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Theater Review: 'What Kind of God?' At The Lillian Theatre

Savannah L. Barker |
September 16, 2013 | 11:58 p.m. PDT

Arts Editor-At-Large

Father Bart (Robert Keasler) and Aaron (Brett Donaldson) in "What Kind of God?" Photo by Ted Augustyn.
Father Bart (Robert Keasler) and Aaron (Brett Donaldson) in "What Kind of God?" Photo by Ted Augustyn.
A show about corruption, homosexuality, and abuse within the Catholic Church sounds like it would be anything but dull, but unfortunately Steve Julian's "What Kind of God?" falls painfully flat. It seems one would have to go out of their way to make such a racy subject boring, but the real issue is that the play relies too heavily on the content and forgets entirely about all the other elements that make a story interesting such as character development, a cohesive plot, and bearable dialogue.

As the audience files into the small, yet quaint Lillian Theatre, actor Brett Donaldson ("Slipping") wanders the stage aimlessly in character—perhaps an omen of what is to come? From the moment the lights come up, the conversation between Aaron (Donaldson) and Lisa (Emily M. Faris) is slow, awkward, and pointless, setting the tone for the rest of the show. Every conversation is completely contrived and purposeless. The characters are archetypal (though missing a character arc) and lack any real depth, making it difficult for the audience to sympathize with their angst. But to blame the actors for this lack of intention would be unfair, and every actor seems to work overtime to make up for the incredibly uninspiring script and clearly weak direction. The actors of this show definitely deserve an "A" for effort.

The story itself is very unoriginal. Aaron is Catholic, gay, and terrified, but soon discovers the priest who has served as his father figure, Father Bart (Robert Keasler), is also gay. Lisa is Aaron's girlfriend, and, more importantly, a literary tool to let the audience know Aaron is gay before he himself figures it out. Rachel (Katherine McGehee) is Aaron's aunt—or mother, it's never really made clear—who apparently received a large sum of money from the church over a sexual abuse scandal. The story attempts to make itself more interesting by adding thoughtless plot "twists" that are never fully explained and serve no dramatic purpose.

What's most frustrating about the story is that it goes nowhere. None of the characters change, grow or learn, they just whine louder and louder. The show's conceit has potential to be inspiring and shine new light on an age-old issue, but instead it gets so caught up in trying to surprise its audience that it forgets to answer the more important question, "Why"? 

The only real positive aspect of the show, interestingly enough, is the sound design by Cricket S. Myers. The music used during scene changes and blackouts very effectively encapsulated the emotions trying so hard to be conveyed by the actors and added a lot beauty to the otherwise sloppy production.

What this show really boils down to is a lot of weak decisions made by the director (Aaron Lyons) and the writer. The show doesn't attempt to challenge the audience or make any bold choices in character, plot, or dialogue. Even the set (by John Iacovelli) is uninteresting and safe. The play ends with the ultimate cop-out, Aaron committing suicide. The last scene is another forced and out-of-place conversation between Father Bart and Rachel about the death of Aaron. Father Bart cries that he sees Aaron in his dreams and that Aaron speaks to him in Latin. When Rachel asks Father Bart what Aaron says, Father Bart utters the last line of the show (I kid you not) "I don't know." This last example of completely pathetic dialogue ironically, and unintentionally, summarizes the entirety of the show pretty well.

While it's great that shows like this attempt to bring to light issues that are hidden, and in fact "What Kind of God?" is part of a social campaign entitled "Silence No One," this show's intention is so transparent that it becomes dishonest, and nobody likes dishonest art. It is honesty that makes an audience truly feel something spectacular and remember a show a week, month, or year later. A show like this might make a few audience members ponder for a few hours, but within a few days, even the title will be forever gone from their memory.

Reach Arts Editor-At-Large Savannah here.

"What Kind of God?" is playing at the Lillian Theatre (1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood, CA 90038) through October 20. Tickets are $23. More information can be found at WhatKindOfGodThePlay.com.



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