march 2019 | Volume 177
Pictured: Katharine Venour, Ron Reed, Kaitlin Williams, and Brandon Bate. Photo by Jalen Saip.
The family play formula often involves a homecoming, frequently a holiday gathering, where someone reveals something that shakes everyone and everything up. In Peter Boychuk’s new play, the revelation and resistance to it are both somewhat unusual.
Clara Campbell (Kaitlin Williams) is the Jesus freak of the title, a grad student at McGill who returns to her family’s Gulf Island home for Easter to announce that she’s found God, joined a church and become a Christian. Her family’s reaction is unexpectedly harsh. They practically crucify her.
Dad Alan (Ron Reed), an old-style leftie and self-described secular humanist, is appalled and sarcastic, declaring Clara’s conversion harmful and dangerous. Her gay brother Nate (Brandon Bate), no less negative, accuses her of betraying him by throwing in her lot with homophobes. Mom Susan (Katharine Venour) is relatively sympathetic, but even she admits, “I’d rather she were doing drugs.”
Clara tries hard to get the family onside, describing her group as modern, undogmatic and socially progressive—“like if Starbuck’s opened a church.” Feeling alienated from her fellow students (“they just vape and talk about economic imperialism”), she found solace and fellowship in belief. She insists she’s the same person she was, only spiritually engaged and connected.
Another major revelation helps explain what drove Clara to Christianity. Complicating things further are her sibling rivalry with Nate, who has his own issues, and the fact that Susan had a serious brush with death and her breast cancer may be back.
Boychuk has a very good ear for dialogue, Morris Ertman’s Pacific Theatre production on Brian Ball’s handsome set is nicely paced, and the performances are compelling, especially the women’s.
The script really stacks the deck against the men. I never quite believed that members of such a tight, loving family could be so relentlessly hostile, and I found Alan and Nate’s attacks unnecessarily (and unconvincingly) repetitive.
I won’t give away the Easter Sunday ending but the resolution seems a little too abrupt and easy.
This kind of play could be really reactionary, conveying the extreme right-wing American argument that secular society discriminates against Christians. Thankfully, Boychuk avoids that kind of suggestion and offers us, when all is said and done, a warm and fuzzy Canadian version that promises not just crucifixion but resurrection.
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