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PDT's no-shtick-barred version of The Bible 

Themed cuisine is the hot new idea at Pineville Dinner Theater, arriving just in time for the holidays with a no-shtick-barred version of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged). Chef Cliff Ottinger was somewhat subtle last month, trying this approach with the PDT relaunch. A Philly cheese steak entrée coincided with the title of "The Philadelphia," one of the one-acts in All in the Timing, and a blini dish -- I'm guessing -- was a veiled reference to a nonsense word in "The Universal Language."

For this fast-forward romp through Scripture, Ottinger is going whole hog. Or whole fish to be more precise, as in loaves and fishes.

You can do soup, finger food, plus your main dish and hardly dip your palate on dry land. Lobster bisque, blackened fish tacos and grouper picatta all made successful debuts on the buffet tables. And at the carving station, the beef-pork hegemony has finally been broken, with six-pepper seared yellow fin tuna and wasabi aioli.

Like the other works in the Reduced Shakespeare Company canon -- Compleat Shkspr, Great Books and American History -- silliness and perverse ignorance have a higher calling than satire or wit. So it's not surprising that Pineville's new artistic director, Brett Gentile, has more success here than with David Ives' Timing, which had a more cerebral fascination with linguistics and phenomenology.

The Pineville Bible is about going for belly laughs, with a grungy edge that freshens this piece even if you've seen it in other productions. Directing Timing, Gentile was able to inject a raucous flamboyance that set it apart, but here he's back onstage, where he's most devastating -- and his loud, snaggle-toothed boorishness is in your face.

I almost believe Gentile as a down-with-it street savage, so his percussive contributions to the "Generations of Adam Rap" are a hilarious blend of the beautiful and the bogus. And who better, as Cain, to offer up Fruit of the Loom to the Almighty? Or as Adam, to turn the birth of Eve into a riff on Alien? Or to be obsessed, past the brink of insanity, with telling the story of Noah's Ark when we've already crossed the Jordan and reached the New Testament?

Gentile's partners in crime, Brian Jones and Ricky Watson, are often on the same page, chapter and verse. For sheer looniness, the Adam rap-a-thon is the most winsome trio, but they also form a mean kick line for the gruesome "That's Armageddon," a parody of "That's Entertainment."

Usually, Watson and Jones blaze their own distinctive paths. Tall and lanky, Watson is clearly the dimwit, gleaning his biblical scholarship from a children's picture book -- and drawing nearly all the falsetto women's roles: Eve, Rachel, Salome and Abel, the smarty who offers the Lord a can of Spam. He's also the genius who looks like Charles Schultz's Snoopy when called upon to portray Pontius Pilate.

Jones is about a five-day bus ride from normality, easily the most wholesome in this crowd as Adam, Shem, one of the Moseses and John the Baptist. He's spectacularly miscast as Goliath in a Matrix-style re-enactment of the Old Testament's best action sequence. Other hot pro wrestling action includes Samson vs. the Philistines and the legendary Jacob-Gabriel matchup.

Autumn Gentile makes an auspicious Charlotte directorial debut with an unerring sense of shabby style. We're basically back to a unit set after the abortive scene changes of November. The juvenile ripoff from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel fresco sets the tone with suitably over-reaching grandiosity. Yet there's also a cheesy mischief toward the end of The Bible when a cardboard Last Supper is unfolded onstage, with carnival cutouts for the 12 Apostles.

You need to know the Good Book well to make not knowing it so consistently funny. To lean so heavily on Scripture while giving so little offense, The Reduced Shakespeare writing team has trained their eyes on sacred text and eavesdropped at progressive churches. Their Ten Rejected Commandments isn't exactly Lutheran -- it's Letterman. And who can't break a grin when the great miracles of Jesus are reduced to parlor tricks?

At the Pineville Dinner buffet, there's a parallel prudence. Ottinger hasn't been totally carried away with his fish theme. My wife Sue gave approving testimony on the virtues of the turmeric curry braised chicken and the cute little rosemary lamb. I'd communed with the lamb last month, and saw that it was good, so last Thursday evening I explored the braised beef short ribs and witnessed their tenderness.

I'd never heard of twice-baked potatoes. Why? I wondered. Then I tasted the cunning miniatures and was beguiled by their mystery. Like the central conundrum posed by Reduced in a fleetingly profound moment -- why is God so radically different in the New Testament than the Old Testament? -- some mysteries are best left unanswered.

But of course, the show does answer that question. Hilariously.

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