When audiences step into the Mark Taper Forum to see playwright Lucas Hnath’s The Christians, they may do a double take. The stage is being transformed into a megachurch’s pulpit (with a full choir) for the play, which opens with a sermon from a pastor that will divide his congregation.
A New York Times profile published this fall explained that Hnath wrote The Christians in part based on personal experience:
Lucas Hnath grew up in an evangelical church. His mother became a minister, and he thought he might do the same. Instead, he became a playwright, and now he’s written a knowing script about congregational tremors set off by a doctrinal dispute inside a megachurch.
But what does the author of The Christians believe himself? That, he’s not going to tell you.
Hnath was more forthcoming about why—beyond his own history—he decided to write a play on the subject:
“I was having a very difficult time thinking of other contemporary plays that took on the subject of religion, and specifically Christianity, that did so without satirizing it or prompting us to roll our eyes at ‘those Christians,’ and it seemed to me that there was a lack of effort to try to understand what’s at stake in those beliefs,” he said.
Mr. Hnath began to experiment: He invited a group of nonreligious actors to watch tapes of preachers, including Kathryn Kuhlman, Joel Hunter and Steve Brown, and to jot down words that made them cringe. And then he set about writing a sermon that included none of those words, “just to find a way to talk about Christianity in a way that sidestepped certain preconceptions that made people want to quickly dismiss it.”