September 17, 2015

Religious beliefs evolve, just as people do, in ways good and bad. But they rarely change quite as suddenly as in “The Christians,” Lucas Hnath’s softly mesmerizing drama about a schism that arises in an evangelical megachurch. In this terrific play about the mystery of faith, and how religion can tear people apart just as it can bring them together, a revelation experienced by the pastor causes a potentially disastrous rupture in the congregation. “The Christians,” which opened on Thursday at Playwrights Horizons, is the first important new play of the young fall season. It has been ingeniously staged by the director, Les Waters, as a stylized Sunday service. We are in a plush church somewhere in America. A giant white cross, elegantly backlit, shines from the rear wall. Beams of gleaming wood surround the glass pulpit, and digital video screens depict celestial-looking visions of clouds bathed in golden light. A full choir is also present, rising to sing at regular intervals. Arrayed before them in stately chairs are the church principals: the founding pastor, Paul (Andrew Garman); his demure wife, Elizabeth (Linda Powell); the associate pastor, Joshua (Larry Powell); and an elder, Jay (Philip Kerr).