When Richard Thieriot first saw a New York City production of The Christians, the performance was interrupted when a woman sitting in front of him went into a seizure. "The tension in the room was so intense, it wasn't that surprising. I didn't know how anyone was sitting still," Thieriot recalls.
Now Thieriot has that chance to play Pastor Paul in Alley Theatre's production of the play about a minister who has had an abrupt change of heart about some of his church's basic teachings and decides to take his congregation — grown from a storefront to a mega church — with him. But as it turns out, not all of them want to make the same journey.
"I think he has the absolute best of intentions, and I think he believes at the deepest level that his church is about love and inclusion. The danger that his church is in in the long term pushing people away. His name is Paul, and he believes that he speaks with God and God tells him that the church needs to be welcoming everyone and not sentencing anyone to hell in word or thought. "
Not a comedy, nor a satiric send-up of faith, this new play by Lucas Hnath examines religious values and what happens when they change. Thieriot says it's not in a one-sided way either.
"He doesn't handle this transition well," Thieriot says of his character. "He just assumes that his personal charisma is going to pull people through this very complicated philosophical issue. And he realizes that he's not that powerful of a messenger."
Alley Company member Jeffrey Bean plays Hay, a church elder, Melissa Pritchett a church congregant, and Emily Trask the pastor's wife. Shawn Hamilton (a Houston Theater Award winner) returns to the Alley to play the associate pastor in the play directed by Alley Artistic Director Gregory Boyd.
"I am hoping that it appeals to people on both sides of the religious line," Thieriot says. "It is structured to do something really interesting. You think at the beginning that this play has clearly taken one stance and through this incredible writing, you find yourself in a much more complicated situation."
Performances are scheduled for April 22 through May 15 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26 - $67.
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