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Performances of "J.B." to question traditional views of mankind and religious belief

  • Christa Wright as Nickles/Lucifer (left) and Kevin McCasland (right) as Mr. Zuss/God in "J.B."

Posted on March 16, 2018

Is there any meaning to human suffering? Is great wealth an indicator of anything? Is there a God or a Satan?

These are just a few of the moral questions that Grand Valley students will explore during upcoming performances of "J.B."

Performances of "J.B." will take place March 23, 24, 28, 29, and 30, at 7:30 p.m., and March 25 and 31, at 2 p.m. All performances will take place in Louis Armstrong Theatre, located in the Thomas J. and Marcia J. Haas Center for Performing Arts. For ticket information, contact the Louis Armstrong Theatre box office by calling (616) 331-2300. Tickets are also available via

Written by Archibald MacLeish, winner of three Pulitzer Prize awards including one for "J.B.," the story takes place in an enormous circus tent. Two vendors, Mr. Zuss and Nickles, begin to perform a play by assuming the roles of God and Satan, respectively. The pair overhears J.B., a wealthy banker, describe his prosperity as a just reward for his faithfulness to God.

Scorning him, Nickles wagers that J.B. will curse God if his life is ruined. After numerous terrible life events happen to J.B., he is left living on the streets, but is later visited by three Comforters (representing history, science and religion) who each offer a different explanation for his plight. J.B. declines to believe any of them, instead asking God himself to explain. Instead, he encounters Zuss and Nickles: one tries to convince J.B. to end his life to spite God while the other offers him his old life back if he promised to obey God. Will J.B. give in to temptation or move forward to create a new life for himself?

Roger Ellis, "J.B." director and professor of theater, said he has been hoping to stage this particular production at Grand Valley for many years.

"Not only is it unusual because it's a poetic drama, but it's also an epic religious drama on a level with the great Christian cycle and mystery plays of the Middle Ages," said Ellis. "I love the circus setting and the clowning enactment that reminds us all that 'all the world's a stage.'"

Henry Morris, a sophomore majoring in political science who plays J.B. in the production, said it has been a daunting, yet rewarding task to channel the emotions necessary to portray a man who's life is rapidly falling apart.

"He is losing his children, his wealth, and he starts suffering intense physical pain later in the play," said Morris, from Milford. "He is a dynamic character whose outlook on life changes greatly from the start of the show to the end."

Kevin McCasland, a senior communication studies major, said he had to almost develop multiple personalities to play the role of Mr. Zuss who adopts the role of God in J.B.

"Figuring out all of those moments where this character, who isn't exactly an angel, goes between sadistic, egotistical, humorous and playful, has led to plenty of challenges," said McCasland, from Grand Rapids. "It's a really different kind of story with really odd elements that simply aren't present in many other shows."

Ellis said that "J.B." is a "Brechtian-style" play that will challenge student actors with a cappella singing, direct addresses to the audience, and ritual ceremony juxtaposed with heavy metal music and dance.

"These will be new flavors for our student actors to enjoy," said Ellis. "We try to make sure that Grand Valley students become exposed to a wide range of the masterworks in the dramatic canon over their years at GVSU, and 'J.B.' is certainly a landmark of the American theater that belongs in that canon."

For more information about "J.B.," visit