Aspen Fringe Festival goes to church with ‘The Christians’
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘The Christians,’ presented by Aspen Fringe Festival
Where: The Aspen Chapel
When: July 5 & 8, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $25
Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office; aspenshowtix.com
When Aspen Fringe Festival founder David Ledingham thought about staging Lucas Hnath’s play “The Christians,” he knew he wanted to stage it in a church. And he knew he had a local pastor who could act.
If he could get both on board to produce this tale of a pastor in spiritual crisis, he knew he had something special on his hands.
This week, in a special production celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Aspen Fringe Fest, “The Christians” will take over the Aspen Chapel and will feature Crossroads Church Pastor Dan Bosko playing the lead. The play runs Thursday and Sunday at the chapel.
If you’re not a churchgoer, you may recognize Bosko for his local acting work. He’s done previous roles in productions at Fringe Fest, the Hudson Reed Ensemble and Theatre Masters.
Ledingham sent Bosko the script in the fall, though he knew the play’s content would be thorny terrain and didn’t expect Bosko to sign on.
“He said, ‘I’m in,’” Ledingham recalled. “That’s really putting your ass on the line. And that’s exactly what I want to happen with this play. I want people talking about the themes in ‘The Christians.’ I was only going to do it if we could do it in a church.”
“The Christians” tells the story of Pastor Paul, a mega-church leader who — after an encounter at a conference — begins grappling with the idea of heaven and the existence of hell and struggling with Christian dogma. He gives a sermon calling for a more inclusive Christianity that shakes the foundations of his congregation. (Though Hnath wrote the play before he knew of the story, the pastor’s tale in “The Christians” mirrors that of real-life Pentacostal Rev. Carlton Pearson, who was branded a heretic and whose tale was popularized in a “This American Life” episode and is the subject of the recent documentary “Come Sunday.”)
The Aspen Chapel — the nondenomitional Christian congregation at the roundabout, formerly known as Prince of Peace — has long been a friend to the arts. The gallery hosts a secular art gallery, and has held monthly art openings showcasing locals’ work for 32 years.
“I’m excited to get as many people from all the churches in town to come and sit and listen and grapple with what this play is about,” Ledingham said. “The questions this play raises are on everybody’s mind that goes to church.”
Hnath, who has become one of the best-known American playwrights for his acclaimed 2017 drama “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” which Fringe Fest staged last month, said he was thrilled to have “The Christians” produced at the Aspen Chapel.
“I am very fond of the idea of doing that play in an actual church,” Hnath said last month.
The play makes use of a choir and also makes the audience play the church’s congregants. Though Hnath ran the play in Off-Broadway theaters during its 2015 run — when it won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play and was nominated for Drama Desk and Lortel Awards — he said an actual church is the best setting.
Local actress Cathy Pelowski, who plays Pastor Paul’s wife, has assisted Fringe Fest by gathering members of local church choirs to collaborate and sing in the play.
“I always like the idea of using actual church choirs or — in a single performance — using lots of members of lots of local church choirs, as a way of bringing the church community together,” Hnath said. “I think it’ll work great it in a church. That’s the ideal setting for it.”
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