REVIEW: Church and Pullman, WA (Red Tape Theatre)

     
     

Exhilaration, fear and loathing in religion

     
     

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Red Tape Theatre presents
  
Church  /  Pullman, WA
  
Written by Young Jean Lee
Directed by
James Palmer
at
Red Tape Theatre, 621 W. Belmont (map)
through March 5  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Young Jean Lee’s plays, Church and Pullman, WA, are really two peas in a pod. Produced by Red Tape Theatre under the direction of James Palmer, Lee’s two one-acts bookend human experience on matters of self-help, personal worth, religion, motivational speaking and hallucinatory mysticism. It’s not just that having faith is, by its nature, not a rational act–Lee’s works steep the audience in the utter irrationality of belief systems of all sorts and in doing so, exposes the raw human struggle to go on in hope and positive meaning for living.

“I know how to live,” exclaims a young woman (Amanda Reader) at the top of Pullman, WA, glowing bright, professional and squeaky clean. She begins as clearly and simplistically as anyone leading a motivational workshop or a weekend seminar spawned by the Human Potential Movement. “The first thing you have to remember is that You Are You,” she scrawls upon the blackboard behind her. Yet, it quickly becomes clear that she is as plagued by doubts as any fallible human, and the motivational tactics she espouses are a thin shield against uncertainty.

As she falters, an assistant (Meghan Reardon) interrupts to guide the audience through a meditation comforting in its childlike, beneficent imagery—“You are sitting on a giant puffball”–which, of course, soon becomes so festooned with unicorns and candy-coated rainbows, it’s absurd. A second assistant (Austin Oie) chimes in with time-honored, Biblically resonant reassurance, “I am an angel of the Lord.” But he also fails to deliver unimpeachable strength of conviction. Between the three motivational speakers, Pullman, WA veers into macabre madness.

Lee’s writing has got a tiger by the tale. How much should we trust belief systems that tell us everything is going to be alright so long as we believe, whether it’s about believing in ourselves, believing in a higher power or believing in some cognitive system built to reassure and propel us forward? That way leads to madness, madness reflected in the imagery of Lee’s script, which owes a debt to Hieronymus Bosch.

The trouble, if there is any, lies in Church being pretty much the same thing, only expanded. Red Tape may want to review the necessity of performing two almost identical plays back to back as they’ve chosen to do. Nevertheless, set up as a storefront church service, Palmer’s more than able cast easily holds their own through all Church’s tangential swerves and comic detours. They are brilliant at exposing faith as the ephemeral and potentially dangerous thing it is. Rev. Jose (Robert L. Oakes), in particular, leads the audiences on a humorous, hallucinatory sojourn with his sermonizing which, by the way, includes mummies, Jesus among leprous child molesters, and almost everything being poison. His fellow Reverends, Angela (Angela Alise Johnson) and Carrie (Carrie Drapac), nail the links between power, faith and fear with the song:

Shakin’ in your bones is required
To believe in colossal empires . . .

A sentiment impacted all the more by the final chorus, both uplifting and terrifying, in their anthem of religious compliance and resignation. So busy praising Jesus, so busy working for the kingdom, so busy serving their master, they ain’t got time to die. One recognizes religion as a strategy for survival—an exhilarating uplift to meet life’s random and often overwhelming challenges. One can also see its desperate acquiescence to a power greater than oneself, which eventually includes temporal power. As far as Lee’s work is concerned, the two are hopelessly intermeshed. Now that’s something that will put the fear of God in you.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

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Artists

 

Cast

Featuring ensemble members Carrie Drapac, Robert Oakes, Amanda Reader and Meghan Reardon.    With Janeane Bowlware, Angela Johnson, and Austin Oie.

Production Team

Ensemble members Kyle Land (Lighting Designer) Becky Mock (Production Manager), James Palmer (Director), Paige Sawin (Casting Director) and Myah Shein (Choreography)   With Mike Mroch (set design), Kathleen Dickinson (Stage Management), Mieka van der Ploeg (Costume Design), Christopher Kriz (Musical Director)

 

Bios

Young Jean Lee, Playwright

Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee is one of the bright stars of the modern New York experimental scene.  She is an award winning playwright whose works have been seen all over the world.  She was a finalist for the 2010 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for THE SHIPMENT. She is the artistic director of Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company and is the recipient of a 2010 Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a 2009 Brooklyn College Young Alumni Award, the ZKB Patronage Prize 2007.

James D Palmer, Director

James directed and adapted Dog in a Manger (2008). Directing credits include The Love of the Nightingale (2010 Jeff Recommended), Enemy of the People (2009), Pugilist Specialist (2008), Endgame (2007), Baden Lehrstuck (2007), FEP: Jesusland (2006), and FEP: Coriolanus (2006). In 2009, he produced the wildly successful Chicago Fringe Artist Networking Night and Mouse in a Jar (2009). He has dramaturged The Merchant of Venice (2006), Tis Pity She’s A Whore (2005), My Richard, (2005). With Tin Fish Theatre Company he designed lighting for Fools (2005), The Balcony (2004), and Cheddarheads (2004). He was last seen on stage as Biron in Love’s Labors Lost (2004) and Adam in The Shape of Things (2003).

He is in his fourth season as Red Tape Theatre’s Artistic Director after serving as Managing Director for two years prior.  James is the assistant to Martha Lavey and David Hawkanson at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.  James is on the Board of Directors at the League of Chicago Theatres and sits on their Finance Committee and Access Committee. He is also on the TCG 2010 Host Committee and chairs a subcommittee. James is a Steppenwolf Peer Mentor. He is a member of the Vestry at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and chairs their Marketing and Branding Committee. He also sits on Steppenwolf’s Access Committee. James participated in the 2008 Chicago Directors Lab.

  
  

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