What happens when someone questions your beliefs? The award-winning play “The Christians” by Lucas Hnath explores this. Friday is opening night for the Farmers Alley Theatre production in Kalamazoo. It runs through February 18th at WMU's Little Theatre.
The play takes place in a megachurch where the audience is the congregation. It’s decorated with a huge cross, colorful lighting, and a full choir. Director D. Terry Williams says in a way, church is theatre. A sermon is like a monologue, robes are like costumes, and the music helps to break up the tension in both — and there is tension in this church.
Its main pastor, Pastor Paul, has just come back from a conference in Florida. One of the speakers was a missionary who told a horrific story about when he was in the Middle East. Williams says after hearing this, Paul starts to question his faith.
“God spoke to him and told him that one of his basic spiritual beliefs is wrong,” said Williams.
When he comes home, he’s compelled to share that epiphany with the congregation — which creates a rift in the church.
The play is broken up into four parts. In each one, an important person in the church reacts to Paul’s announcement. It scares associate pastor Joshua — played by Fox Worth — because it goes against everything he thinks the church stands for. It makes a member of the congregation, named Jenny, rethink her involvement with the church.
“It’s as if you’ve invest in a stock and then someone turns around and says, ‘Actually that’s not quite the stock you invested in, it’s something completely different than you thought.’ And it turns your life upside down,” explained actress Dwandra Lampkin, who plays the role of Jenny.
Paul’s wife, Elizabeth — played by Lisa Abbott — is in deep shock. She wasn't expecting this controversial sermon.
About the only person that is immediately open to Pastor Paul’s idea is Elder Jay, the head of the church’s board of elders, played by Ron Dundon. Even so, he’s still worried that the sermon will cause some congregants to leave.
D. Terry Williams says there’s no bad guy in this play — everyone has a good reason for feeling the way they do, including Pastor Paul.
Oddly enough, the pastors in the play are also pastors in real life. Williams says that was actually by chance. They’re both professional actors that became religious leaders a few years ago.
The actor in the role of Pastor Paul, Scott Crownover, founded a small church called The Green Room primarily for entertainers in Ann Arbor. Fox Worth — who plays Joshua — is a minister at Greater New Saint Paul Baptist Church in Detroit. Though Worth is taking a break to attend Western Michigan University.
Worth says being in undergrad has made him question his beliefs.
“I’m learning a lot of what I think, or what I thought I knew, was really determined by the people that were surrounded around me and I had to come to a point where…where do I stand?” he said.
Crownover says this play has more questions than answers — and that’s what he loves about it. He says by asking questions and being open to the answers of others, he thinks we can come to a greater understanding.
“We’ve lost that whole idea we’re supposed to wrestle with our faith," said Crownover.
"[In the Bible] a man comes up to Jesus and says what’s the greatest commandment? And Jesus says to him, ‘How do you read it, how do you read the scriptures?’ And he’s not saying is it up or down — he’s saying how do you interpret that? How are you wrestling with that?”
You can see Famers Alley Theatre’s production “The Christians” through February 18th at WMU's Little Theatre.