BWW Review: THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY
THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY opens with a question "Is there a particular slant you want to put on it?" The woman asking is wary of how the investigative theatre troupe The Civilians will portray her and her town.
It seems reasonable that this woman who moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado to help bring more evangelical people and businesses to the town may view those from that liberal hotbed New York City with a suspicious glance. The Civilians went into the town to interview the people who lived there during the run up to a divisive election in 2006 and the play is what was created from their gathered material and quotes that helped become the dialogue of the play.
So you could say it was a heaven sent blessing to The Civilians that while they were there they got a plot twist in the form of the drugs and prostitution scandal that befell New Life Church's founding Pastor Ted Haggard.
The play that resulted explores the residents of this town, both the evangelical faithful and the locals who don't practice those faiths who are starting to feel like outsiders in their own community. Though the fall of the Pastor Ted is a central part of the story, much like the troupe's time spent in the town, this play takes it's time getting to know those in the town before digging into his actions.
With so many elements, characterizations, and musical numbers it is through the creative and empathetic direction by Matt M. Morrow, and the stellar cast that this show comes together to tell its story so effectively.
The recurrence of the individuals mirroring the same overly earnest, almost sinister friendliness and ardent beliefs of what happens to those that do or don't fall in line that give them an eerie Stepford wife like feeling. So the most difficult line to walk for the cast is keeping the portrayal feeling like the actual people they actually are based upon.
From teenagers to the an elderly church goer, youth pastors to political activist, the disenfranchised locals to a fiery preacher performing an exorcism, a former drug addict to a trans woman; the cast handles all of these character changes, and all of the music with aplomb.
Theo Allyn is tremendous as a woman explaining her transition from church going Dad to living her authentic life as a woman in this small, spiritual town. Kim Heil hilariously grabs your attention as an evangelical who is looking forward to the "end times" and can see demons that are attached to those she meets. Jasmine January is funny as a sassy senior at the Baptist church, and then makes an impactful turn as a Baptist minister.
Michael Louis Cusimano plays a cool Youth Pastor at New Life church, as well as playing the guitar throughout the show. He is most impactful as the contemplative son of Ted Haggard who is still grappling to understand all the facets of his father's fall from grace. Tony Houck is delightful as the funny political canvasser, and slightly sinister as the perpetually good natured and smiling church leader. He also does double duty playing the keyboard as the shows musical director. Victor E. Chan as a funny native local who publishes an anti-church establishment paper, and roars as an angry Air Force parent over the proselytizing of the "Christian Taliban" at the Air Force Academy.
All of this plays out on the scenic design by Justin Humphries, heightened by excellent projections by Blake McCarty, and lighting design by Curtis Mueller.
The show could benefit from some trimming, both in time and content. The second act feels like it wanders a bit too far at times, and into unnecessary repetition. Neither does it allow both sides equal time; after all they were there to explore the churches and their congregants to get a better understanding of those that attend, not to provide a debate forum.
THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY is an interesting exploration of faith, power, politics, and community when the world is always changing.
THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY is playing through December 16th at the Diversionary Theatre. For show times and ticket information go to www.diversionary.org
Photo Credit: Simpatika