Heidi Platt & Joey Arena from the promotional trailer
Church & State
By Jason Odell Williams
Directed by Angela Miller
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
You plan a production. You book the stage and select a cast, rehearse for weeks, only to have the rug pulled out from under you by a pandemic! Even more frustrating, it was intended to be the first production after a nearly four-year hiatus.
Many local companies faced this dilemma, and Louisville Repertory Company is the first to find a creative solution by delivering, with playwright Jason Odell Williams’ permission, a radio adaptation of his play Church & State.
North Carolina Republican Senator Charles Whitmore (Joey Arena) is a champion of the 2nd amendment who struggles with his conscience after the school where his own children are students joins the ranks of school shootings. After visiting the blood-spattered classrooms and witnessing the traumatized survivors gathered outside the school, he publicly questions how God could allow such a thing. For a born-again, Conservative, southern politician, it is a troublesome admission.
His boozy wife, Sara (Heidi Platt, and campaign manager, Alex Klein (Anica Bell) try to keep him on the approved message, but the Senator’s moral struggle is real and unshakable.
Williams’ play starts off as a farce but surprises with a shift in tone as the repercussions from Whitmore’s honesty become clear. The moral of the story is not exactly subtle, but it is distinct.
The plummy dialects of the Whitmore sounded consistent, and Joey Arena gives the Senator just a touch of Foghorn Leghorn in the first scenes but tracks the shift in tone with a renewed tenderness with Heidi Platt’s rich characterization. Although the Senator is at the center, Platt nicely illustrates the growth in Sara and reveals that the maturing relationship between she and Alex subverts the easy cliche of female competitiveness. Anica Bell’s calm, cool reserve contrasts effectively with the Carolinians.
Ryan Watson does yeoman work as several minor characters and by reading stage directions in hushed tones, and there is an emphasis on vocal performance that is to be expected but still feels satisfying. As much as we miss the physicality of the stage, the actors use their voices with nuanced observation, and since we don’t see them, we hear them with great clarity.
Alex Bowman is responsible for the evocative sound design, which supports and augments the action without ever intruding. The quality of the audio recording is very good, and there is integrity in this presentation that easily makes it the best technical production among the various theatrical alternatives to live performances that are now arriving. By basically making this a radio play, director Angela D. Miller is able to realize the material fully enough, without the potential distractions of indifferent design work in streaming platforms.
At one point, Alex admits a fantasy of working in the White House alongside “Rob Lowe and Allison Janney” and that idealization of government service foreshadows an important aspect Williams’ play. Church & State touches upon several hot button issues that are fundamental aspects of this extremely divisive political and social culture in America. I think we are entitled to a dream a little of public servants rediscovering a moral center.
Church & State
July 15 – 19 @ 6:30 pm
Available through Louisville Repertory Company’s Facebook page
Louisville Repertory Company
Recorded at The Bard’s Town
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.