Slice of Life

‘The Christians’ at Syracuse Stage leaves audience contemplating religion

After opening to the sound of a church choir, “The Christians” soon became a detailed analysis — a story that dissected religion to find its inner meaning. The show questions, studies and even challenges faith at points as the characters struggle to understand what they believe and why they believe it.

“The Christians” is an American play which guides the audience through an unusual, controversial and thought-provoking church service. On April 6, a performance of the show was launched at the Syracuse Stage/ SU Drama Complex.

The show intentionally left audience members without any concrete answers or evidence, giving them freedom to interpret the performance as they wished.

Written by playwright Lucas Hnath and directed by Tim Bond, the play follows the story of a contemporary pastor who struggles with his inner feelings of faith that contradict the beliefs of his congregation.

Paul DeBoy played the lead role of Pastor Paul. He opened the service with a compelling sermon that ultimately revealed his doubt of the concept of Hell. Little did he know that this change of heart would lead his congregants and family to question everything they knew to be true. His announcement led many to separate and dissociate themselves from the church and one another.

DeLance Minefee played the role of Joshua, the associate pastor of the church who directly confronts Pastor Paul for his shocking sermon. Minefee’s character gave a powerful and compelling juxtaposition to DeBoy’s role. His heavy monologue toward the end of the play left the audience silent and captivated in a new way of thinking.

It’s been a great show. It’s an interesting piece because it’s a writer’s play. It’s not your typical play and it’s hard to put into words. The other actors are really supportive because it’s such an ensemble piece.
DeLance Minefee

Erika LaVonn captured the role of Elizabeth, Paul’s wife, by portraying her as a quiet and supportive pastor’s wife until a shocking conversation at the end of the play, when LaVonn and DeBoy spend time alone on stage together. This scene captured familial relationships within religion, and the importance of communication that cannot be taken for granted.

Jay, a church elder who was supportive of Pastor Paul’s new direction until he found reason not to be, was played by actor Ames Adamson. Adamson held a warm stage presence that coincided well with both the pastor and his choir.

The choir acted as an integral role to the play as it moved the plot forward with songs and portrayed the community that struggled in Pastor Paul’s church. At one point, a choir member named Jenny, played by Julie Jesneck, stepped out of the group and took the stage.

Jesneck exposed the small and quiet character as she read her thoughts to the pastor in front of the church. She spoke about how she had defended him to others and how she was being excluded from the many who disagreed with him. Her character seemed meek at first, but gradually revealed the strong feelings that existed within her.

Vinnie Cuevas, a part-time Syracuse University student who played a member of the choir, noted that Jenny’s testimonial was one of his favorite parts of the play.

“We, the choir, are actually one cast member and when she moves away from us, it’s like we are losing a part of ourselves,” Cuevas said. “That was impactful, it’s something that really speaks to us and also the audience when they see that.”

The play ended by giving no concrete answers and claiming that perhaps this is the way it should be when it comes to religion. The pastor concludes the play by telling his wife to stop thinking so hard and it will all make sense later.

The stage went dark, and the audience realized this advice might also be directed at them.

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