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Sophia Metcalf’s ‘Mother of God’

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The UCI Department of Drama Design Faculty commemorates the hard work and creativity of its Master of Fine Arts (MFA) designers with Theater in Flux — a large project within the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. This installation highlights the staggering ability of its students to use the struggles of the COVID-19 pandemic to prospect new forms of inventiveness and artistry. Theater in Flux is an experimental project that celebrates change and assists UCI students in gaining a greater understanding of their field of study. Through collaboration, communication, problem-solving and design thinking, the Department of Arts and Drama faculty members and administrators support and encourage students to explore the extraordinary challenges faced in 2020 and use those experiences to create something unique and astounding. 

One production within this program is Sophia Metcalf’s one-man show “Mother of God.” They play the role of two characters, Sheila and Mary, with Ed Alvarez playing God. This prestigious show marks Metcalf’s debut as a solo artist and highlights their remarkably humorous demeanor. It is a musical fantasy that plays on the life of Mary of Nazareth — Jesus Christ’s mother. The show is a participatory theatrical experience that uses a blend of gesticulation, stand-up and storytelling to explore an untold side of Mary — one that connects her to modern-day activities including being an avid Instagrammer and someone who is a church-owning stoner. This work-shop production takes the idealized version of Mary as a symbol for womanhood. Though it may come off as insolent to some, “Mother of God” is extravagant, funny and ornate. 

“The timeline is a queer fantasia on the life of Mary and I want it to be a healing piece for queer people who grew up in the church,” Metcalf said.

“Mother of God” poster designed by Nettle Ada. Photo courtesy of Alexander Beaumont.

Raised in New Jersey, Metcalf became interested in the arts around the age of five thanks to the musical theater crowd near their hometown. They remember wanting to take voice lessons but were compelled by their mother to try piano lessons instead, which were free due to their grandfather being a piano instructor. They pursued piano for a couple of years before finally taking voice lessons. Metcalf’s musical background allowed them to be cast as fortune-teller Professor Marvel in their fifth grade “Wizard of Oz” production. 

“I kind of came out of the womb wanting to perform,” Metcalf said. “I just had the bug and I grew up in New Jersey near musical theater wonderland, so I think I was just like ‘I WANNA DO WHAT THEY DO!’”

Though one may assume there’s only one person behind a one-man show, Metcalf speaks incredibly highly about the collaborative efforts on “Mother of God.” They embody the performance aspect, taking the role of actor, writer and musician. However, there remains to be a team behind the overall beauty and artistry of the show: Sarah Jo Monaghan is behind the extravagant costume and makeup design; Nita Mendoza is the lighting designer; Ezra Anisman is the sound designer; Nettle Ada uses their visual art expertise on the piece and designed the cover art; Heather Bennett stage manages; and Lucas Esperanza-Goodman serves as the director.

The first live viewing was held outside UCI’s theatre at Bill Barber Memorial Park in Irvine on May 23, and around 20 audience members attended the live event. It was put up for about a week on campus but was filmed the majority of the time. 

The process of creating this magical production used both new and old material written by Metcalf themself. They compiled material they had written over the years — keeping some, tweaking others and dumping the rest. Metcalf dedicated their spring break to basking up ideas for the production. Over the course of that week, they wrote for four to six hours a day, making the production into what it is today. Though minor tweaks and additions were made based on feedback from their live viewing, they are honored and triumphant about the overall presentation.

Sophia Metcalf as Mary of Nazareth in “Mother of God.” Photo courtesy of Alexander Beaumont.

A severely notable aspect of “Mother of God” is the underlying message behind it. Prior to the global shutdown, Metcalf had worked with Monaghan and Mendoza on “The Penelopiad” — UCI’s spin on Margaret Atwood’s classic Greek tale — and the pair later came to them inquiring about a piece they had been working on, including designs, and had asked Metcalf to write something for it. They had all discussed their own experience growing up in the church community and wanted to use “Mother of God” to exemplify the violence within its teachings towards identity. 

“I grew up in the church as a not aware yet queer person,” Metcalf said. “I remember someone being like ‘yeah gay marriage will get you sent to hell’ and I was like, ‘why, that doesn’t make any sense,’ even as a young person.”

“Mother of God” features an original musical number “Psalms 121-124: A Song of Ascents,” with lyrics taken directly from the Bible and set to Metcalf’s music. The song is dedicated to Mary from the perspective of someone she loved a lot in her life. The performance demonstrates Metcalf’s outstanding musical skills from singing to playing instruments. 

Metcalf encourages everyone to come out to see their performance. Trying their best to not give anything away, “Mother of God” is a comedy production that redefines our lady Mary in a modern-day interpretation of woman. They will be moving to New York after graduating with the hope of putting the production up again and have been cast in “Twelfth Night” — a production just north of New York City. They’re excited to journey into the world of acting in New York and will continue to use their creativity to inspire and spark individuality. 

The filmed version of “Mother of God” will be shown on June 18 at 8 p.m. PDT, put on by UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Art. Tickets are free and reservations are available now on EventBrite.

McKenzie Boney is an Entertainment Intern for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at mboney@uci.edu