Marcus Freed is a man of many talents — actor, writer, poet, impresario. He is the inventor of Bibliyoga, a text-based system of yoga, and has a head for religious texts in general. But his greatest undertakings have been three plays in a loose series which Freed stars, co-writes, and stages.
Solomon: King, Poet, and Lover is a lot of things, too. It manages to juggle comedy, tragedy, politics and history at once, and using an impressive array of storytelling techniques from performance poetry to stand-up comedy. It’s almost impossible to avoid comparisons to Shakespeare — due both to the mixture of the highbrow and the lowbrow, as well as to Freed’s pulling double-duty as writer and actor — but he also mixes in elements of everything from Mel Brooks to The Office.
This weekend, Marcus Freed will perform at Jewlicious on the Beach in L.A. alongside Matisyahu, G-dcast‘s Sarah Lefton, and a bunch of other folks. Luckily, though, MJL got a private session to ask about his show, his favorite biblical hero, and why Bible stories get so hot and heavy.
Right from the subtitle of the performance — “King, Poet & Lover” — it’s pretty clear that you’re taking King Solomon on an irreverent, non-traditional ride. On the other hand, you’re getting raves from pretty traditional folks like Joseph Telushkin and Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks. How do you tell the line between being playfully irreverent and crossing over into the sacrilegious?
It’s a difficult balance. For me, this is very much about trying to find a truthful interpretation of the biblical stories. There’s a real danger of flattening the whole thing by trying to be reverent towards what’s essentially a sacred text, but I believe that as long as the intention is correct — for me, to get a real understanding of what it’s about and to connect with the stories in a meaningful way — then I’m happy to play fast and loose with the biblical characters. But it took me a long time to ‘come out’ and say this. Jews are great at religious repression but when we try and pretend stuff isn’t there, we miss the point.