BWW Review: THE CHRISTIANS at Baltimore's Center Stage Looks at Church Dogma in a Complex Way
You don't have to be Christian to love THE CHRISTIANS (with apologies to the 1960's famous ad "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's Jewish Rye Bread). But I do think a new name of the play would be appropriate. Have there been plays called "The Hindus", "The Jews", The Muslims"? Ok...there is THE BOOK OF MORMON, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, and GODSPELL.
But I must admit I was not that excited about seeing this show and I was pleasantly surprised by it.
When you enter Center Stage's Pearlstone Theatre you immediately notice the huge cross in the middle of the stage since you are literally in a church with two large video screens on both sides. At the beginning, the whole choir will be embracing each other.
There is a talented quartet of musicians who contribute to the ambiance of a gospel church: Todd Harrison on Drums, Max Murray on Bass, Michael Raitzyk on Guitar, and led by Jaret Landon on Keyboards. There are fabulous orchestrations and original music by Nathan Al Roberts, Charles Coes, and Landon. Edward Goldstein was the Music Coordinator.
Before you know, the whole audience is clapping along with the choir. Center Stage has invited Baltimore Church Choirs to participate and it was a pleasure to watch and hear The Greater Baltimore Church of Christ.
Hnath's 2015 play concerns a young handsome, married enthusiastic minister Pastor Paul at a huge evangelical mega church played by the charismatic Howard W. Overshown. The Pastor gives a great story as he begins a sermon of how he met his gorgeous wife "Elizabeth" (Nikkole Salter decked out in a tight exquisite dress and high heels) on an airplane.
Pastor Paul has an infectious smile and a great delivery as he begins his sermon. His congregation seems to be enthralled at everything he says. But what he talks about on this Sunday morning is much different. He talks about speaking to God who questions Christian dogma which could turn him into a heretic. The scene quickly changes. Associate Pastor Joshua (the terrific Adam Gerber) confronts Pastor Paul in front of the congregation and literally leaves the pulpit. It is not long that later, the choir and the musicians also leave. One of the highlights is when choir member "Jenny" (the wonderful Jessiee Datino) confronts Pastor Paul and what a confrontation they have.
Pastor Paul, after paying off the mortgage of his church, is left with almost no one to preach to after presenting his heretical pronouncement that deals with the heart of his faith.
Director Hana S. Sharif does a masterful job, Mike Carnahan has devised a clever set, Jen Schiever added affective lighting, and Michael Alan Stein is the Costume Designer. Kudos to Production Designer Hanaa S. Kim.
According to Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah, "The play asks what happens when we lose faith in our leaders and our institutions. But more than that, it seeks a dialogue about how we can reconcile differences. How we heal...It is an honest, heartbreaking, and universal story..."
Do not let the title of the play scare you away. This is a powerful play and should not be missed.
It runs until Oct. 8. For tickets, call 410-332-0033 or visit www.centerstage.org.
There are post-show discussions following the Sunday matinee on Oct. 1 and prior to the Oct. 7 matinee there will be a free discussion called "Together at the Table".
Finally, congratulations to Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah, currently directing Ibsen's LADY FROM THE SEA in London, for being selected to be the new Artistic Director of the famed Young Vic theater in London. Best of luck Kwame. You will be greatly missed.