The quick brown fox jumped over the good, but lazy Parker family.
at the offer of a very good friend (who’s taste in theater I trust without question) I saw this beautiful city at NYC’s the Vineyard.
the show is a product of two outstanding city institutions, the vineyard (who brought you avenue q) and the civilians (known for investigative, collaborative theater), the musical is an even-handed look at the conflicts and interactions between believers and non-believers in and around the evangelical hotbed of Colorado Springs.
why this show
the first thing that popped to mind as i settled into my seat, was “i wonder what pitch meeting could possibly have lead them to this show…”
seriously, we are in the middle of a partisanship-amplifying recession, which means people are buying fewer tickets, which means theaters tend to push commodities that they know will put butts in seats — decidedly not (a) brand new (b) fair-minded (c) musicals about (d) evangelical Christians, especially not in (e) left-leaning NYC.
but, thank God they did (pun not-necessarily intended) because what came out of said pitch meeting is exactly what we as a civil society need to be seeing in times like these.
the foundation of a Civilians production is the way it is put together … the company sends the actors and production staff/directors out to a location, and they interview hundreds of people, on all sides of an issue.
in this case, each word and every character in the show is a direct result of interviews with the people of Colorado Springs, which gives the production a view point and a legitimacy that just wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
through the first act, the plot is based largely around the interviews themselves, with the characters explaining to unseen questioners what the migration of evangelicals to the small mountain town was like for all involved.
everything you’d expect is here, from Christians seeking a homeland, to locals looking to retain the identity of their town, to outrage (on both sides) about lack of tolerance of from outside their parts of the community.
the haggert controversy
these real issues gave the company quite a plot to work with throughout, but the show got a heaping dose of drama when the head of Colorado Springs’ largest mega church (Ted Haggert of New Life Church) got himself embroiled in a sex and drugs scandal during the course of the interviews.
such a dramatic change in the story arch could have over-amped the production, but it actually gave the second act a new prism through which to see the more general debate highlighted by the migration stories.
even more surprisingly, the controversy added a level of depth and nuance to the evangelical characters (as the community affected) that could have been lost otherwise (as the people who tried to shift the balance of the city through migration).
tolerance through exposure
in the end, all the characters are real people with real issues. it’s often said that exposure (over the long term) breeds understanding, and the exposure I had from this beautiful city gave me a window into a world that is all too easily dismissed by hippie-progs on the right coast.
maybe the most stunning experience for me in this vein was the song “take me there,” which is a spot on show of an evangelical youth service, in all its swirling-lighted, acoustic-guitar-playing, headset-microphone-yielding, rock-concert glory … I almost walked out born again myself.
but, the more poignant exposure came from the characters relating their experiences, including one conversion experience that was a direct result of a drug-fueled lifestyle brought upon by a dysfunctional family. it’s easy to disregard someone’s politics, but harder to disregard their stories.
I will forever remain intolerant of intolerance, but knowing some of the back stories involved makes it easier to embrace the person … a lesson that is core to this very production.