The Savannah Repertory Theatre is bringing Lucas Hnath’s “The Christians” in partnership with Asbury Memorial Theatre to Savannah.
The play, which concerns influence and faith in a megachurch, will be led by Nathan Houseman in the role of Pastor Paul, who has built his church from a modest storefront to a large congregation and is about to preach a sermon that will shake the foundations of his church’s beliefs.
Savannah Rep veteran Ramcharan Guilarte plays Joshua, Paul’s Associate Pastor, who is as surprised by Paul’s revelations as the rest of his flock.
Joining them in this speech on faith and the way religion in America is talked about are Rayshawn Roberts, Joanna Walchuk, and Ashley Wheeler, who will all make their Rep debuts in this piece.
“We as a cast talked about how our own preconceived notions of the show were just wiped away when we all came together and read it. For me, it was brought together my own kind of religious journey as I grow as an adult,” said Roberts, who plays Elder.
Hnath, the playwright, grew up in an evangelical church. His mother became a minister, and he thought he might do the same.
Instead, he became a playwright, and now he’s written a knowing script about a doctrinal dispute inside a megachurch.
Roberts said in some ways he is like his character Elder.
“The thing that I love about it is that in the show there may be some dark and brooding moments, but I’m the one that’s gets to give everyone that sigh of relief. I try to do that in my own life. I’m always the one that’s trying to just make sure everybody’s good and checking on everyone,” he said.
In the play Pastor Paul’s church was nothing more than a modest storefront. Now over 20 years later he presides over a congregation of thousands, with classrooms for Sunday School, a coffee shop in the lobby, and a baptismal font as big as a swimming pool.
What should be a day celebration is pivoting because Paul is about to preach a sermon that will shake the foundations of his church’s belief. Touching on faith in America and dealing with changing your mind about it.
“What does it mean to say what do we believe and why do we believe it? Can you change something that you believe? It’s fascinating and working with this cast, each of us gets to approach this subject from a different direction,” said Walchuk who plays the Pastor’s Wife.
Pastor Paul sheds traditional fundamentalist Christianity in favor of a more inclusive and universalist Christianity that affirms the goodness in other religions, and the impact this has on his congregation.
“I brought this idea to rehearsal one day of the concrete and the abstract in this play, how there is abstract of your faith, of your belief and of your conviction. It opened my mind in that idea of changing your beliefs and how that can, in a way, change who you are as a person,” said Roberts.
While the show takes in a church, about a megachurch, and is being performed at Asbury Memorial Theatre, Walchuk expressed it is is more about faith and beliefs.
“I want everyone to see it. I really do. It’s not a church play. It’s at Asbury Theatre, which happens to also be a church, but this isn’t part of the church. This is theater, a place where people come together to be moved, to be challenged, and to find that thing beyond the self,” said Walchuk.
The production, which made possible by lead sponsor J. Wilson Morris, is directed by Karla Knudsen with music direction by Ray Ellis, stage management by Jon Goldstein, production management by Natasha Drena, lighting design by Erik Bishop, sound design by Vivian Gogan, costume design by Maggie Lee Hart, set and properties design by Jeroy Hannah, and box office management by Jackie Osterman.
“The Christians” runs September 22 through 25 at Asbury Memorial Theatre, 1008 E Henry St, Savannah, GA. Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 PM, and Sunday at 3 PM. General Admission is $35 and Senior/Military tickets are $25. Tickets are now on sale at savannahrep.org.