The black performance space is dimly lit by flickering candles.
Audience members soon understand that they are in a dank cell in Rome beneath Nero’s circus into which is thrown Simon Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ. Clad only in a white tunic, he awaits his final testing.
Known from the Gospels as a gregarious, impetuous sort, Peter attempts to bridge the societal distance between a Galilean fisherman and a young Roman named Regulus who shares his confinement.
“It seems to me that God prefers passion over performance.” Repeating the phrase “passion over performance” with satisfaction, Peter cheerfully wishes that Mark was handy so he could record it.
The little joke elicited appreciative chuckles from audience members aware of how Mark the Evangelist acted as Peter’s secretary during the apostle’s travels.
This is but one reference to what we know of Peter from the New Testament which pepper the dialogue of “Fishers of Men,” now playing at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood. As actor, writer and director, Rick Segall presents an appealing look at the Prince of the Apostles in this imaginative recreation of Nero’s persecution of the Church beginning in AD 64.
Drawn out by Peter, Regulus eventually recounts appalling events in his childhood: the death of his mother, the sale of the Jewish slave who nursed him, and the fate of her daughter, his playmate. Regulus has grown a beard, the mark of a barbarian for clean-shaven Romans, in rebellious defiance of his patrician father, the man who deprived him of any kindness or affection.
Ever the fisher of men, Peter seeks to bring solace to the bitter young man using his good humor and certain knowledge that Christ can touch the most hardened of hearts. The action becomes more intense as Regulus watches Peter hauled before the throne of Caesar where he’s given three despicable alternatives should he refuse to renounce Jesus.
“Fishers of Men” is a superb tour de force for Rick Segall, whose name will be familiar to folks who recall “The Partridge Family” on television, in which he played the youngest member of the singing brood. Since then he’s performed a plethora of roles in films and TV, as well as a number of theatrical dramas and musicals.
Following his performance we spent a thoroughly enjoyable quarter-hour in the theatre’s café. An energetic, humble, and quite personable young man, Rick told me his first thought was to mount a fully costumed, highly detailed set piece.
Even in simplified form it’s obvious he’s paid attention to details in Scripture, history and legend. We then settled into discussing such minutiae as the relocation of the obelisk in Nero’s circus and the dread Mamertine prison where Peter and Paul were incarcerated before their deaths, as well as how Rick drew inspiration for this drama after watching Dean Jones’ brilliantly conceived one-man show, “St John in Exile.”
First presented earlier this year, “Fishers of Men” has many admirable qualities yet allow me to suggest that it is remains a work in progress. There are a couple of expositional moments where the show lags, but certainly nothing a scribal tweak or two can’t fix. Even so, it is a truly splendid piece of theatre
Admirably supported by a selection of recorded musical pieces from an array of contemporary composers, Rick Segall brings Simon Peter to life, not as a plaster saint, but as a man with a twinkle in his eye, a powerful faith and deep love for the man he knows to be the Son of God.
Due to some disturbing descriptions of Christian martyrdom, this play is best suited for adults and mature teenagers.
Child actors are routinely chewed up and spat out by the entertainment industry as many former TV child stars and Disney ingénues, hip-deep in sex, drugs and self-adulation, keep demonstrating. It is refreshing to see Rick, having been touched by our Lord, using his talent to bring forth such a moving work of performance art.
“Fishers of Men” plays Friday and Saturday Aug. 21, 22 and 28, 29 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 23, 30 at 3 p.m. at the Hudson Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90038. For ticket and parking information call (323)960-7779 or www.plays411.com/fishersofmen.