There are a lot of questions in Lucas Hnath’s The Christians and not a lot of answers. The play, put on by Rosebud Theatre is delivered like a sermon and presents a story about how our convictions within our faith can drive us apart. It is a rich narrative, explores all viewpoints and leaves the audience with all the questions.
The play opens to Pastor Paul (David Snider) delivering a controversial sermon to his congregation. He speaks about heaven and hell, and believing. After his sermon he gets a lot of questions especially from Joshua (Jordan Cutbill) the Associate Pastor. This divide goes further throughout the congregation and comes between Pastor Paul and his wife Elizabeth (Heather Pattengale). There are people who come out in tentative support of his point of view, like Jay (Judith Buchan) and people who come and challenge him directly, like Jenny (Caitlyn O’Connor). The key to the narrative is that nobody really has the answers. Everyone just has what they believe and a powerful urge to communicate.
Director Morris Ertman has made some interesting choices with how the play unfolds. Everyone speaks into a microphone when they are talking, as if they are always on the stage at the church. Hnath has Pastor Paul narrates everyone, so it lands awkwardly, him saying ‘she said’ after they deliver their line. It might be to create some separation between the audience and the story, emphasizing that it can be anywhere, in any time. Instead it comes off clunky and insincere. Carolyn Rapanos’s scenic design is a contemporary take on a building, the stage surrounded by structures of people holding hands with crosses cut out in different places. It gets across the theme, but it makes it hard to imagine the grandeur of the church. The carpet on stage and T. Erin Gruber’s lighting allows the feeling of being in a church to come through.
Snider takes on the characteristics of a Pastor very well. He is measured and solid in his performance. There are two other worship team members on stage: Stephanie Lanting and Cassandra Garbutt. They sing and are background members of the congregation, but mostly stand around looking concerned. It’s almost like the play didn’t really know what to do with them.
What resonates within the story are the questions. Do you like Pastor Paul? Do you think that his sermon was politically motivated? What happens when you have to stand by what you believe in and it creates a schism in your life? Does hell really exist?
The Christians doesn’t just explore these questions. It has characters push these questions, throwing in ethics, the business of the church and how the church needs a congregation in order to exist. Everything is nuanced. It means that the audience walks away thinking about their own faith and the things that divide us.
Rosebud Theatre’s The Christians runs until October 28. More information is available online.