Style Weekly: "This Beautiful City" is "what good theater should be."
“This Beautiful City” takes on the gay marriage debate.
by Rich Griset
In 2006 Colorado found itself the ground zero of the national debate on gay marriage. Long a Christian stronghold, Colorado Springs was home to a series of megachurches, including the followers of evangelical firebrand the Rev. Ted Haggard. As in Virginia that year, an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage was on the ballot and passed.
A theater group from New York City called the Civilians descended upon the city before the vote, conducting dozens of interviews with residents. A play that chronicles the lead-up to and aftermath of the amendment (as well as the downfall of Haggard after allegations arose of drug abuse and a gay affair), “This Beautiful City” attempts to give a glimpse at the forces behind the gay marriage debate.
Borrowing an idea from the playbook of “The Laramie Project,” the script was culled from the interviews that the group made while in what is sometimes called the evangelical Vatican. Every word spoken in the play came from the mouth of a real-life person.
Richmond Triangle Players’ staging of this unusual production gives audience members the feel of being one of the interviewers, jumping from New Life Church’s Christian rock services to voodoo-esque visions in Manitou Springs, a nearby town. Triangle’s talented six-person ensemble brings to life dozens of characters. Whether it’s Tarneé Kendell Hudson’s three Baptist church members, Andrew Hamm’s militant Mikey Weinstein or Layana Burnette’s moving portrayals of a transsexual person and a former drug addict, the cast imbues even the smallest roles with dignity and warmth. The portraits are well-crafted, giving voice to both camps. John Knapp’s direction emphasizes the docu-drama tone. The audience never feels as though it’s watching caricatures — these are real people with real opinions.
Triangle’s bare-bones production focuses more on the tale of Colorado Amendment 43 than glitzy stage values. Sometimes a backdrop and PowerPoint slides are all you need to tell an engaging story. Accompanied by piano, drums and guitar, Kim Fox’s musical direction highlights the beautiful voices of her cast. Philip Milone’s multitiered set is functional, but offers little else, and K. Jenna Ferree’s lighting design is as basic as possible.
“This Beautiful City” obviously has an agenda, but presents its viewpoints in an attractive and often humorous way. This is what good theater should be — something that engages the audience in a conversation about issues that remain quite relevant.
“This Beautiful City” shows through Feb. 5 at Richmond Triangle Players, 1300 Altamont Ave. Tickets are $20-$25. Call 346-8113 or visit rtriangle.org for information.