There are plays that make you think, and then there are plays that make you THINK.
The Christians, the latest offering by playwright Lucas Hnath as part of the 38th annual Humana Festival at Actors Theatre, is one of those.
Set in the sanctuary of a mega-church, complete with a coffee shop and escalator, the play examines one of the fundamental tenets of many Christian denominations, and investigates it from every side.
In The Christians, Pastor Paul addresses his congregants during a sermon with a newly discovered epiphany; a change in his thinking that rocks the church in all directions and forces each member to consider what he truly believes.
But things don’t go quite the way Pastor Paul expects them to, and he is left facing more questions than answers.
The play is not preachy. It does not set out to sway the audience to a particular vantage point, but it is certainly effective in causing them to examine their own beliefs.
And playwright Lucas Hnath, in collaboration with Actors Artistic Director Les Waters, navigates that examination skillfully.
Hnath is adept at capturing the essence of emotion through speech. He has artfully composed the hesitant and repetitive vocal patterns of those who are nervous and unsure; and the capable cast, led by Andrew Garman as the Pastor, is just as adept in the delivery.
Garman embodies the confident, made-for-television, praise-filled Pastor who is ready to take on the world. But as the play continues, Garman shows the diversity of his skill as we see his confidence begin to crumble.
We watch as he engages in a struggle when what he believes about God and what he feels about God doesn't match up with those around him.
Hnath adds humor in a non-conventional way, especially in the form of Congregant Jenny (Emily Donahoe) who rises to give her testimonial. Her dry but heartfelt declarations bring more than a few chuckles to the audience.
Even the intense debate between Pastor Paul and his Associate Pastor Josh (the exceptional Larry Powell) is effectively interlaced with humor.
The Christians is centered on theological conflict, but play is more than that. Because as time passes, we realize that the issues at stake are not just religious but are much broader. The Christians is about relationships and communication, and how we live with the ones we love.
The Christians is part of the 38th annual Humana Festival at Actors Theatre and runs through April 6th. Several ticket options are available via the Actors Theatre website or by calling the box office at 502-584-1205.
Image: Courtesy of Actors Theatre