BWW Review: Audiences Rejoice for THE CHRISTIANS at the Alley
Emily Trask as Elizabeth, the Pastor's Wife, Richard Thieriot as Pastor Paul, Shawn Hamilton
as Joshua, the Associate Pastor, Jeffrey Bean as Elder Jay, and Choir Members in Alley Theatre's production of THE CHRISTIANS.
Lucas Hnath's THE CHRISTIANS is about Pastor Paul, who took his church from a storefront to a megachurch of thousands. While giving a sermon, Paul celebrates the anniversary of the church and the completed repayment of debt that helped get the church to its new status. Paul also gives his radical new viewpoint on life and Christianity, which uproots the basis of what the congregation believes.
THE CHRISTIANS was nominated for two 2016 Drama Desk Awards, two 2016 Lortel Awards, and won the 2016 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play and the 2016 Kesselring Prize.
If you've ever walked into a service at a megachurch, then you know what's at stake for Pastor Paul in THE CHRISTIANS. The play is daring and bold. It shows us the identity crisis our society has been having when it comes to ideology, and how even the well-intentioned allow this to tear our relationships asunder instead of bringing us closer. The play was enjoyable and filled with suspense and dramatic tension. However, the topic of this play seems to supersede the play itself. My connection to the characters in combination with the quick ending left me wanting to see more.
Richard Thieriot is the well-spoken and intelligible leader of the church, Pastor Paul. As Pastor Paul, he looks, talks, and walks like a leader. It's no wonder why he was able to build such a gigantic following, and obtain all the resources necessary to get his church built. But something has been nagging at him for quite a while, and when he reveals what this is to the congregation, factions begin to appear. Thieriot plays Pastor Paul well, and displays subtle nuances as he fights each battle with Associate Pastor Joshua (Shawn Hamilton) and Elder Jay (Jeffrey Bean). Thieriot commits to Paul's steadfast conviction all the way until the play's final moments, when he confronts his wife one last time.
Shawn Hamilton plays the equally steadfast Associate Pastor Joshua. Hamilton is wonderful as Joshua. His convictions and self-righteousness comes from a place of redemption. He is a born-again Christian, and is appalled at the new stance Paul has taken with the church. After being told to leave if he's unhappy with the new direction, Joshua goes and starts his own congregation. Within a couple of years, most of Paul's congregation has moved to his (or others') congregations. Hamilton never waivers in Joshua's self-righteousness throughout the story, but also masterfully shows us Joshua's compassionate side.
Emily Trask is outstanding as Pastor Paul's wife, Elizabeth. Despite not having many lines in the play, Trask's scenes pack punch. Trask gently but quickly peels back the layers of anger, shame, regret, love, and hope within her few scenes. These layers become evident in the final moments of the play, when she is faced with a life changing decision.
The set was grand and impressive. The stage was set up as a megachurch stage with plenty of space for the pastors to walk while giving a sermon, as well as a podium, seating areas, and risers for the choir. It was a bit distracting for me to watch the actors struggle sometimes with the microphone cables. During the most intense scenes, the action seemed to stall due to cables getting tangled. A monumental cross extends upward and across the top of the proscenium, and majestic stained glass windows are dispersed along the upstage wall.
I was pleased to see so many local actors in the choir in THE CHRISTIANS and the word of mouth marketing that resulted. Facebook marketing campaigns called "Meet the Choir" gained traction among the Houston theatre community, which seemed to prompt a "Meet the Choir" video by the Alley. The rallying behind THE CHRISTIANS strengthens the Houston theatre community and made this show that much more enjoyable. Although THE CHRISTIANS is now closed, Director Gregory Boyd has brought us a very different type of show on the Neuhaus stage, THE NETHER, which is now playing.
APRIL 22 THROUGH MAY 15
John A. Carrig
Janet Langford Carrig
LUCAS HNATH - Playwright
JAMES YOUMANS - Scenic Design
JUDITH DOLAN - Costume Design
KEVIN RIGDON - Lighting Design
JOHN GROMADA - Sound Design
SCOTT ANTHONY - Choir Director & Music Director
STEWART/WHITLEY - New York Casting Director
BRANDON WEINBRENNER - Assistant Director
CHRISTA BEAN - Stage Manager
REBECCA R.D. HAMLIN - Assistant Stage Manager
KRISTEN LARSON - Assistant Stage Manager
GREGORY BOYD - Director
JEFFREY BEAN as Elder, Jay
SHAWN HAMILTON as Associate Pastor, Joshua
MELISSA PRITCHETT as Congregant, Jenny
RICHARD THIERIOT as Pastor, Paul
EMILY TRASK as Pastor's Wife, Elizabeth