Friday, 24 May 2019 09:00

Unseparated: 'Church and State' aims to bring both sides together

Written by  Kayla Sosa
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Above: Patrick Hendren in Church and State at Jewish Theatre. Above: Patrick Hendren in Church and State at Jewish Theatre. Photos by Dave Kagan.

A Republican running for re-election in Virginia is about to face a uniquely tough decision in this month’s Jewish Theatre Grand Rapids production.

Church and State centers on serious issues our society is struggling with today: Should everyone have a right to own a gun? Should teachers carry guns? How should guns be regulated? Should religion play a part in political beliefs?

After a school shooting takes place just days before a senator’s re-election, his political and religious views come into question as he grapples with his political and personal beliefs.

Director Sammy Publes said the themes of the show speak to the current sociopolitical state.

“Right now, we’re so polarized in our society that there’s no middle ground anymore,” Publes said. “You’re either right or left and the people in the middle are the ‘crazies.’ I think most of the country is in the middle; I just think the loudest voices are the conservatives or the extreme left.”

In Church and State, a fictional politician is seeking just that: a middle ground on the polarizing issue of gun rights.

“As weird as it sounds, he’s trying to bring it back to the middle ground by saying, ‘Hey, we can still have guns, but we can have responsible legislation,’” Publes said. “It’s not just a free-for-all.”

Publes said he has done a lot of research on politicians who have been criticized for “going against” their party's beliefs, such as a Republican supporting gun control.

Publes is from Cuba and works hard to support black and brown artists in the community, and he has his opinions and love for politics and history. He said he’s honored and excited to be trusted with such a political and emotionally charged show.

“I think my politics infuse that, because I’m also able to step back and say, ‘Let’s have the conversation from the Right side too,’” Publes said.

One of the actors, Patrick Hendren, is a self-described “constitutional conservative, pro-Second Amendment, National Rifle Association member and Navy veteran.”

He said while his personal politics might not completely align with the themes of the show, he believes that it’s a growing opportunity for him as an actor.

“I believe in order to grow as an actor and as a human being, we must be willing to play outside our own sandbox, tread uneasy paths, learn from characters unlike any we’ve known,” Hendren said. “Jason Odell Williams has written a beautiful story, utilizing the tragic events of recent years as a framework to showcase characters struggling with universal themes: humor, heartbreak, death, faith in both God and institutions.”

As for his audience, Publes just hopes they appreciate the play as a work of art.

“My art is presenting both sides of this argument and letting you make the decision,” he said. “Let’s have a real conversation about that, not clouded with our own personal feelings or our upbringing or religion.

Church and State
Jewish Theatre
Grand Rapids
160 Fountain St. NE, Grand Rapids
June 13-23
jtgr.org

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