“The Religion Thing” at Kennedy Center Page-to-Stage

Grace here.

The noise of an audience applauding sounds like rain.

Did you know that? When you’re tucked away inside, but you can hear the staccato steadiness of rain on the ceiling, the sound is identical to applause.

Over the past couple of days, there’s been a lot of both.

The rain has been less than thrilling, but the applause is always pretty cool.

On Monday, at 4:00, at the Kennedy Center Page-to-Stage, we had a packed staged reading of Renee Calarco’s The Religion Thing (which will be produced at Theater J from January 4-29).

I took it upon myself to be Theater J’s ‘roving reporter,’ and rambled ‘round, asking people one of the many questions that springs to my mind regarding The Religion Thing:

“In a relationship, do you think it’s more important for people to have physical attraction or shared beliefs?”

(I know, I know, The obvious answer is both. But obvious is no fun. Moreover, relationships tend to work in percentages. Rarely do people have 100% of the same beliefs, or 100% physical attraction. So, the real question is, in your opinion, which percentage should be higher for a solid relationship?)

I taped some of the responses, and we can post the video soon, but in the meantime, I’ll just describe people’s reactions.

Their first reaction was, “Who are you, and why are you holding a camera in my face??”

Then I explained, and we moved on.

Before the reading, most people seemed to favor physical attraction, explaining that they were open-minded enough about other people’s beliefs to learn to accept them, even if they were different.

My inner devil’s advocate pipes up, “Well, if they’re so open-minded, then how come they can’t learn to find their partner physically attractive, even if that initial ‘wow-factor’ isn’t there?

They get sexier with age...

Look at Tevye and Golde! They didn’t seem to be very attracted to one another based on their description of their first meeting, but after years of coexistence and shared beliefs, they’re all “For 29 years, my bed was his, if that’s not love, what is?”

In the words of The Religion Thing, “Jeez, that movie. Everyone treats it like a frickin’ documentary or something.”

Then the reading happened, and it was…it was a rock concert.

The energy level was sky-high, with the audience laughing so hard they were doing that thing that my mom does when she just rocks back and forth silently, clapping and gasping.  The actors took that positive energy and threw it right back into the performance, and the way they and the audience fed off one another’s excitement was…well, it was a rock concert, the likes of which I haven’t seen since I was at the Taffety Punk bootleg. Maybe it’s a Kim Gilbert thing.

After the reading, I rambled ‘round once more, asking people the same question regarding physical attraction vs. shared beliefs, and I’m not going to tell you their answers, but let’s just say that there was not nearly such a general consensus. In fact, there were more questions than answers. Questions like…

Is being Jewish like being gay: Once a Jew, always a Jew? Or is it different, because people can convert from being Jewish  but nobody can convert from being gay—or can they ever truly convert from either? Is being gay like being an addict, in which as long as you don’t indulge in the addictive behavior, you’re ‘clean’ regardless of what your urges have been? How much of who we are…our religion, our sexuality, etc. is up to us, and how much of it is beyond our control?

These are unbelievably difficult questions to ask. But Renee does so in a sensitive, hilarious way that has us thinking as hard as we’re laughing.

And by the end of the reading, if applause sounds like rain, The Kennedy Center experienced a veritable downpour.  I can’t wait until January, when we get to share this play with all of you!

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