When I walked into a rehearsal of This Beautiful City at Actors Theatre of Louisville last month, I had to reorient myself: Yes, I was indeed in Actors Theatre, in the midst of preparations for the Humana Festival of New American Plays, not down the road at Southeast Christian or some other contemporary worship church.
The writers, director and actors in This Beautiful City spent several weeks researching the play in Colorado Springs, which they identified as the unofficial capitol of evangelical Christianity in the United States, and with the presence of megachurch New Life Church and organizations such as Focus on the Family in the town, it's hard to argue. Embedding in the places or situations they portray on stage is the modus operandi of The Civilians, the New York-based company that created This Beautiful City. The intention of the chief creators -- director/writer Steve Cosson, writer Jim Lewis and composer Michael Friedman -- was to research a movement that had exerted a tremendous influence on the country over the last several decades, but with which they were relatively unfamiliar, as is most of the New York performing arts crowd.
God love NYC artists, they're tremendously talented, but sometimes you want to say to them, "you've gotta get out more."
To The Civilians' credit, they did. And true to those first few moments I saw in rehearsal, their portrayal of contemporary worship, the brand that is fortifying growing churches across the country, was spot on. But, as a writer who covers both performing arts and Christian popular culture, I went in wondering what it would say about the Christian faith and how the evangelical community would come across.