WLS Theater Review: "The Revival"

Lord, please make me pure...but not yet."

From St. Augustine in the late 300s, to contemporary British singer Robbie Williams, this prayer has encapsulated the inner conflicts within a person's mind, heart, and genitals.  It is a brilliant and eloquent way of demonstrating how the tension between what one wants and what they think they “should” want have been dramatically at odds throughout history.  The new Off-Broadway “The Revival” takes a stab at this discrepancy in fresh and contemporary ways. 

Eli (Trent Dawson) is a married sophisticated ivy-league educated preacher who has recently taken over his deceased father’s church in the rural town of Hot Springs, Arkansas.  Eli has ambitions to “alter the collective consciousness” of his congregation, while they simply want an entertaining mega-church. He wants to appeal to their mindset, they want him to appeal to their “souls.”  He wants to feed them intellectual nourishment,  they just want instant “hellfire and brimstone.” He wants to reveal to them their “limited perceptions of God,” they want to make him, “The hot new Christian thing.”

Soon Eli runs across a young homeless drifter named Daniel.  It is not long before the two are carrying on a tumultuous affair and Eli must confront his own inner battles.  How can he rectify his sexual desires with his religious intellect? How can he appease the congregation while staying true to himself? How can he call himself a vegetarian, yet feel “admiration” for someone who is capable of violently brutalizing an animal?

The play efficiently and skillfully delves into Eli’s dilemmas, then just as quickly gives him an abrupt and unexpected solution.  Unfortunately, this resolution serves to undercut the complexities and quandaries that are so sensitively constructed in the first half, and diminishes the intellectual and emotional resonance it may have otherwise left upon its audiences. 

This, however, is by no means a reflection of the capable and willing cast.  Trent Dawson captivates as the preacher who must invent justifications and rationalizations for the contradictions in his words and actions.  Watching Dawson stumble and squirm as Henry on AS THE WORLD TURNS was one of the few consistent pleasures the show offered in it’s last decade, and being able to witness Dawson’s mastery without editing or camera cutaways is a true blessing (pun intended!).  David Darrow, Raymond McAnally, and Aidan Sullivan, also all work together to give the piece the dignity and gravity it deserves. 

Here's the S.A.S.S. [Short Attention Soap Summary]:

WHAT IS IT?: “The Revival,” a new Off-Broadway play written by Samuel Brett Williams and directed by Michole Biancosino, starring Trent Dawson (ex-Henry of AS THE WORLD TURNS), playing at The Lion @ Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street).  The performance schedule is Tuesday at 7 p.m., Thursday - Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., through Saturday September 25.

Anyone who is already experiencing Oakdale withdrawal will want to see this.  You get to see Trent Dawson in action, and, as he said in our recent interview, many of his costars from the show will be attending.  You could end up sitting next to your favorite WORLD TURNS actor!

BOTTOM LINE: If you have ever felt torn or conflicted between your desires and your ideology, or whispered the words of the St. Augustine prayer above, then you will definitely appreciate this show.

VERDICT:  Don’t let this “Revival” pass you by! It is only playing until Saturday, September 25th, so
buy your tickets here! Can I get an "Amen"?

CBS's "World" stopped turning this week, but yours doesn't have to! Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist specializing in Grief/Loss work and is now taking new clients in New York City at Mental Health Counseling & Marriage And Family Therapy Of New York. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve."

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