Smile Politely

Celebration Company’s The Christians is for those who believe and those who don’t

Starting this Thursday night, a play called The Christians starts its run at Station Theatre and the timing of this play couldn’t be more perfect. Considering Easter Sunday has just recently passed and all of the craziness that is going on in the world today, it seems like the best time to put out a play that has a religious background, but also deals with things that are relatably human.

The Christians follows Pastor Paul, who is the head pastor of a church that at one point about twenty years before the events of the play was a very modest church. At the beginning of the play however, the church is bigger than ever and houses thousands of people. The drama of the play focuses mostly on Pastor Paul and a sermon that he gives that contains ideas that present a radical change in the congregation and may even shake up the beliefs of the people that attend his church. 

Being that I was raised Catholic, the basic premise of this play drew me in instantly with regards to its ideas of faith. Faith is something that, to this day, I find myself being slightly torn on and therefore, plays like The Christians hook me immediately. The big question on my mind, though, was what kind of effect it would have on someone who wasn’t religious, if they were even interested in seeing the play at all. In order to find out more information about the play and its audience, I sought out the director, Jaclyn Loewenstein, and interviewed her about the play’s themes and what audiences can expect from this play.

Presented now is that interview. Please enjoy.

Smile Politely: Can you talk a little bit about the plot of the play? What are some of the themes or ideas that are tackled?

Jaclyn Loewenstein: Sure — The Christians tells the story of a schism in a contemporary megachurch. The head pastor presents a radical change to his congregation, and the subsequent fallout – both personally and professionally – creates the drama of the play.

It’s a fascinating, suspenseful debate about faith, leadership and communication.

SP: Does one have to be religious to appreciate this play?

Loewenstein: I believe the play will resonate with people from all backgrounds – religious or not. I agree with this quote from the LA Times, which said The Christians is a “rare play about religion that both believers and nonbelievers can embrace.”
While the play uses a church as the backdrop, the conflicts are human and the characters all have intelligent, valid points of view. You could easily transpose the conflict in this play onto a story about politics or academia or a theatre company.

SP:  Why did you want to direct this particular play?

Loewenstein: When I first read this play, I was surprised by how quickly it drew me in. Lucas Hnath wrote the dialogue in short phrases – like poetry – allowing the reader to hear each character’s voice and rhythm.

I was intrigued by Pastor Paul’s sermon and found myself completely invested in the way he navigates relationships with each character: his associate, the elder, a congregant, and finally, his wife. 

SP: Have there been any challenges in bringing this particular work to the stage?

Loewenstein: The most challenging aspect of the production was finding the best possible choir director and mixture of singers for our gospel choir. (Though the play is set in a non-denominational church, the script includes several traditional gospel songs.) Luckily, Willie Summerville recommended Deborah Banks, and is the perfect fit for the job. Deborah works as a minister of music and has had an extensive professional career in gospel music.

So…what began as a huge challenge has actually become one of the most exciting aspects of the production!

SP: What can people expect when they come see the show?

Loewenstein: The play is a bit of an immersive experience, so at first, you’ll get the feeling that you’re inside the church with these characters.

You’ll see powerful, thought-provoking performances by a cast that includes a few Station veterans as well as some less-familiar, equally impressive local actors.

You’ll also be treated to live music and, of course, our gospel choir (featuring a different combination of singers at each performance!).

SP: What kind of experience do you hope the audience gets from viewing the play? What do you hope they take away from this play?

Loewenstein: Our choir members just watched the play for the first time, and their reactions were powerful. They laughed (yes, there are some very funny moments), cried a bit, and one singer described it as “mesmerizing.” I’m happy with that!

I think the play will affect everyone differently, depending on their background. What I want most is for each audience member to come in with an open mind, and perhaps leave the theater with a slightly more open mind.

The Christians is a very well-written play, and a very entertaining play, but it is also a pretty important play — for our community and our world.

It was a pleasure to talk to the director of this play and if I wasn’t already sold on the premise, her answers to my questions only made me even more curious. If they made you interested and you would like to find out some more information, check out Station Theatre’s website.

The Christians runs from Thursday night April 27th and runs through May 13th. All of the shows start at 8 p.m. The tickets are $10 for the Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday shows while the tickets for the Friday and Saturday shows are $15. If you wish to purchase tickets now, head on over to the Station Theatre website.

Jordan Kreie is a recent college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in English. When he is not writing articles for the arts section of Smile Politely, he is watching movies and writing film criticism. You can find him on twitter @jordankreie or read more of his work on his blog

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