Let the church say “Amen.” I had just left the grimy streets of New York City, and as soon as we walked through those theatre doors I felt like I just walked into my own COGIC church. So much so, I had to take a moment before re-entering. Yes, it was that real. The set design brilliantly done by Dane Laffrey, makes you feel as though you are in one of those TV megachurches. From the blue pulpit, to the choir stand, the large flat screen TVs with peaceful images, to huge backlit cross in the back, and wood that accented the space I thought it was Sunday morning, not Saturday night.
We sat down in our Row F waiting for the show to begin and out came a choir of at least 20 starting with a gospel hymn that leads to a more upbeat tune, with full on church claps. Part of me couldn’t help but to laugh, being raised COGIC our choirs tend to look a lot more lively and a bit more melanin, which is not what was on stage so I couldn’t help but to feel a type of way. But it wasn’t all too distracting, because on walk the main characters just as you would expect on a Sunday morning. The assistant (or associate) pastor, the elder that sits in the pulpit but you really don’t know what he does, and of course the pastor and his wife (or First Lady.)
“Pastor Paul”, played by Andrew Garman, begins to deliver his sermon. A sermon so believable that when he says it’s time to pray, I actually started to bow my head! So, as the play carries along it’s as if we are all apart of the congregation and what a big day it is for us. One of the satirical moments I liked most was commenting on the absurdity of some megachurches by stating it has “thousands of seats, classrooms for Sunday school, a baptismal font as big as a swimming pool”. “Pastor Paul” is here to tell us that as of today, the building costs have finally been paid off and we are debt free! HALLELUJAH!
As he goes through and delivers his sermon he ends on a note that serves as the conflict for the rest of the play, “We are no longer a congregation that believes in Hell.” The rest of the play, which also take place on the church altar, show the other church officials and members (the associate pastor, an elder, a single mother, and his own wife) struggling to make sense of Paul’s new revelation.
The cast is small, but mighty. Larry Powell shines as the charming, dutiful associate pastor who eventually leaves the church due to his indifference. Linda Powell posses a sort of quiet power throughout the show as “Elizabeth,” the pastors wife. She doesn’t say much in the beginning, but her body language is a dead give away. So when she finally does speak, you want to hear everything that she has to say. Emily Donahoe also shines and delivers one of the most memorable parts from the play, “So, if there’s no Hell, what do you do about Hitler?”
What this play does do is make you think. While I’m one that cannot be easily swayed, it was interesting to watch this play with the beliefs I already have and see which side I sort of fit in with more. I was torn at times, uncomfortable at times, and straight up put-off at times but then I realized it’s art. Art is subjective and art is informative and it’s up to you what you choose to take away from it. This play could have easily fallen flat, but there was a careful way of storytelling that allowed the play to come off as profound and sincere, not a mockery of religion.
The Christians was written by Lucas Hnath and is directed by Obie Award winner Les Waters. Tickets for The Christians can be purchased online at TicketCentral, by phone at (212) 279-4200 and in person at the Ticket Central Box Office, 416 West 42nd St., where Playwrights Horizons is also located. The show runs through until October 25. Visit PlaywrightsHorizons for more information.
Photo: Joan Marcus