It's rare that a show at TBA is as easy to summarize as Andrew Dinwiddie's Get Mad at Sin: a Message to the Young People of Today by Evangelist Jimmy Swaggart . I bet I can do it in ten words: Andrew Dinwiddie re-enacts a 1971 sermon by preacher Jimmy Swaggart. Bam.
Now, I've spent most of my adult life avoiding situations in which people shout at me about God. I never expected to find myself skipping dinner to sit in a tent and listen to an artist do just that. The show is set in a white revival tent next to Washington High—a low platform stretches the length of the tent, surrounded on either side by rows of folding chairs. It's dusty. (Take a Claritin.) Dinwiddie, clad in a brown suit, brown tie, and showy gold wedding ring, re-enacts the entirety of Swaggart's "message to the young people of today," taking a recording of Swaggart's original sermon as his source material.
Dinwiddie settles comfortable into the patter of a revival preacher, hitting his Ts hard and punctuating phrases with rhythmic "unh"s, and the crowd seemed to find the whole performance quite funny. I didn't, particularly, and I actually found the laughter of people around me pretty distracting. (Dick thing to say, I know.) But I don't think Get Mad at Sin is very interesting if it's viewed as an ironic or mocking sendup—if it's just supposed to make us laugh at how outrageous religious values can be. More interesting to me is a how all the elements of Swaggart's original performance were calibrated to elicit a specific reaction from an audience. The hypnotic cadence; the menacing references to wild girls whose godless behavior led to untimely deaths; the rise and fall of his speech, now berating, now cajoling; the winding up, the letting down. The performative aspects of preaching are a worthy subject, and one I probably wouldn't investigate in any other context—it's a chance to observe, even secondhand, a preacher's well-honed tricks and tools. Of course, there are probably 14 cable networks offering the same chance at this very minute—but Dinwiddie's show also functions as a time capsule, a peek at what fundies were preoccupied with 40 years ago. (Pre-marital sex, rock 'n' roll, miniskirts, the Beatles, homosexuality, prescription drugs.)
As compelling as certain elements of this show were, however, it had done everything it was going to do by about the 40 minute mark, and I found myself fidgety and checking my watch well before it actually concluded. In some ways, it's more rewarding to sit at arms length and discuss this show than it is to actually experience it—although, the audience members who thought it was so hilarious would probably disagree.
The show runs daily at 6:30 pm, through Saturday, $15-20