Lucas Hnath (nayth) is a prolific playwright whose take on the theatre returns us to where it all began: The Church.
"The Christians" Hnath's 2014 play went up at The Taper in 2015 and comes again currently to the Actors Co-op in Hollywood. The beauty of this play is that it is a broad think piece that comes from the depths of the playwright's background.
Hnath's mother, Dana, was a seminary student and in the summer he would accompany her to classes, steeping him in the work that she was called to. His bio mentions his considering as a young man that he might be a preacher but decided that he didn't want to look after people's souls. He then went into pre-med but didn't want to look after people's bodies, so... of course... he became a playwright.
Hnath states, "Here’s something I believe: A church is a place where people go to see something that is very difficult to see. A place where the invisible is—at least for a moment—made visible. The theater can be that, too. "
This reminds me of a quote from Kahlil Gibran who tells us that "Work is Love made visible."
The work of making theatre is almost always filled with the genuine excitement of putting on a show. It's joyful work. Visible work.
In The Actors Co-op's production of "The Christians" we find not only life lessons and food for thought, but a banquet!
Front Row L to R: Kay Bess, Townsend Coleman, Thomas Chavira, Phil Crowley. Back Row: ChoirPhoto credit Matthew Gilmore
Director Thomas James O'Leary delivers the feeling of a mega church to the tiny Crossley Theatre on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church. We are greeted by a beautiful usher who hands us an authentic Sunday program.
Pastor Paul (excellent Townsend Coleman) addresses the audience, now become the congregation of literally thousands.. to deliver two important announcements. Coleman is appropriately humble and direct. Sincerity is Pastor Paul's stock in trade. His sincere devotion to his calling is the reason that this church has grown from a storefront to a gymnasium to the edifice that echoes the success of not only Pastor Paul, but the physical body of Faith in the now paid for building that houses them today. A deep sigh of relief comes after some rocky times, but now, the foundation of the church is solid... but as we find in Isaiah .. there's a crack.
To the surprise of everyone, including Elder Jay (attentive Phil Crowley) who chairs the board of directors and Paul's lovely wife, Elizabeth (Kay Bess) Paul will guide the church in a new direction.
This church will no longer preach a belief in Hell!
The liturgical and ecumenical and philosophical foundation has rested on the threat of Damnation for those who have not taken Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. The gut punch of this radical reversal of what the wages of sin might really be becomes not only the through line of the play, but the tenor of the room also changes. The audience is now engaged in the visceral reaction to the argument of the play as a congregation as well as playgoers.
Hnath's beautifully constructed speeches are undeniable as Associate Pastor Joshua (Thomas Chavira) rises to the pulpit to question Paul's new direction for the church. Joshua's devotion has come from a deep reversal of fortune that brought him from the brink of destruction to his now official association with the church.
Hnath in long and thoughtful speeches with director O'Leary's lengthy stage waits ..... painful anticipations.... bring Paul's crisis in faith to a showdown. Paul's suffering comes from his conscience by being exposed to an example of the unfair business of losing the soul of any human being who has, by belief in another religion or denial of the opportunity to be 'saved' to die and then... to be chucked into Hell. Paul points out that the "Word of God" is a bit like the game of Telephone where interpretations of the text over time may differ.
Joshua challenges Paul in front of the congregation and in a dramatic moment, Joshua splits from his church home, the church that has literally changed him as a person .. taking a handful of others with him.
The challenge of personal ethics and keeping on board a church with literally thousands, if not millions of 'faithful' is the crisis that Paul must now come to grips with. Out of the choir we meet the cutest congregant and choir member, Jenny (Nicole Gabriella Scipione). Jenny literally owes her family's well being and current success to the outreach of Paul's ministry and indeed, to Paul himself. She's prepared a statement with serious questions that take Paul by surprise. Jenny is deeply invested in the Truth of what she believes, as was Joshua. She poses incisive and thoughtful questions that she's had to compose and write out to be sure that what the new direction of the church is now, she may really understand. How can we not accept the Bible's "absolute directive" to believe in punishment for all who are not washed in the blood of the lamb. Isn't the fear of Hell what keeps us on the straight and narrow path?
Depending on our upbringing: in a formal church or faith; without the guidance of religion, or left to our own devices, Paul openly wonders how his literal indoctrination into the Christian Faith might be different had he been raised with other beliefs or traditions. His is a true crisis in that what he believes, what each of us truly believes, even the agnostic who's beliefs are unsure.. each of us must turn to either Faith or Reason: our own sacred and personal ethic in an attempt to personally resolve the question:
"What do I really believe?"
I really believe that "The Christians" is a play that must be experienced. The beauty is in the telling and the evocative critical thinking that each of us may be called to: like it or not!
THE CHRISTIANS by
Actors Co-op Crossley Theatre
1760 N. Gower St.
(on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood)
Hollywood, CA 90028
May 10 – June 16, 2019
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sunday Matinees at 2:30 pm
Saturday Matinees May 18 and May 25 at 2:30 pm.
Adults: $35.00. Seniors (60+): $30.00.
Students with ID: $25.00. Group rates available for parties of 6 or more.
Reservations and information