Hyde Park has often presented works that turn the audience’s eyes towards society at large, and with their latest, they turn the camera on religion, but those expecting trenchant comedy or biting satire should perhaps go elsewhere. Lucas Hnath’s “The Christians” is a heartbreaking examination of what it means to be a Christian, and the battle between faith and compassion. It’s one of the most emotionally complex plays that Hyde Park has ever explored, and it’s to the company’s, and especially director Ken Webster’s, credit that they are able to carry the piece with such assuredness.
“The Christians” opens in the pulpit of a thousand-member mega-church, as we are serenaded by the glorious voices of a soul choir, led by renowned musical artist and actress, Kelley Glover. Soon we are introduced to Pastor Paul, played by Ken Webster, who presents his churchgoers with a startling revelation, which will soon leave his church fractured. We’re presented by scene after scene of emotional tumult, as the consequences of this revelation take hold within the church, and soon in the everyday life of Pastor Paul himself.
It is far too easy to play staunch, mega-church Christians as proud, egotistical figures, but each actors here brings forth an honest soulfulness to their performances. Webster has brought together a group of truly skilled actors who are not afraid of showing vulnerability or doubt, who come to the proceedings with a raw passion that’s nothing short of palpable. Webster himself show why he’s so acclaimed, as he weaves and modulates through the text like the best artist at their loom. There is never a moment where we doubt his sincerity, and in the final parts of the play, when we see his veneer of professionalism begin to crack, it’s enough to bring one to tears.
Also providing soul-stirring work is Jessica Hughes, whose every cadence, every facial twitch tells a story, her awkward delivery style helping to create a fully functional character. With her short time on stage, she takes us on a real emotional journey, at the same time acting as a mouthpiece for many of the audience’s own opinions and doubts. Watching her worried smile break to a sorrow is truly gripping, and her ability to command the stage while remaining so true to her meek character is quite powerful.
Joey Hood also does amazing work with his short time on stage, as the charismatic, faithful Associate Pastor Joshua. While the closest thing we find to an antagonist in the piece, we never for a moment doubt that his motives are any less than pure, and part of this is because of the intense conviction that Hood brings to the role.
Forgoing easy critique for complex emotion, “The Christians” isn’t a play interested in easy questions, and it’s certainly not interested in giving simple answers, and in that way it might just be one of Hyde Park Theatre’s most successful plays. It’s an examination of not just what it means to be a Christian, but what it means to be human, and Hyde Park carries its message with conviction, confidence, and a thoughtful sensitivity.
“The Christians” runs 90 minutes without an intermission, and is playing at Hyde Park Theatre March 28 at Hyde Park Theatre. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit hydeparktheatre.org.
Photo Courtesy of Hyde Park Theatre