Friday, April 12, 2019

InnerMission’s “Church” (Service) Not For Everyone.


Playwright-director Young Jean Lee’s “Church”(service) now making a San Diego premiere in Diversionary’s tiny Black Box Theatre in University Heights through April 20th was for her somewhat of a cleansing while  battling with herself and her own demons about her struggles with her long held family religious teachings.

Reverend José (Salomon Maya), Reverend Laura (Laura Preble), Reverend Veronica (Veronica Burgess) and Reverend Andréa (Andrea Agosto) are her voices. Each has a story to tell. Some of it is off the wall (mummies and cotton balls, guilt and blame) some not for yours truly. Guilt is in my DNA so no more, please. I know, I know. It comes with the territory, like triclke down guilt. 
Andrea Agosto and Solomon Maya
For those of us in audience or congregants we bear witness, join in, praise and raise our arms in Halleluiah’s and even some contribute by adding to the collection baskets passed around during the service. If the purpose was to make some uncomfortable, so be it. It did! If it was done tongue in cheek, it still did.

Before the service the three women mingle with the guests as we waited for the proceedings to begin. They shake hands and smile and move on. That done there is a call for a prayer requests.

Learning something new every time I see a new play, this was in fact  a new experience especially being a part of the service up close and personal. Even in my own synagogue, I rarely sit in the first row. And as for the Televangical Peddlers of the past on “The God Network, or Trinity Broadcast, or Jimmy Swaggart, or Bob and Tammy Bakker, I could always walk away. Been there, done that.     

But not so fast. Suddenly from the back of the house (church) a booming voice, that of Reverend José: “Once upon a time there was a young man who worried about a great many things.” And blah, blah, blah!
Veronica Burgess
The list went on for some time (too long) about money, time, the future, hypocrisy, masturbation, jealousy, bitterness, alcohol abuse, drugs, gluttony and pretty much anything else that’s left. That’s a hard pill to swallow at any time, but under these conditions, I have to admit, I wondered under which set of characterizations I fell?

Not laboring over it too much, my attention was back to focusing on the stories and those leaders that gave testament to the need to get stuff off their collective chests, some bad, some ugly, some bizarre and some good old coming to Jesus.

The most engaging part of the program was the singing and dancing (Patrick Mayuyu) that I found to tell more about these folks through their expressive feelings and oft times subtle and suggestive movements of abandon than any of their topics. Laura Preble’s voice is especially haunting and soulful.  

With the exception of a too very long rambling and ambling story later in the moment, told by Reverend José that had as many twists and turns as Lombard Street in San Francisco, the entire cast including musician/ guitarist James M. McCullock, another Worship Leader  “Church” wrapped it up nicely.  At the end of the service there was rejoicing, an invitation to share cookies and drinks and walk away with smiles. (“What If God Was One of Us?) A good question to ponder, if you are a believer. 

Laura Preble (James M. McCullock in background)
Co-artistic director of InnerMission, and director of this poduction Kym Pappas holds true her goal of bringing new and diverse stories to InnerMission. This was about as diverse as I can imagine. With great support from a talented cast as in this production, and with a few tweaks  "Church" might very well have a life after San Diego. 

“Church” was originally produced and directed in 2007 and co-produced in 2008at The Public Theatre in New York. Lee is also the recipient of Yale University’s Windham-Campbell  $165,000 Prize.

Congrat’s to her, but I’ll pass on the next service, thank you.

However… if you feel the need, it’s playing through the 20th.   

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through April 20th
Organization: InnerMission
Phone: 619-324-8970
Production Type: Comedy with Music
Where: 4545 Park Blvd. San Diego, CA 92116
Ticket Prices: $15.00-$20.00
Web: innermissionproductions.org
Venue: Diversionary Theatre Black Box
Photo: Jonathan Hammond


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