Citadel's 'The Christians' asks thought-provoking question
Anyone who has ever thought about what might wait for us in the next life will find something to ponder in the play "The Christians" performed by the Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest Feb. 8 through March 12.
The play is set in a megachurch, the kind of church that welcomes thousands of worshippers each week and has a bookstore and coffee shop. The play opens during a worship service on a Sunday when the pastor and the congregation are celebrating the retirement of their church's mortgage.
The celebration becomes muted when, in his sermon, the pastor asks the congregation, "What if there is no hell? What if we all are welcomed into heaven by a loving God who forgives all -- even humanity's worst?"
The idea that God would forgive a Hitler or a mass murderer becomes too much to accept for some of the congregants.
Citadel Artistic Director Scott Phelps, who plays the pastor, says this play will be thought-provoking for people of any faith.
"Though the play is titled 'The Christians' and is set in a nondenominational Christian church, the fundamental question it raises is equally relevant to those who subscribe to Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or any other faith that believes in an afterlife and preaches forgiveness," Phelps said
"And, in addition to posing that theological question, the play shows the difficulty so many of us have in changing our minds and accepting new ideas when confronted with new information or an opposing point of view.
"We expect 'The Christians' to provoke a lot of soul-searching among our audiences, and so we will be holding post-show discussions after every performance."
Phelps said "The Christians" is more than a presentation of a philosophical premise.
"It is, like any good play, a great story with compelling characters. It's a story of a man who stands up for his principles and the price he pays for doing that. After making his controversial sermon, the pastor's position in the church he founded, and even his marriage, become threatened. It's a play we've wanted to do at Citadel ever since we first saw it at the Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville several years ago," Phelps said.
One of the challenges in bringing "The Christians" to Citadel's 125-seat theater was finding a way to create the setting of a huge megachurch and to put a choir on stage. The solution came when Citadel gained access to a large number of LED video monitors that will show the congregation and the choir.
The monitors, provided by Pangea Technology, are of a level of sophistication that is normally found only in big-budget productions like Disney's "Star Wars" series "The Mandalorian," or in TV shows like "American Idol" or "The Voice."
The monitors will allow the production to achieve an epic scope not normally feasible in an intimate venue like Citadel's theater.
Scott Westerman, who is directing the production, said, "The intimacy of Citadel's performance space will bring the audience close to the characters in what is, in spite of the play's setting in a huge and grand church, a very personal drama of Pastor Paul's journey."
"The Christians" is playing at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Feb. 8 and March 1; and 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9 through March 12; with matinees at 1 p.m. Wednesdays Feb. 22 and March 8.
A discussion will follow each performance. For tickets and more information, visit www.citadeltheatre.org or call (847) 735-8554, ext. 1.
Citadel Theatre is located in the West Campus of Lake Forest High School, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest.
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