Theatre Review

Go to ‘Church’ at Wilbury

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We went to “Church” Monday night at Wilbury Theatre…literally.

The adventurous theatre group has settled into their flexible theatre space in an old warehouse in Olneyville, this time turning the huge room into a church.

Director Brien Lang has taken Young Jean Lee’s play with music and turned it into one powerful religious experience. While the author had her own conflicting feelings about religion, she has written an uplifting, yet challenging, entertaining and, yes, spiritual “service.”

At the center of the play/service is Rev. Jose (Phoenyx Williams), a fast-talking, inspirational, charismatic man who often talks in parables, some with a deep meaning and others that leave you hanging.

The “play” is played out as an actual church service, eight Reverends contributed their support of Rev. Jose with lots of “Amens,” clapping and singing. A three-piece band enhances the spirited music. The singing is great, beginning with the rousing spiritual, “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” right down to the closing hymn, “Ain’t Got Time to Die.” There are actual readings from the Bible, prayer requests, testimonials and one rousing sermon.

It was obvious that the audience didn’t quite know what to expect and some were a bit shy about joining in at first, but eventually Williams and crew won them over.

Call it a parody of a religious experience, call it a spiritual hour and a half, or call it Lee’s attempt to face her own thoughts and doubts about religion. Whatever you take out of “Church” will depend on what you bring to it…sort of like the real thing.

“Church” is at Wilbury Theatre, 40 Sonoma Court, Providence, through December 23. For reservations call 400-7100.

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