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The People's Temple 

Jim Jones swings from messiah to monster, but why?

Wednesday, May 4 2005
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It's easy to understand why so many people flocked to hear the Rev. Jim Jones preach. As depicted in Berkeley Rep's world-premiere production of The People's Temple, Jones, the leader of the cultish church, is charisma personified, a hip cat in dark shades and sharp suits with unbelievable powers of persuasion. Using archival material from the California Historical Society, evangelical songs, and interviews with former Temple-goers, writer and director Leigh Fondakowski (The Laramie Project) has created an engrossing documentary piece about the events that led to the deaths of more than 900 people in a Guyana jungle in 1978. Playing against Sarah L. Lambert's expressive scenery (resembling a cross between a morgue and a Container Store window display), the ensemble cast does more than portray Jones, congregation members, journalists, politicians, and families; the actors also capture the spirit of an entire era, from racial unrest to hippie euphoria. Besides the problem of creating real drama out of narrated interviews (which Fondakowski somewhat overcomes), only one issue remains: Jones swings from messiah to monster, but the play offers little explanation as to why.

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Chloe Veltman

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