“…There is a crack in the foundation of this church, and I’m not talking about the building,” says Pastor Paul, foreshadowing what will be a life-changing sermon for everyone—including the pastor himself—at his “mega church.”
The final mortgage payment has just been made on what Pastor Paul calls “this big, enormous building, 1000s of seats … a baptismal font as big as a swimming pool.” Pastor Paul has travelled far from the early days 20 years back of his storefront beginnings. He now has a coffee shop and a bookstore in the lobby, “and out back, a parking lot so vast you could get yourself lost in it if you’re not careful.”
That “lost” metaphor is symbolic of the “vastness” of the concrete surroundings and trappings. But it’s also central to Lucas Hnath’s deftly engaging and thoroughly engrossing drama that questions faith, challenges belief and asks us to face our own identities shaped and changed by our spiritual choices.
Next Act Theatre has made great use of our hemmed-in “world” of virtual programming, transferring the stage production to an actual church for the filming. Under the solid yet fluid direction of Edward Morgan, this 84-minute (intermission is your choice) theological debate plays like a well-paced televised drama. An actual benefit of this streaming production is the chance to see fine acting close up and personal. And that’s fully on display with this talented ensemble of actors.
Pastor Paul’s startling revelation during a live sermon (no spoilers here) makes us, the viewers, the congregation as we “bear witness” to the public remonstrations and private confessions. There’s the challenging associate pastor (the excellent Andrew Muwonge) to the pastor’s wife, Elizabeth (another mesmerizing performance by Marti Gobel) to the multi-layered portrayal of the faithful but questioning congregant, Jenny (Emily Vitrano steadily peels back the layers of conflicting emotions). And as the loyal trustee, Elder Jay, Rick Richter is completely believable and naturalistic in the role.
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But it’s David Cescarini’s remarkable performance as Pastor Paul that rivets us to the screen, showcasing a graceful restraint and a quiet steadiness as the cracks grow larger in the church’s spiritual foundation, with church life—and his own—coming apart. It is one of the best performances in Cescarini’s career to date and one that fully displays the serious, dramatic side of his acting persona.
“…If we don’t fix that crack, it doesn’t matter how solid this building is, we will crumble, and we will fall in on ourselves,” Pastor Paul forewarns in the beginning. In The Christians, the truths that bind us can only truly be found within ourselves— as we all continue along the road to salvation.
The Christians is available for online viewing through Dec. 13. Ticket buyers will receive a password for one viewing any time through December 13. The video will be viewable at any time of day. Ticket holders who wish to watch the video multiple times can purchase multiple tickets. For more information, call the Next Act Box Office: 414-278-0765 or visit the Next Act website.