Cockroach Theatre’s ‘The Christians’ delivers a study in doctrine with the passion of a rock show

Darren Weller portrays Pastor Paul in The Christians, directed by Mindy Woodhead.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas
Molly O'Donnell

The Christians Through June 4, Thursday-Sunday, times vary, $16-$20. Art Square Theatre, 702-222-9661.

Music fills a room that seems to be pulsing with energy. It’s not until you’ve fully stopped to look around that you realize that the energy is coming from the hundreds of people around you. Going to a megachurch can feel more like an arena rock show—bright lights, microphones, and people clapping and jumping out of their seats—than the Sundays many of us remember from childhood. All that excitement feels purposeful, an anticipation of the main event: the pastor’s sermon.

Lucas Hnath’s The Christians focuses on this rock star’s message, asking how far a flock can be pushed without pushing back. Cockroach Theatre presents its version beginning this week, and director Mindy Woodhead promises that, much like a rock show, “it’s going to be a spectacle of the American theater not to be missed.”

The play plops you down at a crossroads. A minister decides he needs to share that he no longer believes in damnation. The problem is, he shares it with the same people who have just finished paying for his church’s renovations. This news divides his congregation in two, leading to a series of conversations between Pastor Paul (played by Darren Weller) and several important churchgoers, including his wife (Gigi Guizado).

The spectacle arises in part because of the heated nature of some of these conversations. But according to Woodhead, “The structure of [the play’s] storytelling that is more of a Greek tragedy … where we invest in the lead character and experience highs and lows as his deepest character flaws threaten his world.”

This heightened drama contributes to the fireworks, no doubt. But if those oratorical bombs don’t excite, there’s also a live choir onstage. Not so much literally a Greek chorus, Woodhead says, as “live music filling our space and propelling the play with gorgeous sound.”

At its heart, though, the play treats doctrine as doctrine, not rock. Woodhead suggests that what’s really exciting about The Christians is how it is about “examining the conditionality of our ‘unconditional relationships,’ with the pastor making an arguably abstract theological shift, and subsequently struggling to avoid losing everything in his world.”

It makes you wonder what abstractions could shake up your unshakable relationships. It’s better to speculate via reality’s test-kitchen—in the theater—than to suffer the turmoil of the poor pastor. As it turns out, Cockroach might be saving you a lot of grief—and offering you a bit of catharsis, too.

Tags: Theater
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