I’ll be honest–I’ve been procrastinating on my review of The Christians at Center Stage. Not because I didn’t like it, but for the opposite reason: I was so moved by it that I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to coherently write it up. Here’s my best shot…
The Plot: The play, written by celebrated modern playwright Lucas Hnath (who, incidentally, wrote a handful of other shows that will be put on in Baltimore in the coming season), revolves around a pastor in what some might call a “megachurch.” One Sunday, he gives a sermon that upends an essential tenet of the faith, throwing his congregation (and his home life) into chaos.
The Set: A gorgeously done church interior with all the bells and whistles of a megachurch, including a live band, chorus risers, and audiovisual technology projecting the pastor, passages from the Bible, and lyrics to hymns on large screens. It’s designed to make the audience feel as if they are members of the congregation…which, in a sense, they are.
The Cast: I can’t say enough about Howard Overshown, who plays Pastor Paul with a nuanced fusion of geniality, imperiousness, pride and humility. His eventual nemesis, Associate Pastor Joshua, isn’t afforded nearly as much stage time or dialogue, but crackles with energy as a bullheaded-but-believable staunch Christian. Lawrence Clayton (who plays an Elder) and Nikkole Salter (the Pastor Paul’s wife, Elizabeth) are similarly strong, but it’s Jessiee Datino who steals the show. In a single scene, she capitalizes on the essential philosophical questions of the show, marking a turning point in the play with humor and sympathy. The Christians also features a rotating cast of local choirs–I saw the Greater Baltimore Church of Christ–which adds an air of authenticity (and an energy you can’t help but clap along with).
The Takeaway: The show is heavy, offering more questions than answers and an investigation into the nature of faith. Though it is bound to resonate with Christians, its inquiries transcend church, extending into the idea of institutions in general, as well as the risks and rewards of belonging to a community. In short, go see it–it will make you think, make you cry, and, if you’re like me, make you want to mull it over for a few days before coming to any conclusions.