Lucas Hnath’s play poses some tough questions for the faithful

In keeping with OpenStage’s commitment to create intimate, cutting-edge theatre in non-traditional spaces, The Christians is set in an actual church — like, with an aisle and hard wooden pews, and a cross and stained glass and a pulpit kind of real church. I’ve seen OpenStage shows in the planetarium, several different parks and outside a museum, so I guess I should not have been surprised their production of Lucas Hnath’s The Christians would be performed in a house of worship.

The Christians is directed by Jack Krause and features only five actors, each owning their roles like they were made for them. There’s The Pastor (Bryan Hill) who had me believing — enough to look around and shake my head wondering if I was really in church listening to that week’s sermon. There was a naturalness and a kindness about him that had you hanging on his every word. And his word was a new one.

When The Pastor presents the idea that there is, in fact, no hell and that everyone, saved or not, goes to heaven, his congregation has mixed feelings. When the Associate Pastor (Kamil Qahar) challenges these ideas, he has to decide if he will stay or go. But if he goes, just how much of the congregation will follow him? And what will happen to the mega church the pastor has built?

Played with conviction and youthfulness, The Associate Pastor is the perfect counterpart to his superior. On stage, er, the pulpit, the players debate what so many Christians have faithfully believed for eons —of course there is a hell, one where the bad people of the world, the sinners, and murderers and the Hitlers go.

When The Congregant (Jennifer R. Bray) feels called to give a testimonial, she asks The Pastor what everyone is wondering: “If I go to heaven, Hitler will be there too?” She is incredibly convincing in her nervousness to speak and ask such questions of The Pastor about things she’d previously dare not doubt. And it is in this interaction that we feel the heaviness of each person’s conviction.

With no scene changes, we still get the feel of a mega church, with a screen descending from the ceiling and revealing The Pastor’s four stages of his boisterous sermon. There’s a musical duo, not unlike that which you might find at such a church.

Whether you are Christian or not, you will leave this play with questions you never thought you had before.