Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee wrote Church, the current entry from InnerMission Productions, as a testament to her lifelong struggle with the tenets of Christianity under an exceedingly devout mom and dad. That may explain why her play is so — um — unconventional in its construction.
She’s happy to leave the sloppy sentiment to religion-fueled plays like the sensational Doubt and the feloniously overrated The Book of Mormon. Here, things like character conflict, subtext and denouement are sacrificed in an unadorned display of evangelist trappings. Warts and all, the Church as we know it is subordinate to Young’s worldview — indeed, and with apologies to William Wordsworth, child is mother of the man.
The performances are all right here; Robert Malave has guessed correctly in conceiving his threadbare set; and director and sound designer Kym Pappas’ music is motley and spontaneous.
But the central element — the sense of argument that’s colored religious discourse for as long as religion has been religion — is deliberately missing here, weakening Young’s regard for spiritual relativity and, thus, our comprehension. Indeed, this faux religious revival never quite gets to where it’s supposed to be going.
… Laura renders a plaintive and pretty good tune about the nature of her own eternal life.
We start with traveling road-show josser Reverend José (Salomon Maya), who supposedly gets us, in all our wretchedness. Without God, he screeds, “you are incredibly similar to all the people sitting around you right now. The vast majority of them are doomed to a life of disappointing mediocrity, just like yours.” He’ll proceed to walk in lockstep with himself, citing his own brushes with sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll and his rescue through his faith in God.
Reverends Laura, Veronica and Andréa (Laura Preble, Veronica Burgess and Andréa Agosto) regale us with similar scenarios. Talks of seductresses, machine guns, floating angels, chicken blood, ‘‘masturbation rage’’ and cotton ball-eating mummies dot the patter and the music (including earnest guitar strains from worship leader James M. McCullock); the revivalist flavor is notable as Laura renders a plaintive and pretty good tune about the nature of her own eternal life.
But Young’s approach to subtext pales against the loftiness of the topic. The actors (who, oddly, never engage in dialogue) opt to testify their epiphanies and leave it at that. You’ve seen it all before on everything from ‘‘PTL Club’’ reruns to Pat Robertson’s ‘‘700 Club’’ — and as horribly pedantic as those show are, this piece and its live environment dwarfs them in lack of objective.
‘‘What if God was one of us?’’ the cast intones (courtesy songwriter Joan Osborne’s ‘‘One of Us’’) as it’s joined by a few plants in an attempt to make the show look like a play. The telling factor is that the song is performed at the very end of the piece — far too late to justify the script’s paucity of purpose.
This review is based on the matinee performance of April 7. Church runs through April 20 at the Diversionary Theatre upstairs black box, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights. $15-$25. innermissionproductions.org, (619) 324-8970.