When I was a very little girl, my friend from my block, Carol Rampino, taught me about the Holy Trinity by using a doll tea set. And that’s all I knew about Christianity. I actually felt guilty, thinking I was doing something wrong to my Jewish faith by learning about another religion. (That knowledge has come in handy for trivia games, though!)
Shortly after, I saw an old movie on TV, called Hand In Hand, which is about a little boy and girl attending each other’s houses of worship, which seemed to be forbidden in those days. And that scared me, too. So I really know very little about other religions. Heck, I barely know anything about Judaism! (But I can sure run the Beauty Queens category on Jeopardy!)
So, it took me awhile to figure out what was happening on stage at the Mark Taper Forum on the opening night of The Christians.
As I left the theatre, I noticed that there were several people who didn’t seem to want to leave. (And it wasn’t due to the rain because it had totally stopped.) They were either still sitting in their seats, or deep in conversation in the packed lobby. So, being me, I eavesdropped a bit, and realized that the reactions to this play were totally mixed. Some, (like the pal who accompanied me,) hated it, many loved it, (it received a rousing standing ovation,) and others, like myself, were just sort-of confused. (Reading the playwright’s notes in the program did help a bit.)
So, what to say about this one? I really don’t know what to make of it. It certainly is different, which is more often than not a good thing in theatre. I’ve never seen another play like it.
But I have no desire to join the debate of the topic, (which is: whether or not there is a hell—I think.) I’m just wondering the point of the whole thing. It seemed to me as I was watching it unfold that the playwright, Lucas Hnath, wanted to have this debate with someone, anyone, everyone, so he wrote it as a play.
The Christians (whose subtitle should be Hell is a Trash Dump) comes to Los Angeles straight from New York, where it landed on the Best of Theatre 2015 lists of The New York Times, Time Magazine, and New York Magazine. So, even though opening night was on the last day of my Chanukah, how could I not see it?! And it’s only an hour and a half, with no intermission, which I always love, (unless I spy someone before the show with whom I’m hoping to confab between acts.)
Keeping in mind that I’m far from an expert in the play’s topic, here are my thoughts on the production, (of which I am an expert, of course!):
First the good:
I enjoyed the live twenty-seven person choir. They do two songs at the top of the show, which got the opening night crowd going…for a bit, at least. And they add a lot to the look of the production.
Speaking of the look, the set is fabulous. It’s not on a stage, per se, and looks exactly like an opulent church, complete with big video screens, whose pretty images help. Major kudos to Scenic Designer Dane Laffrey. For this show, all the seats of the Taper are truly good ones.
The wardrobe, by Connie Furr Solomon, is also perfect. It’s such classic church clothing, especially the pastor’s wife’s ring, watch, and shoes. Loved them!
If you start being bored in the first ten minutes or so, and you think it’s just going to be a sermon the whole time, just relax because it gets going in about fifteen minutes.
Andrew Garman, who plays the pastor, has an excellent preacher-like voice. He sounds just like a real one, and does an admirable job.
And Larry Powell, as the associate pastor, adds much-needed humor to the proceedings with his great deliveries. I was grateful he brought the mirth.
Everyone on stage uses a “seen” mike (as opposed to one that’s plastered to their heads, which is how it’s done nowadays,) for the duration, which is an interesting device. (But it can get really annoying. More on the mikes in the “not-so-good” section, below.)
It is a clever play. There are some good lines, (if you can pay attention,) and lots of food for thought.
Now the little bit of not-so-good:
The Christians is really wordy, and more than sort-of slow.
There are way too many monologues.
With those microphones, they all sounded like the people in that old perennial NPR Delicious Dish skit on Saturday Night Live.
Okay, this was the most annoying part of the whole shebang—the cast needs to use cordless mikes! Those long cords were driving many of us crazy!!! The play is set in the twenty-first century, for goodness sake—we have cordless mikes! It appeared that the cast was using the cords as crutches, or as something to do with their hands because there’s little physical action, or because there are only a few other visuals, and especially to get an occasional laugh. But they’re uber-distracting. I was worried the whole time that someone was going to trip over the wires. My friend told me she was “furious” over them, which is a bit extreme, but that’s how irritating they are.
There, that’s not a long list of negatives! So, I say if you’re of higher intelligence, or interested in theological debates, or just want to see the wonderful set, you should go see The Christians, no matter what your religious preference.
But there’s a fifteen minute audience hold at the beginning, so don’t be late. And at only ninety minutes, you want to see it all.
[Note: In case you are wondering what my thoughts are on the central issue of the play, I feel that the people who think they have the answer, don’t, because there is none on this level of life. We won’t know until we die, and then it’s too late to impart that info on to the living. Just sayin’.]
The Christians running through January 10, 2015
Mark Taper Forum 135 N. Grand Ave. 213-972-4400 www.centertheatregroup.org