BWW Review: CHURCH AND STATE at Los Alamos Little Theater
Can a dyed-in-the-wool, gun-packin', football-lovin' southern Christian Republican running for reelection change his spots? Would that ever be a good idea in North Carolina? What would happen if the Republican frontrunner suddenly questioned the existence of God? These are just some of the questions and crises of mind explored in Jason Odell Williams' darkly comic Church and State, playing now through March 16 at Los Alamos Little Theatre.
The four-person ensemble revolves around Senator Charles Whitmore (Tim Orcutt), a career politician from Raleigh, North Carolina, and the team helping him to get reelected - wife Sara Whitmore (Alexis Perry-Holby), Campaign gofer (Ian Foti-Landis) and his stalwart Campaign Manager, Alex Whitmore (Charlotte Jusinski). The action opens on frenetic backstage activity happening just before the Senator's next stump speech at NC State. There has just been a school shooting in Raleigh, at the school the Senator's children attend, and he has just made some controversial remarks to a local reporter questioning the existence of God. Team Whitmore springs into action to see how much damage has been done by the Senator's words; at first glance, things appear to be OK.
Given a little more time, the Senator's words spiral into a cesspool on social media, with the hardcore right giving the Senator a lambasting for his remarks. Instead of caving to his base, Whitmore uses this opportunity to push the envelope farther, with consequences of epic proportions. As Alex, an "East Coast Liberal Jew" works to spin the Senator's words, his wife panics and self-medicates. Whitmore becomes more emboldened by his comments.
As Whitmore, Tim Orcutt is very believable and likeable, the typical "guy you'd like to have a beer with" politician. The fact that he changes his tune so quickly after actually experiencing gun violence firsthand is also typical - most conservatives don't support gun control or other controversial issues until it affects them or their families - I would have liked to have seen more of the trajectory that gets him to this point.
As Sara Whitmore, Alexis Perry-Holby has moments of great comic relief, but seems uncomfortable in her skin - this could be attributed to her costume, which seemed inappropriate (too high heels, too form fitting) for the wife of a conservative Senator. Perhaps it was the script, but there needed to be more character development here as well - I really wanted to see the "woman behind the man," the glue that kept his campaign and career together.
Charlotte Jusinski as campaign manager Alex had the right balance of frenetic wrangler and voice of reason. She embodied the driven, organized, ambitious woman with her eyes on the win and beyond to the White House. What isn't clear is her tension with Sara, which is mentioned but not really seen onstage.
All in all, Church and State is an interesting and entertaining night at the theater. It's challenging in times of tumult such as these to be able to bring a show like this to the stage and not draw comparisons with what's happening in our country. It will make you think about your own convictions, and hopefully encourage conversation. Kudos to this small and dedicated group of individuals for keeping theater alive in Los Alamos!