The Christians Review - Hellfire and Damnation?

 

Perhaps THE CHRISTIANS should have been subtitled, “The Battle of the Preachers” to expedite the play’s theme. When Pastor Paul (Andrew Garman) clashes with Associate Pastor Joshua (Larry Powell), and almost all of his parishioners over the concept of Hell, the question becomes just how fundamental the belief in a fiery Hell really is to the Christian faith. How important is the fear of punishment and belief in redemption to all religions?  As Pastor Paul’s parishioners question his ideas and Joshua forms his own church, even Pastor Paul’s relationship with his wife (Linda Powell) may not withstand the stress of this conundrum.

 

 

Linda Powell and Andrew Garman - Photo by Craig Schwartz

 

THE CHRISTIANS posits possible responses to questions of faith, visible and invisible, and what the faithful really want out of religion. Particularly affecting are the questions raised by quiet and gentle church congregant Jenny (movingly portrayed by Emily Donahoe), especially when she asks where - without a Hell - Hitler would spend eternity. Or another sticky point raised: does absolute tolerance require intolerance of the intolerant?

 

 

Larry Powell - Photo by Craig Schwartz

 

Playwright Lucas Knath tackles profound issues in THE CHRISTIANS, including the extent of faith, what causes people to believe, and whether the unseen can ever been seen or even felt. Is Sartre’s Hell closer to the truth than Dante’s? Or vice-versa? Director Les Waters helms this controversial production with a careful eye. Dane Laffrey’s stage set becomes a church to which the audience has been invited for the evening. Behind simple chairs for the principals is a huge and vocal choir which keeps things moving as the play begins. The personal use of microphones by each participant throughout the play may prove off-putting to some of the audience - but at least it insures that everyone hears the tricky intellectual dialog. Happily, after a few minutes, microphones fade from perception as the tale proceeds.

 

Andrew Garman, Linda Powell, Larry Powell, Philip Kerr, and Scott Anthony - Photo by Craig Schwartz

 

 

THE CHRISTIANS starts off slowly as Pastor Paul’s honeyed voice delivers a low-key sermon in a deceptively simple, matter-of-fact way - when suddenly the choir embarks on a spirited counterpoint. Apparently, the church has finally paid off its debts and is growing by leaps and bounds. With this news, the plot expands with increasing energy. There are no big surprises or unusual plot twists here, but rather a subdued and thought-provoking night of theater. Pastor Paul’s initial bland, lackluster affect begins to show signs of wear and tear as his supporters dwindle. Are any of the questions raised ever answered? You’ll have to see THE CHRISTIANS to find out.

 

 

Emily Donahoe, Linda Powell, and Andrew Garman - Photo by Craig Schwartz

 

THE CHRISTIANS runs until January 10, 2016, at the Mark Taper Forum (Music Center), 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. with special performances at 8 p.m. on Monday, December 21 and December 28, 2015. No performances on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Day. Tickets range from $25 to $85. For reservations, call 213-628-2772 or go online at Center Theatre Group

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