From the left, Kim Kivens, Miriam Schwartz and Matthew Rein star in the Minnesota Jewish Theater Company production of Church & State through November 12, 2017. Photo credit: Minnesota Jewish Theater Company.
With the non-stop bloviators on the political pundit channels and with wet snow having been predicted for the Twin Cities this weekend, I sought and found respite in Saint Paul Thursday evening courtesy of the Minnesota Jewish Theater Company’s production of Jason Odell Williams’ Church & State. The resonant comedy has garnered kudos for stagings in New York, D.C. and California.
The dramatic trajectory of Church & State begins with a blogger’s Tweet prompted by a popular Southern Republican Senator’s oblique comment about prayer shortly after a mass shooting at the school his children attend and a few days before the election.
Played out backstage during two political rallies, the one act, two scene play effectively zigs and zags on a tightrope of comedy and gravitas through – but not above – our national dilemmas of gun control, the Second Amendment, religious assumptions, safety, political shibboleths and the wildfire of social media.
Director Michael Kissen propels his fine cast with their engaging characters through the nuances of personal relationships to Church & State’s unexpected and powerful final moments. Matthew Rein inhabits and projects the doubting and noble spirit of Republican Senator Charlie Whitmore whose campaign ads proclaim Jesus as his running mate. As Whitmore’s wife Sara, Kim Kivens sparkles with southern savvy and sauce and hilariously, for a while, with bourbon whiskey. Miriam Schwartz shapes the role of Whitmore’s sharp, ambitious campaign manager Alex beyond caricature into a finely turned, real political operative with texture and individuality. Josh Zwack is this staging’s adept utility player with four small, broadly directed roles.
Last night after prolonged applause and a short break the cast returned to the intimate thrust stage with producing artistic director Barbara Brooks for an audience Q&A discussion. In the tragic glare of the Las Vegas mass shooting, Miss Brooks, Mr. Zwack, Miss Schwartz , Miss Kivens, Mr. Rein and the audience generated an impromptu, informed and questioning conversation about America, the Second Amendment and bridging the pro/con chasm. Church & State runs at select times through November 12 at the Highland Park Community Center’s welcoming theater space on Ford Parkway in Saint Paul. Here’s a link leading to more information. http://mnjewishtheatre.org/church-and-state/
Note: I am not a critic, but I occasionally review for publication select plays, films, cabaret revues and music groups.