Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Richmond Times-Dispatch: "This Beautiful City" is "a disarmingly fresh and thought-provoking theatrical experience."

'This Beautiful City' examines faith and values


Published: January 15, 2011

I'll predict right now which will be the most interesting Acts of Faith Festival discussions: the ones about "This Beautiful City," Richmond Triangle Players' contribution to the series.

The festival's website says that Acts of Faith fosters "discussion about how faith and values shape our public and private life," and "This Beautiful City" examines just that. Created by The Civilians, a New York-based theater company whose process involves interviews by company members shaped into theater pieces, the play focuses on Colorado Springs, Colo., home to many evangelical Christian organizations.

"The company completed its investigative phase in 2006," according to the website of The Civilians, "compiling hundreds of hours of interviews.… Every leading church in the area participated in the project, as did numerous civic organizations, progressive activists and individuals from all walks of life."

The work Steven Cosson and Jim Lewis fashioned from the interview material, with songs by Michael Friedman, premiered at the Louisville, Ky., Humana Festival in 2008, and it makes for a disarmingly fresh and thought-provoking theatrical experience. It's simply and straightforwardly presented, with six singer-actors portraying a gallery of characters — some individual people, some composites of various Coloradans. And director John Knapp uses the same unadorned style, with able assistance from Kim Fox as musical director, effectively showcasing a multitude of viewpoints with a minimum of cynicism and snark.

The result is fascinating, from Christy Mullins' cheery economic development pro explaining how so many Christian nonprofits came to be in town, to Jason Campbell's energetic youth minister, to Andrew Hamm's angry alternative-newspaper writer. Scott Melton is particularly affecting as Ted Haggard's associate pastor (he plays Haggard, too), and Tarneé Kendall Harrison is especially funny as a teenager singing about Christian youth events. Lanaya Burnette is equally convincing as a former drug user.

Philip Milone provides the stripped-down platform set backed by simple projections, and Ashley Davis the ordinary but precisely right costumes, while K. Jenna Ferree's excellent lighting design handles the changes of scene and mood.

Those post-play discussions will follow the 4 p.m. Sunday matinees on Jan. 23 and Jan. 30.


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