Next week, as the Fringe Festival comes to a close and Vancouver ends its annual trip into risqué, new theatre, Pacific Theatre opens their 2017/18 season. Pacific Theatre is known for producing works that make their audiences think, and guarantee to show you plays you haven’t heard of before. This September, they present The Christians by Lucas Hnath, a thoughtful play that pushes the boundaries of both theatre conventions and religious ideals.
Pacific Theatre also runs an apprenticeship program each season, and I talked to Mariam Barry, acting apprentice, about The Christians. Barry, who graduated UBC in 2017 with a BFA in Acting, plays Jenny.
In The Christians, the pastor of a church announces that they will be adopting a new policy of “universalism”.
This ideology promotes the idea that there is no hell, only heaven. The purpose? First of all, while it’s easy to believe in a beautiful paradise in the sky, it’s a little harder to wrap your head around burning in a fiery pit if you sin. Furthermore, Universalists argue that people who have not been introduced to Christianity have no chance to convert, and would not be punished by God in the afterlife. It’s a surprisingly popular religious philosophy that has been gathering a following for years. For more information, check out this link.
In the play, people begin speaking out against the pastor and have to decide what their relationship to the church community will be from then on.
“It sends ripples through their community.” Barry plays Jenny, a member of the choir and a single mother. For her character, the church is her home and at some points even a lifeline.
Barry is a Christian herself, but it wasn’t the religious questions that struck her as rehearsals began. For her, the most important question in the play is “how do people with opposing views coexist?”
“Politically, it’s the big question,” says Barry, explaining that although the central conflict of The Christians is about religion, it’s really about the nature of conflict itself. The playwright, Lucas Hnath, is known for writing argumentative plays, or what Barry referred to as a “thought gymnasium”. As can be clearly identified in his current Broadway play A Doll’s House: Part 2, Hnath writes in a sophoclean style. He presents a question with many possible responses, explores various answers, and then lets the audience decide how they feel about it themselves. “He doesn’t push an agenda. He lets the audience decide what they believe, the same way the characters have to.”
In addition to content that makes you think, The Christians breaks the fourth wall and is filled with audience interaction. It looks at church as a form of theatre, which seems natural considering how much a service has in common with a play. The storytelling, recitation, and song of church all shine through – there’s even a live choir through the whole show!
Mariam Barry is one of many apprentices at Pacific Theatre this season. The program is for “emerging artists” to learn about their chosen field within theatre, and gain experience. When explaining the program, Barry struggled for a moment: “I don’t like to call myself an emerging actor. I’m an actor.” I agree. If you act, you’re an actor. But regardless of what they’re called, Pacific Theatre gives artists an opportunity to plant seeds in the theatre community. As a season apprentice, Barry doesn’t just get to act in Pacific Theatre’s plays, she also gets to create a season of her own with Stone’s Throw Productions.
She’s particularly looking forward to being able to choose what stories she tells with this season. Specifically, she intends to share black narratives, something she thinks is underrepresented on Vancouver stages. “I want to let their brilliance and voices shine on stage,” she said.
The Christians runs September 15 – October 7, 2017.
Tickets: $15 – $38 | Location: Pacific Theatre | Website