'The Christians'; Does Hell Really Exist?
Lucas Hnath’s stage play The Christians was quite a provocative piece of writing to sit through. Its message was one that took you on a journey of what you do and don’t believe. All while posing poignant questions one side of your brain might be (and probably should be) asking the other.
Set in a mega-church styled Christian community fresh out of debt, Pastor Paul reveals to his congregation that based on a talk with Jesus (while on the toilet) and many moments of debate, he has decided that “we” no longer believe in hell!
WHAT?! No hell? Yep! No hell - according to Pastor Paul at least. The message in which he delivered the knews was about love, acceptance, and tolerance. How we as humans have separated ourselves from one another, stirring in us the inability to truly help one another because, “…the distance between us is insurmountable.” It was delivered in a fashion that was (for all intents and purposes) a bit “white” in application, but that is neither here nor there. The plot of the play thickens when Associate Pastor Joshua stands before the congregation to dispute this new theology and direction of the church never before discussed. Joshua stands on the side that there is definitely a hell to be put in. Not one that we are able to place someone in, but, none the less, a place for those who are not deemed righteous enough to go to heaven.
The overall story, plot, and tension of this play was a masterful attempt at challenging belief. It causes one to ask, “What (really) do I believe? Why do I believe that?” It was an interesting look at how what we say we believe can often be challenged and often times made to look like nonsense when we have fully vetted our own foundation on our religious views.
Andrew Garman (Pastor Paul) was a solid player. He gave Pastor Paul a realistic sense of self; taking into consideration that this particular style of pastoring is one that most anglo-saxon men and women would be used to. I did not, however, enjoy his rampant need to whip the microphone cord this way and that. I almost wanted to scream out….”You’re NOT going to trip! Stop swinging the F*****g cord!”
Linda Powell (Elizabeth) played Pastor Paul’s wife and first lady of the church. Her character is nothing more than a trophy for more than half of the play. Made to sit quietly by while members of her husband’s church leaves and struggles with this new Christian theology and church direction. However, when Powell spoke it was electrifying. Her fervor, when finally given the stage to address the things that Pastor Paul had done, was a true sight to see. She embodied not only a woman silenced by her husband’s position, but also a woman with much to say that knows the proper time and place to address the issue. Powell truly was the star of the show.
Emily Donahue (Jenny) played a church member who struggled with a decision to leave Pastor Paul’s church based on the conflicted realities of what her church has done for her and where her church has placed her in the lives of her loved ones since declaring an afterlife not inclusive of any hell to speak of. She gives a powerful testimony of what life has been like as a single mother living on public assistance; struggling to find balance in her own life as she sacrifices to go above and beyond for her church both financially and personally. Donahue gave an enjoyable performance that gifted the audience with both humor and pensive thought about where we lay on the precipice of discovering what our faith in God (and in man) really mean.
Larry Powell (Associate Pastor Joshua) was a solid character overall. It seemed his method and delivery (whether written that way or directed that way) was a bit black panther-ish. Very pro hell sort-of-speak. I enjoyed his strong and forceful presence to juxtapose Pastor Paul. The dichotomy of two extremist’s fighting for the same cause but on opposite sides of the spectrum was thrilling, yet and still, minutely wanted at times. His chemistry with Garman was tense and uncomfortable with a lace of concern and compassion. Something I'm sure was intentionally done. Powell’s voice spoke with a triumph of a trumpet but the walk of a man unsure. Every time I saw him leave or enter the stage, his walk just through me off. However, a minor idiosyncrasy to that of a great performance.
Overall The Christians was a riveting piece of perceived truth that - as a Christian and church goer- provokes the very question that all religions and religious/spiritual people should ask: Why do I believe what it is that I believe?