Theatre was twice born in Western culture, both times emerging slowly from the womb of religion. Traces of the genetic kinship remain: church services are often highly theatrical, and sometimes the stage is a place of deep spiritual revelation. But on the whole, the mother and her wayward child do not keep each other company these days; they live in separate houses. You won’t mistake the one for the other--unless you happen to attend Church-- the church of Young Jean Lee in our Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater.
In Church, four earnest young ministers, three female, one male, take turns preaching. There is some singing, a little dancing, and a moment of considerable uplift at the close. Each of the testimonies is vivid and potent. There is sincerity from start to finish. So it may come as a surprise to learn that this play was written by an atheist.
Young Jean Lee was the child of parents who adhered to an Evangelical faith. She went to church as a kid, and she hated it. She was hostile to Christianity. At college, she declared her independence from her parents’ religion and decided to become a playwright. She liked to assign herself the task of writing plays about the most difficult and unlikely of possible subjects--writing “the worst play possible,” she says. So she wrote about church. The result is not what you might expect. Church is a play that is mostly indistinguishable from a joyful church service, but since it is conducted in a theater it also feels like a play. The Bon Vivant seems like an ideal setting for reuniting this particular mother and child, since our stage was originally an assembly room for a religious organization, so it is a home for both religion and art.
What does is feel like to go to Church? We’ll all have to find out. It’s very wholesome--“G-rated,” Lee says. There is no profanity, no swearing, and no sex. My guess is that it will sometimes strike you as pretty funny---the confessions and parables of these ministers do take some odd turns. Sometimes the preaching feels just a little insane. But then again, is there anything more deeply mysterious, more powerful, and more irrational than deep faith? But do not assume this is a play about dumb wacky Christians. Sometimes you will find yourself provoked and even targeted--Church challenges us to confront some uncomfortable truths about ourselves. These are not namby-pamby Cream of Wheat preachers. The play comes right at you-- and especially at you if you are among the unconverted. But Church also comforts, entertains, and inspires. Actually it all sounds like the stuff of drama, don’t you think? And so it is, and it is also something more. I can promise you Church will feel familiar yet unlike anything you have ever seen or heard.
We are thrilled to present the work of one of our most critically acclaimed new playwrights. And we are extra-thrilled to be able to present the playwright herself! Young Jean Lee will be with us for our Prologue series on October 30th. As always, the Prologue lectures and discussions are free to the public--no plates will be passed. I have not met Ms. Lee, but we share a common mentor, a Shakespeare teacher of ours in Berkeley. I asked my eminent professor what I would think of this exotic and possibly intimidating character, a Korean American atheist preacher of faith on stage. He said, “You will adore her.”
Hie thee to Church! You won’t be sorry you harkened to the word of Young Jean Lee!