Update, 10/19: Wild Wild Christian is back in Portland for one night only, this Saturday, October 23 at 9:30 pm at the Curious Comedy Theater. Get your tickets here.
Like a lot of people—especially Oregonians—I binged the hell out of the documentary series Wild Wild Country when it dropped on Netflix in 2018. If you watched it, you might remember that the last episode touched on what became of the 60,000-acre plot of land in Antelope, Oregon that was abandoned by the Rajneesh cult in 1985. It was one weird, borderline-unbelievable detail layered in a series full of them: The land became a Christian summer camp, Washington Family Ranch, that’s still in operation today.
Simone McAlonen attended that camp, as a kid with her family (her dad was an employee). Her real-life diary entries from those summers, from ages 12-15, make up the bulk of the comedic show Wild Wild Christian, currently at the Siren Theater. The show paints a hilarious picture of growing up religious and the awkward horniness of preteen girls, and examines the often blurry lines between “religious organizations” and “cults.”
Wild Wild Christian smartly opens with a real-life TV news package about the Rajneeshees leaving Antelope, then transitions to McAlonen reading her diary entries, interspersed with musical numbers and sketches from a cast of actors performing as church camp counselors and one Rajneeshee. Some of the biggest laughs come when McAlonen’s references the Rajneeshees—she thanks God for starting a fire that burns down a key cult leader’s home on the camp property—but the most effective parts of the play focus on the inherent contradictions that come with being an adolescent in any kind of devout culture.
In her diary entries, McAlonen lusts after cute boys at camp, then worries that they aren’t “Godful” enough for her to date. She yearns to grow closer to God, but has a list of 25 questions she’d like answered to help ease her doubts about the Bible’s veracity. She pens a song titled “I’m So Bored,” in one entry, only to write a poem, “Basketball Times” that recounts an afternoon spent shooting hoops in a strikingly heightened sensual style—one of the show’s funniest moments. Throughout all this, there’s a dark undercurrent of the dual shame and fear of sexuality that Christianity can instill in girls, such as when McAlonen fears that the misplacement of her purity ring is a bad omen.
There are some too-easy jokes about Christian culture in Wild Wild Christian, and some of the sketches felt distracting from McAlonen’s diary entries, easily my favorite part of the show. The show ends with some direct exposition that, while I appreciated the gray area it allowed for in how we think about religion and community, could have been presented more subtly.
But if you grew up in any kind of aggressively religious environment, it’ll be easy to overlook these minor flaws and relate to Wild Wild Christian, which has a tight hour-long runtime. While the show’s hook may be renewed interest in a 1980s cult thanks to a Netflix docuseries, Wild Wild Christian eclipses the shadow cast by the Rajneeshees, and is enjoyable in its own right.
Wild Wild Christian has two more shows at the Siren this weekend: 7 pm on Friday, September 24, and Saturday, September 25. Get tickets here.