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God's Man in Texas

CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by David Rambo

COMPANY : Georgia Ensemble Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Roswell Cultural Arts Center
ID# 2314

SHOWING : September 06, 2007 - September 23, 2007

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

God's Man in Texas
by David Rambo
September 6-23, 2007

GET will open our 15th season with the nationally acclaimed comedy-drama God’s Man in Texas, a play about two men searching for God in the midst of a noisy world. At the onset of the play, we find a mega-church (complete with a bowling alley and a cineplex) in search of a replacement for its popular elder pastor. The heir apparent, however, begins to struggle with his faith. As we watch the very different paths these men take, the religion of selling vs. the selling of religion, we laugh at ourselves, but ultimately see salvation as God whispers to a listening heart.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Robert Farley
Master Electrician Mitch Marcus
Dr. Phillip Gottschall Clayton Corzatte
Rev. Jeremiah Mears Mark Kincaid
Hugo Taney Barry Stolze
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Mission Creep
by Dedalus
Friday, September 28, 2007
2.0
In Business Project Management, there is a concept known as “Scope Creep.” What this means is that once a project gets off the ground, its goals and “deliverables” change as time goes on.

This is an apt metaphor for David Rambo’s “God’s Man in Texas,” currently on the boards at Roswell’s Georgia Ensemble Company. It is concerned with the “business of religion,” and how the business and religion portions of that equation are more in conflict than its participants want. It is about how the mission of religion “creeps” into a mission of business and power. The problem is that it takes too long to get there, and gets there after losing the attention (and good will) of this particular audience member.

Rock Baptist Church in Houston Texas has the largest congregation in the country, both on site and on its weekly television broadcasts. Its chief pastor, Dr. Philip Gottschall, is turning 81, and its board is prospecting for a replacement. Dr. Jeremiah Mears is a San Antonio up-and-coming Baptist star, and is being groomed as a replacement. But Dr. Gottschall isn’t ready for the pastor pasture, yet, and will fight tooth and claw to keep his job. Along the way, the church’s mission turns from one of religion to one of “numbers.”

Act One is a very unfocused affair. We see Dr. Mears not being sure he wants to leave his own congregation for the more publicly visible Rock Baptist “show.” The conflict is whether or not he’ll take the job if it’s offered. We are treated to a series of sermons and two-character scenes where the business of the church is endlessly talked about, and where tantalizing hints of character motivation and history is teased before us. Act Two brings us the central focus, where Dr. Mears fights his own increasing cynicism, and all that exposition from Act One is abandoned.

All this may have made for a nice character study, or a good portrait into the workings of modern televangelism if it weren’t for a number of dramaturgical and production missteps. Besides the already mentioned “too-long-to-get-to-the-point” thematic element, there was a major disconnect between what we’re told about the characters and what we’re shown. We’re told that Dr. Mears is a strong and charismatic preacher, who makes “even unbelievers take notice.” As an unbeliever, I was willing to submit to the test. When we see his first sermon, though, it is a dry and intellectual affair – he even quotes some scripture in the original Hebrew – the sort of the thing a highly schooled neophyte would give to a fidgety Academic Board. Yet we’re told his “fidget factor” (a nice device, by the way) was low, and his numbers were up. I don’t blame actor Mark Kincaid for this (though I thought this performance was lower on the energy scale than others I’ve seen him give) – I blame the script. Indeed, every sermon we see the character give seems to be a nice, cogent argument, but barely makes a ripple on the emotional scale we’re told he is creating (and which is the stock-in-trade of successful televangelists). It’s as if a skeptic like myself were deliberately writing his sermons to sabotage his career.

Something I do blame this production for, though, is the performance of Clayton Corzatte as Dr. Gottschall. His bio lists a long and distinguished career (including a Tony Award nomination), but here, he drags his cues, he flubs some lines, and he stands there for long stretches making us wonder if he’s struggling to remember his lines or just letting a “taking-a-moment” moment last too many moments. It’s the kind of performance you expect to see a community theater scion give long after his prime. I’m inclined to give Mr. Corzatte some slack – after his career, he deserves it. But where was director in all this? Was he being too respectful? Didn’t he realize that the performance was dragging down the energy of the other actors?

The cast was rounded out by Barry Stoltze as a video technician who had a wild and crazy life before “giving himself to Jesus.” He is the highlight of Act One, getting all the good laugh lines, and creating a consistent and likeable character. In Act Two, he is given a nice plot twist (a son conceived during his “wild man” years), but is directed to make the scene inappropriately overwrought and angst-filled. It was inconsistent with what we were given to understand about his character, and was, to my mind, an “actory” moment that should have been avoided. (As long as I’m picking on the Director, let me point out that I thought most of the scenes were long sit-and-talk affairs, with little or no thought given to blocking, focus, or stage picture.)

Another “scope creep” moment was really a design inadvertence. The set was fairly simple – a pulpit against the cyclorama with a wagon brought in to represent the “office” scenes. Above the pulpit was a white triangle, against which projections helped set the scene and mood. During the first couple sermons, however, the designer picked a pink color for this. Now, I’m sure the symbolism of a pink triangle isn’t lost on the design team – is this really what they wanted in our minds during the sermons? If so, there’s certainly nothing textural to support that. If not, why didn’t anyone catch it during tech week? In any case, it was an unfortunate choice and was enough to make my mind go to strange places when it should have been being captured by the “charismatic preacher” I was allegedly watching.

So, in summary, there is the seed of a good play in “God’s Man in Texas.” The ending is good, the conflict in Act Two is (or should be) meaningful, and the milieu on view is interesting to someone like me who is interested in how Entertainment, Religion, and Politics interact and affect our lives (or at least the lives of us skeptics). But the conflict takes too long to be articulated, the disconnect between what we’re told and what we’re shown is too great, and the direction is misguided and cast-defeating.

This was my first time ushering at Georgia Ensemble, and I have Great Expectations for the rest of their Season (pun intended). I hope my negative reaction here won’t hurt my chances to come back.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

Afternote: After my negative review of “Godspell” a few weeks ago, I was accused of letting my lack of empathy for Christianity affect my reaction. There may be some truth in that, and that may have also affected by judgment here (there is, after all, a boatload of preaching going on). I believe, though, that, unlike “Godspell,” the focus here is on the characters and not their particular brand of religion. The truth is, I react more to story and character than to whatever theological viewpoint is being expressed. For example, I’m big fan of the show “Saving Grace,” even though I don’t believe in God or Angels (I do believe in Holly Hunter – maybe that’s the key). I guess I can make the parallel that you don’t have to believe in wizards and magic to be a fan of Harry Potter.

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