And now, Scary-Crayon reviews... ''In the Beginning'' and other stuff in Lancaster County, PA by: Wes

For the past few years, my mother has attended annual religious "retreats" to Sight & Sound Theatres, a theatre company that produces a variety of Biblical plays, in Lancaster County, PA. Each time, she returns to talk at length about how wonderful the plays are -- for days, sometimes even weeks -- citing amazing special effects and live animals on stage in her rave reviews. Given my general misgivings about organized religion and low opinion of my mother's taste in media, I usually just smile and nod in response. Besides, these plays were part of church trips -- and while that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, I've been to my mother's church on several occasions. The last time I went, the church hosted a guest husband-and-wife pastor team who gave a sermon about creation that contained, among other ridiculous claims, assertions that trees cannot survive for more than 48 hours without water. Suffice it to say that I was not impressed.

Yet this year, for whatever reason, my mother actually invited me to come along on the trip -- and while I scoffed at first, she then added that the retreat would also include a visit to the Rockvale Outlets shopping center. I admit to having been somewhat interested in the plays (longtime readers of Scary-Crayon will note that I am not averse to attending wacky Christian shows for anthropological reasons), but it was the revelation that this shopping center has a KB Toys Outlet store that suddenly made the trip that much more appealing. It's not like I had anything particularly exciting planned for that Saturday anyway! And so, on the morning of August 16, 2008, I found myself sitting on a bus filled with devout elderly people as my Dellpod piped various anime theme songs and mp3s ripped from $1 music CDs into my ears. Hadley and Lauren Christy rock!

Worshippers camped around the tabernacle.Life is pretty mundane outside in Munchkin Land.

But the outlet center and the play were only the final two stops on the four-part trip to Lancaster County. The first stop? The Mennonite Information Center. Our bus arrived late due to traffic, so we missed the first ten or so minutes of the Biblical tabernacle reproduction lecture. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that. I mean, I probably would have found the full complement of details to be interesting (though I suppose I could simply read Exodus 25-30 for those), and it's always sort of annoying to come in in the middle of something even when that something isn't particularly engaging. But on the other hand, there were some notable flaws with the presentation that made me glad I didn't have to endure it for the full 45 minutes.

For one -- and they didn't allow pictures of the actual tabernacle reproduction, but you can kinda see what it looked like in this cute Biblical clip art image -- the reproduction looked pretty crappy. That in itself wasn't necessarily a bad thing; as a portable temple, it's understandable that it couldn't rival the pyramids of Egypt or the Taj Mahal in appearance. But the way the lecturer went on about it, it was clear that she thought the temple and the reproduction were the greatest things since sliced salvation. She talked about how marvelous the gold paint was, even though dull gold paint on wooden planks looks exceedingly tacky. She spoke at length about the difficulty of weaving the tapestry and the majesty of the image that adorned it, when honestly the design reminded me of Space Invaders. (Marginally cool, yes, but not divine.) And then, rather than simply hiring a bearded guy to wear the costume and go through the motions, they had this ridiculous herky-jerky wax figure on a rail. The movement actually made it unnerving -- I jumped when it suddenly jerked and started inching forward -- and the effect was only amplified by the fact that it was wearing a gaudy pinkish-purple dress with craft store gems hot-glued to it. The lecturer then proceeded to praise the dress at length.

But the most disturbing part of the entire production -- which you can probably gather from the text above -- was the obvious strength of the lecturer's belief that this is what actually occurred. I'm not even talking about believing that people actually carried a portable temple around and adhered to these practices. That would have been fine and dandy; there's a difference between believing something yourself and believing that other people believed it during more "primitive" times. Yet this woman actually believed that, several thousand years ago, God inhabited a space behind a giant Space Invaders curtain and that a dude in a pinkish-purple dress had to strip naked and slather himself with sheep's blood once a year so that he could go back there for a chat. As I listened to the lecturer talk, one thought kept echoing in my mind: This woman is batshit crazy. Now, I don't mean that as a personal condemnation of the lady -- she seemed nice enough, and she knew her stuff -- but this was basically Wizard of Oz material. "NO! Don't look behind that curtain... unless you've made the proper sacrifices and covered yourself in the blood of a freshly-slaughtered lamb, that is."

And oh, at one point towards the end of the ceremony, the lecturer was going to light some incense so we could all enjoy the delightful holy fumes from the altar of worship -- but before she did, she asked if anyone in the audience had asthma or some other condition that should discourage her from this course of action. Lo, one -- one! -- woman raised her hand, and she didn't even say anything about asthma. She just plain didn't like incense. So the lecturer did not light the sticks, and nobody got to enjoy the divine vapors.

I glared at that incense-hating old shrew for the remainder of the presentation. Buzzkill.

Not _supremely_ tasty, but tasty nonetheless!Don't forget about dessert!

So after we listened to the incomplete lecture about painted wood and reclusive deities and animal blood that works like holy sunscreen, it was time for an early dinner at the Willow Valley Resort & Conference Center -- and a very early dinner at that, since I think we ended up there shortly before 1:00 PM. If you've ever been to a buffet place or eaten in a university cafeteria, you know the deal. The food quality was good without being fantastic -- if we were giving out letter grades, it'd probably warrant a solid "B" -- and the variety of dishes and desserts meant that all but the pickiest eaters would have no trouble getting full. Heck, I don't even eat beef, pork, lamb, and other meats besides fish and poultry, but I was pretty stuffed when I left. As you can see from the photos above, I particularly liked the stuffed shells, pizza, and chicken nuggets.

There was one item, however, that I most certainly did not like. Actually, that's probably worded a bit too strongly. It wasn't so much that I despised it, but rather that I kinda sorta wasn't all that keen on it and my reasons for not loving it became so obvious once I found out what it was that the very fact that anyone would make this dish upset me greatly. And coming from me -- have you seen our Foodstuffs articles? -- that means quite a lot. Anyway, the item in question? Shoofly pie. See, a huge advertisement featuring the pie in one of the county newspapers alerted me to the fact that shoofly pie is regarded as a traditional delicacy in Lancaster County, so I made it a point to try it out during my visit. The first bite? Hmm, not bad! The second? Very interesting... I wonder what's in this pie? The third? Seriously, what is this cloying shit? I can feel myself developing diabetes. The fourth? I need to get the hell out of this county. But I would have been willing to forgive all of this if it had turned out to have been made with some uber-sweet yam that is the chief export of Dutch Country or has some prominent role in the local history or something like that. Instead, when I Rockvale Outlets LancasterDecent dining at Willow Valley!asked the one of the waiters what was in the pie -- the wait staff was also very nice, by the way, with an abundance of comely bottle blonde waitresses on the roster -- he informed me that shoofly pie is made with brown sugar and molasses.

I said, "What?"

"Yep!" he replied with a smile. "Brown sugar and molasses with a crumb topping. It's pretty much just pure sugar!"

Who the fuck makes a pie with brown sugar and molasses?! I admit to having something of a sweet tooth, but that's taking things way too far. That said, if you have any rich diabetic relatives and you'd like to receive your inheritance early, you now have the perfect dessert to serve up during the upcoming holidays. Don't bother saving me a slice.

Besides that unpleasant taste test and the even more unpleasant revelation, though, I enjoyed the stopover at Willow Valley. We were just there for a meal, but the place is a bona fide resort with lodging and conference rooms and a beautiful lake and whatnot, so you may want to look into rooming there if you're planning a trip to Lancaster County. I can't vouch for the rest of the place -- for all I know, the rooms are painted a tacky dull gold and have pixelated aliens smeared on the walls in lamb's blood -- but if the remainder of the establishment is on par with the restaurant you'll probably enjoy your stay.

Then came my primary reason for going on the trip -- the visit to the Rockvale Outlets shopping center. You can check out the full list of stores on the website, but given the large size of the outlet center and that we only had about an hour and a half to shop, I didn't have a whole lot of time to spend in each of the few stores I visited. Making matters worse, the selections in the stores weren't terribly great -- I was at least hoping to come across some discounted Power Rangers or Pirates of the Caribbean figures in the Disney Store Outlet -- but alas. I did, however, end up with two DC Direct Identity Crisis Zatanna figures on battered cards ($3.49 each), two Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Graduation Day" Faith figures ($5.98 each), and a Mortal Kombat 2007 Exclusive Goro ($6.98) from KB Toys. And the thing about Goro being a San Diego Comic Convention and exclusive? I guess that didn't work out, since that KB had stacks of them.

Run, Lamb Chop, ruuuuun!It's safe to say I won't be watching this play anytime... ever.

And once the woefully inadequate shopping was done, it was off to Sight & Sound Theatres for the main attraction! The employee who boarded the bus and told us where to go from the parking lot did not fill me with confidence regarding the play, as he was among the dorkiest dorks I've ever had the opportunity to observe (which, given that I worked a brief stint in a local comic shop, is saying a lot). "Okay now, y'all, remember that your bus is parked in the yellow lot. See, it's got a big yellow sign that says 'yellow lot'! Wonder why it's called the yellow lot, hmmmmmmmmmm?" Uberdork. Getting into the theater wasn't particularly inspiring either, as this place was flipping packed. I don't do well in crowds -- I'm not very tall, so when people start pressing against me from all sides I tend to start feeling claustrophobic and smothered -- so I eventually ended up pushing my way back outside just so that I could catch my breath and wait for the pandemonium to relent. Once that happened, it was smooth sailing, as I was even able to take photographs uninterrupted and use the restroom without standing in a line that extended out of the restrooms and into a sea of human madness. The restrooms were amazingly clean, too -- either those Christians really believe that cleanliness is next to godliness or I was outside so long that the cleaning staff had time to clean up after the herd before I went back. Or maybe folks were so fearful of missing any part of the show that they simply decided to hold it.

And before I forget, you have absolutely no idea how difficult it was for me to photograph that lion out in front (and the painting at the tabernacle reproduction, for that matter). There was a family with nine or ten members in our group, and they felt compelled to take photos not only with every member alone, but also with every possible arrangement of the members that they could devise minus the one holding the camera. And then, once they'd finished that, several of the kids just loitered on the thing and jumped around for six minutes. Note that I've cleverly angled the camera upwards and cropped the bottom of the image so that the sight of their broken, bleeding bodies on the walkway doesn't upset our more squeamish readers.

In the beginning... a bunch of ridiculous crap happened.Even with all of these distractions, I managed to make it into the theater with ample time to spare before the start of "In the Beginning," a retelling of Genesis 1-4. Granted, I was expecting it to be fairly silly given the praise that Mom had heaped upon it, but, well... wow. If you want to get an idea of just how pointless and dragged out this play was, note that the Biblical text on which it was based comprises roughly four pages. Yet, by padding it with lengthy Animaniacs-esque songs involving the naming of animals and a list of Adam and Eve's forty-odd children, they managed to stretch that into a two-and-a-half-hour production. The Bible can be painfully laborious with the genealogies, but even scripture doesn't depict Adam running up to dozens of random animals, making totally obvious observations about them, and then calling them by names we already know.

But that wasn't the worst of it -- in addition to being excruciatingly long, the show was deeply stupid. You're aware that creationists actually believe that dinosaurs lived alongside man, yes? For no other reason than to explicitly embrace such nonsense, "In the Beginning" had Brachiosaurus represented in the Garden of Eden! Later, after Adam and Eve had been cast out of the garden, Utahraptors were shown striding across the uncharted wastelands. Adam and Eve then proceeded to lodge in a cave and become the Flintstones, even using a woolly mammoth as a beast of burden. And because no creationist showpiece would be complete without a dig at evolution, there was a scene in the garden where Adam encountered some apes and exclaimed, "They look like me!" "Yes," the Lord replied, "but they do not have my spirit." What-ever.

Oh, I'm not finished. Recall that even without these snarky digs at science and sense, the story of Adam and Eve is patently ridiculous -- involving, among other things, Eve being tricked into disobeying God by a talking snake. How did Sight & Sound Theatres manage to improve upon that detail? By turning it into a nine-foot-tall -- that's tall, as in floor-to-head height; I'm guessing it would've been 20+ feet long from head to tail -- purple cobra. And then, after it had a talk with Lucifer, it gained glowing red eyes and an aura of hellsmoke. Seriously, it was like Arbok in need of a visit from Father Karras. It even started talking in a strangely lyrical quality and dragging its words, which prompted Eve to exclaim, "You sure sound different, Mr. Snake!" Different?! If Eve couldn't tell that that thing was pure evil and not to be trusted under any circumstances whatsoever, she really needed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. The problem wasn't that Adam and Eve were imperfect and had free will -- it was that God made them insufferable morons. If you ever come across a giant possessed Pokémon, you're not supposed to take its advice! You're supposed to run the fuck away.

But then, this play even managed to make the angels creepy as all flip -- they came off like a horrific cross between the Clockwork Men and Hosts from "Doctor Who" with a dash of harpy for maximum terror. Isn't Heaven supposed to be the stuff of dreams? If so, I definitely do not want to know what horrors haunt these good Christians' minds when they've had an abundance of cold Greek pizza just before bed.


And even these details weren't the most unsettling and ridiculous things about the production. In fact, its most unnerving aspect had little to do with the play itself, as it was primarily rooted in the audience's reaction. At the end, there was a sequence that summarized the events of the play, briefly touched on the crucifixion, and then explained how Earth will soon be purified with fire and all the nonbelievers will be killed and the faithful will get to sit around a banquet table and chill with Jesus forever -- and throughout the latter portion, the audience was applauding and hooting like crazy. It was bad enough that the sow of a woman on my left was showing her approval with the Hulk's Sonic Clap (even if there had been "good news" to hear, I probably would have missed it what with the ringing in my ears), but the way the audience cheered even harder when the narrator mentioned details like the Earth being 6,000 years old was just mind-boggling. And scary. While the play's visual effects were excellent -- the six-day creation was particularly impressive, there were real animals (a goat, a horse, and even a skunk had cameos), and some of the fake animals were so well done that they looked real -- sitting in an auditorium full of people united in gleeful rejection of all of the scientific knowledge that humanity has acquired during the last few millennia is not an experience that I ever want to repeat.

With the play finally finished, we piled onto the bus just after 7:30 PM for the ride back to MD -- which ended up taking far longer than I'd anticipated due to a lengthy holdup at the army base (my mother attends a military church). I'm not sure how we'll do with bona fide terrorist attacks in daylight, but take heart in the knowledge that our United States military installations will be safe from charter buses of elderly churchgoers arriving under cover of night! The security officers even evacuated the buses and had detection dogs jumping on the seats. And then, when I finally got home at 10:20 PM, I opened my action figures only to find myself cursing the day when the left legs of both Faiths broke off at the hip. But I suppose that's only fitting, since this trip left me even more critical of Christianity and dealt a severe blow to my ever-diminishing faith in the human race.

-- Wes --
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