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Review: LALT Takes On ‘Church & State’

on March 5, 2019 - 7:56am
The cast of  ‘Church & State’ from left, Ian Foti-Landis, Sen. Charles Whitmore (Tim Orcutt)  Sara (Alexis Perry-Holby) and Alex Klein (Charlotte Jusinski). Courtesy/LALT
Los Alamos Daily Post

The Los Alamos Little Theatre is presenting a first rate production of “Church & State”, a play about the collision of the personal and the political, written by Jason Odell Williams.

The play is ably directed by Patrick McDonald. The quick shifts from comedy to drama and back present a challenge to which he rises admirably.

In brief, a North Carolina Republican politician knows where he stands on guns and religion until a shooting at his children’s school causes him to question his core beliefs. When a blogger confronts him at the funeral, Sen. Charles Whitmore (Tim Orcutt) blurts out his doubts about the existence of God—three days before the election. Campaign Manager Alex Klein (Charlotte Jusinski) and wife Sara (Alexis Perry-Holby) fear the political fallout, especially when Whitmore insists on rewriting his speech to address the issue.

Orcutt is really wonderful as Whitmore, a man who wants to do the right thing without letting those around him down. In his hands, the senator is vulnerable and compassionate, but also determined. His dilemma is the play’s emotional center and Orcutt must carry most of the emotional weight. He makes the character very human and real.

The comedy is mostly on the shoulders of Jusinski, Perry-Holby and Ian Foti-Landis who plays a number of bit parts. They are, indeed funny. Jusinski brings out the softness in sarcastic Alex and Perry-Holby humanizes the Steel Magnolia that is Sara, balancing her strength with her more caring side. Perry-Holby’s comic gifts really shine as she holds her own while verbally dueling Alex, who is her polar opposite.

These actors are indeed praiseworthy since there are some flaws in the way their parts are written. Sara is too much the grownup version of a high school queen bee. It’s hard to reconcile her obvious intelligence with her malapropism such as “sticker-tape parade”.

Alex, the Jewish (of course she’s Jewish) New Yorker is supposed to be a committed liberal, so why is she working on the campaign of a Southern Conservative? Is she simply someone who always puts her career first? It isn’t ideas that set the character of Alex apart from the Whitmores. It is only mannerism and tribal identity. Who is this woman? I have no idea.

All of the characters are portrayed sympathetically, and if this play was only comedic, a certain lack of depth and stereotypical elements would be alright. But the play purports to express important values and to serve as an object lesson in how to be a politician. If it’s going to claim this, the characters have to be more than just generically decent people from various backgrounds.

Without giving away the plot, I’ll just say that I didn’t find it believable in spite of the efforts of a great cast. I felt emotionally manipulated. I also had difficulty with the moral message, but you can make up your own mind about that. The play succeeds best where it’s funniest and it’s quite funny. You should see it for the great performances, especially Orcutt’s, and for the laughs, of which there are many to be had.  

The play will be performed 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through March 16, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, March 10 at the Performing Arts Center, 1670 Nectar St. in Los Alamos.