Playwright Challenges Audience and Self on Issue of Faith

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“When starting a play, I ask myself, ‘What’s the last play in the world I would ever want to write?’  Then I force myself to write it.” That is how playwright and director Young Jean Lee describes her process. Since The Appeal debuted at SoHo Rep in 2004, Lee has been considered a leading new voice in American theater. Determined to shake both herself and her audience free from complacency, she states, “I want to create work that disarms audiences with humor and then excoriates them … until they are left disturbed, exhilarated, and without answers.” 

Church, which premiered in 2007 at P.S. 122 and was recently performed at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, is a provocative exploration of religion that straddles the line between earnestness and irony so delicately as to leave its audience in a constant state of unease. Structured as a religious service complete with preaching, testimonials, singing, and dancing, Church works on its audience like its namesake. Through its cast of liberal Christian characters, the show calls people out on their ego-based, petty worries and challenges them to meaningful action. What makes it all tolerable, and indeed compelling, is Lee’s ability to balance piercing social satire with disarming sincerity. At various moments in the show, you may feel uplifted, moved, amused, ashamed, or devastated. But you will never feel complacent.     

Image by Ryan Jensen, courtesy of Young Jean Lee Theater Company and Walker Art Center.

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