LIMELIGHT THEATRE REVIEW
St. Augustine’s Limelight Theatre opened Lucas Hnath’s thought-provoking drama “The Christians” on October 22, 2015. The play will run through November 15 in the Koger-Gamache Studio Theatre.
“The Christians” debuted at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville in 2014 and was seen by the Dual Critics, who considered it the best play of the 38th annual festival. Limelight’s production offers local theatre patrons the unique opportunity to see a work that opened here while also on stage in New York, where it opened August 28 at Playwrights Horizons theatre.
The play opens at a worship service at a mega church, with the pastor and his wife and associates seated on stage. Pastor Paul (the impressive and charismatic Everett Street) begins his sermon, the most important he has ever delivered, with a message that will be life-changing for the church.
He shares his recent experience of revelation with his congregation. While at a religious conference, he learned of a young man in a foreign country who came to the aid of his neighbors during a fire. While rescuing a child, he was severely burned and died soon afterward. The child was the son of a Christian minister, who expressed his sorrow, not that the rescuer had died, but that he had not accepted Christ as his savior and had not been formally baptized, and therefore would never be accepted into the kingdom of heaven.
Pastor Paul proclaims to his large audience that he has concluded that hell, which they had believed to be the destination of the unsaved, does not exist. And all are already saved. “We are no longer a congregation that says my way is the only way.”
The reaction from the pastor’s associates and church members occurs quickly. Associate Pastor Joshua (played by Daniel Carter, in his outstanding Limelight debut), immediately challenges the Pastor’s position from the podium. He says the truth of the Bible must be upheld, and cites several Biblical verses to support his position. In response, Pastor Paul replies that some Biblical verses commonly thought to be related to hell are instead references to a garbage dump. Pastor Joshua says he cannot follow the Pastor’s new teaching, and leaves the church, taking some church members with him.
Pastor Paul does not have any strong supporters of his new position. Elder Jay (Jim Fellows), both an elder and a board member, questions the rationale for and the timing of the pronouncement, and dramatically expresses his inability to follow such an edict. Mr. Fellows, who is also making his Limelight debut, has an impressive theatre resume from the New Hampshire area. He now makes his home in St. Augustine.
Jennifer Latka as Jenny is a devout church member, who gives twenty percent of her income to the church despite being on food stamps. She asks poignant questions. Will murderers receive the blessings of a heavenly afterlife? Is Hitler in heaven? Ms. Latka previously taught playwriting and theatre at St. Augustine High School and Beacon of Hope Christian School. She has been active in a number of plays, and we recall seeing her performance in “The Sugar Bean Sisters” at Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre, in the Jacksonville area.
Sitting quietly on the church stage for the entire first act was Elisabeth, the devoted wife of Pastor Paul, portrayed by Jacksonville Beach actress Tracey Gallagher. She has been in many shows during the past twenty years in Jacksonville and St. Augustine. Though it has been seven years ago in 2008, we remember well her marvelous performance as Martha in the classic “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” As Elizabeth, she is dismayed that her husband never spoke or consulted with her about the new direction in which he is taking the church. Does she abandon him during what is developing into a crisis? No spoiler here, we will let you see the dramatic ending.
No one is credited with the set design in the program but we are sure it is collaborative effort between Director Richard Curran Kelley and Sound & Lighting Designer Miles Mosher. You have to use your imagination to envision that you are seated in a mega church but that is no problem, as during most of the sermon, slides are flashed on the rear wall that depict various aspects of topics that the pastor is addressing. This intimate theatre space is actually an asset, since all the actors come off stage and walk into the space in the seating area, so that at times they are within six feet of members of the audience.
We were impressed with the sincerity of the performances, and the excellent direction that brought these talented people into our lives.
PRODUCTION STAFF: Director Richard Curran-Kelley, Music Director& Properties Shelli Long, Stage Manager Margaret Kaler, Booth Operator & Lights & Sound Miles Mosher, Costumer Lorraine Rokovitz.
The play makes us aware of real life, where things are changing in the world of religion and in human relationships. We can certainly recommend “The Christians” for a stimulating evening of theatre.
Limelight is located at 11 Old Mission Avenue in St. Augustine, Florida. Call (904) 825-1164 or visit limelight-theatre.org for tickets for additional information.