Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Church and State

Christa Scott-Reed, Nadia Bowers, Rob Nagle. Photo: Russ Rowland.
Church and State
By Jason Odell Williams
Directed by Markus Potter
New World Stages
Through July 2

By Lauren Yarger
It's easy to be in favor of the right to bear arms -- until your own world is rocked by a shooting.

That's the conclusion that North Carolina's conservative Senator Charles Whitmore (Rob Nagle) in Jason Odell William's dark comedy Church and State at New World Stages.

Though he knows pro-Second-Amendment rights are at the heart of his conservative political base, Whitmore changes his mind about allowing more controls on gun sales when a gunman shoots up an elementary school classroom in town and kills two friends of his children. His reversal on the issue just three days before the election doesn't sit well with his campaign manager, Alex Klein (Christa Scott-Reed), or his wife, Sara (Nadia Bowers). They are afraid he will endanger a future run for the White House.

Things go from bad to worse, however. In pondering the horrible tragedy, Whitmore finds himself wondering whether he believes in a God who would allow such a horrible tragedy -- and says so to a political blogger (Jonathan Louis Dent) whose Tweet “Senator Whitmore Speaks Out Against Guns, God and Prayer” threatens to go viral.

Williams allows himself some stereotypes when writing about Christian characters, like having Sara be stupid:

"Yeah, you know. Like when you peel off a sticker and the little piece of paper left behind...? You put a bunch of them in a bag, toss 'em in the air, they float down all pretty and festive. Sticker Tape Parade."

She also gets drunk when Whitmore does well in the polls (probably not likely for most Southern conservatives). And she and Alex, a success-driven, liberal New York Jew, don't get along very well. But the playwright also surprises by making the characters likable and not making them close minded. He also incorporates a bunch of Scripture into the text. The plot takes an interesting turn and Whitmore's speech calling for common sense on gun-control laws is passionate and totally believable.

"And I suddenly saw what my purpose was: Not to sit at home or in church and quietly pray for things to change. But to actually do something to stop other families from having to suffer the same tragedy. For as the Good Book says, “A person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” So my work begins right now: I believe we need a common sense approach to our gun laws, and that starts with stricter background checks and closing loopholes to make sure events like Oak Grove never happen again."

Director Markus Potter creates a nice balance between humor and serious material and keeps the audience engaged for the short 75-minute production. This is a great show to attend with people with whom you'd like to have a long discussion with after....

More Information:
Church and State originally was developed with Artistic director Ralph Meranto and JCC CenterStage. At the Skylight Theatre in Los Angeles  it received three Ovation Award nominations including Best Playwriting for an Original Play, Best Production (Intimate Theatre) and Best Lead Actor in a Play.​

Additional credits: 
 David Goldstein (scenic design), Burke Brown (lighting design), Dianne K. Graebner (costume design), Eric T. Lawson (sound design).

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
--God's name taken in vain
-- Minor Language

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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