Playwright: Samuel D. Hunter
At: Griffin Theatre Company at The Den, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: 773-697-3830; GriffinTheatre.com; $36. Runs through: Aug. 25
The young adults in The Harvest have grown up as part of an evangelical community in a small and culturally isolated Idaho town. In the opening scene, they pray in tongues as they prepare to become missionaries in Islamic lands. One quickly understands they are not yet fully grown-up, and are experiencing crises in faith.
The would-be missionaries include Denise ( Kathryn Acosta ) and Marcus ( Taylor DelVechhio ), a young married couple somewhat unsure of what they expect from each other and the future, and lifelong best friends Josh ( Raphael Diaz ) and Tom ( Collin Quinn Rice ), facing permanent separation as they pursue different missions. There's also Ada ( Kiayla Ryann ), an experienced missionary who teaches them Arabic, has anecdotes for every situation and craftily derails doubts.
Subtly at first, The Harvest reveals that Tom's longing for Josh goes far beyond church-sanctioned friendship, although Josh does not seem fully to perceive Tom's passion or return it. Josh is escaping a tortured family history, which is highlighted when his older sister ( Paloma Nozicka ) returns to town and tries to dissuade Josh from his mission. Complicating things, Tom's father is Pastor Chuck ( Patrick Blashill ), founder of the church which is sponsoring their overseas missions.
The Harvest is a lovely and intelligent ensemble piece, from the opening scene of glossolalia to the final lady-or-the-tiger moment when Josh must choose the course that will determine his future, and maybe Tom's, too. All the actors perform with conviction as directed by Jonathan Berry, in a slightly-claustrophobic church basement set, a multi-function room, neatly designed by Sotirios Livaditis. Blashill is particularly good, entering late in this 100-minute work and performing a near-monolog with quiet authority and genuine humanity, against the hell-and-brimstone the audience anticipates. It's cagey writing which highlights the dilemma of Josh and Tom, caught between what is expected of them and their fundamental doubts.
Playwright Hunter never disparages evangelical Christianity. He does lay out, however, that it's a belief system of absolutes; a universe of all-black and all-white in which the Biblical Word of God is the final authority. Of course, fundamentalist Islam is the same, substituting Allah and the Koran. It's not at all safe for the world that fundamentalist faiths have become politicizedbut I digress.
This production should deepen as it's performed, allowing the emotional subtext to grow stronger. The speaking-in-tongues, for example, needs to be ecstatic, leaving them spent in an orgasmic sense.
Samuel D. Hunter's award-winning earlier play, The Whale, was seen in 2013 at Victory Gardens Theater, where Hunter is part of the Playwrights' Ensemble. I'll venture that The Harvest is his best work since The Whale.