Monday, January 16, 2017

The Christians

Kurt Johnson, Darian Dauchan and Greg Alexander perform in
B Street Theatre's production of “The Christians.”
Rudy Meyers Photography/Courtesy photo

If you are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, or any other non-Christian religion or non-religion, you might want to steer clear of B Street’s new show, “The Christians,” by Lucas Hnath, hailed by the New York Times as “one of the freshest play-writing voices to emerge in the past five years.”

The show was apparently the break-out hit of the 2014 Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville, Kentucky, and has received good reviews Off-Broadway and all across the country.

Though it more than meets the promise of “powerful and thought-provoking,” the piece assumes that everyone accepts the divinity of Jesus Christ and follows the teachings of the Bible.

Pastor Paul (Kurt Johnson) is the head of a church (presumably non-denominational since no specific religion is mentioned), which has grown from a small group into a megachurch, ministering to thousands of believers. He has the smoothness and likeability of a Joel Osteen. He has just paid off the final debt for this beautiful edifice, he announces.

The edifice is, indeed beautiful. Scenic designer Samantha Reno has created a beautiful church altar, with a huge stained-glass window behind a golden arch and side choir stalls in which a dozen unnamed choristers add to the authenticity as they sing several hymns.

There is a lot of talk about emotional distance between the pastor and his flock, only heightened by the use of hand-held microphones throughout the show, even in intimate scenes between the pastor and his wife (Margaret Laurena Kemp).

In an overly long sermon, which began to feel like real “church,” Paul examines an emotional struggle he has been having after hearing a missionary describe a particularly painful experience of violence following a car bombing. After much prayer and study, Paul began to question the concept of “hell” and whether there really was a “hell” that was designed for all non-believers (e.g., Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.) He declares that from now on, his church rejects the concept of hell and would be all-inclusive.

This sets off a terrible division in his congregation, led by associate pastor, Joshua (Darian Dauchan) who adheres to what he believes is the strict interpretation of the scriptures.

Representing the congregants who are upset by the new thinking is one of the choristers, Jenny (Tara Sissom) who asks pointed and very difficult questions about the loss of hell and what that means for people like Hitler. When she dies, will she be in heaven with Hitler?

At first Paul’s financial backer Jay (Greg Alexander) stands by him, but as more and more congregants leave the megachurch to follow Joshua to his newly formed church, Jay also withdraws his support.

Discussion between Paul and wife Elizabeth is very painful and reveals not only cracks in religious beliefs, but in their marriage as well.

There are good dialogs going on in this show, but more and more I began to wonder if there were any non-Christians in the audience and how they felt about it, and I almost felt embarrassed to be sitting there ignoring other religions.

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