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‘Church & State’ offers an ‘impetus’ for discussion

SANTA FE, N.M. — Los Alamos Little Theatre’s latest production is a true “roller coaster” of a show.

That’s according to director Patrick MacDonald. The political dramedy “Church & State” confronts timely and divisive topics: gun control and religion.

Despite its twists and turns, “I promise it will be entertaining and it will be thought-provoking,” said MacDonald. “All at once.”

“Church & State,” by Emmy-nominated writer Jason Odell Williams, premiered in Los Angeles in June 2016 and ran off-Broadway from March-June 2017. Los Alamos’ staging starts next Friday and ends March 16.

The theater is also planning an abridged version for New Mexico’s American Association of Community Theatre Conference and Festival from March 21 to 24 in Los Alamos. During the festival, which takes place every other year, companies from across the state will compete to move on to regional and national festivals.

“In reading this script in particular … . It had me laughing and then had me crying,” said MacDonald, who was looking for a show the company could use for the upcoming festival. “… Its setup tricks the audience into thinking they’re in for one kind of experience when suddenly the bomb drops out and they’re in for another.”

The play moves back and forth between a main storyline and flashbacks, following Republican Sen. Charles Whitmore of North Carolina, a Christian conservative.

Just days out from an election, a mass shooting takes place at his children’s school and a political blogger asks him after a funeral whether he still believes in God. Whitmore does question whether someone can believe in God when tragedies like the massacre can happen. He tells that to the blogger, who then writes a story and posts it on Twitter.

The show, MacDonald explains, begins with Whitmore just before his final campaign rally speech.

“The entire first part of the show is set up around the premise, is he going to give the final campaign rally speech that he’s been giving over and over and over again exactly as written, or is he going to go off script and speak his mind about what actually happened with this side comment he gave to a political blogger,” said MacDonald.

Sen. Whitmore deals with his campaign manager Alex Klein, who MacDonald described as a liberal Jewish woman from New York who is working for Whitmore with hopes of one day getting to the White House, and Whitmore’s wife Sara, a classic “controlling” Southern belle.

The second part of the show – without giving away the surprises – deals with the aftermath of Whitmore’s decision about what to say in the speech.

When talking about one of the show’s main themes, gun control, MacDonald said part of the reason he liked the script was how playwright Williams wrote characters who on both sides of the issue.

The author certainly has a point of view. MacDonald referred to Williams’ “author’s statement” about the play. It explains that Williams wrote the play out of anger he felt after multiple mass shootings and that he hopes the play one day becomes obsolete.

“And many years from now, people will read it and think, ‘How quaint! Americans used to argue about gun control,’ ” the statement says.

Still, MacDonald says the play leaves it to the audience to have their own opinions. “Nothing is dismissed, everything is presented as an honest point of view,” he said.

MacDonald said he likes the idea of people being able to come out and be entertained no matter their views, as well as theater being an “impetus” for discussion.

Audience members can “sit in the dark, be anonymous and open to hearing things,” he said.

“It’s a different experience if you’re going to a public speech, and you’re in the light yourself and can be seen reacting to it. There’s a wonderful anonymity about being a part of an audience in a group of people that allows, at least for me personally, allows you to connect to points of view that you may not naturally connect to yourself.”

Los Alamos’ production of “Church & State” stars Tim Orcutt as Senator Whitmore, Alexis Perry-Holby as Sara Whitmore, Charlotte Jusinski as Klein and Ian Foti-Landis in several roles, including a campaign aide, the political blogger and a security guard.

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