Dezi Gallegos spent his senior year of high school on a quest to find out if religious people can explain why random horrible things happen in the world.
The Petaluma teen’s search is the subject of his engaging, thoughtful one-man show, “God Fights the Plague,” onstage at The Marsh in The City.
“Fascinated and horrified” by the idea of plagues, the 18-year-old Gallegos says that on a “metaphysical whim,” he decided to interview more than a dozen people of different faiths, and some with none at all.
His journey also was prompted by personal issues. His mom has breast cancer, his brother is autistic, he himself can’t keep food down, and doctor’s can’t explain why. He is undeniably thin.
But the slight physique disappears as he portrays the folks he meets. They include: devoted Christians, atheists, a goddess witch, a Buddhist, a Muslim and a rabbi, who also happens to a drag queen. Their names flash on a screen behind him as he tells their stories, in their words.
He begins with Chris, a restaurant worker who found faith on public transit, after a meeting a woman whose failed suicide transformed her life. Upon hearing her dramatic story, he says, “the bus filled with the glory of Jesus.”
Gallegos tries to pray after hearing about Chris’ conversion, but he admits he doesn’t know how to talk to God. That’s not the case with his friend Kennedy, a Christian whose unwavering faith gives her love and purpose.
At points, Gallegos seems slightly more in tune with Larry, the state director of American Atheists, and Marlene, an atheist and former Christian who says the concept of original sin plays on fear, and even can be abusive.
Deb, the witch, has a looser approach, calling it “fantastic” that today people can pick whatever they want to believe, while Sylvia, a Buddhist who has cancer, seems particularly wise, asking, not “why me?” by “why not me?” as she comes to terms with her mortality, and also queries: “How can we be anything but kind?”
Irwin, the rabbi, finds solace in love, particularly the passionate Song of Songs from the Hebrew Bible.
In the end, Gallegos gets a diagnosis for his condition, and comes up with a plan, if not a solution, that seems to work for him. It’s one that resonates with his director, veteran Charlie Varon (pleased to pass the baton to a new generation of solo performers), as well as soul-searchers in his audience also eager to understand the complex world.
God Fights the Plague
Where: Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Aug. 10
Tickets: $15 to $100