Pacific Theatre season opener, The Christians, stories that resonate
by Keri Vermeulen
After more than 30 years, Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre is still – pardon the cliché –a hidden gem among professional theatre in Vancouver.
The little alley-style theatre on the lower floor of the Chalmers Heritage Building near 12th and Granville, has steadfastly produced artistically excellent, spiritually powerful and socially relevant plays for audiences of little more than 100 people. It’s the kind of stage work and story telling that resonates in your emotions and thoughts, long after the initial “wow.”
This season’s apprentice and newcomer to the PT stage, Miriam Barry(pictured above), remembers her “wow” moment with the theatre company and how it led to her decision to get involved there. Attending a performance of PT’s Jesse award winning production of The Whipping Man (2014/15 season), Barry was powerfully impacted to see actors of colour on a Vancouver stage. “That was the first time I saw black actors, and a narrative that I culturally resonate with on a Vancouver stage,” shares Barry, who is of Norwegian and Gambian heritage. “In that moment, I thought, wow, this is a theatre community that is uplifting my community and centring people of colour on their stages. It was so beautiful to see. That’s the kind of theatre I want to be working with. I want to grapple with my own heritage and see it reflected in art.”
Barry believes that engaging with our cultural narratives brings healing and transformation, not only to our own hearts and histories, but to cultural, political and national landscapes as well. “I really believe in theatre to transform life,” Barry says. “I think it’s vital for any country to reflect on their own history and envision a bold future. To have a space for community and contemplation and imagine where you want to be.”
Barry will contribute to Pacific Theatre’s space for community storytelling and contemplation this month when she appears in the critically acclaimed play, The Christians, by Lucas Hnath. An intimate exploration of faith, church crisis and connection in conflict, The Christians looks at what happens when the pastor of a mega-church announces one Sunday morning that he has changed a basic doctrine of the church. Telling the story of a congregation that was once united and is now divided, the play could easily focus on the large-scale argument, and the black hole of controversy and disagreement. But instead, playwright Hnath looks at the issue through the lens of individual people and looking at their very human and imperfect stories.
The announcement by Pastor Paul (played by Pacific Theatre’s Artistic Director Ron Reed) immediately splits the church in two. As the play’s characters struggle with what they believe, and loving those in their church community who disagree with them, audience members are sure to grapple with similar issue in their own lives. Barry plays Jenny, a single, divorced mom, struggling with poverty, who has been supported and protected by the church. “Jenny has a very vulnerable role in the church community,” says Barry. “Jenny truly believes the church community saved her, providing financial and spiritual support. She has a very deep rooted loyalty to Pastor Paul. Some of the dialogue in the play gets heated, but I think we will bring care and concern to that moment.”
Barry says the play has significance as globally we face tumultuous political times, and it can help us examine how we communicate and experience relationship with those who oppose our beliefs. “How do maintain dialogue when we stand on opposite sides of the divide?” Barry says. “The first thing that comes to mind is how do I find the courage sometimes to stay in something when it’s difficult, versus walking away, and knowing what your bottom line is, and when you choose to act on that. We all know what it’s like to have divided loyalties and to make a choice.”
As much as The Christians asks questions about how we deal with conflict, it also supports Barry’s belief that there is healing in story-telling. “Theatre is remedy, story-telling is remedy,” Barry shares. “My African heritage is about story telling. We’ve been telling stories for generations through our grandparents. You become a keeper of memory when you’re a storyteller.” While Barry is happy to call Vancouver home for now, she dreams of moving to Gambia to help set up a national theatre company, where stories will be told from the stage.
The Christians is directed by Sarah Rodgers and also features Allan Morgan, Ron Reed, Tré Cotton, and Erin Ormond. Playing Sept 15 – Oct 7, 8 pm Wednesdays to Saturdays, with 2 pm matinees Saturdays. Pacific Theatre is at 1440 W 12th Ave. For tickets ($20-36.50) call 604-731-5518 or visit pacifictheatre.org.