WHERE ONE’S JOURNEY IS THE CORE BY JOHN MOORE
According to the Pew Research Institute, 70 percent of Americans identify themselves as persons of faith. Yet they remain a largely underserved audience group in the American theatre. And when companies do take on stories about religion, Alissa Wilkinson wrote last year for Christianity Today, “The New York theatre scene is not noted for its religious acumen or open-mindedness.” The DCPA Theatre Company has bucked that trend by regularly addressing complex questions of faith in a variety of recent plays spanning Two Things You Don’t Talk About at Dinner, Shadowlands, Benediction, The 12 and now, Lucas Hnath’s The Christians. Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson doesn’t think of the local trend as overtly serving the faith-based. That’s because any compelling drama must, in some way, question an audience’s core beliefs, he says — whether the subject of the story is religion or not. That’s the cornerstone of good storytelling. “What is intentional for me is that I am always interested in looking at moments in our lives where events happen, and your beliefs are profoundly shaken — and you have to figure out how to move on,” Thompson said. “Maybe that means within your faith. But you don’t only find faith in religion. Faith can be in all kinds of movements, whether you’re talking about civil rights or the environment or otherwise.” Hnath, like Thompson, is a Preacher’s Kid (or “P.K.”). Thompson’s father was a well-known Southern Baptist preacher and, his son says, a mesmerizing storyteller. Hnath’s mother is an evangelical minister and he thought he might follow in her footsteps until playwriting lured him away. Although The Christians didn’t pull him too far from the world he knew.
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“I was having a very difficult time thinking of other contemporary plays that took on the subject of religion, and specifically Christianity, that did so without satirizing it or prompting us to roll our eyes at ‘those Christians,’” Hnath told The New York Times. “It seemed to me that there was a lack of effort to try to understand what’s at stake in those beliefs.” The Christians takes place in an evangelical megachurch that serves a flock of nearly 20,000 followers. Thompson likens the leaders of these institutions to mayors of small cities. The founder of this church is Pastor Paul, who creates a deep schism among his flock when he announces a ground-shaking epiphany that has changed his personal opinion about a fundamental belief regarding eternal salvation. The theological fallout within his congregation will be enormous.