Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: PURE Theater's 'The Christians' mines the depths of modern belief systems

Between Heaven and Hell

Posted by Maura Hogan on Mon, Sep 19, 2016 at 9:36 AM


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The sacred and the profane duke it out astride a megachurch altar in The Christians, Lucas Hnath’s acclaimed play dramatizing present-day doctrinal dispute that casts an earth-shattering fault line through the church congregation. A deeply considered, clear-eyed examination of faith and politics, The Christians opens PURE Theatre’s 14th season with a song and a prayer — not to mention an absorbing front-pew view of the complexities of modern religion.

A seismic schism in a Christian church is a topic curiously close to home for many of Sunday’s best in South Carolina. In a much-covered flap a few short years ago, the Episcopal Diocese voted to part ways with the national church, mainly over its stance on same-sex unions. During the split, leadership, parish property, and heated factions came into play, like the fall-out of a messy divorce in a town still small enough to make it awkward for all involved. The Christians will likely dredge it all up for those on one side or other of that so-called “Anglican realignment,” as well as for anyone who remains conflicted about the outcome.

At the sticky center of the play’s controversy is a Sunday sermon, which is unexpectedly dropped on the congregation by their pastor. The church’s founder, Pastor Paul has grown the church in a couple of decades from a modest storefront to a thousands-strong religious enterprise, complete with bookstore, coffee shop, and an outsize baptismal font that could rival Colonial Lake. In a lulling, incantatory cadence, their esteemed spiritual leader gently, amiably guides his devoted flock through a significant new twist in his belief system: There actually is no hell.

Of course, this is no small assertion to lob over the pulpit. Many folks in the room have been beating it each week to Sunday service and more, as well as handing over their hard-earned pay, as insurance against future fire and brimstone. What’s more, heaven is not quite the discriminating country club for which we’ve all been waitlisted.

Heathens with a heart of gold will also gain entrance. When questioned later, the pastor even concedes that infamous evildoers like Hitler are off the hook from eternal damnation. It goes to follow that in this new, all-embracing heaven, pretty much anyone could be next to us in line at the brunch buffet beyond.

With his denial of eternal damnation, all hell breaks loose for Pastor Paul. First, an associate pastor wages a mutiny, strategically picking off members to his newly formed church. More than one congregant reels and runs, and even more raise questions. A trustee lands on the pastor to stem the compromised attendance and finances. His wife gives him the stink eye. As each character reacts to the pastor’s proclamation, we see how our deeply personal religious beliefs are both shaped and challenged by the world around us. More troubling still is the suggestion that those beliefs that are not in lockstep with our own may be even more problematic when it comes to our individual salvation.

The production lays this down by situating its five players at the altar of a contemporary house of worship (the inspired, cleverly executed work of set designer Richard Heffner). Under a stylized stained glass cross that looms over the stage and into the audience, we are constantly reminded of the capaciousness of the church, while we sit in PURE’s compact black box. A microphone accompanies each altar seat, again telegraphing the size of the space, while also rendering our theater seats the best in church. With this staging, we are thus given a close up of a public fallout.

The delivery of the actors similarly straddles the public-private line, with the characters speaking mainly in the measured, reverent tones befitting church testimony, as they openly grapple with intimate beliefs. As Pastor Paul, Rodney Lee Rogers is a soulful and soul-searching spiritual compass, with sufficient ambiguity to allow for scrutiny of his own potentially less-than-lofty motivations. Brannen Daugherty creates a compelling counterpart in his associate pastor, a man of the cloth who may be less polished, but with a religious fervor seemingly free of guile. As the pastor’s wife, Joy Vandervort-Cobb convincingly questions, while Randy Neale’s elder character applies pressure. In a tender, affecting portrayal of a single mother congregant who is torn by the controversy, Mary Fishburne gives poignant voice to the many individuals for whom such fissures of faith can be cataclysmic.

In an essay written by the playwright on the website Playwrights Horizons, which produced the play in its NYC debut last year, Hnath reflects, “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.” Today’s discourse on religious tolerance is more often than not focused on disparities between entire belief systems. The Christians, however, encourages us to look more closely at something fundamental and all-important, even as many among us cast stones at other religious practices. And that something may well be hiding in plain sight, within the very walls of our own stained-glass house.
DAVID MANDEL
  • David Mandel

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Sign up now for this Friday's Creative Mornings talk on 'Magic'

Magical thinking

Posted by Connelly Hardaway on Mon, Sep 19, 2016 at 9:35 AM

Creative Mornings Charleston (CMCHS) gets magical this Friday morning at 8 a.m., with a free morning lecture on the topic of magic, held at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. The speaker is Rob Bertschy, founder of Swurfer, a swing that creates the sensation of surfing. Sign up at 10 a.m. here. 

Bertschy's Swurfer has had such success in the Lowcountry that he's even spoken at Pecha Kucha, another lecture series. Learn all about swurfing here.


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Thursday, September 15, 2016

The first ever Charleston Arts Festival kicks off on Oct. 5

Arts, arts, and more arts

Posted by Connelly Hardaway on Thu, Sep 15, 2016 at 2:24 PM

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The first ever Charleston Arts Festival (CAF), held Oct. 5-Oct. 8., is the brainchild of Jail Break creator Andrew Walker and PURE Theater's president of the board of directors Terry Fox. CAF seeks to "celebrate cross-discipline collaboration." Read on to see what that looks like.

Wed. Oct. 5, PechaKucha XXV
We announced tickets for PechaKucha 25 a few weeks ago, naming the location — Charleston Music Hall — a rarity for PechaKucha events, which usually tell attendees where to go at the last minute. CAF partners with PechaKucha, a global lecture series that offers local creatives six minutes and 40 seconds to present an idea, for an evening based around the theme of local music. Presenters range from music writers to musicians themselves, and the evening will feature performances in between presentations, with She Returns From War, the Very Hypnotic Soul Band, and The Plantation Singers, taking the stage. Doors open at 7 p.m. and PKXXV starts at 8 p.m. Get your $15 advance tickets here. 

Thurs. Oct. 6, Origin: A Culinary Evolution
If art festivals make you hungry then you're in luck, because CAF has created Origin, a multi-course dinner, dance, poetry, music, theater, and visual arts "experience." The theme of the evening is evolution, and James Beard award-winning chef Jason Stanhope will be cooking up the eats. In a statement Stanhope says, "It's refreshing to push the limits of my culinary techniques and craftsmanship while doing something innovative and memorable." Guests can look forward to beverages from Edmund's Oast's head bartender, Jayce McConnell, and arts presentations from Charleston's poet laureate Marcus Amaker, musician Nic Jenkins, and more. The event will be held at Hi-Wire Distilling Company with two seating performances at 6:30 and 9 p.m. Tickets are $150 and can be purchased here. 

Fri. Oct. 7, Women & Radiohead
Created by local musicians Lindsay Holler and Hazel Ketchum, Charleston Music Hall's Women & ... series started earlier this year, with past performances paying tribute to Tom Waits, Neil Young, and David Bowie. This show will feature vocal performances from Holler, Ketchum, McKenzie Eddy, Jordan Igoe, and Zandrina Dunning, as well as a backing band, Entropy Ensemble. Created by CAF founder Andrew Walker in 2009, Entropy Ensemble performs original and existing instrumental music. The show kicks off at 8 p.m. and tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door. Get them here. 

Sat. Oct. 8, Finale
While not its official title, the final event at CAF could be called Jail Break, renege. Jail Break, another arts entity created by Walker, was an arts fest held at the Old City Jail for 10 seasons, with last year's event dubbed the final Jail Break. The Old City Jail again hosts this evening-length affair, with performances and installations from a wide variety of artists. Guests can look forward to musical guests like The High Divers and Matadero; dance collaborations among local groups like Dance Lab, Holy City Salsa, and Buen Ache; comedy from Jeremy McClellan, Jessica Mickey, and Nameless Numberhead; visual arts curated by Terry Fox; and more. There will be food trucks and alcohol available for sale at the event, held from 4-11 p.m. Get you $20 tickets here. 



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Little Mozart Circus returns to Marion Square next weekend

Fiddle me this

Posted by Erin Davis on Thu, Sep 15, 2016 at 11:37 AM

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This year, the Little Mozart Circus returns to Marion Square on Sat. Sept. 24 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., showcasing a wide array of musical events for the entire family. Put on by Chamber Music Charleston, this festival gives children the opportunity to hear live chamber and orchestral music, as well as participate in other arts, such as dance and mini-theater.

Chamber Music Charleston is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and showcases a wide array of musicians. The company has performed from Hilton Head to Carnegie Hall. Also, they host a wide array of family-friendly events so that children of all ages can be exposed to live classical performances when they otherwise may not have the chance.

Little Mozart Circus, specifically, targets the wider Charleston community. The festival includes over 25 local and national participants, ranging from the Ballet Academy of Charleston to the Jacksonboro Fiddle Club. Find more info here. 

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Charleston Performing Arts Center announces 2016-'17 season

The table tootsies await

Posted by Connelly Hardaway on Tue, Sep 13, 2016 at 4:04 PM

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The Charleston Performing Arts Center (CPAC) just announced its 2016-2017 season, with shows that feature a variety of musical genres and decades. The season of cabaret theater kicks off on Fri. Sept. 23 with Disco, a performance that includes 50 Disco hits, and continues with shows like the Holiday Cabaret, Princess Diana, The Musical, and Oh Folly Nights! CPAC offers a season ticket for $261 for two people, and individual show tickets range from $18-$55. For a full list of shows, dates, times and prices, head here. 

CPAC, a nonprofit organization, is more than just a performance venue. The location is also a pre-professional conservatory, offering classes to kids and adults. CPAC's co-founders Kirk Sprinkles and Scott Pfeiffer have backgrounds in both broadway and the fashion industry, respectively. Read more about them here. 


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