‘Church’ at Forum Theatre Company by Lauren Katz

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Forum Theatre’s mission is to bring controversial and discussion inspiring theater to society. From what I witnessed on Saturday July 13, they seem to have met their goal. Church, written by experimental playwright Young Jean Lee, successfully forces the audience to think about different ideas in religion and how one might come to find their relationship with God. The show is part of Round House Theatre’s Over the Line Festival.

(background) Blair Bowers (Reverend Blair) and Anastasia Wilson (Reverend Stacy).(Front) Nora Achrati (Reverend Nora). Photo courtesy of Forum Theatre.

Directed by Michael Dove, Church features four reverends: Jose (Kevin Hasser), Nora (Nora Achrati), Blair (Blair Bowers), and Stacy (Anastasia Wilson). The play takes place in a Church service, and involves the four reverends sharing both their own personal accounts about their religious journeys, and stories about others that have relatable life lessons.

The set was simple, and consisted of four black chairs and a music stand that acted as a podium. There was a screen in the back that changed colors throughout the performance. I particularly enjoyed how the colors seemed to match the mood and subject matter. For example, when Reverend Jose discussed Satan, the screen turned blood red, which I felt helped push the idea of evil.

Dove’s staging mostly involved the reverends sitting in the chairs, but there were some interesting choices. The play began with a blackout with Reverend Jose standing behind the audience. He shared a sermon on letting go of meaningless complaints and fixations, which was delivered well, but what truly captivated me was the surreal feeling of total darkness with his words booming throughout the theater. Dove’s staging choice helped enforce the ideas presented through the monologue and gave the show a strong start.

Right after the monologue, the lights came up, and the four reverends came out into the audience to welcome each member to the service. The contrast in this staging choice compared to the beginning was interesting, but I also appreciated the realism in this choice. Many church services involve welcoming each member to the gathering. Including this action in the play helped set the scene and create the illusion of a church service.

The writing itself was intriguing and provided the audience with thought-provoking questions and ideas. Lee gave each reverend a personality and story to which someone could relate. Each story was different and provided a believable reason for turning to God. Reverend Jose discussed how religion was forced upon him as a child and he vowed to turn his back on Christianity as an adult, a promise that he kept for many years. Eventually he ventured back towards religion, but I appreciated how his religious journey was fairly common and realistic. Rather than having a life changing experience, he simply turned back to religion because it felt right. Reverend Nora on the other hand shared her interesting story about how she led a life of prostitution and sin. She firmly believed she was happy until she awoke one day with Satan on her chest, praising her for pretending to enjoy life when in reality she was miserable. Both Jose and Nora’s stories were extremely different, but were connected through the question of why someone would turn to a life dedicated to religion.

Kevin Hasser (Reverend Jose). Photo courtesy of Forum Theatre.

Lee also provided different and interesting definitions of “sin” through the reverends’ stories. For example, Reverend Jose argued that sin is the failure to aid others in the quest to provide help for oneself, which can come in the form of self-help books or focusing on one’s own problems. Reverend Nora on the other hand argued that even though she practiced prostitution and abortion, her main sin was refusing to admit she was unhappy. Both definitions explore different ideas of religion and I found them to be fascinating.

While the ideas proposed in the play were inspiring, I felt the story lacked plot. The entire performance involved the reverends preaching, which provided interesting ideas, but at the same time became a little too constant, and I found myself wanting more drama and change.

Church fits well into Forum Theatre’s mission to share controversial theater. Through her writing, Lee provided interesting ideas that I felt could relate to all religions in some way, and as a result, become excellent topics for discussion.

Running Time: 65 minutes, with no intermission.

Church plays through Sunday July 29, 2012 at Forum Theatre – at Round House Theatre Silver Spring – 8641 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call 240 – 644 – 1100, or purchase them online.