Church & State: Laughter to Cope with Politics

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“Church & State,” a clever comedy about politics, is currently playing at Sand Lake Center for the Arts in Averill Park.

Comedy combined with pathos, a message that is so relevant in today’s world, a cast that is spot on and direction that directs not only the cast but focuses the audience, “Church & State” engaged the audience for 80 minutes of theatre that will leave you laughing, emotionally drained, and excited to begin a conversation that will last the entire car ride home.

Elisa Verb, Dianne DeSantis, Paul McDermott Murphy
Photo by Adam Wilson-Hwang

Such is the evening you will experience at the production of Jason Odell Williams Church and State currently being mounted by Circle Theatre Players at the  Sand Lake Center for the Arts in Averill Park. Church and State is a fast paced “dramady” (part drama part comedy) that fixates on Charles Whitmore’s  Senate re-election. The play opens just three days before the election and moments before the Senator is about to deliver a speech he has given many times throughout the campaign. Tonight, the speech is given to a packed house at North Carolina State College days after a mass shooting in an elementary school.

The Senator is the green room backstage having an attack of conscious. Should he read the speech or speak his mind.  Much like the cartoons we have all seen of the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other trying to convince the protagonist which side to take, the cast sits heavily on the Senator’s shoulders.  The issue is that we are not dealing with a devil and an angel here, but instead we have the Senator’s bible thumping steeped in the traditions of her conservative southern upbringing, wife vs his liberal New York Jewish campaign manager. Neither is all devil and neither is all angel. We have a Senator who is torn between speaking his heart or his mind. 

Dianne DeSantis, Paul McDermott Murphy
Photo by Adam Wilson-Hwang

The show is a discussion on gun control, God, questioning God’s existence, and if so, how can He/She allow this to happen. By the very tenor of the script we are left with no uncertainty how the play write feels on the issues.  The main thrust of the production is to provoke the audience and create a conversation. 

Create conversation is exactly what this production does. Director Patrick White, no stranger to the Capital Region theater world, both on stage and off,  does an amazingly deft job of moving the small cast through a range of emotions allowing them to live and breath. White takes an interesting riff by having his characters speak over one another, cutting off one another, not waiting until each has politely finished their thoughts and lines. It is very messy, rude and real.

Paul McDermott Murphy
Photo by Adam Wilson-Hwang

Just when you think the pitch can’t get any steeper, the comedy snaps the tension for the characters and the audience.  The staging is relaxed, and intimate, almost uncomfortably close to the audience. Seating is two sides of the four walls of the Green Room, with the stage on the same level forcing the audience to become one with the production. Paul Murphy not only looks the part of the dignified senator, but acts the conflicted senator flawlessly. Elisa Verb as Alex Klein is the fast talking shoot from the hip liberal campaign manager, and she acts the part to perfection. Sara Whitmore, whose character Mrs. Whitmore presents with the greatest arc in terms of character development through out the show, nails the comic timing. Combined with the dramatic heart needed to make the character more than just a character, Whitmore more a representation of an entire slice of America. Sam Mikit rounds out the cast taking on multiple roles, fleshing out all the background we need to make the production come alive.

Williams and White have very plainly taken a stance that we need to change the world and society to make it better for everyone. Church and State will move you, awaken your consciousness and stir your heart. Playing through October 13, this is one show that should be required viewing for the entire family. 

Sam Mikit, Paul McDermott Murphy, Dianne DeSantis
Photo by Adam Wilson-Hwang

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