Kevin Kilner: 'The Christians' is for anyone who is on a path

How do you know veteran actor Kevin Kilner? Perhaps “House of Cards,” Home Alone 3” or the film that still gets him recognized around the globe, Disney’s “Smart House“? Maybe you saw him playing the Gentleman Caller in the 50th anniversary Broadway production of “The Glass Menagerie.” In our video above, he talks about them all. Video by DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore and DCPA Video Producer David Lenk.

Kevin Kilner: The actor playing Pastor Paul says
The Christians is a play for anyone who is on a path

Through Sunday (Feb. 26), Kevin Kilner is playing Pastor Paul in DCPA Theatre Company’s The Christians, Lucas Hnath’s new play about the mystery of faith and what happens when a doctrinal controversy shakes the foundation of a large community church.

John Moore: Oftentimes I notice that when a play talks about faith, it parodies or lampoons it. How is The Christians different?

Kevin Kilner: I would not want to go to the theatre myself if I felt like my faith was being insulted. None of that happens in The Christians. This is an incredibly respectful and very nuanced study of one pastor’s journey within a church that he founded that has grown to an enormous size. He’s had a cathartic moment, and now he wants the original mission statement of his church to be opened up and broadened to be more welcoming to more people. This comes about because he has had deeper reading of the Bible than he’s ever had before.

John Moore: What is the epiphany?

Kevin Kilner. The Christians. Photo by John Moore

Kevin Kilner: Reading the Bible in Greek, Pastor Paul discovers that the word ‘hell’ is never used. Instead, the word is Gehenna, which was the name of a trash dump outside of Jerusalem where in ancient times they would often throw the bodies of criminals to burn. And these were our original images of hell. So when you are translating from the ancient Hebrew to Greek to Latin, it gets very tricky. Pastor Paul wants to make this a more loving and expansive and open church, but he is quickly tested by his own members – including his Associate Pastor, who decides he can’t stay. He can’t abide this new interpretation of the Bible. And that sets off a whole ripple effect of questions that continue all the way into his own home.

John Moore: Can you explain to audiences who come from more traditional religions like Catholicism how exactly these megachurches can change positions on major questions like the existence of hell simply by the declaration of a pastor? If you are a Catholic, this kind of question just isn’t up for debate at the parish level.

Kevin Kilner: Regardless of what faith you were born into, every faith talks about being on the road to discovery – both self-discovery, as well as the discovery of deeper truths within your faith. I think everyone, regardless of your background or beliefs, is on a road of some kind trying to figure out what it is that you believe, and why you believe it. And I am including atheists, because choosing not to believe is a belief. If you have ever asked yourself, ‘Do I stay in my job? Or is it time for me to go down a new and different path?’ then this play will speak to you.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

John Moore: So clarify the audience experience for me: Is this a church service? Or is this a play?

Kevin Kilner: It’s a play. But when you walk into the theatre, the idea is that you are walking into a big, huge Christian church where we are having a sermon. Now, first of all, we have a rocking – and I mean rocking – gospel choir and band. We open with 10 minutes of songs, and I promise you, your foot will be tapping, your hands will be clapping and your heart will be beating. You are going to have a lot of fun. Now, you are not going to be asked to participate. You aren’t going to be given a microphone and asked to testify. You are not going to be brought up onstage. This is a play. But in very short order, the play moves out of the service and into a series of very private scenes between Pastor Paul and church officials, with a confused church congregant, and with his wife. By then, an audience member might be thinking about the deeper questions the play is raising. But as a theatregoer, you might be asking the same kinds of question you would be asking as a theatregoer attending any other play: “Is Pastor Paul going to find his way back to his best friend? To his wife? To the church that he founded?” Those might be your questions.  
John Moore: Has your own religious background informed how you have played Pastor Paul?

The Christians. Kevin Kilner. Photo by Adams VisComKevin Kilner: I was born into the Catholic faith. I went to mass every Sunday and attended Sunday School all the way through high school. However, I went to an Episcopal day school that my mom taught at, so we attended the Episcopal service every Wednesday. So I grew up going to church twice a week. And I have cousins who went to Catholic service every morning before school. Coming here to Denver, our director, Kent Thompson, and our dramaturg, Heidi Schmidt, have introduced us to a variety of super-churches here in the Denver area on multiple Sundays. In particular, Pastor Mark Tidd at Highlands Church has been very helpful in giving his feedback. I have tried to encompass every priest or pastor or vicar I have ever had the pleasure and the honor of experiencing in my life into the role of Pastor Paul, as well as all the new pastors I have discovered here in the Denver area. I am telling you: Being a leader of one of these churches is so much more complex and nuanced than people realize. Even Pastor Mark Tidd told me, “I am still on my own road to self-discovery. It never ends.”

(Photo above and right: Kevin Kilner in the DCPA Theatre Company’s ‘The Christians.’ Photo by Adams VisCom.)

Bonus coverage: Pastor Paul is a three-time NCAA lacrosse champion!

John Moore: You may be the first actor in the nearly 40-year history of the DCPA who has been a member of an NCAA champion lacrosse team.

Kevin Kilner: Ah, yes! I grew up in Maryland, and a cousin of mine had played lacrosse at the University of Maryland in the 1950s. So I was given a lacrosse stick back in the days when they were wooden. I was 3 or 4 years old and I literally used to sleep with that stick in my bed. When I was 12, I was very fortunate that my dad sat me down and said, “You seem to have some real passion for this, and you have some real talent. We don’t have the money to send you to college, but you might get an athletic scholarship if you work hard at this.” So I was a young boy on a mission from age 12 on. I was very fortunate to play on a state championship high-school team, and I was named an All-American. I was recruited by Johns Hopkins University, and I was fortunate to go there and play on arguably some of the school’s greatest teams ever. We were the first team in the game’s modern history to win three NCAA championships in a row – in 1978, ’79 and ’80. My final year, we lost 14-13 to the University of North Carolina, which was really heartbreaking. We had three goals called back, which I am still not quite over. I was an average player but I played with a half-dozen other players who are in the lacrosse Hall of Fame.

John Moore: Did anything you learn carry over into your acting?

Kevin Kilner: Lacrosse taught me a lot about being an actor. In any team sport, you are just one component making a complex piece of machinery work. And it’s the same in theatre. You have your job but you have to work in concert with your castmates to make it sing.

John Moore: You are certainly in lacrosse country here with the No. 1 ranked University of Denver Pioneers so close by.

Kevin Kilner: Yes, I am. (Coach) Bill Tierney was brought here to the University of Denver from the University of Princeton, where he coached the second modern team to win three NCAA championships in a row. He’s won at least half a dozen now. He has built a brilliant program here in Denver. I really tip my hat to Bill and his program here, because the game is a beautiful game, and it is a fast and high-scoring game, and it has an almost balletic artistry and beauty to it. And the University of Denver is the first team west of the Mississippi to ever win the national championship. I have another dear friend named Stephen Betz, who started the youth lacrosse program down in Telluride. I am telling you: Colorado high-school lacrosse athletes are being recruited by every Division I team in the U.S., including the big East Coast schools, because the game has really spread. And Bill Tierney is really responsible for that.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

The Christians: Audience Mythbusters:

Video by DCPA Video Producer David Lenk.

The Christians: Ticket information
270x270-the-christians-art-ttA new play about the mystery of faith and what happens when a doctrinal controversy shakes the foundation of a large community church.
Plays through Feb. 26
Stage Theatre
303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of The Christians:
Playwright: The Christians is ‘a pathway to empathy
Behind the scenes video: Making stained glass for The Christians
Video, photos: Your first look at The Christians
Video: What audiences are saying about The Christians
Composer Gary Grundei on music to move the masses
Five things we learned at first rehearsal 
Video: How do you know Kevin Kilner?
Meet the cast: Krystel Lucas
Meet the cast: Robert Manning Jr.
Meet the cast: Caitlin Wise
Meet the cast: Cajardo Lindsey
2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics

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