Enthusiastic theatergoers came out in force to see the opening night performance of Renee Calarco’s The Religion Thing by the Project Y Theatre Company at The Cell Theatre on 23rd Street in Manhattan. During a year when religion has taken center stage at many movie houses, it seems only fitting that stage plays on the subject also make their mark. Based on the turnout to this one, it is the right course to take.
The Religion Thing, which premiered January 2012 in Washington, D.C., was nominated for a 2013 Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play. It courageously and craftily takes head-on issues that many consider taboo: the differences inside our religions (Catholic, Fundamentalist, Mormon, Amish, Jew), the gay vs. straight conflict, the tangled web of love and sex, mixed marriage, career vs. parenting, and alcoholism. Although addressing very serious subjects, the writing and acting is so witty that it causes the audience to laugh and perhaps see the humor in their own conflicted relationships.
The play speaks to the complicated world we inhabit and the differences we must learn to live with in each other, and to how important communication is, especially when in a committed relationship. Most importantly, it demonstrates the importance of dealing with controversial subjects before marriage, of making sure both individuals are on the same page and agree on how they will resolve any potential issues arising from their different needs or points of view on these subjects, i.e., careers, children, religion.
The Religion Thing is set in Washington, D.C., and explores the lives of two couples who are friends and the conflicting issues they discover about their relationships after getting married. One couple makes it, the other doesn’t. It raises our consciousness about what matters to us. We come to realize there may even be some things in our upbringing we thought were not important to us that, in fact, really are and that these things need to be addressed and respected by our life partners if we are to have happy, successful marriages. The play does not resolve any of these issues, but it leaves those paying attention a little bit wiser about how to have healthier, more fulfilling relationships of their own.
Although the entire setting is played out in a very small space, the acting and presentation are so superb that you hardly notice. It is a very thought-provoking, well-written script and worth seeing. Directed by the brilliant Douglas Hall, the cast includes Katharine McLeod as Mo; Jamie Geiger as Brian; Danielle O’Farrell as Patti; Andrew William Smith as Jeff; and Curran Connor as Glick, Sister Mary Kevin, Bill and Grandpa. Connor is especially notable as he plays a number of diverse roles and makes what must have a challenging task look easy.
The Religion Thing (through August 1, 2014)
Project Y Theatre Company
The Cell Theatre, 338 West 23rd Street, near 8th Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com
Running time: two hours including one intermission