Review: CULT OF LOVE at Berkeley Repertory Theatre

What did our critic think of CULT OF LOVE at Berkeley Repertory Theatre?

By: Feb. 01, 2024
Review: CULT OF LOVE at Berkeley Repertory Theatre

A Christmas eve family get together turns into a didactic skirmish on many fronts; religious, familial guilts, gay equality, sibling rivalries and moral choices. It’s a lot to present, but playwright Leslye Headland manages to corral her characters idiosyncrasies with a well-crafted script and director Trip Cullman’s deft staging and casting. In a style reminiscent of Tom Wolfe or Hunter Thompson, Headland skewers the objects of her vision in a biting social satire that will have those on the rationale scientific, anti-religion bent cheering.

Review: CULT OF LOVE at Berkeley Repertory Theatre
The cast of Leslye Headland’s Cult of Love, performing at Berkeley Repertory Theatre now through March 3, 2024.

The Dahls are a deeply religious family, breaking into hymnals at the drop of a hat (Fleet Foxes “White Winter Hymnal” and the traditional African-American spiritual  “Children Go Where I send Thee” for example). These moments represent the families’ better moments in sharp contrast to the hellfire the ensues. Father Bill (Dan Hiatt) has early onset Alzheimer’s whose monologue on denying hatred seems quite lucid. His wife Ginny (Luisa Sermol) is in deep denial on many facets; her husbands deteriorating condition, her son’s drug addiction, and her lesbian daughter’s marriage. Then there’s the four kids, each harboring deep traumas  and unresolved issues.

Review: CULT OF LOVE at Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Kerstin Anderson (Diana Dahl Bennett), Lucas Near-Verbrugghe (Mark Dahl), and Virginia Kull (Evie Dahl).

Mark (Lucas Near-Verbugghe) is an ex-seminary student turned lawyer and spiritually lost. He’s married to Rachel (Molly Bernard) who abandoned her Judaism to join the Dahl madness. Evie (Virginia Kull) and her newly pregnant partner Pippa (Cass Buggé) represent the new paradigm of social equality, which is sorely missing in her family dynamic. Pregnant Diana (Kerstin Anderson) is a religious ‘prophet’ who along with her pastor husband James (Chris Lowell) spout the hardline rhetoric of right-wing fundamentalism. Johnny (Christopher Sears) is a rehabbed drug addict representing rebirth and hope. He shows up with Loren (Vero Maynez), his sponsoree, an honest speaker who can believe in the law of gravity over an invisible moral judge.

Review: CULT OF LOVE at Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Lucas Near-Verbrugghe (Mark Dahl) and Molly Bernard (Rachel Dahl).

As you can imagine, the battle lines are drawn and there seems to be no middle ground here whatsoever. Headland mirrors out current moral quagmires with both cynicism and insight. Father Bill says, “we are stronger than what happens to us,” dropping a pearl of self-help wisdom we can all use. Smartly, the characters here are not just stereotypes or caricatures, and each has moments of relatable authenticity. Cult of Love shows that just speaking about love and acting out family rituals can’t hide the deeper divisions and unresolved baggage that really needs healing.

Cult of Love continues through March 3rd. For more information, please visit®id=18& or call the box office at (877)-662-8978.

Photo Credit: Kevin Berne