Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Church
InnerMission Productions
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of They Promised Her the Moon


Andrea Agosto and Salomon Maya
Photo by Jonathan Hammond
While many plays are driven by plotlines and character development, some can be more about ideas and atmosphere. Young Jean Lee's Church is about religion and faith, a theatrical spin on a church service rather than resembling a traditional play. Staged by InnerMission Productions at the Diversionary Theatre Black Box, and hosted by the passionate and devout Reverend Jose (Salomon Maya), the roughly 75-minute evening is structured as a series of monologues, interspersed with some singing and music. Co-Artistic Director Kym Pappas' interpretation comes across as a positive depiction of religion that explores those factors that make people believe in organized religion and a higher power. Lee's dialogue is a large part of the reason why the production resonates with its audience.

Lee's writing accurately portrays the beliefs and teaching of a progressive church. Different stories in the narrative deal with topics such as addiction, cruelty and dissatisfaction. Admittedly, some of the speeches feel much too long and could be trimmed for pacing. However, there's usually a relatable, funny, or intriguing line of dialogue to get audiences invested again in the play. Maya is given the lion's share of Lee's script and when he speaks, he brings real conviction to the role of a minister.

Despite some minor line flubs in an early performance, Maya excels in the role. He skillfully shifts from being a calm speaker to one with fiery passion. He hooks theatregoers early on—first speaking offstage for several minutes, and then becoming more animated when he appears. The rest of the ensemble, which includes Laura Preble, Veronica Burgess and Andrea Agosto (backed up by worship leaders James M. McCullock or Joshua Napier on guitar during different performances), bring a sense of empathy to their smaller roles. Preble gets some powerful vocal solos in several scenes, and Burgess and Agosto take part in a hilariously strange dance scene set to Lizzo's "Worship" (a sequence enhanced by Pappas' audio and Patrick Mayuyu's choreography). It's moments such as the "Worship" scene that makes the performance exciting and energetic.

Despite working with some unusual sequences and some satirical writing, Pappas directs the piece with a good understanding of how a church service is run. Everything, from the way the performers speak to the incorporation of songs such as "Down to the River to Pray" and Joan Osborne's "One of Us," feels authentic. Her costumes and Robert Malave's set accurately portray a place of worship. While Lee's show might be targeted at both religious and non-religious theatregoers, the material may resonate more with people who have some kind of spiritual and religious beliefs. Certain critics of earlier versions of Lee's text have questioned whether she is mocking or paying tribute to religion (the material is open-ended enough that audiences will react to it in different ways.), yet Pappas' version feels much too sincere and earnest to be an attack on religion. The most affecting moments all tie into a strong belief in God and The Bible. That sense of something greater in this world gives Pappas' interpretation of Lee's text hope in a world that's depicted in several instances as one that can be cold and bleak. Less religious people might feel more distanced by the material, yet they could be viscerally affected by the play as a whole.

In discussing concepts of how religion plays a part in people's lives, Pappas' storytelling can appeal to people who are affected or fascinated by spirituality, and Lee's writing will strike a chord with most open-minded San Diegans.

InnerMission Productions' Church, through April 20, 2019, at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., San Diego CA. Tickets start at $25.00 and can be purchased online at www.innermissionproductions.org or by phone at 619-324-8970.


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