Robert Keasler (left) and Brett Donaldson in “What Kind of God?”
‘What Kind Of God?’
By Steve Julian
Directed by Aaron Lyons
Developed in the Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA Playwrights Group
Lillian Theatre, Hollywood, Calif.
Through Oct. 20, 2013
What a piece of work the Catholic Church is – with its majestic cathedrals, great wealth, vast collections of art, networks of schools and universities, cadres of philosophers (and apologists), international reach, political power – and sway over some 1.1 billion humans.
The Church (as comedian Lenny Bruce famously said, it’s the only “the” church) claims to be the one, true earthly representative of the god who created everyone and everything. God is omniscient, omnipotent, kind and loving – except when it comes to the issues of abortion and homosexuality – and then He becomes a very stern, disapproving figure. What kind of god would choose to smile upon some of his creatures but scowl at others?
Indeed, that is precisely the question playwright Steve Julian poses in “What Kind of God?” The five characters in this play – 17-year-old Aaron (Brett Donaldson), his adolescent girlfriend, Lisa (Emily M. Faris), the parish priest, Father Bart (Robert Keasler), the diocesan Bishop Michael (writer Steve Julian), and Aaron’s mother, Rachel (Katherine McGehee) – have their own singular secrets hidden deep inside their psyches. Like many teen-agers on the bumpy road of sexual maturation, Aaron isn’t quite certain if he’s attracted more to girls than to boys. He comes very, very close to intercourse with a willing Lisa, only to back away at the last moment. The character of Lisa seems like a throw-in, simply to emphasize Aaron’s sexual confusion and torment. The young man is drawn to Father Bart, a handsome, engaging, 30-something who is all too aware of the continuing scandal of priestly molesters and, accordingly, determined not to be even thought among them. Bishop Michael, all pomp and righteousness in his clerical garb, is in private more comfortable in slacks, a T-shirt, a Scotch-on-the-rocks in one hand and a cynical chip on his shoulder. Rachel, as embodied by McGehee, is waaaay too young to play Aaron’s single parent, but that’s how she’s cast and she holds up her end of the deal. Her angry outburst near the end of the play explains a lot about the tensions and fears hidden just below the surface of them all.
Director Aaron Lyons modulates the emotional exchanges of the five quite well; John Iacovelli’s set and Michael Gend’s lighting are appropriately stark for the concept of a careless god who does, indeed, play dice with human beings.
“What Kind of God?” reminded me of the saying attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”