Spiritually cerebral ‘The Christians’ opens at Gulfshore Playhouse

Gulfshore Playhouse’s 2016-17 season comes to a close on a thought-provoking note with “The Christians,” in which playwright Lucas Hnath addresses forged relationships and the splits that divide them.

As the play’s title suggests, the schism of alliances in “The Christians” happens within a house of worship with an enormous congregation. The church family is divided when Pastor Paul (Alan Campbell) — who has spent two decades growing a modest congregation into a megachurch — announces, at a celebration of the church being free of debt, that the congregation will no longer acknowledge a component of traditional theological belief. Thus begins the congregational divide, starting with Associate Pastor Joshua (William Oliver Watkins) and trickling down to church members who find the new doctrine reprehensible.

Mr. Hnath (pronounced “nayth”) was raised in a familial church environment, thus sparking his anecdotal, though extensively researched, view of the inner workings of a place of faith in which so many seek refuge. But decisions driving these sacred second homes for the masses can be fraught with conflict. Are church leaders’ decisions driven by purity or profit? Is the pastor actually hearing the voice of God, or is he disseminating his own will, conveniently cloaked in Biblical verse?

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