Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Review: This Beautiful City

Marsha Stephanie Blake, Brandon Miller, Alison Weller, Brad Heberlee, Stephen Plunkett & Emily Ackerman. Photos by Graig Schwartz

Dreams Built, Dashed as 'Evangelical Capital' Emerges
By Lauren Yarger
The aerial view of rooftops, streets and other elements appears to represent any typical American city, but just like Colorado Springs, the real Evangelical Capital of the world represented in This Beautiful City running Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre, not everything is what it seems.

The rooftops in Neil Patel’s slick set suddenly become video screens or flashing lights in a youth service and the “city transformation” evangelical Christians hope will take place in Colorado becomes literal.

Created for documentary theater company The Civilians by writers Jim Lewis and Stephen Cosson (who also directs), Beautiful City is the compilation of interviews they and cast members conducted with residents of Colorado Springs. Their stories are intermingled with songs and lyrics from Michael Friedman who combines simple, pleasing tunes that disguise a vocally challenging score. The lyrics are atypical, from time to time offering email texts, and are more conversational than lyrical in nature:

“I just try to be friends with people who wouldn’t judge me for being like, not Christian, you know, but it’s not like I, ya know, go around saying, ‘Oh, I’m not a Christian, cause that would be like, you know, whatever,” sings one teen struggling with finding her identity.

At right, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Brad Heberlee, and Stephen Plunkett

What emerges are thoughts and dreams of the people of Colorado Springs, Christians and atheists alike with some focus on three larger churches: Ted Haggard’s New Life Church, Ben Reynolds’ African-American Emmanuel Baptist Church and Pentecostal Revolutions House of Prayer, aka RHOP. A superb cast of six plays a multitude of roles under Cosson’s direction.

Standing out is Marsha Stephanie Blake who plays the gamut from a confused teenager to Pastor Reynolds to his replacement (who delivers a terrific sermon complete with brow mopping) to a brief stint as President George W. Bush and a CNN reporter questioning him.

Emily Ackerman, Brad Heberlee, Brandon Miller, Stephen Plunkett and Alison Weller round out the cast of other church members and townsfolk who aren’t so thrilled about the Christian movement in Colorado Springs (the action takes place leading up to the 2006 election where both a ban against gay marriage and a proposition for gay rights were on the ballot).

Their stories unfold skillfully without apparent prejudice and with commendable attention to detail including lyrics projected on screens while the praise team leads worship and pinpoint lighting (designer David Weiner) illuminating the faces of the Pentecostals praying in tongues. A political battle fought with balloons is particularly creative. John Carrafa’s choreography and Alex Hester’s costumes complete the picture.

Colorado Springs does emerge as an evangelical headquarters, but not all of the dreams come true. Haggard eventually resigns as New Life’s pastor and as president of the National Association of Evangelicals when he admits to purchasing drugs and to homosexual behavior. Pastor Reynolds tells his congregation he’s gay and steps away from his pulpit and the leader of RHOP heads toward Kansas City and “Plan B” after things don’t go quite the way he envisioned in Colorado Springs.

This Beautiful City deals with timely topics set to music and invites discussion of the issues. It runs through March 15 at the Vineyard, 108 E. 15th Street, New York. Performances are Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays through Saturday at 8pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm. For tickets, call 212-353-0303 or visit www.vineyardtheatre.org.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• A panel discussion is planned to discuss issues of gay marriage and separation of church and state.

1 comment:

Zev Valancy said...

I haven't gotten the chance to see or read this, but I did see the Civilians do "Gone Missing" Off-Broadway, and I can say that they are a fantastic group. Really entertaining and fun to watch--I hope to see this show, since I know so little about the subject and love The Civilians' take on theatre.


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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 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. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

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. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

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 Episcopal Actors' Guild.

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.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


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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