'The Christians': Five things we learned at first rehearsal

'The Christians' in Denver
Photos from the first rehearsal of Lucas Hnath’s play ‘The Christians’ by the DCPA Theatre Company. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. Click again to download. All photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

Director Kent Thompson greeted all those gathered for the first rehearsal of the DCPA Theatre Company’s upcoming staging of The Christians like a pastor with a message for his own flock: That playwright Lucas Hnath’s motivation for writing his thoughtful story about a crisis within a large community church comes from a genuine place.

Kent Thompson quote“This is a rare play for today’s theatre because it actually talks about its subject in an honest and non-judgmental way,” Thompson said. “He doesn’t try to make fun or dehumanize anybody. There is no agenda. These are people who are all striving for understanding and vision and to know what is the right thing to do.”

In The Christians, Pastor Paul is the founder of a huge evangelical megachurch who creates a deep schism among his congregation when he announces a ground-shaking change in his personal opinion regarding eternal salvation. And the theological fallout will be enormous.

Thompson read a message from Hnath explaining why he wrote the play. Here is an excerpt, along with four other things we learned about The Christians at the first rehearsal:

NUMBER 1 From Lucas Hnath: “I can feel that rush to understand when people ask me, with respect to The Christians, what I personally believe. I refuse to answer the question. I’m not necessarily cagey about my beliefs — although I do sort of think that the attempt to put those beliefs into words will always result in a misrepresentation of said beliefs. But I suspect that answering the question will somehow diminish the effect of the play. In these kinds of questions, I detect the desire to explain away something. I detect the desire to locate a single, visible point. And while the plot of The Christians is far from ambiguous, the play is a series of contradictory arguments. No single argument “wins.” There’s no resolution. That lack of obvious resolution can be uncomfortable, even agitating. But with a lot of practice, we can also learn to take pleasure in the agitation. And maybe something more complex and true becomes visible within the agitation. A church is a place where people go to see something that is very difficult to see. A place where the invisible is — at least for a moment — made visible. The theater can be that too.”  

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NUMBER 2Several members of the creative team have deep personal ties to churches like the one depicted in the play. Hnath’s mother is an evangelical minister – he even thought he might follow in her footsteps until playwriting lured him away. Thompson’s father was an influential Southern Baptist preacher. Costume Designer Kevin Copenhaver’s father is a retired Nazarene minister, and Composer Gary Grundei has been a church musician all his life. They all said their experiences will help to ensure that the story will be presented in Denver with credibility, authenticity and respect. “This is not a stereotypical evangelical church you might see on a TV sit-com,” Thompson said.

Video bonus: Lucas Hnath talks about writing The Christians:

NUMBER 3The setting of the play is an actual megachurch sermon, so those in the audience for the play are essentially part of the congregation witnessing it. But while the Denver Center’s Stage Theatre holds “only” 680 people, in Hnath’s story there are many thousands in attendance. “So we want to imply that the church we are in is much, much larger than the theatre,” Thompson said.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

NUMBER 4The creative team has been researching local megachurches for inspiration, specifically the Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette. Projection Designer Topher Blair and Lighting Designer Richard Devin were specifically interested in studying how these churches integrate multimedia and visual effects into their sermons. “What we learned is that these presentations are not cheesy in any way,” Blair said. “They are very slick and highly professional.” It struck Devin that the grand use of fog, colored lights and other technical effects in church sermons is not unlike the effects artists employ in their live theatrical presentations. “They have immense amounts of equipment at their disposal,” Devin said of the churches, “but I think it’s important we not overdo the spectacle because that’s really not what it’s all about. It’s about the message and the music and the spiritual experience.”

Coming this week: Gary Grundei on the live music in The Christians

NUMBER 5The Christians. Kevin Kilner. Photo by John Moore. The enormous role of Pastor Paul will be played at the Denver Center by veteran TV, film and stage actor Kevin Kilner, who is perhaps best known for playing the protagonist in the first season of the Canadian sci-fi series Earth: Final Conflict, and Officer Dean in The Stoned Age. In 1995-96, he starred in Almost Perfect as the romantic interest of Nancy Travis, who played a TV screenwriter. Kilner graduated from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he was a member of the school’s NCAA champion lacrosse team. He has appeared in the hit TV series House of Cards (Michael Kern in the first two seasons), Damages and Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. His extensive theatre credits include work for the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York, L.A. Theatre Works and the Skirball Cultural Center. He has been married since 1998 to actor Jordan Baker (Another Earth, Escape from L.A.). (Photo above: Robert Manning Jr., left, and Kevin Kilner. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

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. Caitlin Wise, Krystel Lucas, Kim Staunton. Photo by John Moore.  From left: Caitlin Wise and Krystel Lucas of ‘The Christians’, with Kim Staunton of ‘Two Degrees.’ Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 

The Christians: Cast list
Written by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Kent Thompson

  • Steve Brady (All The Way) as Elder Jay
  • Kevin Kilner (DCPA debut) as Pastor Paul
  • Cajardo Lindsey (All The Way) Associate Pastor Joshua understudy
  • Krystel Lucas (DCPA debut) as Elizabeth
  • Robert Manning Jr. (DCPA debut) as Associate Pastor Joshua
  • Timothy McCracken (The Giver) Pastor Paul understudy/ Elder Jay understudy
  • Erin Willis (The 12) Elizabeth / Jenny understudy
  • Caitlin Wise (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) as Jenny

The Christians
: Ticket information
The ChristiansA new play about the mystery of faith and what happens when a doctrinal controversy shakes the foundation of a large community church.
Jan. 27-Feb. 26
Stage Theatre
ASL and Audio-Described matinee at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12
303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of The Christians:
The Christians is ‘a pathway to empathy
2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics

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