Monday, October 24, 2016

The Harvest *** B

One of the things that theater can do is to take us to places we are unlikely to visit and introduce us to characters the likes of whom we would probably never meet. In that regard, Samuel D. Hunter’s new play at LCT3 is a success. We meet several members of an evangelical church in Idaho Falls who are about to depart on a mission to a war-torn Middle Eastern country. (The wisdom of sending Christian missionaries to a troubled Muslim country is an issue beyond my grasp.) In the play’s attention-grabbing opening scene, we witness five church members experiencing the intense rapture of speaking in tongues. It’s a gripping five minutes and a tough act to follow. Ada (Zoe WInters), the mission leader, is several years older than the others, who seem to be in their twenties. Marcus (Christopher Sears) and Denise (Madeleine Martin) are a married couple. The sensitive Tom (Gideon Glick of Significant Other) is subject to panic attacks. Unlike the others, who are going for four months, Tom’s close friend Josh (Peter Mark Kendall) has made the commitment to stay on, perhaps for life. Three days before departure, Josh’s estranged sister Michaela (Leah Karpel) suddenly returns to town, allegedly to talk him out of going. We also meet pastor Chuck (Scott Jaeck) whose relationship to one of the missionaries is revealed late in the play. We learn something but not enough about the motivations to undertake the mission. We don’t find out much about Marcus and Denise’s background. It seemed unlikely to me that a smart, feisty woman like Denise would pick a dullard like Marcus. Hunter succeeds in establishing the centrality of the church in the lives of its members as a beacon of truth in a predominantly Mormon environment, with a mission to share their truth with Muslims. It’s a fascinating peek at an unfamiliar worldview. However, the play loses vitality along the way and, for me at least, shed more heat than light. The five talented actors who play the missionaries give it their all — they must lose a few pounds during each performance. Dane Laffrey’s set presents a convincing version of the basement of a church that doesn’t have much money. Jessica Pabst’s costumes are apt. Davis McCallum’s direction once again demonstrates a sympathy for Hunter’s sensibility. Hunter (The Whale, The Few, Pocatello), a MacArthur Fellow, is definitely a playwright to watch. He has empathy for his characters and does especially well with ensembles. I don’t think this is his best work, but it is still worthwhile. Running time: one hour 50 minutes; no intermission.

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