The only way to make the atmosphere more church-like at Actors Theatre’s “The Christians” would have been to replace the plush seats with pews.
Lucas Hnath’s play opens with a singing choir and quickly jumps to a prayer and sermon by Pastor Paul. He describes the church as one that grew quickly from a small gathering of the faithful to one that now has thousands of members and every necessary amenity, including a coffee shop. No Louisvillian could miss the similarity to what’s known here as “Six Flags Over Jesus.”
But Paul has made a radical decision, one that will turn members of the church against each other and ultimately challenge one of the primary tenets of all religion. Very simply, Paul suggests in a sermon that there is no Hell. His sermon describes a young man in a faraway country who dies performing a heroic act, one that results in his death and, according to the church, condemns him to Hell because he wasn’t saved.
Pastor Paul’s second-in-command, Brother Joshua, is deeply troubled by Paul’s new philosophy and leaves the church. So do a number of the church’s congregants. Paul backs his theory with reasoning, saying the myth of the little red man with devil horns is not based in Christ’s teachings.
The plays brings to light an idea — what if God wasn’t so demanding and mean and didn’t condemn people to Hell for misdeeds. What if he was just a loving and peaceful God who didn’t punish sinners?
What would happen if the Stick were removed in the Carrot and Stick approach advocated by church leadership? What if the path to glory is paved only by doing good and not by NOT doing bad? Would people follow a kinder and gentler God?
Paul’s newfound beliefs are challenged by Brother Joshua, and his wife, a church elder and a congregant, with much of the attention paid to how the church will survive without the weapon of fear. Attendance drops. Others have a difficult time understanding something that goes against their long-held beliefs. But Paul sticks to his message of a nicer God.
For tickets and a schedule of performances, click here.