The Griffin Theatre Company (5301 N. Damen Ave.) celebrated the end of its 30th season with the premiere of “The Harvest” at The Den Theatre. “The Harvest,” written by the recipient of the 2012 Whiting Writers Award and the 2013 Otis Guernsey New Voices Award, playwright Samuel D. Hunter focuses on the various reasons people follow religion and how their paths may be challenged.
There were murmurs of intrigue and curiosity from the audience as the play opened, and the dark basement of a small Idaho church emerged under the stage light. The entirety of the play would take place there. Five actors are spread across the stage praising the Lord with their arms open, voices rising in speed and volume. As the prayer culminated, the actors began speaking in tongues.
Faces in the audience seemed startled by the display but keen to learn what significance this prayer holds. As explained by one of the characters, the prayer signifies a closeness with God. Speaking in tongues is the height of this closeness and it is as if He is speaking through you.
“The Harvest” follows Denise, Markus, Josh and Tom as they prepare to travel to the Middle East on a mission trip. Their youth group leader, Ada (Kiayla Ryann) will watch over them on their mission. Each individual has different experiences with faith which has brought them together. But some become disillusioned as their trip draws nearer and they begin to question their faith. Ada tries to keep those in crisis in check but this proves difficult even for someone as passionate and sure of her faith as her.
Josh (Raphael Diaz) has the greatest crisis of faith out of the group and must choose between the path he feels God has chosen for him or staying home and finding a new road. Ada tells him about her encounters with the divine to shake his doubt but her dubious stories are not of any use.
Overall, “The Harvest” succeeded in conveying its message to audiences but could have been more effective if it had used other scenes aside from the church basement. There was a lot going on a lot going on outside the basement and all that information was missed. However, sound and light design were used to keep the flow of the play in motion and balanced for this.
The sound and light technician was visible to the audience, sitting behind a large desk filled with stage controls. She could dim the lights for a dramatic scene, add the sound of a phone buzzing, or add music for transitions. During the transitions from scene to scene, music would play which made the play feel more like a television show.
With religion as its backdrop, “The Harvest” outlines how people should treat each other and show kindness to one another. For some, religion can bring people and communities together and offer a sense of purpose. For others, religion can be more ominous.
Young missionary Denise (Kathryn Acosta) points out that religion has caused many wars and killed many people. “The Harvest” expertly explores this dichotomy and the many ways people respond to it.
This is an excellent play for people who are struggling with their own faith or are curious about what draws people to religion. It is a unique play with an original story. The motifs and themes may be old but they are retold in an eloquent and refreshing way.
“The Harvest” will play at the Den Theatre through August 25. Tickets cost $36. Tickets are available online or by calling (773) 697-3830.