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September 2017
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Now, part three of a theological discussion of the musical and film “Passing Strange.” Part one is here, and part two here. I will discuss the Pilgrim’s deconversion from “ontological blackness” and the black church in the next post. In this one, I want to talk about his conversion to a life of desire more bracing than he had found in religion, even as it transmogrifies some elements of the black church in which he was raised.

After he leaves Los Angeles, he is off to Amsterdam, and the narrator Stew tells us:

“The pilgrim crossed both land and sea to find a cathedral home / Then two girl Jesuses colored him Lazarus and rolled away the stone”

Below are three clips featuring different relevant scenes from the show:

[1] The first is from the musical, when Youth/Pilgrim meets Marianna in Amsterdam, who gives him her keys.

[2] The second is from a special 2008 performance at Webster Hall in NYC, featuring an inaugural sexual encounter with Marianna and Renata and then, with two Dutch men (comparatively quite understated, or is it a joke?) Joop and Christophe, followed by Marianna’s giving him her keys.

[3] The third, from the musical, shows the breakdown of the relationship between Youth/Pilgrim and Renata. Here we see that the thrill of awakening to the patterns of his own passions is not enough for Youth/Pilgrim to carry him into “the real”, and he is peeling away from her “right when it’s starting to feel real.” These women have understood something of the real that he has yet to learn, but the conversion is underway. (That desire just needs refining, rehearsing, and much more dispossessing — which he will find in Berlin as he confronts more deeply the desire for blackness in his life.)

Here are the three clips:







So “she mended him by lending him her keys,” and in the first two scenes, there is the fabulous extended outro with the refrain, “Yeah, it’s alright!” There is a transvaluation of the values with which Youth was raised in this conversion: “It might look like Sodom from top to bottom, a shopping mall of vice, but it’s alright with me”… And then we have a black-church revivalesque carnival across the front of the stage, with Stew declaiming and getting the audience members up on their feet and yelling out, “It’s alright!” Christian theology might call this an eschatological experience, wherein the affirmation comes that in all and through all there will be all in peace, that “it’s alright” is a way of consenting to this consoling but finite and of course incomplete moment that is enough of an opening into the final reality of all things, into the final yes for and in “God,” that it can be said that, yes, this desire to which Youth/Pilgrim is awakening, these new relationships and their magic, have something of permanence for him, leave a residue of the eternal, they are rehearsals for the way things finally must and will be in the divine order of things. These friends helped him become a Lazarus and “rolled away the stone” in his secular “cathedral home.”

“Lazarus, arise!” Or as Stew yells it, “She told me, get up!”

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

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