Photo by Emily Cooper
The 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” shows what happens when a child grows up in a home with racially liberal attitudes, then grows up and comes home with an African American husband who puts their stated liberalism to the test.
March 1 sees the world premier of “Jesus Freak” at Pacific Theatre where instead of race, the issue becomes faith.
Long-time Richmond resident and company artistic director Ron Reed, who plays the father in the play, describes the plot: “The Campbell family prides themselves on their West Coast open-mindedness—from pot to political resistance, nothing is off the table. But when their daughter Clara comes home and announces she’s become a Christian, their tolerance is put to the test.”
Reed says of Boychuk’s play: “I just worked through a scene this morning that is really audaciously funny. He writes human stories. He writes a human story often about parents and children. That’s a constant theme of his.”
While Reed says Boychuk’s humour is not like Neil Simon’s, he says the playwright goes quite deeply into the issues but always with an irrepressible sense of humour.
According to Reed, in one of the most serious scenes in the play, Boychuk slips in humour.
“Yet it doesn’t undermine the play,” Reed says.
Asked about this faith-based theatre company he created, Reed says, “It’s a non-propagandist theatre. It was just founded by some Christian theatre artists. We felt like our people, our stories, our world view, and our take on life were just as worthy of representation. Just as worthy as anybody else’s.”
Reed started Pacific Theatre 35 years ago when things were a little different.
“In the 1980s, any Christians you saw on stage were despicable in one way or another. Just try to think of one that’s not a liar, abuser, or someone full of hate. The theatre was especially bereft of Christian characters.”
As artistic director, Reed has a big say in what plays are chosen for the company’s season.
“I do gravitate towards substantial, edgy, controversial pieces—the meaty things. I have to push myself to put a few lighter things in.”
Reed is clear that none of their shows preach a certain perspective, but they do offer characters who wrestle with the big questions in life.
“We are tackling big issues with big thoughts,” he says.
“With ‘Jesus Freak’ I chose a play because it’s substantial and it’s funny too, in spite of my best efforts,” Reed says laughing.
“It’s a very telling story—the source of great humour.”
Asked about the woman who plays the character of his wife, and the role he plays, Reed says: “They are both not believers. As the father, I am more fundamentalist atheist, and so for all the talk of believe whatever you want to, (his daughter) does.”
The crux of the play, as with the movie, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is, as Reed explains, “Quite the explosion when these come together and there’s the opportunity for all that humour.”
Many of the actors in this professional theatre company are friends and frequent fliers on the company’s stage.
Reed outlines what people will see: “When the actors really care for each other, the affection among those actors will be palpable, especially close up in the Pacific Theatre’s intimate stage. It will emanate from the stage; what a family is and what the cost is when this split comes into the family when the daughter comes home a Christian.”
Asked if this is an analogy for kids who have yet to come out to their parents about their sexual orientation, Reed calls it a very interesting parallel.
“For an LGBTQ person seeing this play, it would really resonate with (the daughter) Claire. The family is so awkward with it.”
Finally, Reed speaks of churches and educational institutions that, on the surface at least, seem to condemn all but straight people. He cautions that the situation is more nuanced than people see in the news.
“It takes time to change an institution and these institutions are changing slowly.”
This dichotomy between stated values and heartfelt ones is the theme of both 1967’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and the upcoming run of “Jesus Freak.”
Playwright Boychuk says there is a lot of himself in the play: “The play takes up subjects that have fascinated me for a long time. I think ultimately the play is hopeful. Clara and her family believe different things, but that doesn't mean they can't be close. I think that's a timely message."
Adds Reed: “This play has depth and heart. That’s really important to Peter (Boychuk). He writes substantial stories and then, he can’t resist a joke. It plays just like it does in life.”
Peter Boychuk’s “Jesus Freak” opens March 1 and runs through March 23 at Pacific Theatre, 1440 W 12th Ave, (at Hemlock) Vancouver with a special, pay-what-you-can preview on Feb. 28. For tickets call (604) 731-5518 or email email@example.com.
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