“A church is a place people go to see something that is very difficult to see. A place where the invisible is—at least for a moment—made visible. The theatre can be that too.” – Lucas Hnath, playwright
On Friday, March 18 and Saturday, 19, Burnett Center on the Bethany campus will be that place as Bethany College Theatre and Broadway RFD open the 2016 Messiah Festival of the Arts with Lucas Hnath’s critically acclaimed and award-winning play, “The Christians.” The play, which debuted at the 38th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville in 2014, had its New York City premiere at Playwrights Horizons last fall (where its limited run was extended six weeks). It won the National Arts Club’s 2015 Joseph Kesselring Prize.
The Bethany College production is the first for “The Christians” in the state of Kansas. “Bethany and RFD are thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to stage Hnath’s marvelous play,” said Greg LeGault, Associate Professor of Theatre and the production’s director. “To be the first theatre in Kansas to do it doubles that honor.”
At the center of “The Christians” is Pastor Paul, who has taken the storefront church he began 20 years ago and turned it into a megachurch with a congregation of thousands and physical trappings that range from Sunday School classrooms to a coffee shop in the lobby and a baptismal font as big as a swimming pool. On what should be a day of celebration, Pastor Paul is about to preach a sermon that will shake the foundations of his church’s belief. “The Christians” is big-little play about faith in America—and Miriam Williams writes in the “National Catholic Reporter”, “the human and real consequences of choices based in spirituality.”
“I was absolutely floored when I first read “The Christians” last summer,” said LeGault. “Not just by the themes that Hnath explores so intelligently and compassionately in the play, but by the fact that all the characters he’s created are so incredibly, so beautifully, and painfully, three-dimensional. I knew almost immediately that I’d found the perfect play to open the 2016 Messiah Festival.”
Cody Whetstone of Lindsborg, who plays Pastor Paul in the production, stated that he is “supercharged to do
Concerning those questions, Whetstone adds that one thing that moves him about “The Christians” is that “it takes an honest look at the role of faith in a person’s life, no matter their religious affiliation or lack thereof, or denomination. Rather than simply being a play that debates ideas about the nature of faith—even though at times it does do that!—it is more about how the conclusions we make about our beliefs take an emotional toll on us and those around us.
“But above all,” continues Whetstone, “[The Christians] is about how we live now. It asks more questions than it answers about us as creatures who possess the capacity to believe in something beyond ourselves and addresses the “proper” role of faith in modern life. All of which makes for an incredibly satisfying theatrical experience.”
Sabrina Wallenberg, a sophomore Communication and Theatre Arts major at Bethany, who plays Pastor Paul’s wife, Elizabeth, notes that the play “does everything theatre is meant to do. It makes you think, it makes you feel, and brings to life all of those things that can only be expressed on the stage. Good theatre is a hard thing to come by nowadays, but this show, these actors—not just good, the best. Anyone who comes to this show will not leave the same. I guarantee that.”
Joining Whetstone and Wollenberg in the cast are Dan Metcalfe as Associate Pastor Joshua, Christina Bartlett as Congregant Jenny, and Bill Olson as Elder Jay, a friend of Paul’s and a member of the church board.
A unique element in “The Christians” is the choir that provides the musical pulse of the service. Directed by senior Vocal Music Education major Alyson Krohn, the group includes: Steve Holmes, Sharon Doughty, Gavin Doughty, Kalyn Powers, Carly Rosey, Natalie Nelson, Gilda Alvarez, Julie Holk, Christina Bartlett, Dan Hiebert, and Krohn.
Dr. Adam Pryor, Assistant Professor of Religion, will lead a talkback session following each performance.
Tickets are $15 at the door.