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"The Revival"

A review by Larry Litt

Written by Samuel Brett Williams
Directed by Michole Biancosino
Presented by Project Y Theatre Company
The Lion Theater
410 West 42nd St, NY NY
Reviewed by Larry Litt September 14, 2010

I've always believed that organized religion with its services, buildings for weekly events, highly vocal, impasssioned stars of any tradition and persuasion needing a congregation to save or direct to a high emotional experience, is exactly like theater. Samuel Brett Williams' "The Revival" is a highly charged insider's look at one theatrical preacher's life on the mega church track. And it's a Holy Hell of a show down there in righteously dramatic Little Rock, Arkansas.

Seems Preacher Eli, intensely and boyishly played by Trent Dawson, has big secrets. In his past, in the play's present, in his future. He's just not what he seems. Neither is his poor white trailer park wife, June. They're living in Eli's preacher father's shadow in a church with dwindling attendance problems. Along comes an unexpected knock at the door. Waiting outside is a young, socially feral, beautiful boy, played with high energy danger and intimidation by David Darrow. Darrow's runaway Daniel admits he knows the ways of loving men, their eyes, their attractions, their avoidances. He spots Eli's eyes gazing, repelling, gazing again during a Sunday potluck dinner. It's love at first fried chicken leg bite.

There's humor, character, love, loss in this Little Rock devout community. But also lurking desires that if unleashed that will destroy everyone. Good wife June is a secret drinker who always gets what she wants even though she gets it for the wrong reasons. Aidan Sullivan portrays her as a nervous, dedicated, conflicted force of nature, with no boundaries when it comes to her husband. She looks simple, but when she bites she doesn't let go. A shark in goldfish clothing. She runs men, they never know it. But she's also a loving, religious mother and wife. Ms Sullivan's growing presence in this drama is a powerful tribute to playwright Samuel Brett Williams skills at creating well rounded and vital female characters.

In the midst of this southern fire and brimstone love nest is Trevor, a good ole boy who loves going to church because it keeps him in the spirit of doing good. Bad boy past aside Raymond McAnally's Trevor is a Bush voter, hunter, man of the people, voice of the community, patient and ambitious. He reveals the inner political workings of Southern Baptist Conventions: how churches grow into mega churches, how they fundraise, how they choose their preachers. It's big business, Trevor wants to be part of it as Eli's church treasurer. He knows the ropes, he's connected, he's personable, funny, down to earth, a big lovable Southern teddy bear. He advises Eli, he knows, feels a great moment coming in their church. He's in awe of public confession and redemption. Just don't cross his line. He's also a dangerous revenge seeker, capable of anything in the name of his church and his God.

David Darrow's Daniel is the devil in the woods. He's unchangeable, cunning, loving, violent and deceitful at the same moment. He discovers there's more to love in this small church than Jesus. He's a disbeliever yet he too must draw a holy line.

We're ready for a Sunday prayer meeting from Hell.

A harmonious hymn singing choir (Kara Davidson, Jenn Machover, Corey Andrew Markowitz, Gillian Riley and Saffron Wayman) betrays and contradicts the plays very human tragedies. The singers are above the fray, continuing to attract parishioners.

I walked away from The Revival feeling emptied of spirit and holiness. Like watching sausages being made, watching religious men and women in real life makes you want to be an atheist. Amen.

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