In political Washington, discourse about religion doesn’t often delve into personal relationships with God. Instead, it’s about control — whether it’s funding for religious education or the notion that our national values should be based on those of a specific belief system.
“Church,” a play by Young Jean Lee currently playing at Forum Theatre, makes no such argument. In fact, it makes no argument at all. It doesn’t even have a plot. It’s just a small group of actors playing ministers, talking about their faith. If you didn’t have the play’s program in your hand, you might think you’d wandered into an actual church.
“That earnest take was really important to me. That’s what drew me to the play,” director Michael Dove says. “I thought it was a really fair look at a belief system that, if it works, people who are not believers can still draw a lot from.”
Dove was aware that audiences, religious and not, might be hostile to the play’s subject matter. He took the cast members to a church service, and he told them throughout the rehearsal process that it should never seem as if they were performing satire.
“We spent a lot of time just talking about our own religious experiences,” says Dove, who was raised Pentecostal. “Growing up, we went to church three times a week, and my grandfather was a Pentecostal minister.”
But the service in “Church” isn’t based directly on his real-life experience, or anyone else’s. He and the cast decided that to escape the stigma associated with the evangelical movement, they had to pretend they were describing “some alien religion,” as Dove phrases it. “We threw what we understand of Christianity out the window.”
Not that Dove didn’t draw on his own religious understanding when creating the atmosphere of the play. He thought back to his time in church, to remember what he had loved about it.
“It was really important to me that even when discussing heavy subjects and talking about sin,” he says, “that the experience should be about community and expressing joy in finding relief from life’s difficulties — relief and understanding.”Forum Theatre, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring; through July 29, $10-$15; 240-644-1390. (Silver Spring)