for what he estimates has been 25 years.

A friend who often participates in the fringe festival convinced him to write a play, which he did when he took a three-month sabbatical last year. He is bankrolling the three-person production that includes him as an actor, although he will not say what his role is.

"There are those who would argue that the contents of this play (are) a direct violation," says Bowman, who holds a master of divinity. "I just always wanted to do this."

The festival is not usually a venue for serious theological inquiries, although it is considered an oasis of free speech. The cloak-and-dagger subterfuge is also a rarity, as most fringe artists are only too anxious to talk at length about themselves and their shows.

"I've been fighting against this for decades," says Bowman, who says he has written a few short plays. "I'm told I can't allow what I really think to be shared in public because (the ideas) are too controversial and I have to uphold the church position. I hate that. I absolutely hate it. I'm doing this because I'm tired of it."

Bowman says he is opposed to the idea Jesus is God, that Jesus died for our sins, was without sin and should be worshipped and prayed to.

"I believe Jesus was an ordinary man who had an incredible experience with God," he says. "This whole aspect of Christianity has drained Jesus of his power."

Jesus' 13th Video is about a man who claims to be Jesus and creates a dozen YouTube videos. He is a guest on a New York television talk show where the interviewer attempts to expose him as a fraud.

His 13th video has been pulled from the Internet and government agents are pursuing him because of what is in it. Protesters and those agents catch up to him at the studio and all hell breaks loose.

Bowman laughs when it is pointed out that he, too, is a man claiming to be someone else.

"There is all kind of irony because, in a way, that Jesus imposter is me," he says. "I'm really playing myself."

He hopes fringe-goers will find the script engaging, not too bogged down in theology and worthy of a laugh or two.

"I was thinking about a fringe audience when I wrote this play," he says. "I didn't write it for a Christian audience. Fringe audiences are people who tend not to be offended by heresies. They are people who understand the power of using the theatrical medium as a way to communicate.

"I already feel this is a success because we are putting it on. I don't expect to be found out. The odds are in my favour that I won't be linked to the play by people who would want to make an issue out of it."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 18, 2013 C7

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