There were several moments of realism that struck a chord with me in the beginning minutes of StageWork’s Fresno’s “The Christians”. Literally. Any girl who regularly attended an evangelical church in the late 80’s would recognize the opening chord of “Awesome God” the moment it is struck and the choir enters singing those declarative lyrics:
“Our God is an Awesome God/
He reigns from Heaven above/
With wisdom, power and love/
Our God is an Awesome God.”
I can still sing every word.
The hands raised in praise, the sway of joyous choir, the beatified expression of the pastoral staff as they enter shaking hands with the congregants (read: “audience”, for the uninitiated), the instinct to stand and reach for a hymnal when the choir stands or to take out the Bible during the sermon and take notes on the bulletin (read: “the program” for the uninitiated). . . these are in my muscle memory on an almost molecular level.
This production of “The Christians” gets all of this right from moment one.
But the real MOMENT that is so deeply rooted in realism that it HIT ME, was the moment when Pastor Paul (Greg Ruud) delivers a sermon about a major change in church doctrine, steps out from behind the podium and kneels at the altar, and the audience is left to witness the choir, a church elder, and an associate pastor all shift uncomfortably in their seats.
“And that’s what a schism looks like,” I said to myself. One unilateral conviction declared and everyone else left to look awkward and uncomfortable, unclear about what just happened.
And that moment perfectly set up the “what’s about to happen”. Because schisms rarely happen all at once, but start with a quiet crack and, through the application of pressure, slowly widen until the whole thing eventually splits open. This is true for churches. It is also true for theater companies, and non-profit organizations, and school districts, and entire governments.
And that’s the brilliance of “The Christians”. The play presents every major angle of such schisms sympathetically. There’s a character to take on every major point of view, and those left in the wake of these small revolutions. Devout Christians and committed secularists can sit side by side at this play and walk away with something to think about, but without feeling alienated.
There aren’t many public gathering places these days that can say that. But I’m glad that the theater is occasionally one of them.
“The Christians” by Lucas Hnath and directed by J. Daniel Herring has five remaining performances Thursday, April 6th through Sunday, April 9th.
Graphic design by Dominic Grijalva.
Production photos by Ron Webb.
“Awesome God” by Rich Mullins.
About Just a Moment
The conundrum: I used to review shows. I no longer do unless specifically asked. But from time to time I still like to tell the world a little something about what I saw. My solution: The “Just a Moment” where I will discuss one moment in a show I watch that I found effective (or perhaps ALMOST effective?) and then try to articulate why. Not the whole show, not a review, just something that struck me personally.
They’ll be compiled in this category, if you’d like to see the other Moments. (And yes, the idea struck me while watching Into the Woods.)