Talking Back to THE RELIGION THING After First Two Previews

450 people have seen THE RELIGION THING after two Pay-What-You-Can previews. Who’d ‘a thunk a local play by a no-name playwright would draw a Sold Out audience on a night when we didn’t even run a Guide ad in the Post? We’re all thrilled with the community’s interest in what we’re cooking up. Better yet, we’re thrilled about the feedback — the intense discussions this play’s been spawning.
It’s time to start posting responses from those who’ve seen the show. It’ll come from students, from regulars, and from new folks to our theater, and it’ll come from friends in the industry. We’re gonna get a lot or responses. Here’s the first. And they’ll continue in the Comments section below. Respond away, friends! We couldn’t be happier about the range and passion of the responses so far.

From: Joshua Greene
Sent: Wednesday, January 04, 2012 11:00 PM
To: Tell Ari
Subject: Thank You

Dear Ari,

Thank you for bringing The Religion Thing to performance. This is a remarkably skillful play that addresses taboo subjects in a way that the audience can appreciate. I’m sorry we couldn’t stay for the discussion, but the three in our party loved it and the performers.

My one comment (apart from the very sharp transitions between humor and serious discussions) was that the Catholic girl seemed, stylistically, more Jewish (in a typically Ashkenazic way) than her Jewish husband (who seemed far too calm and reserved for the Jews we know). Could that be what attracts them, at least in the playwright’s mind: that the guy (who probably threw spitballs in religious school) is more comfortable with an excitable (translation: Ashkenazic Jewish) woman than a calm (translation: non-Jewish) one?

Thanks again for bringing this show to stage.

* * *

Tell us your thoughts!

30 thoughts on “Talking Back to THE RELIGION THING After First Two Previews

  1. Some thoughts about The Religion Thing. The debate of the controversies in religions has not occurred to me for a long time.
    It is interesting to see that the title contains ‘religion’ instead of ‘sexual orientation’ even though both topics are explored in the play equally. Or perhaps not?

    Two couples, two confrontations.One between homosexuality and alcoholism and one on Catholicism versus Judaism. The fate of the two conflicts is clear, the first one is resolved, or at least, fall into silence, and the second one intensify to a breaking point and hence a permanent split. It is debatable how much the audience can learn from the discussion mainly because the opinions tend to go in one direction, at least fall into the same theme. The theme of the discussion where I attended turns out to be on therapy…

    Which leave me with little time to ask the following question:’Does the break up between Patti and her husband signify the playwright’s subconscious/conscious belief that the co-existence of Judaism and Catholicism within a relationship will inevitably leads to its doom?’

    It is especially interesting when the play was shown in a Jewish theater. I really wonder what Mr. Ari Roth think about the conflict. It is also interesting to know that Ms Renee Calarco, the playwright, grows up in a family of both Jewish and Catholic influence. I wonder what leads to her choice of making the religion conflict irreconcilable. While listening to the comments during the discussion where many audience members comment on what they saw, I was wondering what leads to ‘what they saw’. Ms Calarco asked the audience whether they find the play weighing towards any side, the answers were all positive. I don’t necessarily agree with that. First, as mentioned above, an apparent bias occurs when there is an incongruousness between the two religion belief but none between the two sexual orientation beliefs. Second, when the playwright asked the question, it in a certain extent reflects her own doubt towards a perfect neutrality in the play. Thirdly, it is natural for audience members to raise their opinions in concurrence with that of others’ during a public discussion and it is much more difficult otherwise. Be nice and not be nasty, a golden rule in social interaction.

    Perhaps it is better to exert a little more control when opinions lean to one side, or on the theme of the discussion to generate more diversity in opinions? Or perhaps not. But in any case, the play itself is a wonderful and mesmerizing work. Meticulous and powerful choreography, applauds to the costume and stage design. The script is simply great. So much laughs in the theater.
    What a great night.

    • I thought your question of whether the title of the play was apt is very interesting. However, I couldn’t see the play containing anything about homosexuality in the title because this controversy is secondary in the play. The controversy of Jeff’s homosexuality arises because of his religious beliefs, not merely because he is a homosexual. Had Jeff not become a very Evangelical Christian, I do not think his homosexual tendencies would have been a problem because homosexuality in and of itself is not a problem. He could have just continued living his life how he wanted to, unimpeded by the moral code laid out by the Evangelical Christian church he joined. Jeff’s homosexual tendencies became a problem when he tried to repress them, date women, marry Patti, and eventually raise a family. These actions were directly opposed to who he was as a human being. He chose his religious beliefs over his sexual orientation.

  2. I came into watching “The Religion Thing” having no idea what the play was about, the style it would be presented in, or what message it would try to send across. From what I’ve experienced in the past, I normally prefer this since it allows me to throw out all preconceived notions and get swallowed up by the story. First, from a purely entertainment point of view, this play had phenomenal acting, a great story, but left me feeling confused at the end. When people initially asked me if I liked the play or not, I could only answer “I don’t know” and I didn’t know why. The play was presented with awkward moments and confusing acting, which made little sense at the moment it occurred. But by the end of a scene, I understood why things were said and presented in that manner. It was a roller coaster of uncomfortable feelings and moments that blew you away. If anything, this was no fault on the play, but rather that I have never seen a play like this before. The style was unique, and looking back I can say I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and the story it presented.

    Each conflict was presented wonderfully and left you questioning the moments in your own life life. As a catholic who has somewhat moved away from traditional religion and more towards a focus on good morality, I understand what both Mo and Brian were experiencing. Many people wonder why I’m not an atheist; why I continue to identify as catholic. In all honesty, I can’t give a good reason other than I do not want to let go. The influence of religion on my life may be loosening, but it still remains a huge part of who I am. If I was forced to make a decision to move on entirely from the catholic faith or get involved in the church, it would be no question that I would do the latter.

    I understand the conflict that Mo and Brian had, as it seems they both feel the same way I do. But I don’t think it would harm my relationship with my significant other like it harmed their relationship. It seems the core flaw in their marriage from the start was a lack of communication. Conflicts occur, but early discussion would help them move on from those issues. Why were his feelings of Hanukah never brought up until now? Why did they never discuss and resolve the conflicts they had with menorahs and Christmas gifts? Why did Brian continuously brush off the subject of children entirely until it was almost too late? I loved the couple they were, but I felt that it was doomed to fail, which we saw near the end. And why did it fail? The lack of strong communication. Luckily, we see a strong sense of change in both of them by the end. We can only hope it ends for the better.

    Thank you so much for presenting this play to us. The entire cast, crew, and direction was phenomenal. I will stop writing here to refrain from taking up your entire wall, but I look forward to seeing more Theater J Productions.

    • I believe the play’s ending, which many refer to as confusing, was one of its most influential aspects; it made the play seem real. And I believe the awkward moments that you refer to only made it that much more realistic. In life there is uncertainty, and in life there are moments of unfamiliarity and discomfort.

      Similarly, I agree with you, Tobias. The honest portrayal made the play relatable, and I too related to the difficulties Mo and Brian faced with their religion. I was raised a Catholic as well, but since I have grown apart from the faith. However, I still hold on to many traditions that are based in my childhood religion. I could relate to the difficulty Mo had with letting go of these memories and traditions, even if she had separated from her faith. Like you, I mainly base my beliefs in certain morals that I hold, and one of those values is family. I believe a great way to keep a family together is tradition, so I could sympathize with the hold Mo had on religious traditions, such as Christmas, that kept her family together.

  3. My main complaint about theater has always been that it doesn’t feel real. To me film was always a better and more believable medium for story telling. I was surprised then to find myself sitting on the edge of my seat Thursday night during the preview of “The Religion Thing.” What was the difference maker this time? Maybe it was the quality of acting. I remarked to a friend after the play that i don’t think i could have held a conversation with the actors without viewing them as their character. Maybe it was the range of thoughts and emotion touched upon by the play. Love, religion and family are perhaps the most pondered issues in any person’s life. Either way, i felt completely immersed in the struggles of all 4 characters, and left the play full of questions and reflections on my own life.

    One reflection i had came in response to a question posed by another viewer about the lack of consultation or counseling by a spiritual leader. I thought this was a very astute observation and so did all of my classmates, as there was a lengthy discussion on this point. However, i must say i disagree with the person who raised the question. It is true that there were no priests or rabbis to act as spiritual consults in the play, however i would argue that the character’s from the past filled that role in a very spiritual sense. The best example of this idea is Brian’s dream about his grandfather. I thought that by dressing his grandfather with a tallit katan the playwright sought to show that the grandfather was a very religious man, and clearly was a religious leader and counselor for Brian. Humans by nature rely on outside counseling to make difficult decisions, and in the play i thought Renee Calarco accomplished this in a mystical fashion that is reflective of the topic of religion itself. It would have been too straightforward if the characters had gone to their religious leaders for answers.

    From a personal perspective, i and others that i heard strongly identified with the issue of multi-religion families with varying levels of religiousness. I myself am not a devout anything, however like Brian and Mo i find comfort and familiarity in the traditions of my Protestant upbringing. My feelings are definitely not strong enough to affect my choice in women, but at the same time i have never had to consider the question about how i’d want to raise my children. The play really affected me in that way because it made me ask myself a question that i had never really considered before. All i can say is, i’m glad its not a question i need to answer right away.

    This play was definitely the “realest” production i have ever seen, and i like the way it let me think about tough questions in a way that movies do not. I’m very much looking forward to future productions at Theater J.

  4. I truly enjoyed The Religion Thing on Thursday night, especially its realistic ending. The discussion following the play was intriguing as well. During the discussion there were a couple of reoccurring themes: perfectionism, therapy, and happiness. One audience member made a comment that he felt that at the end of the play Jeff and Patty seemed to be the happiest due to their common struggle. I found this extremely interesting as I felt that Mo and Brian seemed to be the most content in the last scene. Mo seemed at peace when Brian left the wedding after her and Brian were no longer forcing a relationship that was not working. On the other hand Jeff and Patty decided to stay with a relationship that was doomed.
    It seemed that Jeff and Patty were more interested in the façade of perfectionism. The American Dream was well alive in this play. Both couples were so consumed by the idea of settling down, being married, and having kids that they sacrificed their happiness to attain this “dream.” As the show progressed Mo moved away from the ideal of a perfect family, and by the end of the play she realized she would be happier by just accepting that she was not fulfilled in her marriage.
    I found the discussion about therapy particularly interesting in juxtaposition to this fixation with perfection. I thought it was fascinating that the audience advocated so strongly for the couples to go to therapy, when, to me, it seemed so obvious that their marriages were a disastrous kismet. I do not believe that any amount of therapy would have corrected the problems in Jeff and Patty’s marriage. However, it seemed that the audience struggled with seeing marriages that were destined for failure because we as an audience, also wanted a perfect, fairytale ending.

  5. I haven’t experienced much community theater in my life, so while my expectations weren’t low for this play, they weren’t the highest. I was expecting a cliché response to religion relations in this country, and what I got was a very unpredictable play that delved into how religion plays a role in intimate relationships. I am not religious by any means, and have never anticipated that religion would play a role in my relationships such that I would feel uncomfortable discussing religion with someone. However, after viewing this play, I am anxious that this will happen. The Religion Thing is extremely realistic and uncomfortably so. Although I’ve never personally had to deal with the circumstances that the characters dealt with, I could see parts of myself or people that I know in each of the characters.
    The most important part of this play that stuck with me was how incredibly important communication is in relationships. I found myself at times wondering why on earth did Mo and Brian allow their relationship to progress so long without ever discussing religion, which was clearly a huge part of each of their lives at one point. I can understand if it is difficult for certain people to open-up about extremely personal parts of themselves, but to date and get married and a own home together means that a lot of time and effort was spent to get to that place in a relationship. Did they even speak to one another at all?
    Even though I felt annoyed at each of the characters for their actions at one point in another (Patti leaving her job for her husband, Jeff for lying to her, Brian refusing to have children, Mo being so high-strung), by the end of the play, I could understand where they were coming from. Renee Calarco did an excellent job of presenting the characters in such a way that was unbiased and understanding.

    • Andrea astutely pointed out that this play was not a cheap attempt at hashing out religious differences in America. Living in a highly religious and highly diverse nation, Americans are accustomed to the differences and rifts that religion can bring. Through many other mediums those differences have been exposed at length. Luckily, with “The Religion Thing,” Renee Calarco went further and added another element -marriage- into the equation which dramatically altered the plot for the better. As Andrea pointed out, this play was about relationships, particularly the importance of communication in them; something we all can relate to. I enjoyed Andrea’s perspective particularly because it was the opposite of mine in the sense that it was coming from a secular viewpoint. It was interesting to hear how these themes affected others who weren’t necessarily concerned about religion. Additionally, I completely agree when Andrea said, “The Religion Thing is extremely realistic and uncomfortably so.” In that way, I did find myself getting annoyed with certain characters at times but, like Andrea, I eventually understood where they were coming from and, all the more enjoyed the play because of it.

  6. I enjoyed getting to see The Religion Thing particularly because I felt that the playwright wrote about religion in a very real way. Too often I feel like religion is discussed in terms of black and white: you are either religious or not. Which I find very interesting considered the wide spectrum of religiousness that people practice. I appreciated the fact that as an educated woman, Mo was willing to admit that she had difficulty believing some of the teachings of Catholicism, such as the transformation, but that she still felt that there was something special about going to mass and following the religion at least in part. Patti’s struggle with her new found religion I think was best illustrated when Mo asked her if she believed that Mo was going to Hell, it seemed like it was very difficult for her to say and I’m not sure she truly felt that way. In my opinion, she was repeating what she “knew” was the right answer according to her new religion.

    I feel that the play did a good job of highlighting the many ways in which religions loose out when they emphasize the need for their followers to rigidly follow of the religion’s teachings and doctrines. The play caused me to question how many more people would identify themselves as religious if rigid adherence to religion was de-emphasized, not that I see this happening any time soon.

    I thought how the play dealt with the expectations of motherhood that are placed on women to be thought provoking. Although both Mo and Patti were successful attorneys who had worked very hard, it seemed like what both women really wanted was a child. Even though Mo was horrified when Patti quit her job after making partner, she certainly wanted to have a child of her own quite badly. Yes women have children and remain working, but it certainly is not easy. It also seemed that Brian felt no obligations towards fatherhood to match those of his wife. Jeff’s position on fatherhood made it seem like he wanted children, but that he expected Patti to make all the sacrifices having to do with children, such as quitting her job that she loved.

    Calarco caused viewers to think about many complex issues like religion, sexuality and gender roles without hitting them over the head with these ideas, which I believe is better way to get people to contemplate belief systems.

  7. It may be very unconventional to build a reaction based on the end, but the end is what gives most things definition. The ending is defining because in most cases it provides a solution, an answer that the audience will accept or counter as intolerable. Unlike most endings this play failed to provide a solution, the perfect ending or a devastating disaster. This play ended with what frequently occurs in life, uncertainty.
    The play consisted of events that occur in everyday life. There was a constant struggle between trying to aim for society’s acceptance and seeking to fulfill one’s own identity, one independent of society’s expectations. This struggle was displayed through the controversy over Jeff’s sexuality, Mo trying to pursue perfection, and Brian trying to stand proud for his religion. Along with the common identity crisis there were other features of the play that contributed to it being relatable. The play had humor, sincerity, and “real people.” The people were relatable with them having real problems that are exhibited in society. There were sexual identity issues, marital issues, religious issues, and strain within friendships. Many of these same characteristics can exist within a movie or play and one could be left with not being able to relate due to its fantasy ending, but the play ventured from the dreamy ending and ended with reality.
    The play ended with both couples and the friendship in a place where the future could not be determined at that point. Everyone was trying to work through problems the best way they knew how, concealing personal issues and events from the public and leaving the battle to be fought at home. You could see the characters trying to establish and defend their identity. You could see them growing a part from one another and transforming in general. You would not know where they would be after the ending; you could only hope for a certain outcome, just as you would in life.

  8. I feel that this play brought to the forefront many issues that we as people would rather ignore, most particularly the interplay of faith in a marriage. Though most people today are generally accepting of other faiths and are seemingly fine with marrying outside of their own religious tradition, the play did a great job in illustrating some potential problems that this could cause. The play really showed that there exist some major fundamental differences between faiths; for example, it pretty poignantly showed the discrepancies between Jews and Christian celebrations around the holiday season. Perhaps more importantly, it illustrated that religion is often at the core of one’s being, even if it is not readily apparent. For example, even though Brian was not an observant Jew, it became obvious towards the end of the play that he still felt a strong connection to his faith. While some couples, such as Patti and Jeff, choose a faith that they can both share, others such as Brian and Mo eventually find their core faith convictions incompatible (at least in regard to raising children). One major flaw of the play was not representing a third option that often happens: two people with differing core faith beliefs finding some kind of common ground while maintaining their own respective traditions. While I feel that the play may have been improved by perhaps having a third couple fall into this pattern, I understand that the logistics of the play/time restrictions may make this impossible. Overall, I did think that A Religion Thing did a solid job of bringing to light potential problems and dilemmas that interfaith marriages can cause (ala Mo and Brian), as well as possible ways these “problems” can be circumvented (ala Jeff and Patti).

    On an unrelated note, I thought the playwright did a fantastic job of making the characters multifaceted and believable. The characters all had definite strengths but also obvious flaws, which I think allowed me to relate at a greater level to them. By the end, I felt a link to the characters and genuinely cared about how they ended up.

  9. I found that this play was riveting on several fronts. First, being an international student with but a textbook understanding of the American culture, through Theater J’s offering, I’ve been able to vicariously experience how American families interact with each other and juxtapose those interactions with the family dynamics in Singapore, a Southeast Asian country. And what better way to know a host country but to view its citizens intimately, to see how husband and wife interact in their homes. Assuming that the interactions are a realistic portrayal of the American family, I found it intriguing that the way that Americans navigate their faith, and how they cope with it, resembles how Singaporeans do so.

    Perhaps, the fact that the play resonates with me, and gives voice to the sentiments I feel regarding my faith, despite harking from a Confucian culture that is vastly dissimilar from the United States, seems to be testament of the universal appeal of religion.

    On a more interesting note, I think that the fact that people from different cultures seem to deal with the same challenges regarding faith could possibly be explained by the structural set-up of certain religions, or how a religious upbringing can socialize people to view the world in distinct ways. Perhaps, even though one might not expressly profess one’s faith, when an individual is confronted with having to make monumental decisions like the choice of wedding rites, or how to bring up a child, there we see religion once against taking center-stage. Possibly, religion might be used as a means of mitigating the uncertainty, and unfamiliarity of the unknown – which, in my opinion, seemed to be salient in the unfolding acts of The Religious Thing.

    I also felt that the dissension between Mo and Brian over religion seems to derive its inspiration from the biblical verse (2 Corinthians 6-14-6) where Abrahamic believers are cautioned against being yoked with an unbeliever. Panning outwards to a macro-level, the polarizing effects of religion experienced by Mo and Brian also seem to be a microcosm of the religious conflict amongst the nations when the clash of civilizations (a la Samuel Huntington) happens. In this context then, an interfaith dialogue amongst the nations, like one between Mo and Brian, might well be an option that would mollify religion’s divisive potential.

  10. First, I THOROUGHLY enjoyed the play. You can’t get theatre quite like this where I go to school.

    I feel that it is so necessary to speak to the uncomfortable nature of the play from the first scene with the two couples, seemingly happy, spending time together over drinks. The interactions were awkward, to say the least, which set the tone for later revelations explaining the underlying tensions from the outset of the play-the questioning of sexuality, the religious conflicts, lack of identity, etc. In the preview, this was discussed, but what was more interesting for me as a viewer was the fact that, through humor and other methods, I tried to rationalize the tensions throughout the production. Rather than ask questions like the reasons for the tensions and the best way to further steps to solve the problems, I continued to ask myself “How can I view this situation to make everything ‘okay’?” This speaks to our culture in the sense that we don’t look to solve tensions. Rather, we look to dispose of them and pretend they do not exist to the point where it actually is not sustainable.

    I think that a very interesting issue for me related to identity, but in a different way than was discussed at the second preview. Most comments centered on the fact that “they didn’t know who they were” and therefore couldn’t enter into a truly meaningful relationship. I found it interesting to think about whether religion is an expression of our identity or if it is a way to escape finding personal identity through assumption of the identity of the congregation. This was especially applicable to Patti and Jeff. Patti, in discussion with Mo, even expressed that her love for the church stemmed from her ability to set her own personal identity struggles aside and be assumed into the group identity of the church. I would argue that Jeff even used his church to not only escape his identity, but to totally reject what he felt to be his most natural identity-as a homosexual person. This poses the question- is it possible for religion to truly and fully be an expression of our identity, or are we subject to assuming its identity? Organized religion tends to have very extensive and developed doctrine, explaining and defining God or the higher power which we can never, in reality hope to understand. Granted, this discussion depends on the extent to which you associate yourself with organized religion. So, it seems that, while we can do our best to decide our identity, especially with relation to God, we do, ultimately, submit part of ourselves to the identity of our religion and assume its values to fill the gaps of our own understanding.

  11. The very title The Religion Thing speaks much about the content of this thought-provoking production. To name an entire work The Religion Thing at once indicates that religion, often an unexamined background feature of people’s lives, has the potential to in fact dominate and mold one’s life choices in powerful and unexpected ways. As the play began, with a supreme awkwardness of interactions that in retrospect I assume was deliberate, I found myself wondering whether the conflicts in the play were intended to revolve around the characters’ relationships with each other or around the implications of religious differences in the modern day, with each character as an archetype for a particular religious belief. I interpret the conflict as a fundamentally personal one in which the characters discovered and challenged their identities through religious frameworks. It is evident that religion is a catalyst for action in the play rather than the focus of the play, because the religious views of the characters are undeniably stereotypical: the sexually-repressive doctrines of born-again Christians and the tensions between logic and faith in the Eucharistic beliefs of Catholics, for instance. The point of the play, I believe, was not to throw a few stereotypes together and see how they interact, but rather to explore how characters’ only semi-devout and informed religious beliefs have the power to inspire personal and interpersonal change.

    For this reason, it would be inappropriate to insert into the plot any suggestion that characters seek therapy. The help of a therapist would offer the characters an escape from their own incomplete understandings of the conflicts, an absolutely practical tool in real life. However, I maintain that introducing therapy into the plot would not only alleviate the uncomfortably delicious tension but also dilute the form of a plot which so strongly focuses on two themes: personal identity and how religion shapes identity and relationships. Introducing another plot device would distract from the marvelous conflict explored exclusively in these two themes.

    A few quick points:

    My favorite moment in the play is when, at the height of Jeff and Mo’s argument about whether or not sexuality is a choice, Jeff reveals that he is an “ex-gay.” It was astonishing and so thought-provoking.

    I adored the temptation scenes, especially the scene immediately prior to Jeff’s confession that he kissed his boss.

    The scene in which Brian rejects Mo’s amorous advances is piercingly pathetic.

    Finally, one criticism I do have pertains to the abrupt revelation at the wedding that Mo and Brian are separating. It seemed to me that both of them had just begun to explore their faiths and what their differences meant for their marriage, and that their initial struggles to communicate with each other about those issues could definitely give way to a more mature and constructive dialogue. For example, Brian notices Mo has purchased a book on interfaith marriage. That suddenly they have decided to separate took me by surprise. Another scene perhaps showing us the transition from uncertainty to separation would have made that plot development smoother.

    The strongest testament to this play was its ability to generate discussion for hours after the curtains dropped.

  12. After reading Renee Calarco’s note in the program for The Religion Thing, I had no idea what to expect of this new work. Ms. Calarco spends much of her note talking about the rule of agreement in improv, or what is better known as the “Yes, and…” principle. With this concept at the forefront of my mind I sat down, ready to experience the “yes, and” in The Religion Thing.

    While I certainly do not disagree with the fact that Ms. Calarco seemed to take the characters in whatever way they wanted to go, agreeing to see them through their own fictional journeys, it was amazing to me that this concept did not resonate in the character’s own lives. More often than not the characters seemed to be thinking “yes, BUT…” or just wanting to scream NO at the top of their lungs. For me this was most prevalent in the character of Mo. It is clear from the beginning of the play that Mo is the type of woman who likes to have every part of her life neat and tidy. She needs constant reassurance, from her asking her best friend Patti if her and Brian’s new kitchen is too much, to demanding recognition from her husband Brian when she tried to make Seder dinner for Passover. Mo is the kind of woman who will scream NO if things are not lining the way she wants them too. This behavior is not limited to her own life and marriage, but extends into her friends lives, whether for good, when she sets up two friends who end up getting married, or for bad, when she tells her best friends Patti that she is making huge mistakes with her new significant other, Brian.

    Yet this resounding No, or But…, that Mo seems to operate under is part of what makes her such a dynamic character. While she can be quite meddlesome, it is clear from her relationships and her strong reactions to anything that is going wrong in her life or her friend’s lives that she is a woman who deeply cares. This makes for a very interesting dynamic between Mo and her husband Brian, especially when it comes to their differing faiths (her being Catholic, he Jewish). Though Mo cares deeply about Brian, she is not likely to compromise on what he wants, bringing them to a stalemate in terms of religion in their household. Though frustrating at times, this struggle to compromise with your partner while still holding onto your personal identity and upbringing is what makes these characters so dynamic and real.

    I was glad to see that during the talk back Ms. Calarco seemed very open to audience feedback, embracing the audience’s’ reactions to her work with the same “yes, and” spirit she had while writing it. She was keen to ask questions and find out what had resonated with the audience. She explained that certain changes had been made from the performance the night before, which I believe totally changed my experience as an audience member. It was also very interesting to hear other’s reactions to the play. While I thought that the way the couples handled their problems was perfectly normal, though somewhat unhealthy, there were other’s in the audience who thought that had these couples sought professional help they would have been much better off. It was hearing the insights of my fellow audience members that really made me question what I will think of the play in twenty years, when issues of marriage and children are much more prevalent in my life. Despite not having had the experiences discussed in the play, I still found it to be wonderful, challenging, and thought provoking. It was a piece that did not leave me joyful, but content, knowing that as long as the characters keep embracing the “yes, and” of life, their stories will turn out just fine.

  13. Immediately after seeing A Religion Thing, I was unsure how I felt and did not know what to say. The play was good. That I knew. From a stage craft perspective, the sound, lighting, and set suited the play by fitting each scene with a realistic backdrop that placed the audience in the room with the characters without being distracting or overwhelming. Small touches like providing flickering lights and volume control for the “TV”, which was not actually on the set made the scenery all the more real. However, it was not the tech that left me speechless. No. I was struck by the writer’s delicate exploration of religion’s role in interfering with and complicating the characters’ relationships.

    Playwright, Renee Calarco, provides the actors with plane-spoken casual dialogue, rather then, deep long-winded monologues, which pulled me into the story by blurring the lines of fiction and reality. The characters’ exchanges feel natural and realistic. From Brian’s witty side comments to Jeff’s dramatic outburst of his sexuality, Calarco helped me believe that my friends and I could easily have similar discussions about religion and sexuality in my own living room.

    Perhaps this is why I was unsure what I felt at first. Throughout the play, I developed a connection with the characters. I witnessed and felt their pain as their relationships hit seemingly insurmountable obstacles. When Patti finds out that Jeff is gay, she is pregnant, and that he kissed his boss, I found myself thinking, “Well, certainly this must be the end of their relationship”. I looked at the characters’ problems like I would look at a friend’s, hoping for the best but accepting the worst was bound to happen. The final conclusion left me unsettled because in real life, I would hear how things ultimately turned out. This was fiction, so I was left having to debate on my own whether or not the two couples would be able to get through these challenges in the long run.

    For this reason, over the past several days, I have discussed and thought about the play in more detail on my own. I applaud the actors and playwright for creating a production that created such a lasting, thought-provoking effect. A Religion Thing succeeds at not only being a fantastic dramatic production, but a conversation starter for how religion and sexuality interact in real life.

  14. I arrived at Theater J mildly skeptical of the class and thinking to myself, “Okay Professor, if I fall asleep in this play, I’m out.” This feeling might have stemmed from my serious lack of sleep and that I had spent the last half hour sweltering in my winter coat while listening to class requirements and trying desperately not to twitch while I fell asleep. It had been a long day and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through.

    Not only did I make it through, I love every minute. I’m pleased to report I am thrilled for the rest of the semester, entirely thanks to The Religion Thing.

    My play going has been mostly limited to high school productions of plays like Pride and Prejudice and Oz: I did not know that characters could be relatable and real. I had no clue that a plot could force you to root for and against every character and that real issues could be discussed apolitically and seriously while keeping me engrossed and entertained.

    The play just felt real. The characters were real, the plot was real, the awkward moments and storm outs (and back ins) were real. I saw so much of myself in Maureen’s character, from how she exploded about the “Oh thank heaven” comment, to her thoughts on Catholicism. As a casually practicing Catholic myself, I knew exactly what Mo meant when she spoke of the Church’s allure of tradition and universality. I could see my father in Brian’s character as he reluctantly admitted a connection to his own religion, and his stubbornness was easily matched by his eventual ability to talk calmly and return to being a compassionate husband. I deeply enjoyed that the play (to me) had an open ending, where everyone just seems to be doing the best they can. There is a certain sense of “muddling through” that I appreciate about the play. In particular, Patty and Jeff’s complicated storyline. Although they argue and are clearly dealing with some serious problems, they also love each other and are united in their common struggle to resist their “urges.” By the end, they are pregnant and ready to take a shot at parenthood, with no promises of a perfect tomorrow.

  15. This past Thursday night was a total and complete eye opener. Not having experienced much theater in my life (closer to none really) I, myself, am not really sure why I was so skeptical to sit in on instructor Ari Roth’s first class. If I had to pin my skepticism on something it would have to be the mere fact that I simply have not truly encountered anything like it before and broadening my horizons would take me out of my movie going, TV watching comfort zone. However, to my pleasant surprise, “The Religion Thing” went above and beyond my expectations of how great a theatrical performance could possibly be. I understand that it might not mean much coming from me seeing as I have no real experience with/in theater and all that it entails, but after sitting in on the discussion held after the viewing I can honestly say that there were many others who agreed and shared mutual feelings that the performance was truly great.

    “The Religion Thing” was fascinating in my eyes because it allowed and shared relatable experiences. It touched on taboo subjects that hold true in our day and age within the family structure. In doing so, Ms. Renee Calarco sparked my interest and held my attention throughout her piece. She made the characters and their actions so realistic allowing the progression of the show to flow naturally. In the discussion a man mentioned that the characters should have sought out therapeutic guidance. However, I appreciated the fact that they did not. The fact that Ms. Calarco did not include therapeutic guidance in the play only reinforced to me the realism of the characters, making them again, that much more relatable. Mo, Brian, Patty and Jeff were real people with real issues. It was simply amazing how by the show’s end I could not picture speaking to the actors as regular people, but solely as their onstage character. Ms. Calarco wrote her script and the actors managed to embody it in its entirety leaving me in such astonishment and filled with appreciation to be sitting in the second night viewing of such a breath taking play.

    –Defiantly a great start the semester, looking forward to all the upcoming shows!

  16. I really liked “the Religion thing” on Thursday night and the performance of actors. I thought the play captured real world issues such as personal identity formation and communication between married couples. We have the example of two couples who have decided to get married without truly coming into terms with who they are. It was interesting for me to see how certain issues such as religion were put aside and viewed as irrelevant when it comes to marriage (Mo and Brian), yet they surface later on and become so important that they can destroy the relationship. I know a lot of people who try to suppress their true identity in order to have a “perfect relationship” with someone; however, it only brings disappointment later on.

    When comparing the experience of couples, it seems that Jeff and Patti were able to resolve the issues they had and have a “happy” marriage. However, I think that they only suppressed those issues (Patti- alcoholism; Jeff-being gay) and that it’s only a façade. They do care about each other, but I believe that those issues will continue to re-surface in their life. On the other hand, Brian and Mo decide to split up; however, the ending is left open to our interpretation. What was in the box that Brian gave to Mo? Was it a ring? Would they get back together?

    What I learned from this play and what also happens in real life is that many people are afraid to show their true identity/personality or are willing to present themselves in such a way as to be accepted by other people/community. We can act in front of other people and have many “masks,” but I believe that our identity remains the same. One of the themes in the post-discussion on Thursday night was therapy. While therapy might be helpful, I doubt whether it can really solve the underlying issues.

    Overall, I really enjoyed the play and actors’ performance. The script was great, and the background music added to the overall impression about the play.

  17. “The Religion Thing” was a very successful production. As it is a new and unknown script, I went into the theater “blind,” not having any expectations whatsoever. While this practice usually isn’t beneficial for the viewer, I believe an exception was made in this case. By going into the theater blind, my interpretation of the play became solely my own. For this sort of highly charged, emotional and somewhat controversial production, it was extremely valuable to be able to analyze the play possessing no external influences. What made the play successful for me was its acting and its plot. The actors played their roles superbly and left the audience with neither biases towards one viewpoint or religion, nor opportunities to favor one character over another. Each character had their “dirty laundry” that they carried with them throughout the entire play. In the post-show talk back I found myself in agreement with one particular viewer who commented on the title being “misleading.” In the same way, I thought the title was misleading as the play seemed to be about newlywed young couples who struggle to leave the past behind them and adapt to their new settings, rather than being about the differences religion causes in our lives. This theme stood out the most for me because it reflected on the fears and anxieties I have about one day entering into a religious marriage. Because of my Catholic faith certain questions arose about marriage. Will I marry a Catholic? What if I marry a non-practicing Catholic or someone of a different faith? How we will raise our children? Regardless of the fact that I have not been married, these are real issues that already affect my life and my family. Additionally, this play brought up issues of fidelity and struggling to leave the past behind; issues that all married couples have to deal with at some point. In sum, “The Religion Thing” was so effective because it was real and relevant.

  18. First of all, let me emphasize what a truly amazing, captivating and wonderful theatre show this was! I was thoroughly entertained and amused by the story and actors who made this play come to life. The play was able to take the religious stereotypes and uncomfortable aspects and confront them head-on with comedy and ease. The build of character personalities was fabulous with identifiable aspects and quick understanding of each individuals inner workings.

    **Spoiler Alert**
    What I found most interesting was the discussion afterwards when the playwright discussed the decision to change the final scene. This scene was originally wrote as an awkward, quiet scene with long pauses and complete silence. It was the changed to include background noise with music and crowd chatter. This scene would have completely changed the course of the ending for me. I felt the character Mo was a strong willed and determined individual who was uptight in her demeanor. In the final scene Mo seemed to breath out and release that tension she appeared to be holding through the rest of the performance. Since the ending of the story was left up to the audiences imagination, Mo’s relaxation made me believe that she came to the realization that her and her husband, Brian, were going in separate directions with their lives and that she found a new support for her best friend. The sounds in the final scene not only added a fluidity for Patti and Mo’s relationship, but also for Patti and her husband after their fights and eventually discovering Patti was pregnant. If the scene was left silent and awkward I would have instead taken from it the sense that Mo was sticking with her beliefs and staying on her path. This would have lead to the probable separation of the best friends due to their strong conflicting lives and Mo and Brian continuing their relationship without the outside pressure of having children.

    Overall I feel the need to reiterate how much I enjoyed and would recommend this play to all! It was unbiased towards a certain religion and let the audiences imagination run wild afterwards with every individuals own interpretation of the characters happy endings.

  19. Instead of focusing on “The Religion Thing” as a whole, I will tailor my response to a couple of specific aspects of the play that I felt were most intriguing – three of the characters played by Joseph Thornhill (Glick, Patrick, and Bill).
    All three of these characters represented distinct, extramarital temptations. Patti had a relationship with Glick, which resulted in an unplanned pregnancy and subsequent abortion. Glick also signified two separate temptations for Patti. First, his habitual drinking and lifestyle associated with drinking frequently tempted Patti, who was a recovering alcoholic and vehemently expressed throughout the play that she missed drinking alcohol and her old lifestyle. Second, Glick represented sexual temptation. Though Patti was recently married to Jeff, Jeff’s revelation of being “formerly” gay worries Patti and may have made her miss being with men who were singularly interested in women. I did wonder if Glick was actually present in physical form in Patti’s office or if that was all imagined. That part of the play was unclear to me, but I enjoyed the ambiguity because the final judgment call on this controversy was left to the audience.
    The past relationship between Mo and Patrick was not explicitly explained throughout the play, but one could possibly assume that they had a past fling that was sexual in nature because of Mo’s constant phone voicemail correspondence with Patrick and sexual fantasies with Patrick. The only time the audience sees Joseph Thornhill represent Patrick in physical form in the play was actually in one of Mo’s daydreams. He was dressed in black and red with an untied tie and a rose grasped between his teeth – a very sexual outfit in and of itself. Additionally, Mo imagined herself passionately making love with Patrick, even when she, in reality, was having a blatantly mundane conversation with her husband, Brian. Whether or not Mo would actually act upon these fantasies is unclear at the end of the movie, though I think she would not because she remained on fairly good terms with Brian at the very end of the play.
    Finally, Bill represents Jeff’s homosexual and extramarital temptations. Bill and Jeff seemingly had a previous relationship. Bill was also Jeff’s superior at work. Jeff’s admission to Patti that he had kissed Bill before Bill left for a business trip showed that Jeff could not fully force himself to be straight. Bill, just like Patrick, arose in one of Jeff’s daydreams during sex with Patti.
    Temptations like these, whether mental or physical, plague normal people every day, so it was very fitting that Renee Calarco included this dimension in the play. I thought Joseph Thornhill very skillfully played all of these characters, and they showcased his variety in acting ability very well.

  20. First off, I would like to say how much I enjoyed this play entitled The Religious Thing. I found the acting, dialogue, and the overall flow of the story to be captivating from start to finish. What impressed me the most about the play was the development of each character’s personal story. The characters were anything but superficial; they dealt with very real and complicated issues that life tends to bring up from time to time. Specifically, the characters dealt with two of the most polarizing topics found in our society today: religion and sexual orientation.
    The opening scene of the play which featured the dinner party hosted by Mo and Brian served to alter forever the paths of both couples. In the case of Brian and Patty, the dinner party conversation led Brian to exclaim that he had once identified himself as a homosexual but had since been “converted” align with heterosexual tendencies. Obviously, this new information was startling for Patty, who felt she was now married to a man she did not really know. Secondly, in regards to Mo and Brian they are forced for the first time to really consider their religious differences when the possibility of having children comes up because they must decide whether to raise them as Catholic or Jewish. The situation become increasingly complicated because both Mo and Brian are not ready to abandon their religious roots as they are more a part of them then they might have realized.
    The struggles of Mo and Brian really hit home for me in a very personal way. A friend and I were walking out of theater and sharing our thoughts on the show and he asked me “would you marry a girl that was not Catholic”. I myself a practicing Catholic, have asked this question to myself many times and to be honest I really do not have an answer yet. Ideally, of course I would love to just find a Catholic girl but life is often not that simple, I am a firm believer that you cannot choose who you fall for it simply just happens. I do know this however, I could not abandon my beliefs if a woman asked me to, so how could I ask her to do something I would not do myself. I would like to commend Renee Calarco and the actors for bringing this issue to forefront and making it feel so real. One moment in particular when Mo was describing her struggles with principal teaching of Catholicism, the Eucharist was especially moving. I related with her very human emotion of doubt but also to with her strong desire and hope for a deeper faith.
    To conclude I very much enjoyed The Religious Thing and the dialogue and thought it spurred in me and I look forward to Theater J’s future productions.

  21. I walked into Theater J without knowing anything about “The Religion Thing.” I figured it would be just another production on religious stereotypes. An usher placed a program into my hands; on the front was a picture of the Venus and Mars symbols. However, instead of an arrow and a cross to represent women and men, the symbols had a Christian cross and a Star of David. The picture threw me a curveball; was the play about relationships? religion? or both?
    As I watched “The Religion Thing,” I realized the latter was true. The characters’ use or nonuse of religion in their lives intrigued me; Jeff’s whole lifestyle, according to his religious beliefs, was wrong, so he changed it. Patti partied and abused alcohol before she was “saved,” then after got married and started a family. As a couple, their religious beliefs helped glue their rocky relationship together after Jeff’s confession that he “used to be a homosexual.” Mo and Brian, on the other hand, ruined their relationship because they were both unwilling to budge on their different religious beliefs and how their children should be raised. Coming from a pretty secular family, I’ve never considered the idea that religion can make or break a relationship; the theme was very thought provoking.
    The way characters’ interactions with religion frustrated me. I wondered, could Jeff really change his sexual orientation? Why didn’t Patti end the marriage when he confessed to being a former homosexual? I would have done it in a heartbeat. However, their bonds, including religion, held them together; I would have never considered Christianity as a solution to marital problems. On the opposite end of the spectrum, why wouldn’t either Mo or Brian allow for their children to grow up with the other’s religious views? It’s not like either of them had been to church recently. Did it really matter that much?
    In the end, I think Calarco mastered the art of non-bias; although each character frustrated me at some point, by the end of the production I understood where each character was coming from. Moreover, she showed the audience how much religion still matters in a society that likes to think it doesn’t. From the one-liners to the plot, I loved the play and the controversy it evoked.

    • I think your note on how religion can make or break a relationship is intriguing and on the mark. The idea that love is a ‘feeling’ is a construct of the world and perpetuated through mainstream media where conflicts are conveniently squeezed out of the televisions screen, or even if they are present, these conflicts are glamorized. The effort that goes into making a relationship a long-lasting and mutually fulfilling one doesn’t make for an interesting television plot, and hence, is hardly given its due.

      I think that religion can play a fundamental role in making a relationship when two people have similar ideals that are the bedrock of their being. The fact that two distinct individuals believe in similar values allows both parties to deal with a situation in as similar a way as possible. For instance, Christianity (or Abrahamic faiths) teach that adultery is sin. And when both parties adhere to that doctrine, both parties can have greater surety when they can trust that the person they’re dating will do their best to be a Christian who observes core biblical values. That, in turn, will render the insecurity that typically plagues a relationship less salient. Conversely, if one’s values are distinct, and different, naturally, there will be more tension when each individual believes that the problem/issue should be dealt with differently.

  22. I thought “The Religion Thing” was a very interesting production, not to mention increasingly socially and culturally relevant to our lives as we grow and face the realities of the real world. The conflicts that the characters faced within their relationships were relatable, and I though it was cool to have this play as a sense of “advice” or at the very least a source of empathy for those dealing with similar issues. Even if the issues themselves are different, the core message and dialogue at its core are very relatable.

    Furthermore, as discussed in the group discussion afterwards, some audience may pay attention to the “political” aspect of the show, however our theme happened to be that of “therapy.” Up until now, I have seen a couple of live shows on stage, and what always fascinated me after the production was the mindset of the playwright, and in our case we got to engage her, and ask her some questions, in addition to just hearing her observations about the show.

    The careful, crafted sense of humor also personally stood out to me; a sense of humor was a very important element in this show. It in many ways was the needed/wanted backbone of the story as it assists the audience in dealing with the challenges of the characters themselves. The ability to laugh along made the element of therapy that much greater and easier. Writing is one aspect, however for a playwright to in someway be able to predict that “this will be comical to the audience” is another and actually quite witty. I think I appreciated that most about the show.

    Lastly, I pondered about where the playwright, Ms. Clarco, was coming from? What had inspired her to write such a play and what she though it contributed to the community? The level of significance for this show will naturally vary depending on the particular audience. However, these are some of the questions that came to mind, because it seemed like something very personal, either something she personally experienced or observed among her peers.

  23. I thoroughly enjoyed the play The Religion Thing and I can’t wait for the next Theater J performance coming up. In recent years it feels like the issue of ones how ones sexual orientation along with their religion has been a hot topic with the states continuing to pass laws that allow gays marriage. I will admit, that at times the headlines start to become redundant. However, I feel that Renee Calarco’s representation of sexual orientation and religion was fresh, tense, and heart-warming in the end. Much of the successful representation of the subject was due to Calarco’s very real representation of the characters and the commitment of the actors.

    I have always believed that humor is a good way to get people to talk about subjects that are not always comfortable to sit down an discuss and for one to think about in terms of their own life. I could really relate to this play much like the others who say it. I do not consider myself religious, but I was forced to really evaluate that claim when I started dating my boyfriend who is. I agree with many of the people who spoke at the Talkback on Thursday, and I also believe that one must really know yourself if you are going to be involved with another person. Both Brian and Mo did not realize that their religions were such a big part of their lives until they were already married, but I also agree that they probably needed to seek some religious official to help each other understand their religions and come to a compromise.

    As a native of Bay Area in California it is hard for me to think how people like Jeff believe that one can change their sexuality. Towards the end of the play, when Jeff was trying to convince Patti that he loved her I started to think of several people that I know that are bisexual. I started to feel like Jeff fell more into this category of sexual orientation, but because of his strict religion beliefs he needed to be straight rather than gay. Probably the hardest part about Jeff and Patti’s story was knowing how hard it is for someone to be in that situation where their religion and the religion of their loved ones interferers with their relationships

  24. I had only seen one play at a community theater in my hometown before watching the Religion Thing on Saturday night and thus my impression of community theater going into the play was that it is out of touch and catering to a specific crowd. From the onset of the Religion Thing, however, I was struck by the play’s realism; it’s ability to depict the conflicts and dilemmas of relationships and religion in the modern age. The characters seemed like real individuals for the majority of the play, their struggles, their problems were not extraordinary, and therefore relatable. The humor of the play came from the very familiarity of the situations and characters, people you could encounter on any street corner, at the store or in your office. Especially the street corners, stores and offices of D.C. The play’s debut in a “home-grown” festival makes its location in a DC theater even more important, almost integral part of the play.

    As a newcomer to DC, I did not expect theater to teach me about the city (and “The Religion Thing” is in no way a guide to the metro or DC living) but the play is able to reveal something of the atmosphere of the city, of the tensions and tribulations and conflicts that confront the lawyers and lobbyists and professionals of the city in their home lives. It may be an imagined story, but the characters conflicts are universal, and despite the fact that the story emerges from a local writer into a local theater, it reveals and highlights the universal (well, perhaps national) issue of how religion affects and shapes relationships in America. The play began with Mo and Brian laughing at the prospect of a couple meeting in Church, or of even going to church. The most poignant part of the play for me was the scene in which Patti asks Mo to remember how going to mass made her feel as if she were part of something and therefore nothing. How getting lost in the ritual of religion made her feel apart of something greater than herself, allowed her to think outside the selfishness of her own world. While the play’s focus on sexuality did tend to be a distraction at points, that scene with Mo and Patti allowed me to see the heart of the play. What the Religion Thing was trying to convey was the struggle of four individuals to give meaning to their lives, the struggle to begin to reevaluate life choices, and the struggle to make a change and to dig deeper when staying on the surface of your life is much easier. While Mo and Brian began the play laughing at the prospect of finding religion to be an important aspect of a relationship, the play ends, ironically and strikingly realistically, on uncertain terms, with both holding more closely to their religions, to the idea that what they had once scorned and forgotten could be more important than they had originally thought.

  25. Honestly, I was not exactly sure if I would find “The Religion Thing” entertaining because I typically find theater that centers on religious topics beyond my scope of interest. However, for the most part I enjoyed the play. Renee Calarco was able to combine the topics of religion and sexuality in a way that was captivating yet relevant to modern day society.

    I was intrigued by the dynamic of Mo and Brian’s relationship. I found the way in which Renee engineered Mo and Brian to have, what I considered three religious conflicts occurring simultaneously to be extremely realistic. Both Mo and Brian struggling to be internally fulfilled by their separate faiths but then disagreeing on what religion they would like their future children to practice seemed contradictory but also eerily realistic. While I am not entirely sure this was the case, it appeared that Mo and Brian were raised practicing Catholicism and Judaism respectively, but had since come out of touch with their individual religious practices as a result of being consumed by other things in their life. While the two seem to be out of touch with their faith, they both seem to still identify with and strongly defend their own religion which I found to be an accurate reflection of how many Americans today practice their faith.
    I, however, found it a bit unrealistic that Mo had not realized Brian’s reason for not wanting to have children was religion. While having a child is undoubtedly a great milestone in ones life, so is a marriage. Therefore, if religion is large enough of an issue to separate the two I am confused as to why they were able to get through their religious differences when they got married. Ultimately, and possibly wrongfully so, I think that if religion was a large enough issue to [almost] ruin Mo and Brian’s relationship that they would have communicated about it earlier.

Comments are closed.