The Christians Face a Crossroad in Production at Bristol Riverside Theater
The Christians by Lucas Hnath is a surprisingly sneaky play. I mean that in the best possible way. Using the audience as a surrogate for the congregation, it does a great job of creating the celebratory experience of a highly successful church making the announcement that they have finally made the final payment on their mortgage. Pastor Paul (played with great nuance and sincerity by Anthony Lawton) also takes the opportunity to share with his congregation something he has been struggling with for a while about the existence of hell.
Clearly loved by his congregation, Paul shares his thinking to the people. He is challenged by his Assistant Pastor Joshua (rendered with great passion and verve by Akeem Davis). Joshua cannot accept Paul’s belief and is moved to challenge Paul openly. It is at this point that the audience realizes the magnification of the issue. Both try to intellectually win their argument, but it soon becomes apparent that this is not an intellectual issue, but a “gut” issue. The play continues as Pastor Paul experiences the gradual loss of his congregation and the total disruption of his “perfect” life.
He is confronted by a stentorian Dan Kern who tries to rehabilitate Paul’s position, a confused congregant Jenny played beautifully by K. O’Rourke, and finally Paul’s wife, Elizabeth played with dignity and constrained passion by Susan McKey. These represent the main “professional” actors given to Director Matt Pfeiffer, but there is another important character that is part of this ensemble, the choir.
Bristol Riverside Theater started an initiative that incorporated community non-professional actors into selected productions. Previous productions were Inherit the Wind, An Enemy of the People, and A Witness for the Prosecution. If their presence in The Christians is any indication, it is brilliant idea. Director Pfeiffer uses them to great advantage. Their presence adds a verisimilitude to the play.
Pfeiffer’s direction is extremely well paced. He has a gift for creating real people on stage. He is also assisted by a tremendous support staff. Musical Director Michael Kiley adds a professional sound to the choir. Paige Hathaway creates a wonderful set that captures the sumptuous feel of a newly built church. Linda Bee Stockton’s costumes are dead on, and Maria Shaplin’s lighting complements it all.
The Christians runs Wednesday through Sunday until May 19th.Tickets are available by visiting brtstage.org or calling the BRT Box Office at 215-785-0100. They offer discounts for students, groups and military personnel.
Photo credit: Mark Garvin