The Christians by Lucas Hnath, at the Hippodrome Theater in Gainesville, is a surprising new look at how people interpret their Christian beliefs. Pastor Paul (Joe Ditmyer) has taken a storefront church and created one of the largest “mega” churches in the country. The opening scene for this one-act play is a Sunday morning service and Pastor Paul is delivering his sermon. Seated on the dais are his wife Elizabeth (Juliana Davis), Associate Pastor Joshua (Marquis Gibson) and Elder Jay (V Craig Heidenreich). Pastor Paul gives a new direction to his thoughts about the reality of a hell after a story from a missionary at a church convention. The story relates how a non-Christian boy sacrificed himself to save his sister from a burning building. The missionary concludes the boy cannot go to heaven, as he was never a Christian, therefore he is relegated to hell. Pastor Paul refutes this theory because “when Jesus died, He saved us all.”
A rebuttal debate starts between Pastor Paul and Associate Pastor Joshua and becomes very intense, both emotionally and theologically, ending with a congregation vote as to who leaves and who stays to lead the church. Elder Jay later meets with Pastor Paul and relays the deacon’s thoughts and concerns. Eventually, a congregant who left the church to follow Associate Pastor Joshua who started a new church, returns and challenges Pastor Paul about heaven and hell. “Why isn’t there a hell for people who do bad things?” “Did Hitler go to heaven as Pastor Paul theorizes?” Eventually wife Elizabeth confronts Pastor Paul with her doubts and wonders why he waited to reveal his “new” teachings until the church was debt free and revealed her own interpretation of the heaven/hell debate.
“The Christians” is an in depth study, and superbly done, of what a church is and why people choose one. Is it a charismatic orator, fundamental religious beliefs, or just being swept up by going to a huge edifice that causes one to reflect back on people like Jim Bakker, Jim Jones, The Crystal Cathedral, etc.?
The Christians runs through May 19 and is well worth seeing.
Villager Don Simson reviews local theater for Villages-News.com