“The Christians” Opens at Albany Barn Thursday
As with many performers from large families, the dining room table was my first stage. It’s where you could try out new material, mimic funny voices, and compete with everyone else for the biggest reactions. The prizes were the laughs that felt like love. Just before I started High School, bits from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” where I would play all the parts entered my repertory and were especially popular with my oldest brother, Mike, who would request that I do the “How’d you become king?” scene at every opportunity for decades, much to my lifelong embarrassment…and delight.
I was in 9th grade when “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” was released and was condemned by The Evangelist newspaper. My devout Catholic father asked if I planned on going to see it. “The Friday it opens!” I responded. Afterward, he pumped me for scenes and dialogue included in the movie and I told him about “blessed are the cheesemakers” and “Biggus Dickus.” It was a point of connection between us, a place where we could meet between his rarely spoken spiritual beliefs and my nascent love of acting.
After I started performing, a couple of years later, I almost immediately felt like the theater had become my church. I was in a community of like-minded pilgrims discussing who we were in the world, what was moral, and how do we live together in dynamic, actionable terms. I love that the playwright of “The Christians,” Lucas Hnath, the son of a minister, has forged the two worlds he has known by putting a megachurch onstage and creating a play out of services he witnessed many times as a young man.
Hnath has said that he wanted to explore characters with beliefs that he or his audience might not share. “Why do people believe a particular belief, what necessity is it serving? I think by showing what’s at stake in a particular belief or argument, that there is a kind of pathway to empathy there.”
The plays I respond strongest to have themes that move me emotionally, socially, and spiritually. I have chosen plays to direct that have specific spiritual settings (“The Pope & the Witch,” “Grand Concourse,” “An Act of God”) but I think that I’m always looking for plays that have spiritual content in that they ask questions about who we are, what are we doing with our lives and how do we hope to have an impact with our time on earth.
These questions have gotten a lot of play in class for the past year and a half while we were unable to gather in theaters. It has built up a forceful resolve that we want to use our time and talents working on deeply impactful plays exploring the human condition today. We created Harbinger Theatre to produce Capital Region premieres by underrepresented playwrights creating opportunities for more aspiring theater artists to express themselves with new ideas in the theater. “The Christians” is our inaugural production under the Harbinger name.
My father would take an interest in my theatrical life and at one time recommended that the provocative seminarian in “Mass Appeal” would be a great part for me. If I was going to be an actor, he at least wanted me to play believers. I agreed it was a great role for me. I wish I could have played that part for him. I think that I continue to seek out these plays with explicitly spiritual content because in many ways they keep my conversation with him alive.
Welcome to our church, we thank you for your support and look forward to communing again with you soon.