From its first moments, when militants crash into an isolated cabin and threaten the elderly woman living there, “Crusade” brings the adrenaline. Tensions during the hourlong production just keep mounting after that.
The gunmen, it soon becomes clear, belong to a makeshift rebel army formed after the United States abandoned its Constitution and forged a new one, creating the United Christian States of America.
They’re determined to keep fighting against a Christian government that has a much larger military, the levers of power and–maybe–God on their side. And they’re on the lookout for “Jeezys,” adherents to the new religion-based government.
The topic may seem timely, with our super-religious vice president and Louisiana recently passing a law requiring public schools to display “In God we Trust” signs. But playwright Bruce Bonafede says the idea for “Crusade,” which gets its world premiere from local independent company Rapid Lemon Productions, came about in the 1980s.
“I noticed at the time something new,” said Bonafede, who lives in Maryland and California, in a phone interview. “It wasn’t any particular news story but it was something I started to see covered and that was religious fundamentalism. Not just Christian and not just in America. This is a worldwide phenomenon.”
Serious as this all is, Bonafede keeps viewers entertained by masterfully keeping the plot moving. As the enemy approaches and a second hostage is taken, the six characters sharing the stage all come to life, with back stories and complexities worthy of a longer production.
Particularly strong are Lola Reign as Britt, a woman burning with fury and determined to kill three more Jeezys to bring her total to 23; Emma Hawthorn as Galen, a university scientist who escaped to the rural cabin because her genetics research would get her in trouble; and Stephen Kime as Kershaw, a member of the Christian army who’s convinced that prayer will save him.
Kershaw rejects as lies and propaganda any information that clashes with his view that believing in Jesus is the cornerstone to being a good person. “You all lie,” he says, closing his mind to any version of reality that doesn’t align with his beliefs.
Britt has good reason for wanting to kill, as she explains in savage detail, and Galen, the scientist, is willing to go to remarkable lengths to make sure her book about evolution doesn’t die, even if she does.
“Crusade” does not delve into the particulars of what a fundamentalist Christian Constitution would look like, except we know that evolution is no longer an accepted view. Characters don’t discuss how the role of women has changed, for example, or if they’re allowed to eat meat on Fridays.
The story is broader than that. It’s about what happens when a government demands total adherence to any religion or philosophy. “The play is basically against extremism of any kind,” says Bonafede. “It’s not an anti-Christian play.”
Members of the rebel army discuss their own horrific experiences with the new government in ways that evoke the Holocaust. We learn that people are sent to Salvation Camps, where they are starved until they accept Jesus. Or they’re crucified.
The play, directed by Timoth David Copney, a local actor, director and choreographer who is currently board chair of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, takes place on a single set that depicts a simply furnished, seen-better-days cabin. There are no tricks or fancy lighting–just the strength of strong acting, an action-packed plot and a seriously disturbing premise.
“Crusade” runs through Aug. 18 at Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., theatreproject.org.