Review: A CASE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD at Stages Houston

A stunning play that gives you hope in where we are

By: Jun. 01, 2024
Review: A CASE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD at Stages Houston
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Samuel D. Hunter’s (THE WHALE) latest creation, A CASE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD, marries well with the intimate Stages venue and the capable direction of Mitchell Greco. It’s a simple two-person play about two fathers in a small town in Idaho who encounter each other brokering a mortgage loan. Almost the entire story takes place in a small financial services cubicle, and you may think it would feel limited in scope given everything that defines this work. But somehow, the play explores hope, empathy, class, racism, and platonic intimacy between two men. It is about friendship. One is black; one is white. One is gay, one is straight. One has a daughter, and one struggles to adopt a daughter he is fostering. Each man faces his own struggle, and they share and bond over their two lives. I can’t think of a more perfect parable for our time, one that argues we are more alike than we are different. And a piece that reassures us that we will all be okay with each other’s help. The title throws you because it invokes an idea of religion, but A CASE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD says more about being human than anything concerning the divine. 

The only two actors in this STAGES production are Adam Gibbs and Bradley Atuba. They wholly disappear into the roles of Ryan and Keith, and their performances are like a master class in immaculately becoming a fully realized character. This is strong work from both performers, with no wrong notes. Adam plays a down on his luck white man who is getting a divorce and hopes to purchase a piece of land that used to belong to his family. Bradley is the queer black mortgage broker who is vying to be a single father to a baby abandoned by her drug-addicted mother. I couldn’t tell you where either character begins and ends or where the actors stop and start. The two men play it heartbreakingly natural and give life to these two voices with finesse. It is an intimate piece that asks for actors at the top of their game. These two men certainly are. 

Mitchell Greco has truly been known as a master of the musical genre, having spun out memorable pieces such as LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, XANADU, and FIVE COURSE LOVE. With this play, he shows that he can also do intimate drama. He gives the production fluidity and establishes a tempo for the lyrical discussions that are executed flawlessly. I would venture to say it is some of his best work at STAGES. The way he blocks this piece is awe-inspiring. It probably helps that he works with a wonderful script from a master like Samuel D. Hunter, who wrote THE WHALE. This author knows his stuff and how to write people that feel genuine and wholly realized. If you liked the movie featuring Brendan Fraiser, this quality is very close to that.   

Technically, I am unsure if Tania Barrenechea (scenic design) or Christina R. Giannelli (lighting design) is wholly responsible for the soulful neon squares that embrace the set, but it works so well. It feels like something to make this play visually intriguing and gives it pop. Robert Leslie Meek contributes sound design that works wonders, too. The actors create an intimacy, but the tech team paints around them and reinforces everything. The stunning tableau at the show's end is jaw-dropping in its pitch-perfect design. Beautiful work here as well. 

I can’t rave about this one enough because it all works, making me believe in more than just this play. I am going to be corny and tell you that something about it gave me hope. I know that sounds cheesy, and it is certainly not my brand as a theater-goer or critic, but there you are. Sometimes, you see something in a dark space that simply speaks to you, and A CASE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD is one of these works. The opening night audience I was with was so engaged. They laughed and had appropriate reactions at every moment. It was a conversation with the cast and the people viewing it. Intimacy is one of STAGES THEATRE’s core values. And they should point to this anytime they want to proclaim proof of it. You can’t do this in a larger space. Nobody else in town could pull this off. It is a prime example of what this company does best. 

A CASE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD runs at STAGES HOUSTON until June 30th. STAGES has its own parking garage to utilize. There are drinks and refreshments on-site and several restaurants within walking distance. The show is presented in one of their smaller auditoriums, and I would suggest sitting in the center rather than the sides, but obviously, all angles are close to the action. I am not sure how they pulled this off, but the show is appropriate for either Father’s Day or Pride in June.

Photograph was provided by Melissa Taylor Photography


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