Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam. Pic: Brett Boardman Reviews, Stage Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam review (Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney) By Jason Whittaker | February 13, 2020 | ★★★★★ ★★★★★ The drought has broken, if not out west then certainly in Surry Hills. As the rain tumbled down outside, the salty tears of hardened opening night theatre-goers pooled inside Belvoir St Theatre. Not for the first time this season, after last month’s beloved Every Brilliant Thing, Belvoir serves up a genuine weepy in Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam. And not for the first time it’s writer/actor Steve Rodgers, tireless star of Brilliant Thing, who is responsible for the waterworks, adapting Peter Goldsworthy’s novella of the same name for the stage. Jesus, mind you, which had an acclaimed run at the National Theatre of Parramatta last year, isn’t a weepy in the midday TV movie sense. It’s smarter than that, earning its sentiment with grounded characterisations and fine-spun performances, before setting a morality trap that audiences will struggle to free themselves from. Jesus … isn’t a weepy in the midday TV movie sense. It’s smarter than that, earning its sentiment with grounded characterisations. Ben (a really impressive Liam Nunan, effectively leaping age gaps in the story) is all grown up but seeking answers from his past. The photos on the mantle suggest a typical nuclear family experience: a loving mum (Linda, Emma Jackson) and dad (Richard, Matthew Whittet, replacing Justin Smith from the Parramatta run), beaming with love for their kids and each other, and smiling younger sister (Emma, Grace Truman, believably playing a much younger girl), with a head full only of songs and stories and childhood innocence. But we feel an absence, a shadow of tragedy. Ben has been in and out of therapy but trauma still weighs heavily. He wants to better understand how that family photo could become so fractured. To say any more would rob you of surprises I promise you won’t see coming. In this, Rodgers has done a terrific job in conjuring ghosts on stage. There’s a tension from the first scene that simmers for most of its breathtakingly short 80-minute running time. What the script and economical direction from Darren Yap is less good at is bridging the past and present. What the script and economical direction from Darren Yap is less good at is bridging the past and present. The story jumps around and the pieces don’t always fit together snuggly. The pacing can seem off, lingering on small moments but racing through much more substantial ones. And the moral complexity at the heart of the piece feels a little sanded back. The social commentary of Jesus — particularly around religion and faith — feels somewhat untapped. I haven’t read the book but at least on stage the audience, like Nick, is left with too many questions unanswered. The set (designer Emma Vine), a bright, open playroom with a totem pole bookcase, doesn’t always help in framing time or place. The addition of video projection (Verity Hampson on lighting and AV) tends to distract rather than enhance the storytelling. And yet, thanks largely to the organic quality of the performances (the cast includes Valerie Bader and Mark Lee), no doubt aided by the earlier season, it is deeply felt storytelling. It demonstrates an all-too-rare ability to lodge a lump in the throat and a nagging question in the brain of just how far we might go for love. BYO tissues. Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam plays Belvoir St’s upstairs theatre until March 8. Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Jason Whittaker Jason Whittaker is a journalist and Sydney-based contributor to Daily Review. He's been a theatre critic in Brisbane and Melbourne, and has judged plays for the Matilda Awards and the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. He’s edited various publications and is currently a senior producer at the ABC.