Anthony Tournis’s new farce is based on the premise that televangelists are hypocritical crooks who fleece their faithful flock. This once-startling insight might have carried some shock value back in the 1980s, when religious-talk-show host Jim Bakker’s career was undone by revelations of his sexual and financial misconduct. Today, not so much.
Set during the Reagan era, when “greed is good” became a national catchphrase, Prophet$ concerns three buddies who establish a TV ministry in a small Texas town. “Brother Vic” (played by Tournis) is a charming con man with a gift for salesmanship; rowdy Owen (Eric Roach) is his sidekick, a reformed drunk who lets Vic perform public “miracles” upon him to impress gullible Bible-thumpers; and Seth (Eric Wang) is the accountant whose pangs of conscience are overridden by his lust for lucre. When a shrewd grifter named Darla (Ashley Yates) joins the team posing as Vic’s wife, their “Church of the Prophet” starts raking in big bucks—much to the displeasure of preening Leslie Goode (Timothy C. Amos) and his steel-magnolia mother, Evelyn (Hilary Sanzel), rival televangelists who do not appreciate the competition. When Vic and Leslie set out to destroy each other, each gets his comic comeuppance.
Though Prophet$ is a world premiere, it plays like an exercise in nostalgia—a tribute to 80s film comedies like Weekend at Bernie’s, Revenge of the Nerds, Three Men and a Baby, and the National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise. Under Wm. Bullion’s direction, this Factory Theater production compensates for implausible plotting with over-the-top clowning. A welcome note of emotional honesty is injected by Lorraine Freund as Agnes, an elderly victim of Vic’s con. v