Reviewed by Midge Guerrera, “She’s one hot Italian Mamma!”
.As we got to NYC, winter storm Pandora was racing across the Northeast. We parked in a snowdrift on 86th street and promptly hit a coffee house. We sat next to two women who were talking about The Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew. Since I was headed there to see Theatre 167’s production of “The Church of Why Not” – which is based on the various congregations of that church – I shamelessly eavesdropped. The women belonged to the Jewish congregation B’nai Jeshrun. Yup, a Jewish congregation shares space with Christians, Muslims, activists and addicts. The women spoke of diversity and openness and sadly noted the rest of the world is not the Upper West Side.
Well, the rest of the world needs to see and learn from The Church of Why Not written by Camilo Almonacid, Jenny Lyn Bader, and J. Stephen Brantley. Conceived and directed by Ari Laura Kreith, the venue specific play brings the work of The Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew to audiences. After the show, driving frustratingly slowly during the height of Pandora, this audience member prattled on about inclusion and diversity issues. As my saintly spouse will attest, this production is absolutely a catalyst for conversation and if seen by enough people and congregations could also be a catalyst for change. I’d love to see some “righter than right” folks in the audience – it might give them a kick in their intolerant butts.
The show opens with the congregation joyously singing a hymn and then cinematically streams from one character’s journey to another. The minimal set – sturdy wooden chairs and a set of steps – facilitated the seamless flow from scene to scene. Guitar music and familiar songs helped reinforce each characters story. I won’t be a spoiler and tell you how, but when you go look for the clever way time travels and you know that each day of the week has past.
The not-quite-homeless, down and out character of Saul, played by author J. Stephen Brantley, brought home one of the key messages of the show – I may be misquoting a wee bit but the jist is – Where ever we are that’s where God is. Like Shakespeare’s fools, this guy that many would walk on by as a bum, slyly brought us the wisdom of Buddha and lessons of spirituality.
The beauty of this work is that even though it is about a Church that caters to every group of people from an Ehtiopian Evangelical congregation to a LGBT Bapti-Metho-Costals and everything in between it wasn’t preachy. The monologues in the second act got a tad “lessony” but not enough to send any atheist running.
I’m glad to have braved the storm named Pandora to see The Church of Why Not. Actually, it is fitting since the play let so many thoughts out of the box.
The Church of Why Not
A New Play
Inspired By The Believers, Skeptics, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Activists and Addicts Who Pass Through the Doors of One New York City Church