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by | May 25, 2024 | Review | 0 comments

Some people I know are wary of Pacific Theatre: because it’s a Christian company, they’re afraid of proselytizing. So, in that sense, the title of PT’s latest production, A Case for the Existence of God, isn’t doing the company any favours.

BUT DON’T BE FOOLED: A Case for the Existence of God is one of the best shows of the season and it’s for everybody — no faith or curiosity about faith required.

At this juncture, it’s also probably worth mentioning that, for years, Pacific Theatre has consistently provided some of Vancouver’s most substantial programming. Two of the very best shows of this spring season, CHILD-ish and now A Case for the Existence of God, have come from PT.

In Samuel D. Hunter’s script, Ryan is an impoverished guy who’s scraping by working at a yogurt plant. He hopes to buy a chunk of land once owned by his great-grandparents, so he comes to Keith, a mortgage broker. Ryan is going through a divorce and wants to provide a meaningful home for his daughter Krista. Keith has been fostering to adopt Willa. When the play begins, both kids are just under a year old. They’re all in Twin Falls, Idaho.

When you think about it, our culture doesn’t allow for many representations of male tenderness. But, about a third of the way into A Case for the Existence of God, Ryan says to Keith, “I think we share a specific kind of sadness.” Some of that sadness has individual roots: Keith is Black and gay; Ryan’s poverty is so exhausting that it makes it hard for him to get out of bed sometimes. But there’s also the shared sadness of being men — fathers — in a system that undervalues the almost desperate love they feel for their daughters.

The play isn’t polemical, it’s simply unusually compassionate. And there’s all sorts of nuance in the way hierarchies play out in Keith and Ryan’s relationship. The only time Ryan ever talked to Keith in high school was to mock the queer Black kid. But Keith’s dad was a monied lawyer while Ryan’s parents were addicts. When Ryan tries to hug Keith after he’s suffered a loss, Keith responds with fury at Ryan’s heterosexual “condescension”.

The play’s structural seams show sometimes: the men decline to talk about something difficult only to spill the beans seconds later, and some plot points feel pushed. Keith has an extended monologue about two thirds of the way through in which he imagines what it would be like to lose Willa. (A blood relative is making noises about staking a claim on her.) The dilemma is real, but we already know about it, the speech is hypothetical, and it goes on too long, so it allows the narrative tension to slacken.

But none of that matters really because the overall content is so compelling and director Kaitlin Williams’s production is so exquisite.

So much of a two-hander like this is about the acting and Williams has cast impeccably: Kwesi Ameyaw as Keith and Robert Salvador as Ryan. In the intimate space of Pacific Theatre, you get to fully appreciate two of the most thoroughly naturalistic performances you’re ever likely to see. And there’s such a clear and satisfying contrast in textures: Keith’s crispness, his attempts to hold it together; and Ryan’s groping for understanding, and his frustration, which often manifests in physical twitching.

Because playwright Hunter allows heavy emotion to whiplash into surprise, A Case for the Existence of God is often very, very funny. After Keith has had a moment of panic, he apologizes for being unprofessional, and Ryan replies, “It makes me nervous when people are professional. It kind of feels dishonest or something.” Operating from a baseline of amiability, Ameyaw and Salvador handle these flips like the pros they are.

Alaia Hamer’s set — essentially Keith’s desk at his work — is elegantly simple. Hina Nishioka lights it subtly. And director Williams works the limited physical vocabulary, creating various locations, as resourcefully as if she were writing a haiku.

In this production, two lines reduced me to tears. In the first, Keith says to Ryan, “You’re a good dad.” The second line is embedded in the play’s concluding passage, a coup de théâtre that I won’t give away. I will say, though, that the play’s final section is a knockout and I’m grateful to Williams for encouraging the performers to stand with their arms around each other’s shoulders as they speak.

A CASE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD by Samuel D. Hunter. Directed by Kaitlin Williams. On Friday, May 24. A Pacific Theatre production running at Pacific Theatre until June 9. Tickets and information

PHOTO CREDIT: Robert Salvador and Kwesi Ameyaw (Photo by Chelsea Stuyt)


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Copyright ©2024 Colin Thomas. All rights reserved.