Friday, September 17, 2010

Theater Review: The Revival

Just How Far Will This Preacher Go? Pretty Far -- Unbelievably So
By Lauren Yarger
Instead of trying to tell you what Samuel Brett Williams’ The Revival is, it might be easier to tell you what this play, receiving its world premiere by the Project Y Theatre Company at Theater Row Off-Broadway, is not.

The dark drama about Eli (Trent Dawson), a young preacher returning to his Arkansas home to take over his father’s church, isn’t about getting out the Gospel message, though a five-person choir in a loft constructed above the action on Kevin Judge’s simple, but effective set sings a number of hymns, most of them during the audience load in. It’s also not about exploring the relationship between Eli and his wife, June (Aidan Sullivan), though they certainly have a lot of issues to work out.

It also isn’t about church life or the preacher’s relationship with his congregation, though Trevor (Raymond McAnally), head of the church’s finances, spends a lot of time with Eli advising him on how to become a more dynamic speaker to ignite the congregation and bring the church to the attention of the Southern Baptist Convention (membership in which would solve some of their financial woes). Putting the small, declining church in better position to compete with nearby Gospel Light, a growing mega church, would be helpful too.

Harvard-educated Eli is more interested, however, in stimulating the church members to think about complex, abstract theological issues, helping them to "know" rather than "feel" what they believe. Perhaps because he‘s struggling with that concept himself.

This really isn't the motivation behind The Revival either, though. Eli’s struggles with his feelings for Daniel (David Darrow) with whom he’s having a homosexual relationship in a remote cabin where Eli’s father used to hide his alcoholic wife. He truly is conflicted by his feelings for Daniel, but seems more concerned about lying to his wife or having the congregation find out instead of whether or not the homosexual relationship is a problem. He’s allowed one area of indulgence, he reasons, and “this one my one thing.”

His solution to eliminating the conflict is so over the top and bizarre that we have to wonder about the preacher’s sanity.

So if the play really isn’t about fully exploring any of those situations, what is it about? I’m really not sure, but one thing it definitely is not is boring. The bizarre and over-the-top decisions made by most of the characters definitely hold your attention. We just have a crisis of faith that anyone would actually do the things they do.

Director Michole Biancosino uses drill-team-precision scene changes to keep the action brisk and lights the choir (Ben Hagen, lighting design) from time to time as a constant reminder of God watching over what’s taking place below. She places “members of the congregation” in the audience to shout out “amens” and the like during the preaching.

Dawson is perfect as the clean-cut, southern pastor who admits that his faith is the product of acceptance over time rather than a life-altering meeting with Jesus.

Sullivan effectively displays a wide range of emotions transforming from the meek, submissive pastor’s wife to an angry, conniving woman trying to scare her husband into being faithful. Finally, she is a motivated mother, stronger than her husband, who takes matters into her own hands to protect her son and her family’s place in the community.

McAnally, as the redneck Christian who can have a religious experience gutting a deer gives the play its much needed comic relief. He’s chilling, however, when he violently beats Daniel and ties him up in what he obviously considers doing the Lord’s work, all while conversing in sweet tones on the phone with his “baby girl." Darrow’s performance is a bit shallow, perhaps because the character doesn’t really develop beyond an intense anger that drives him to, among other things, beat up a cow. Like I said, the action holds your attention if nothing else.

So while there doesn’t seem to be a neat, definitive answer for the purpose of this play by Williams (who, according to the program was raised in a “strict Southern Baptist” environment in Hot Springs, AK), it’s certainly interesting, and different from other plays with the apparent goal of portraying Christians as hypocrites.

The Revival runs through Sept. 25 at The Lion at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd St., NYC). Tickets are available by calling 212-239-6200.

Christians might also like to know:

Homosexual activity
Sexual dialogue

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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

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for 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.


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


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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