The Christians demands attention at the SF Playhouse
THE CHRISTIANS: Drama by Lucas Hnath. Directed by Bill English. San Francisco Playhouse, 490 Post Street (2nd Floor of Kensington Park Hotel, San Francisco. (415) 677-9596. www.sfplayhouse.org.
January 24th to March 11th, 2017 Rating:
The Christians demands attention at the SF Playhouse
In 2014 SF Playhouse produced Store Front Church by John Patrick Shanley. Lucas Hnath’s play The Christians is an appropriate follow up for that play. When the Pastor first addresses his congregation (we the audience) he is informing the parishioners that it has been 20 years since he started their church in humble origins possibly in a store front and in that time it has grown into a megachurch and on this day the final mortgage payment has been made.
That sounds very benign but then he adds that he has had a revelation that Hell does not exist as an actuality but may be a human figment of the imagination giving a nod to Jean Paul Sartre’s concept in No Exit in that Hell is really what we give to each other.
Bill English and staff have converted the theatre into an evangelical church with an over powering white cross high on center stage flanked by modernistic multicolored windows and two TV screens for projection of cogent words or for emphasizing words. They are also used to display doves and fleecy clouds that suggest the nature of God or at least the temperament of the Pastor.
Hnath is very even-handed in dealing with his subject matter and leaves the ultimate decision to believe or not to believe up to the audience. The Pastor (Anthony Fusco) of a financial secure mega-congregation Fundamentalist church has had a revelation that the accepted Biblical concept of Hell being a place of fire and brimstone where the un-baptized (non-believers) are condemned to eternal damnation is not true.
The first to challenge the Pastor is Joshua (Lance Gardner) a black Associate pastor who had been ‘saved’ from a life of non-belief and through rigorous diligent prayer has been elevated to his present position gaining the trust and reverence of the congregation. He is asked to leave Pastor’s church and in doing so takes a significant portion of the congregation with him. The suggested revelation has significant repercussions not only on the Church and congregation but also has impact on the community and interpersonal relationships.
By adding only three other characters to the mix, Hnath clearly defines the financial workings and ingrained beliefs of the church. There is the Elder (Warren David Keith) who outlines the devastation to the Church’s financial basis, a young Congregant (Millie Brooks) who sincerely question’s the Pastor’s motivation and the Pastor’s Wife (Stephanie Prentice )who has faithfully believed in the goodness of her husband but now has severe reservations and considered leaving him.
The cast is well chosen. Anthony Fusco’s fine portrayal of the Pastor makes you feel his inner turmoil with a touch of egoism as he mentions God’s personal revelation to him. Warren David Keith’s physical stature and understated delivery give the impression he actually is an Elder of a Church. Lance Gardner’s sincerity and delivery leave no doubt that his character Joshua truly has been “saved” and his belief is unshakeable. Millie Brooks’ first hesitant delivery as the Congregant beautifully contrasts with the true desire to question Pastor’s motivation. Stephanie Prentice as the wife has to quietly sit through most of the evening but her final words with Pastor conveying his not sharing his revelation before giving the sermon gives layers of meaning to her devotion to him.
The play is elegantly staged with four ecclesiastical chairs down stage center and a church choir (16-member volunteer choir from the First Unitarian Universalist Church Choir) behind to add verisimilitude to the surroundings. The main characters all use hand held microphones even when talking to one another giving an aura of lecturing to each other. Yet the content of those seemingly didactic words are fully personal exchanges loaded with meaning allowing the listeners to take sides.
Running time is a scant 80 minutes without intermission and is recommended with the caveat that it did not receive the usual full blown standing ovation of previous productions.
CAST: Anthony Fusco, Pastor; Lance Gardner, Associate; Stephanie Prentice, Wife; Millie Brooks, Congregant; Warren David Keith, Elder along with a 16-member volunteer choir from the First Unitarian Universalist Church Choir.
CREATIVE TEAM: Director, Bill English; Music Directors, Tania Johnson, Mark Sumner; Assistant Director, Shannon R. Carroll; Scenic Designer, Bill English; Lighting Designer, Michael Oesch; Sound & Projections Designer, Theodore JH. Hulsker; Costume Designer, Tatjana Jessee; Properties Designer, Jacquelyn Scott; Choir Conductors, Tania Johnson, Mark Sumner, Bill Ganz, Louis Lagalantes; Casting Director, Monique Hafen; Associate Casting Director, Bebe La Grua; Stage Manager (Through 02.17.17) Alicia Lerner; Stage Manager (02.18.17 – D3.1 1.17) Angela Knutson; Music Arrangers, Scott Anthony, Tania Johnson, Mark Sumner; Keyboard Arranger, Louis Lagalante.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com