Sunday, January 29, 2017

"The Christians" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

The dilemma with Lucas Hnath's "The Christians" is that the doctrinal dispute, that threatens to tear apart the evangelical megachurch headed by Pastor Paul, seems almost medieval. Those monks who argued about how may angels can dance on the point of a pin are not all that far removed from the congregants considering the question posed here: is there a Hell of fire and brimstone, or is it just metaphorical? Aren't we all expected to live a good life either way?

The game changer is Hitler. Does Hitler get to go to Heaven? Pastor Paul (Anthony Fusco) says, "Of course he does. All who accept Jesus are forgiven." Associate Pastor Joshua (Lance Gardner) says, "Not so fast. If Hitler gets in, then none of what we preach makes any sense."

If you come from a religious tradition quite different than this evangelical one, it is hard to believe that someone in the church hierarchy would not just order these two to patch things up, work it out, we've got a major league business going here and let's not ruffle any more feathers. Capisce?

But no. The true bottom line of "The Christians" is that the congregation loves the idea of Hell. They wouldn't come to church at all if they weren't worried about frying in Devil Oil for eternity. No amount of scholarship or progressive thinking will change that. Pastor Paul's sincere question is destroying his church as well as his marriage to Wife (Stephanie Prentice). Moral: Keep your mouth closed and the Good Book can stay open.

We love the full choir, seated on risers or standing to sing. We wish there were more music and somewhat less doctrinal squabble.

 Anthony Fusco is believable as a doubter (especially at the beginning when his progressive sermon is actually cheered by the theater audience), and Lance Gardner's personal monologue towards the end makes us feel sympathetic to his plight. Stephanie Prentice can really sing. How we wish we could hear more of her. And Millie Brooks is terrific  as a member of the choir who must make the choice between the Devil she knows and the uncertain future she is being offered.

Warren David Keith is perfect as Elder Jay, who is the mouthpiece of the Board of Directors. In the end, when money talks, everyone must listen. Finally, we speak about the One True Religion.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Christians" THREE STARS WITH A BANGLE OF PRAISE. One star each for acting, Bill English's Direction and Set, and the way Lucas Hnath makes us feel for the internal anguish of characters who stand on the rock of this megachurch because it is all they've got in the world.

A BANGLE OF PRAISE for the choir from the First Universalist Unitarian Society of San Francisco. Bill English often calls San Francisco Playhouse an "empathy gym." It would also make a grand church. Perhaps there is no difference.

"The Christians"
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street, San Francisco
(Second floor of the Kensington Park Hotel)
Through March 11

 (There are NO bad seats in this theater)

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