Staged against a most magnificent set designed by Neil Patel consisting of an assortment of cubes in various positions, and a dazzling light design by David Weiner complementing the various moods of this complex combination docudrama/musical, This Beautiful City accomplishes one of the basic precepts of theatre – illumination of the human condition.
Written by Steven Cosson and Jim Lewis, the piece was developed by the New York theatre troupe The Civilians. Enhanced by spectacular projections of the Rocky Mountain region created by Jason H. Thompson, director Cosson guides this very polished, uniformly excellent cast, all of whom play multiple roles, through the musical exploration of the infiltration of the Evangelical Christian movement in Colorado Springs.
The material emerged through interviews with people from all walks of life, including New Life Church members, civic leaders, and liberal thinkers living at the base of Pike’s Peak, where as a postscript Katherine Lee Bates wrote “America the Beautiful.“
The play, which moves forward through rousing music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, attempts to cover a wide range of controversial issues including abortion, gay rights, transsexuals, transgenders, and same sex marriage. We meet, through dialogue and song, some of the high-profile people involved in the movement, such as Ted Haggard, whose rise and fall as a spiritual leader is played out when he is accused of being a homosexual and a drug user.
For anyone with a liberal to moderate religious or political bent, the seamless presentation is unsettling, as the material does not take a strong point of view. Yes, there’s the “other voice” opposing the insidious takeover of Colorado Springs, which included infiltrating its famous Air Force Academy (which deemed that “Cadets who do not have God should be Evangelicalized”). A Jewish father expresses his concern about his son who is attending the Academy.
We meet a variety of “wholesome” devotees espousing the miracle of being an Evangelical while cleverly hiding their contempt for any lifestyle or belief system that does not fit theirs by sprinkling the word “love” in their sermons. In a not so subtle use of costumes, the liberal voice is heard through characters dressed much more casually, who try to debunk some of the restrictive Evangelical beliefs. A particularly riveting moment was performed by Marshal Stephanie Blake who, as the new pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church, gave a stirring speech denouncing homosexuality following their minister’s coming out of the closet.
This is a compelling piece that is worth seeing, despite some redundancy by the middle of Act I, an Act II in need of judicious cutting, and the occasional diatribe. But in this case, you don’t want to shoot the messenger, even if the message is not perfect in its presentation. It’s an important glimpse into a most provocative, powerful world.
This Beautiful City plays through October 26at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Boulevard,, Culver City. Tickets are $20-$50. For reservations call 213.628.2772.