Rosebud Opera Theatre presents, “The Christians”

 The Christians Rosebud

“The Christians”, by American playwright Lucas Hnath, opened in the Rosebud Opera Theatre on September 22 and will run to October 28.

It is a very challenging story and presentation.

But having said that, what else can be said that will encourage attendance?

One reviewer (The New York Post) said “…drama about a theological battle. This is a production we can believe in.” Another said it would appeal to both believers and unbelievers.

The publicity poster gives a slight hint when it prints the title as “The Chris tians”. That purposely suggests the ‘split’ that is the feature of the story.

In effect it comes down to the differences that are presently astir in the Christian Community between what some would label the Fundamentalists and the Progressives. But it is not simply the theological differences but the matter of communication and resolving or dealing with these differences. Especially when they are taking place in the same community, and in this case the same church and family.

A line which we hear early in the story is: “I have a powerful urge to communicate but I find the distance between us insurmountable”. It would probably not come to mind as one of the greater “pick-up lines” but that is how it is first introduced. Likewise, we would not expect it to be the introductory line for a Sunday morning sermon. But it is.

The story itself is considered to be a one act play with no intermission and runs about 90 minutes. But there is a break and the audience is invited to reassemble for a talk-back time which has been referred to as “Act Two”.

Director Morris Ertman says in the program notes: “This is a play for our time. Stick around after the curtain comes down, and we’ll talk about how this richly rendered story resonates with you. And I should say that even though the story is set in a church, the experience you’ll witness has resonances for any community who come together with common purpose.”

To give some idea of the intensity and range that the story presents I would share the essence of two comments I heard afterward. One said most emphatically: “That this question should even be raised IN A CHRISTIAN CHURCH, after 2000 years is absolutely ridiculous.” The other said in response to “What did you think of the story?”; I can’t answer that in public or I would be crucified.”

I haven’t actually raised the point of difference yet. What should I give away?

How about this? What does the Bible SAY about “hell”? What does the Bible MEAN by “hell”?

Now, a brief word about the players and the technical stuff.

David Snider as Pastor Paul; Heather Pattengale as his wife, Elizabeth; Jordan Cutbill as Joshua the Associate Pastor; and Judith Buchan as Jay, an elder, are all professionals and veterans on the Rosebud Theatre stage. There is never an instant where we are not convinced that they are exactly who they are portraying, and they move and speak as they do because they are behaving according to their deepest convictions. The feedback time after helps the audience explore how these actors come to fulfill this expectation.

Caitlyn O’Oconnor, who plays Jenny, a Worship Leader Member, and Cassandra Garbutt, who plays another Worship Team Member, are both 4th year students at the Rosebud School of the Arts. Stephanie Lanting, who plays the third Worship Team Member, is a 3rd year student.

Here too, it is not just the acting that is “right on” but so is their singing.

This then leads naturally to speak of the technical aspects.

How the Sound Designer/Composer, Paul Zacharias, and the Head of Sound, Keegan Berry, and a Music Director, if there is such, worked together, produced a very dramatic effect. Was that thunder I heard or was it just the intro to the next song? Was there a hint of “Abide With Me” when things began to get most tense? Wasn’t the “King Jesus Ride On” an appropriate prayer when it was offered?

The lighting, under designer T. Erin Gruber, was striking in its simplicity, or seeming simplicity, especially the backdrop colourations that set the mood so dramatically.

Perhaps, simply because it was so starkly present when one came into the theatre, with no curtain to keep it hidden, but the set was absolutely stunning. In fact, in one reference it was spoken of, not as a set, but as a sculpture. Scenic Designer, Carolyn Rapanos came up with a design that, by its abstract nature, has allowed the viewer to find in it, elements that she had not consciously put there, but is delighted to have others find. First and foremost it does suggest the ‘connectedness’ that is the community that is the “church” and bound together by the cross, no matter what.

In my own thinking I am reminded of the Brotherhood of Mankind and the Circle of Friends, sculptures and even the double helix of DNA.

Head Scenic Carpenter, Stephen Ellerbeck admitted the construction challenge to bring Carolyn’s concept from paper and model to a solid wooden structure that could flow as it must and still support the weight of players leaning (or sitting) on it.

There would seem to be a whole lot more to commend about this production. The easiest is just to say: “Go. Don’t miss it.”