The Christians, directed by Taibi Magar, will play June 28-July 14 at Bratton Theater, as part of Chautauqua Theater Company’s 2019 season. Tickets are available here.
Taibi Magar is an Egyptian-American, Obie-winning director based in New York City, who is helming CTC’s production of The Christians. Artistic Producer Sarah Wansley sat down with Taibi to hear about what drew her to this play and how her approach to the text is fully embracing the theatricality of Lucas Hnath’s play.
Sarah: You mentioned in the first rehearsal that The Christians is a piece that has caught your attention for a long time. What drew you to this play?
Taibi: I’ve really just always loved every piece of Lucas’ writing and I’ve never gotten an opportunity to work on it. But in particular, The Christians, really comes from who I am and what I’m investigating, which is whether or not there is a God and the nature of religion. It’s endlessly fascinating to me. Conspicuously I was going to church, I was raised going to church, but left the church when I found theater...What I loved about going to church was a place of community, where we gather together and ask really big questions about morality and the purpose of life. And theater was just another way of doing that. It kind of wraps in with a lot of questions that I have always had and a space that I love... about thinking about big profound unanswerable questions all together in a dark room.
Sarah: What is the story of The Christians for you?
Taibi: It’s about this Pastor who changes his belief… he was sure, very sure about his belief and thought that would carry everyone over to his side. And the action of the play is realizing how fundamental the belief is to everyone and how everyone has different ways of coming to their beliefs. So over the course of the play Lucas really beautifully, elegantly, dangerously takes us through the nature of belief and how hard it is to change one’s mind, or to change other people’s minds.
Sarah: Lucas writes in such extraordinary language, which is very specific in how it’s formatted on the page. [Dramaturg’s note: When you read Lucas’ plays, they look like a poem on the page, he separates out phrases and is quite particular about punctuation and capitalization]. How are you and the actors approaching this language?
Taibi: The formatting on the page I find so beautiful and so helpful. It’s one of a couple plays now that I’ve worked on where the playwright uses the formatting to suggest phrasing. I approach it much like I approach Shakespeare - which is, assume that the writer is correct. Try to fit inside the glove and understand why he phrased it that way and what is the discovery and climax of the argument. And play around inside that. I think what the actors and I are doing is trying to make it feel discovered and fresh and alive as opposed to a packaged way of speaking. So even though it is formatted and intense rhetoric, that it still feels discovered.
Sarah: Lucas is also very specific in the text about the use of microphones throughout the play. [Dramaturg’s note: state directions suggest that the entire play, not just the church sermon should be spoken on microphones]. What does that gesture mean to you?
Taibi: It’s one of my favorite parts about the play - the theatricality of holding the microphone. It’s an intense, very theatrical, very unrealistic way of speaking. So the actors are now in the middle of understanding what that means… What I anticipate is that the microphones keeps us in the realm of ideas. Lucas talks about the play as one almost meta-sermon. We’re never quite landing in a literal place which keeps our minds and our brains just a little more flexible and able to think a little more deeply than if we were in realistic scene after scene.