issue 41: March - April 2004 

 | author bio

Mimes for Christ
Colm Clark

Hi, my name is HERB STARK and I'm happy to meet you
, announced the name tag pinned to his green and coral sweater vest. The dozen or so other neatly dressed men in the basement of Passaic Episcopal Church were similarly equipped with name tags. A flyer tacked once on bottom and twice on top to the outside of the door read:

Auditions for

The Passaic Mimes for Christ

Easter Performance

At St. Mark’s 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 speak?"
      "Uh . . . yeah . . ."
      "Mimes don’t 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. "It’s just plain-- I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t mime. Kappish?"
      "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 don’t speak. Do you see? This is the way it is for mimes. We don’t speak."
      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 voice.
      "Uhm, I--"
      "Thank you."
      "What part of thank you don’t 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--who’s next?"
      A guy beside Herb named Peter consulted a pad of paper and then exchanged a nervous glance with another troupe member. "Ron, uhh . . ."
      "What’s 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 Josephson’s head pricked up like a dog’s 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, I’m here again." The members of the troupe managed a lukewarm reply. "Wang Lo," muttered Ron through a strained smile, "you’re 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 happened.
      "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 judge’s 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! That’s fine, that’s all we need to see."
      Wang’s 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.
      "Well what?"
      "Am I in?"
      Herb exhaled a loud, exasperated breath.
      "You just don’t 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. You’re just dressing up like Christ and . . . pretending it’s windy."
      "It was windy in Palestine," Ron protested. "Jerusalem is a very windy place. It’s near a desert."
      "That isn’t 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 schoolmarm’s measured tone, "that you’re 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 disbelief.
      "No, see, the umbrella--that’s useful," Ron trotted over and picked it up to demonstrate. "See," he flapped it out, and in, and out again. "He’s 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 doesn’t even make any sense," Herb snapped. "Anyway, how would you know--you were there?"
      "You said that. I didn’t say that. You said that," Ron pointed at Herb, "You all heard him say that."
      "Oh, this is ridiculous. Why am I arguing with this man?"
      Herb collected himself quickly, straightening the papers on his clipboard, and snatched Peter Simons’ pencil to replace the one he’d broken. He suddenly became excruciatingly polite.
      "Thank you. Thank you, we’ll 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 I’m 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. "It’s okay, boss--screw them!"
      Peter Simons ran out of the church with Ron’s 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 water’s 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 ‘Lush Life’!"
      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 Ron’s 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, I’ve got something more to add" or "Help me, I’m 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 clear."
      Wang got up and put Madonna’s "Papa Don’t 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--that’s why they crucified him. So was John the Baptist. I’m like him. I’m a solo act. But how’m I supposed do the Last Supper by myself? It’s 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, I’m not done yet, no siree. I didn’t pay my dues dealing with snotty kids at birthdays and bar mitzvahs to let Holy Herb knock me down. I’m no puppet on a string." Ron pointed repeatedly to his chest. "And you don’t wanna get in a tug-of-war with this mime. "They won’t let me in the temple? I’ll go to the mount. I’ll 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 won’t let me into their little social club at the church? I’ll 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, we’re 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 Authority’s 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 Wang’s keyboard was a sign that read:

Come find "The Way"

This Sunday

At St. Mark’s Church

Tips Appreciated

      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 man’s crotch area, and then an elderly woman’s. 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 he’d 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 considerable pain.


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 Rose’s 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 drunk’s 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. Mark’s Church.


That Sunday--Easter Sunday--at noon, parishioners filed into the historic church in New York City’s 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, mime’s forever!" Wang cried, trying to convert the skeptics. "Once you’ve seen it, you’re mime for life."
      In the church’s 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 think."
      Herb’s 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?" Stark’s 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 God’s 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," Peter’s voice cracked and stammered. "Um . . . I think, uh, we should, well, we think you should . . . I mean, we’d like you to--alright, look. We wanna use Ron, okay, Herb."
      "What? Oh no. No way. You’re kidding me. He hasn’t rehearsed with us. He doesn’t know the scenes."
      "Well, everyone knows the story . . ."
      Herb studied Peter. "Even you betray me, Peter?"
      "Herb, the show must go on. It’s a done deal."
      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 church.


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 man’s 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, "Don’t 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 he’d 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. Andrew’s? Maybe even St. John’s 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 couldn’t believe what he was seeing or hearing: the music was thrilling, the audience rapt. Maybe he’d misjudged these two, he mused. What had he called them--dunderheads, miscreants? He chuckled at the memory. Maybe they weren’t so bad after all.
      Just then, Ron looked straight up into the church’s 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 York’s 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:

Brazil or bust!


© Colm Clark 2004

This story may not be archived, reproduced or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

author bio

Colm ClarkColm Clark is a freelance writer, producer and composer from New York, currently working for MTV Networks. He's also written about music for various Web publications and has been known to pen scholarly essays for Encyclopedia Americana and poetry for PoetryMagazine.com . When he’s not writing or producing television or short films, Colm scores music for Off-Broadway productions in NYC, including Ah, My Dear Andersen and, more recently, Seven Rabbits on a Pole. He's presently working on a collection of short stories.
Contact the Author


issue 41: March - April 2004 

Short Fiction

G.K. Wuori:Naked With Boys
Nelly Reifler:Personal Foundations...
Pat MacEnulty:The End
Paul Bergstraesser: Humility
Colm Clark: Mimes for Christ
picks from back issues
Javier Marías: Fewer Scruples
Adam Haslett: The Beginnings of Grief


Gretchen McCullough:The New Beirut


Adam Haslett by Sherry Ellis


19th-Century English Literature
answers to last issue’s quiz John Steinbeck

Book Reviews

Villa Incognito by Tom Robbins
The Furies by Fernanda Eberstadt
Dead I May Well Be
by Adrian McKinty
Boy A by Jonathan Trigell
The Language of Sharks by Pat MacEnulty

Regular Features

Book Reviews (all issues)
TBR Archives (authors listed alphabetically)

Home | Submission info | Spanish | Catalan | French | Audio | e-m@il www.Barcelonareview.com