Broken Spectacle troupe brings “The Christians” to First Presbyterian

Jonathan Chambers

By DAVID DUPONT

BG Independent News

Broken Spectacle Productions has staged plays in a bar, a lounge that served as a hookah lounge, and an empty storefront with one electrical outlet.

The troupe makes it work. The company is peripatetic by design. Making it work is part Broken Spectacle’s mission statement. As Jonathan Chambers, who launched the theater company in 2014 with his wife Sara Lipinski Chambers, explains “It’s always about the plays and the spaces.”

“We identify projects we want to do, then find spaces that are suitable,” he said.

Chambers said Sara Chambers is always ordering and reading new plays. Last summer they came across “The Christians” by Lucas Hnath. He read it and knew immediately it was a play they should produce.

“It ticks a lot of our boxes for us. It’s a new play that’s dealing with issues we’re interested in.”

“The Christians,” which is structured around a sermon, “treats the issue of faith and people of faith with integrity, so it’s not making fun of belief,” he said. “In some respects the play is an argument that’s very old. If God is all loving, how can he send people to hell?”

Chambers said they also realized “this is not a bar show.”

Broken Spectacle will stage “The Christians” at First Presbyterian Church in Bowling Green, Thursday, Jan. 12 and Friday Jan 13 at 7 p.m. Tickets at the door are $20 and $15 for students. Tickets in advance are $15. Visit brokenspectacle.com.

Knowing they wanted to stage the play set in a church in a church, they approached First Presbyterian. Chambers said they knew the church was a welcoming congregation, and its involvement in community projects such as Not In Our Town made it an attractive collaborator. Also First Presbyterian is the home congregation of cast members Jim and Libby Dachik, so they brokered the conversation with the pastors, Gary and Mary Jane Saunders.

The response was enthusiastic, but the proposal had to be approved by others in the church as well. The main issue was the use of the sanctuary itself. The strength of the script and its approach to faith helped win approval.

Church board members were uncomfortable with the sale of tickets at first, though they went along after the producers explained that there are inherent costs in staging a play. They did not want tickets sold in the sanctuary itself, so tickets will be sold in the fellowship hall downstairs.

The board was more than amenable, Chambers said. One member of the board insisted this was a play they should support.

Chambers, who is directing the play, is the son of a Church of Christ minister. That deepened his appreciation for the script. “While I might not agree with some of what my parents believe, with a lot of what they believe, they are not cartoons.  What they believe, they believe deeply and have thought deeply about. As this play makes clear, Christianity is not singular. There are multiple ways that tradition is expressed.”

In the play, a pastor, played by Jim Trumm, who has successfully evangelized and attracted a large congregation, announces in a sermon that he no longer believes in hell. This causes dissension with the associate pastor, played by Eric Batt, and others in the congregation, played by the Dachiks and Erin Williams with a small choir directed by Connor Long.

The associate pastor argues that there is a hell “in ways that are as compelling as the argument the pastor makes,” Chambers said.

“The play doesn’t land on either side of that argument,” the director said. “The complexity of these characters is something I found particularly appealing.”

The mobility of the play is essential, he said. Rehearsals have been mostly at the Chambers home, though they used a space on campus to get a sense of working in a larger room. He has been able to get into the sanctuary to make sure the microphones that are required and slide projector work in the space.

The cast won’t get to run the show in the space until the week of the production. But the members of the cast are all veterans who can handle the challenges.

After the play, as happens often after a church service, the audience will be offered coffee and cookies in the fellowship hall and a chance to discuss the sermon.

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