I wouldn’t call myself a very religious person. Much like 72% of us millennials, I do consider myself spiritual. While I don’t attend temple every week, I consider myself a Buddhist. Outside of weddings and funerals I usually don’t find myself inside a house of worship.
However I strangely found myself in church this past weekend when I sat down for Forum Theatre’s production of “Church.”
Up and coming Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee penned the piece after being raised by Evangelical Christians, eventually becoming an atheist later in life. Church is Lee’s attempt to break through to today’s secular population (herself included.) In an interview with the Village Voice Lee explains, “Their attitude toward Christians seemed very ill-informed . . . it was like Christians are evil morons who are ruining our country.”
As a result Lee presents a piece that challenges but doesn’t convert and celebrates rather than parodies. Church is a take on religion unlike any other, with the entire performance done within the confines of a 65 minute church service.
At first the show’s format didn’t hit me as the cast walked out to greet and shake hands among the audience. As the show started and the lights went down, we were greeted by a voice in the dark that did not beat around the bush in making the audience uncomfortable with declarations of our “spiritual bankruptcy” and focus on self (which he affectionately called “masturbation rage.”) Sure I’ve heard others describe millenials as Generation Me, but Reverend Jose (Kevin Hasser) holds no punches in characterizing today’s self-centered society.
When the lights finally came up to reveal Reverend Jose and his three counterparts (Nora Achrati, Blair Bowers, Anastasia Wilson) the show’s format became more apparent. The four took prayer requests from the audience, delivered rousing and dramatic sermons, and engaged in song and dance. The audience didn’t know how to take it in at first. Prayer requests were met with awkward silence but eventually the crowd warmed up and found themselves standing, clapping, and singing along with the cast.
However the audience did not answer back when a Reverend ended with an, “Amen!”
Lee blurs the line between performance and service so closely that we catch ourselves, stopping just short of transporting ourselves into metaphorical pews.
The piece evokes strong imagery and colorful stories of mummies, unicorns, and chicken blood. The sort of stories that make you wonder if the cast is high on bath salts. The show’s spiritual barbs hit so hard that you may wonder if it is all in jest- that it is all a big ruse in the name of comedy.
Young doesn’t give the audience that satisfaction, and the discomfort remains. As a result the show will provoke many questions but leaves few answers. Director Michael Dove makes a smart move in following up every performance with a talk-back discussion to explore the issues that this show opens up.
Lee’s Church is an experimental theatre piece that will shake the religion tree but don’t expect everything to fall nicely into the right place- you will have to do a little picking up of the pieces after taking in this powerful piece of theatre.
Forum Theatre presents Church in partnership with the Round House Theatre Over The Line Festival. Performances playing now through July 29th at the Round House Theater Silver Spring, located at 8641 Colesville Road Silver Spring, MD 20910. Closest Metro: Silver Spring (Red Line). For more information call (240) 644-1390.