A Very Merry Unauthorised Children’s Scientology Pageant, Fourth Street Theatre, New York

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In 55 minutes, this deadpan satire packs in more information than the back page of a pharmaceutical advert. We learn that in Scientology, a sect founded in the 1950s by L. Ron Hubbard, the path to enlightenment includes states of increasingly heightened awareness – Pre-Clear, Clear, and Operating Thetan – and that an OT can control matter, energy, space, time, thought and life.

But were this off-Broadway revival, concocted by Les Freres Corbusier (Alex Timbers and Kyle Jarrow), merely a lampoon of the religion of Tom Cruise and John Travolta, it would be a mere exercise in obviousness. The duo’s Hell House, which sent up the scare tactics of some literalist Christians, suffered from just that shooting-fish-in-a-barrel strategy.

What makes Scientology engaging is its format: a school Nativity play. In a season groaning with Messiahs and Grinches, this chronicle with music figuratively speaking plucks the kids from the holiday audience and places them on stage. Their leader is a girl performer, Elizabeth Lynn, who plays a lisping narrator angel, imparting Hubbard’s journey from hack science fiction writer to charismatic peddler of a self-help technique that excoriates psychiatry while borrowing from Freud.

Everyone else in this all-children cast vies with little Miss Lynn for worst-acting honours; the chances that any of them will one day triumph as Hamlet or Cleopatra seems as remote as the likelihood of meeting an authentic Thetan at the supermarket.

But if they were talented – if they had learnt how to stay in character and not constantly scan the audience, as if in search of a reassuring smile from Mum – they wouldn’t make Pageant such a lark. The show, which amused me quite a bit more than South Park’s Scientology send-up, “Trapped in the Closet”, is a reminder of how amateur acting, like kids’ football, can convey considerably more charm than the grown-up kind.

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