Little is known about the life of Jesus of Nazareth as a young man, making that period the subject of intense speculation. In “Jesus in India,” Lloyd Suh’s new play about the lost years of Jesus of Nazareth, we see an adolescent Jesus struggle to find himself and his place in the world as he travels through the Hindu Kush into India.
“Many years ago I had heard about the theory that Jesus had spent a portion of his ‘lost years’ in the East,” said Suh in an email. “It made me really curious, and the more I thought about it and read about it, I was struck by the fact that we know almost nothing about what Jesus was doing between the ages of 12 and 30, which of course are really important and formative years.
“There are so many things that I did between those ages that I’d love to pretend never happened, and so I started asking myself a lot of questions that I really wanted to explore the answers to.”
Throughout the play, which is currently running at the Theater at St. Clement’s in New York City, we see Jesus railing against his parents, experimenting with marijuana, and making liberal use of profanity. We also watch the 18-year-old Jesus front a rock band and fall in love and move in with the beautiful Mahari, a slave.
“I definitely think of it as a coming of age story more than anything else,” said Suh. “Because it’s about a journey towards holiness, I knew very quickly that it wanted to begin in a place of profanity, and so the play begins with youth and silliness and uncertainty, in order for it to move into a place of maturity, discipline and resolve.
“The most difficult part, therefore, wasn’t about humanizing him or making him fallible, because that’s only the starting point — there was a real freedom to say, okay, this Jesus is still a kid, he’s not yet the Jesus we know from gospel. The difficult part was in thinking about what this Jesus needs in order to grow into that certainty, that place of peace and resolve.”
Perhaps understandably, this play isn’t for everyone. About halfway through a recent performance, the group of about four middle-aged women sitting in the row behind me quietly exited the theater. As the lights went up at the end of the 90-minute play, I asked my friend Asha why she thought they left.
“I think it was different from what they were expecting,” she replied.
“Jesus in India” is currently running at the Theater at St. Clement’s (423 W. 46th Street) in New York City through March 10. For tickets or more information call (212) 352-3101 or visit ma-yitheatre.org.