By Alisha Hall
The Christians in Ogden perfectly falls into Good Company Theatre’s purpose of bringing thought-provoking, diverse, and intimate theater to the Wasatch Front. I hadn’t been in Good Company Theatre’s new space, before but I immediately fell in love with the back-door entry (why does this make me think of a speak-easy?) and charming venue. The seating area and the stage are close enough that, even without the actors gracing the stage, I already felt like I was part of the production.
The Christians by Lucas Hnath tackles the beliefs of Pastor Paul (Michael Solarez) and his successful and devoted megachurch. When he announces over the pulpit to his thousands of congregants that their understanding of the Bible isn’t what they thought it was, he rocks the boat and experiences the aftermath. Associate Pastor Joshua (Enrique Garibay) has an immediate and firm opinion of the changes, while Pastor Paul’s lovely wife, Elizabeth (Nicole Finney), Elder Jay (Nan Weber), and Congregant Jenny (McKalle Dahl) wrestle with their allegiance, their own beliefs, and their personal feelings toward Pastor Paul.
Solaraz enters the stage very much the Pastor of a megachurch: charismatic, polished, addressing the very back rows of the implied thousands of attendees, preaching to the souls of those who come to hear him. Garibay, Finney, Weber, and Dahl, on the other hand, bring the actual audience into the moment and solidify the intimacy of the Good Company Theatre arena. These actors are the supporters and followers of Pastor Paul, the more approachable people, you might say.
Solaraz excellently portrays a man we want to believe and believe in, but his charm and sincerity start to seem a little less sincere and more self-serving as the show progresses. I don’t know if that was the intent of director Emilio Casillas or a choice of Solaraz, but I particularly enjoyed how the portrayal of Pastor Paul created conflict within me as well. As Elder Jay, Weber reacts in an understated and sublime manner to the characters around her. Finney looks and acts the part of both a pristine, publicly supportive pastor’s wife and a passionate, independent, and questioning woman. Dahl’s fiery congregant has some very real moments that are a real pleasure to watch. And Garibay’s version of the young and idealistic Associate Pastor Joshua is wonderful.
Casillas does an excellent job casting and creating the atmosphere which drew both me and my 14-year-old daughter in. The costumes by Alicia Washington are perfect and helped convey the image and personalities of each character. Austin Stephenson and Camille Washington bring sound and lighting, respectively, to life and add to the atmosphere and storytelling without making those elements intrusive. Set design by Casillas and the carpenters Casey Allen, Mark Handley, Austin Hull, and Allen Smith creates the perfect feel of the megachurch without distracting from the actors.
It was opening night for this small cast and crew, so there were a few minor sound issues, and at a few points it seemed as if some of the actors were still focusing on blocking, actions, or lines. They will surely get over those opening-night jitters, though, and let muscle memory take over in no time.
Let’s talk about the space and productions that Good Company Theatre provides its audiences. As a small, intimate theater, they aren’t putting on massive shows that require equally massive casts and crews; well-known musicals don’t fit in their in-house space (but you can enjoy those every summer at the Ogden Amphitheatre up the street, also a gift from Good Company Theatre). Instead, they’ve opted to bring thought-provoking, new, and eclectic stories to this modest stage, supporting up-and-coming playwrights as well as those that write to raise questions or bring sensitive subjects to the forefront.
The beauty of pairing these types of shows with a small space is that as an audience member, you are right in the midst of the action and it’s far easier to empathize with the characters. You are allowed to become a part of the story merely by proximity. One of the reasons this happens is because actors don’t need to project to the back of a large room, which, admittedly, can seem cartoonish or unreal at times. (There were a couple of moments when an actor in The Christians was less subtle, which took me out of the moment, but I attribute that to nerves and possibly overthinking — Ah, opening night!).When you have a normal conversation or people-watch, you don’t see someone projecting — you see subtle movements and body language. This is how we communicate in real life, and this is how shows like The Christians and a space like the Good Company Theatre can be the perfect pairing.
As for the show itself, it kept my 14-year-old daughter engaged and allowed her to practice some critical thinking. The show might not really be good for smaller children, and Good Company Theatre’s website invites anyone 10 and older, and I think teenagers could appreciate the show. We typically only take our kids to the productions with rousing musical numbers and laughs aplenty, but she said that she enjoyed it and remarked that she felt the actors were exceptional (and I agree). The Christians brings up questions of faith, belief, and devotion without providing any answers or suggesting right and wrong. The play’s conclusion doesn’t wrap everything up with a bow, something else that was mentioned by my daughter and which felt true to life.
The Christians is a show that could speak to anyone, especially in our region here, as there are many of us who have experienced some sort of faith crisis, change in beliefs, or wrestled with our devotions, or who know someone who has. This show doesn’t pretend to provide answers, yet Dahl, Finney, Garibay, Solarez, and Weber, ably led by Casillas, perform so well that you will surely see yourself or someone you know in any one of their characters.
Take a leap of faith and experience Good Company Theatre’s version of The Christians.
Good Company Theatre presents The Christians by Lucas Hnath
Good Company Theatre, 2402 Wall Avenue, Ogden, Utah 84401
April 13–May 6, Fridays–Sundays, 4:00 PM and 8:00 PM
Good Company Theatre on Facebook
GCT The Christians Facebook event