The Passaic Mimes for Christ
At St. Marks Church, NYC.
Inside, a middle-aged nebbish, wearing Biblical robes
and leading a wooden sheep by a rope, auditioned for Herb and his troupe.
"Oh Lawd," the man droned in a North Jersey
accent, "show us da way to where my wife can have her baby and--"
Herb Stark interrupted. "Excuse me, but did you
"Uh . . . yeah . . ."
"Mimes dont speak."
"But I thought--"
"No. Mimes do not speak. If mimes speak it is no
longer mime." Herb emphasized the word "mime" as he peered over his reading
glasses. "Its just plain-- I dont know what it is, but it isnt
"Well yeah, but--"
"These are auditions for the Passaic Mimes for
Christ and we are traditional like all of the countless Mimes for Christ before us. That
means we dont speak. Do you see? This is the way it is for mimes. We dont
The auditioner stood there holding his sheep, looking
along the table for support. "Well, I could do it again but this time--"
"Thank you," Herb cut him off in a sing-song
"What part of thank you dont you get?
Thanks for auditioning." The man with the sheep started to leave, paused to look at
the troupe again and then shuffled toward the door, head down. "Thank you," Herb
lilted, without looking up from his clipboard. "Just take your sheep . . ." The
auditioner attempted to drag his overgrown lamb outside, holding the door with one hand
and pulling the bulky prop with the other. Herb stopped writing for a moment, looked up
and in one breath said, "Just take your sheep and get the flock out of here. Ha, Ha,
Ha, Ha. I hate auditions--whos next?"
A guy beside Herb named Peter consulted a pad of paper
and then exchanged a nervous glance with another troupe member. "Ron, uhh . . ."
"Whats that? Come on--speak up."
"Eh-hem. Ron Josephson, Herb."
Herb took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
"Ahhh, of course, the Lord decides to test me today."
In the foyer outside, five or six mimes sat around
waiting their turns to audition. The sad man with the sheep came out and the other
auditioners looked to him for some kind of encouraging word. He was mute. A lanky fellow
wearing white linen robes with a wig and beard hanging from elastic around his neck
diligently warmed up for his audition. Arm outstretched to grip a chair, he did some
ballet-style, plié bends. He jogged in place a bit, shadow-boxed and spread
his arms as if on a cross. Under his breath, he muttered, "1, 2, 3 and die."
On the word "die" his head fell sharply to
the left. He repeated this a few times until the door swung open and a head poked in. It
was Peter Simons. "Ron Josephson," he called out, swallowing the better part of
the last few syllables. Ron Josephsons head pricked up like a dogs detecting
some inaudible, high-pitched frequency. As he made for the door, he fumbled with his wig
and beard. A diminutive, middle-aged Chinese man carrying a small electronic keyboard
tried to get through the door at the same time. The two got entangled halfway through, but
Ron put on a friendly show of bravado.
"Hello everyone, Im here again." The
members of the troupe managed a lukewarm reply. "Wang Lo," muttered Ron through
a strained smile, "youre going to have to move a bit. You all remember
my accompanist, Wang Lo."
The members of the troupe managed another half-hearted
reply. "Of course we remember the both of you," Herb said wearily. "How
could we forget?" Ron and Wang finally managed to squeeze through the doorway with
one big push and immediately began setting themselves up as if nothing unusual had
"Do you need an outlet?" Herb said, tapping
an insistent rhythm on the table with his Number 2 pencil.
Wang Lo snapped out the legs of his keyboard and with
a ready smile responded, "Batteries."
He played a quick flourish on the keys as the troupe
exchanged eye-rolling glances. "Here we go again," whispered one.
"I know. Can you believe these guys?"
another guy muttered.
"Quiet everyone!" Herb clanked his coffee
mug on the table like a judges gavel until the din died down. Ron and Wang stared
blankly at the troupe for several moments before Herb finally waved his hand in the air
and shouted, "Ok, off you go."
Ron glanced over to make sure Wang Lo was ready and
then ceremoniously pulled his beard onto his face as Wang started playing a religious
theme on his Casio. Josephson hit a heroic pose, stretching his arms slowly and
dramatically as if on a cross. Overhead, a flickering fluorescent light threatened to
expire before finally struggling to a steady white glow. Herb and the others leaned
forward in their chairs. Then, completely in sync with the music--dressed as the humble
Nazarene--Ron started performing classic mime routines.
Jesus pressed his palms against the air, looking
puzzled as he felt his way around an invisible glass box. After that, the Lord stretched
his elbow leisurely, leaning on an unseen wall. Next, He bent his body forward, contorted
his face and pushed the ground beneath his feet as if walking in a strong wind. Lastly,
Jesus opened an umbrella to shield himself from the imaginary rain, continuing to moonwalk
against the wind. The members of the troupe leaned back in their chairs, shaking their
heads in disbelief. Herb gnawed vigorously on his pencil as Wang Lo started to improvise
and the music became decidedly jazzy. Ron shot Wang a dirty look, but his little friend
was in a zone. Eyes closed, head bobbing, Wang led an imaginary swing band in his head.
Herb Stark waved his hand to cut them off.
"Ok, ok, ok, OK! Thats fine, thats
all we need to see."
Wangs fingers fell on a few discordant notes
while Ron stopped mid-pose and stared at Herb expectantly.
"Well?" Ron said, brushing the long Jesus
locks from his face.
"Am I in?"
Herb exhaled a loud, exasperated breath.
"You just dont get it, do you, Josephson?
Every year you come in here and do the same thing. Mimes for Christ reenact the story of
our Savior as a ministry, as a way of reaching people. We do stories from the gospel.
Youre just dressing up like Christ and . . . pretending its windy."
"It was windy in Palestine," Ron protested.
"Jerusalem is a very windy place. Its near a desert."
"That isnt the point!" Herb shouted,
sending his Number 2 skittering as he drove it into the table. "The point is,"
he lowered his voice to a schoolmarms measured tone, "that youre just
dressing up for attention."
"Oh, let he who is without sin cast the first
stone," Ron intoned. "Herb, people who live in glass houses--"
"What are you talking about!?"
"My act cuts to the heart of the matter: What
would Christ do if he was trapped in a glass house?"
"Did they even have glass, Ron, in windy,
first-century Palestine? Or umbrellas?" Herb turned to the others and shrugged in
"No, see, the umbrella--thats useful,"
Ron trotted over and picked it up to demonstrate. "See," he flapped it out, and
in, and out again. "Hes using it to protect Himself from the plagues of frogs
and locusts falling from the sky and--"
"Hello, actually the plague of locusts is Exodus,
Old Testament, fifteenth-century B.C., long before Christ came along," Herb laughed
to the others.
"He would have been prepared. He was a forward
thinker and He would--"
"That doesnt even make any sense,"
Herb snapped. "Anyway, how would you know--you were there?"
"You said that. I didnt say that. You said
that," Ron pointed at Herb, "You all heard him say that."
"Oh, this is ridiculous. Why am I arguing with
Herb collected himself quickly, straightening the
papers on his clipboard, and snatched Peter Simons pencil to replace the one
hed broken. He suddenly became excruciatingly polite.
"Thank you. Thank you, well call you. Thank
you. Take your things and Ho Chi Minh and his magic keyboard and thank you.
Ron lifted his Jesus wig and scratched the unruly grey
mop tucked underneath. Then he stood silent for a moment, waiting.
"Thank you," sang Herb in a snarky tone.
Another pause. "Thank you." This time Herb emphasized the first part of
that phrase as a certain four-letter word replaced it in his mind. As Ron and Wang
gathered their things and left, Herb turned to Peter Simons, snickering, "Like
Im going to let those two knuckleheads ruin my New York debut--Ha!"
Ron threw open the door to the church and stalked past a few stray parishioners and
loitering priests. Still in his Jesus robe, but with the beard back down around his neck,
he walked down the street, seething. The much shorter Wang Lo, burdened by his keyboard
and amplifier, struggled to keep up. Wang did his best to placate his friend.
"Its okay, boss--screw them!"
Peter Simons ran out of the church with Rons umbrella
and called after them, but Ron and Wang were across the courtyard by now, walking along
the perimeter of the large central fountain. Simons squinted and cocked his head. Ron
appeared to be walking just above the waters edge with Wang following just behind
and below the surface. "Naaaah," he balked and headed back inside.
Ron, meanwhile, was in a tizzy. "What was that
stuff you started doing? I was going along fine and then you started playing . . . what
was that, jazz?"
"You do very well."
"I sure did until you screwed me up. No more
Wang shot back. "That not 'Lush Life' . . .
'Pennies from Heaven.' I thought I'd change things up a bit. You like?"
"No, Wang. I do not like."
Still bickering, the pair turned the corner on Passaic
Avenue and eventually settled into a booth at the Tick Tock diner on 3rd. In between
haranguing, Ron found time to order a burger deluxe with onion rings. Wang ordered a tuna
melt and suffered silently through more of Rons rant. When the food arrived, Ron
continued his tirade. "Those cretins. Those doctrinaire, dogmatic, self-righteous
cretins. Want half my burger?"
Ron broke the burger in half, gingerly. Tilting his
head to one side, he slowly handed a piece to Wang, like Christ dividing the bread in
DaVinci's Last Supper. Then he plunged his hand into the onion rings and shoved a greasy
wad in his mouth. He chewed for a long time and waved his hand in a circular motion, as if
to say, "Just one second, Ive got something more to add" or "Help me,
Im choking." Finally, Ron looked Wang straight in the eye and said, "What
if Shakespeare sold shoes? Or DaVinci was a pharmacist?" Bits of food flew past Wang
as Ron spoke. "Ok--hold on," he said, chewing some more, "I got one: What
if Columbus was a bus driver instead of . . ." They glanced around searching for the
conclusion to this premise. "Well, you know what I mean. I think the analogy is
Wang got up and put Madonnas "Papa
Dont Preach" on the jukebox. Ron took another bite of his burger and Wang
returned, bobbing his head slightly to the music. Their eyes locked and both reached into
the onion rings at the same time.
"My act is unorthodox. Jesus was
unorthodox--thats why they crucified him. So was John the Baptist. Im like
him. Im a solo act. But howm I supposed do the Last Supper by myself?
Its like Jesus eating a Happy Meal watching Friends in front of the TV."
He ate another handful of onion rings, took a huge gulp of Coke and wiped his hands on the
sleeve of his robe. "Well, Im not done yet, no siree. I didnt pay my dues
dealing with snotty kids at birthdays and bar mitzvahs to let Holy Herb knock me down.
Im no puppet on a string." Ron pointed repeatedly to his chest. "And you dont
wanna get in a tug-of-war with this mime. "They wont let me in the
temple? Ill go to the mount. Ill go to the shore of the sea." Ron fell
silent for a moment. A smile crept into his eyes as he looked at Wang. "They
wont let me into their little social club at the church? Ill perform right
across the street--right under their snooty noses." Wang nodded with a smile. Ron
threw some money on the table to pay for the food and looked at his empty wallet.
"But first, my friend, were gonna make some bread."
The pair left the diner and hopped on a bus bound for New York City,
emerging an hour or so later at Port Authoritys second-floor terminal. They quickly
set up shop a few blocks away in the heart of Times Square, amidst the dizzying swirl of
theatergoers, tourists and pickpockets. Within minutes, the two of them attracted a large
group of onlookers. Many were sightseers, tired of the all-too-familiar naked guy in the
cowboy hat, but some were hard-bitten city types.
Ron, looking to all assembled like the Lord Savior,
did not disappoint. He ran through a cavalcade of his best bits--tug-of-war, puppet on a
string, walking the dog--at times, deftly interacting with the crowd. Hanging from the
front of Wangs keyboard was a sign that read:
Come find "The Way"
At St. Marks Church
As Wang hit his stride, Ron walked an invisible dog on
a leash, letting it pull him to and fro and into the crowd. He allowed the loop of the
leash to explore a young mans crotch area, and then an elderly womans. The
young man giggled, but the woman shooed away the imaginary dog, hitting the loop with her
cane. Ron yanked the leash away and wagged his finger in a chiding way at the invisible
pet, but then knelt down and stroked the loop area, pretending to give it an imaginary
treat. Wang remembered Ron telling him once that the dog symbolized our baser instincts,
and the leash, our ability to control them.
Ron, meanwhile, moved on to another routine: puppet on
a string. As Ron danced and dangled, the woman hed engaged with the dog leash
hobbled toward the basket as if to put money in. As she got closer, she paused and looked
at Ron, then kicked him in the shins and walked away. Ron hopped around on one foot, but
instead of crying out, simply mouthed the word "oww," even though he was in
That night, a young man and his date laughed their way down Grove Street
in the West Village. As they walked, they heard some jazzy music coming from a cabaret bar
called Roses Turn. They paused to read the flyer on the window:
Come find "The Way"
with Jesus H.
Tonite and Tonite only!
Intrigued, they stopped in for a drink. On a small stage,
Ron Josephson, as Jesus, ran through some of his favorite routines with Wang Lo on piano.
A few patrons sat slumped at the dimly-lit bar and one or two chatted away in the
audience. As the young man and his date took their seats, a wobbly drunk knocked into
their table on his way to the front. After mumbling incoherently to the bartender, he
wheeled around and teetered just a few feet from the stage. While he stood their bobbing,
mouth agape, Ron walked right up to him with a saintly grin. When Ron got close, he jumped
back emphatically--wincing and holding his nose--making a face toward the audience as if
just having smelled strong breath. Then he gave the universal hand-to-mouth drinking sign
and waved his hand in front of the drunks face, giving him the sign of the cross as
if to bless him. Lastly, Ron handed him one of the flyers publicizing their appearance the
following Sunday at St. Marks Church.
That Sunday--Easter Sunday--at noon, parishioners filed into the historic
church in New York Citys East Village to see the Passaic Mimes for Christ reenact
the Gospel. As they entered, some stopped to gawk at Josephson, dressed to the nines as
Christ, doing his mime shtick with trusty Wang at his side. "Faith is fleeting,
mimes forever!" Wang cried, trying to convert the skeptics. "Once
youve seen it, youre mime for life."
In the churchs ante-room, just off to the side
of the main entrance, the Passaic Mimes readied for their performance, assuming various
disciple positions. Some knelt with eyes uplifted; a few gathered with abject grief and
pretended to carry an invisible body. Still others practiced moping around with forlorn
expressions. One or two actually did mope around, wondering if lesser-known
disciple in suburban mime troupe was the role Providence had pre-destined for them, or if,
perhaps, there could be more.
Herb Stark, done up in purple and white Biblical
robes, entered the room and immediately started gathering his "flock." "OK,
mimes, huddle up," he barked like a harried choreographer. "Judas? Where is
Judas? Simon, have you seen Judas? Paul? John? Come on now people, huddle up! In a circle!
Where is Jesus?" Just then, Jesus stumbled out of the bathroom, helped by Peter
Simons. Jesus was groaning and clutching his stomach. "Oh my God," Herb gasped,
"what happened to him?!
"I dunno." Simons said. "Bad poi, I
Herbs breathing increased and his eyes darted
around madly. "Right, somebody get him to a hospital. Somebody get Jesus to a
hospital! Gary? Gary! Where are you and what are you doing?" Starks young
assistant hurried over. "Gary, honey, get Jesus to a hospital," Stark said
softly, patting him on the head. "Thank you," he sang out loudly in his ear.
"Wonderful, just wonderful," Herb whimpered to no one in particular. "Now
what do we do? What in Gods name are we going to do? This was our pièce de
résistance, our Sistine Chapel! Oh father, why have you forsaken me?" he cried out,
smashing his long, plastic staff on the floor. Herb stared mutely at the broken shards of
his staff. Frickin K-Mart.
More disciples started to appear after hearing the
bad news. Troubled murmuring ensued. Then the troupe saw Ron outside the window. More
murmuring followed, then some consulting, then more murmuring, and finally a low-pitched
hum that turned out to be the basement generator. The disciple mimes elected for Peter to
talk to Herb. But Simons protested and a brief scuffle broke out. Finally, Peter walked
over to Herb, but stopped halfway, turning to look back sheepishly at the other troupe
members. They nodded their encouragement. "Herb," Peters voice cracked and
stammered. "Um . . . I think, uh, we should, well, we think you should . . . I mean,
wed like you to--alright, look. We wanna use Ron, okay, Herb."
"What? Oh no. No way. Youre kidding me. He
hasnt rehearsed with us. He doesnt know the scenes."
"Well, everyone knows the story . . ."
Herb studied Peter. "Even you betray me,
"Herb, the show must go on. Its a done
As he said this, disciple Judas was on his way out to
get Ron. Through the window, members of the troupe watched as Judas spoke to Ron and Wang.
A few anxious moments passed, then Wang started jumping up and down and the troupe knew
they had their Jesus. Ron pumped his fist then gathered his composure, as if knowing all
along this day would come. Together, Ron and Wang strode triumphantly up the steps of the
On stage, behind a closed curtain, troupe members scurried into position.
Wang rushed over to stage right, where the regular accompanist was seated at a piano, and
looked at him menacingly; motioning with his thumb, "Make a powder."
As the regular accompanist got up from his bench,
quizzically mouthing the words "make powder," Wang quickly moved the mans
piano, and set up his own keyboard and retractable seat. Then he grabbed what appeared to
be a stick or staff and threw it to Ron standing center stage. Ron climbed into the
faux-stone sepulcher set up there, while mime disciples assumed their positions around it.
Peter Simons leaned over and whispered to Ron, "Dont blow this one
Josephson." Lying flat on his back, Ron said nothing, but gazed up serenely with the
soft glow of beatitude. Simons scurried back into position and the curtain began to rise.
Wang Lo played uncharacteristically divine church
music with a pipe organ patch hed just installed on the Casio. Mimes dragged their
feet around the tomb, looking solemnly at each other, at the audience and upward to
heaven. Although the mood expressed on stage was appropriately somber, some of the mimes
could barely contain their excitement. Things seemed to be going well. If this was a
smash, who knows where it could lead . . . St. Andrews? Maybe even St. Johns
on Waverly! It looked like everything was going to be alright.
Suddenly, Ron jumped out of the tomb and looked
around, dramatically, like a silent movie monster. He raised his staff heavenward, gazing
up and then out toward the audience. Herb stood in the wings, mesmerized. He couldnt
believe what he was seeing or hearing: the music was thrilling, the audience rapt. Maybe
hed misjudged these two, he mused. What had he called them--dunderheads, miscreants?
He chuckled at the memory. Maybe they werent so bad after all.
Just then, Ron looked straight up into the
churchs stained glass skylight as the sun passed over, blinding him with a shaft of
amber light. He gave his staff a quick jerk and it broke through its crude paper wrapping
into a long, spiky, black umbrella. He spread out its wide, bat-winged parabola and
clutched its gleaming silver handle with both hands, pointing it forward as if to repel
some mighty desert wind. Wang shifted from the appropriate church music to "Lush
Life." Audience members looked around, confused. One or two laughed nervously,
thinking it was part of the act. The members of the troupe, knowing better, were aghast.
Herb Stark wrapped himself slowly in the curtain and, rung by rung, unhinged it as he fell
to the floor. Ron looked at Wang Lo and silently mouthed, "Lush Life?" Wang Lo
smiled broadly and nodded his head.
The next day, before a small group of curious onlookers in New Yorks
Washington Square Park, Ron--dressed as a Hassidic rabbi--danced a light shuffle and
mouthed the words to a recording of the Bossa Nova standard, "So Danco Samba."
Wang Lo, wearing sunglasses and a colorful Brazilian shirt, played along on an acoustic
guitar. A sign at their feet read: