The much maligned Mary Magdalene, known as the Bible’s holy ho, deserves a chance in the spotlight. Unfortunately, Sacramento Theatre Company’s Magdalene is not the show in which Mary can shine. Actually, more accurately, Mary’s the only one who shines in this misguided musical that tries to tell the tale of a rockabilly singer who uses Mary as a spiritual guide.There were signs from the beginning that this production had problems and was still a work in progress. The printed program described Magdalene as a one-woman play with two acts that runs an hour and 40 minutes. However, a pre-show announcement and a last-minute flyer explained that the play had been reworked to add a two-member band and a second actress, while subtracting 40 minutes.
What remains is an hour-long production of composer/musician Katie Ketchum’s tribute to a hard-knock singer’s life and to Mary Magdalene—a production that’s been changed so much that Ketchum had to read from the script on opening weekend. You can see the idea kernel that Ketchum worked from, but the results are a mixed bag. You hate to suggest another rework, since it seems this play’s close to being petted to death, but it has creative moments that are worth another round.
Singer/songwriter/killer keyboardist Ketchum explores, through songs, the many versions of Magdalene currently floating about: gospel whore, spiritual leader, the Egyptian goddess Isis, bride of Christ. Her central figure is a blond, bouffant-sporting, overly made-up rockabilly character named Marlene.
The biggest flaw is that Ketchum doesn’t really believe in her own character and gives us a mocking caricature of Marlene instead. She does believe in Mary Magdalene, though, which is why that character eventually takes over the play. Playing Magdalene in floating scenarios is the thoroughly engaging actress Jessica Goldman.