BWW Review: Dallas Theater Center Takes Us to Church with THE CHRISTIANS
What do you believe? How certain are you of those beliefs and how far are you willing to go to fight for them when they are challenged? These questions and many more are at the heart of Dallas Theater Center's new play THE CHRISTIANS, directed by Joel Ferrell and running at the Kalita Humphreys Theater.
Upon entering the theatre, the audience is immersed in the world of the show and brought into the action as though they are attendees at this unnamed megachurch, led by charismatic and "magnificent" Pastor Paul (Chamblee Ferguson). A choir leads the worship service, and Pastor Paul is supported onstage by his wife (Christiana Clark), Associate Pastor Josh (Steven Michael Walters) and Elder Jay (Tyrees Allen). However, the sermon takes an unexpected twist when the Pastor announces a "radical change" in interpreting a particular doctrine. Without spoiling any of the plot, this leads to some intense discussion, disagreements and, in some cases, irreconcilable differences.
It has been said that good art makes you think, and the themes of this play cause a great deal of introspection. Because people hold many beliefs, be they religious, moral or political, there are several parallels that can be drawn to other realms of human experience. How infallible are our leaders? Are we willing to change long-held beliefs based on what they might say or tell us? Because the focus in the show is specifically on religion, the topic of religious tolerance is top of mind. But, what is the extent of that tolerance and is there ever a line drawn? One character in the show points out that if, in order to be tolerant of all beliefs, the intolerant have to be cut-off, is that really tolerance? And, is it possible that one God could give two people conflicting information?
Because of the show's format as a worship service, Chamblee Ferguson as Pastor Paul carries much of the text on his shoulders, and he is more than capable of that task. His portrayal of the exuberant believer who slowly comes to realize that not everyone is willing to participate in his epiphany is deeply moving and heartbreaking at the same time. Christiana Clark complements the Pastor's arc as his wife, often living in his shadow, but dealing with questions and views of her own. The rest of the cast, including lindsay Ryan as a congregant named Jenny, help create such an ambiance of realism that a press night audience member reflexively shouted, "Amen!"
The technical aspects of the show are also spot on in creating the setting for what could be an actual church service. The scenic design by Bob Lavallee turns the Kalita into a beautiful, contemporary worship space, with choir loft, organ, and a larger, looming wooden cross. The sound design by Brian McDonald and lighting design by Yi Zhao help to complete the transformation.
In his opening prayer, Pastor Paul asks to "make us one - make us a 'body.'" As the current society struggles daily now with diversity of belief, the audience is left wondering if there ever can there be unity in opposition. THE CHRISTIANS continues its run at Kalita Humphreys Theater through February 19th. For ticket information, go to www.DallasTheaterCenter.org or call (214) 880-0202.