David Darrow, Trent Dawson, Raymond McAnally, Aidan Sullivan
The Revival, premiering at the Lion Theatre at Theater Row, is a raw tragedy, littered with repressed desires, unexpected temptation, and bad choices. Set deep in the Baptist South and written by Samuel Brett Williams, a native of Arkansas, The Revival has an honest feel about it while telling a desperate tale.
Trent Dawson plays Brother Eli, a Harvard-educated son of a Baptist preacher, who returns home to minister to his fathers church. A church whose fortune was already fading under his fathers leadership finds itself even more adrift as Brother Eli exchanges fire and brimstone for a more nuanced and esoteric set of sermons on the nature of faith. Brother Eli speaks much more eloquently of God outside of the pew then when in it.
Raymond McAnally, in a mesmerizing turn as Trevor, the churchs financial director, tries to bring out the inner showman in Brother Eli to turn the fortunes of the church around. Raymond McAnally plays Trevor with a deceptive simplicity. Trevors good old boy veneer hides a businessman who sees the possibility of real money if Brother Eli performs at his capabilities and is managed correctly.
Into this tense situation wades a violent young drifter and small time criminal (David Darrow as Daniel). Daniels rough and brutal exterior covers a more complex character. Daniel is gay, confident, quick to anger, and quicker to forget his anger. It is no surprise that Brother Eli and Daniel end up in bed together rather quickly; the chemistry between them flares from the outset.
The key to the drama is what happens after the two men have sex. Daniels personality dichotomy is mirrored by Brother Elis internal dichotomy. Rationally, Brother Eli understands homosexuality, but, spiritually, he cannot accept his own involvement with a man. Worse, Brother Eli has a wife, June, brought to life fully by Aiden Sullivan.
The Revival plays out as a tragedy. It is a short play (about 80 minutes) and moves with a graceful slowness that builds in speed and intensity. A choir, perched nearly out of view, sets the mood by singing a few Southern hymns before the show opens. The stage is built to mimic a wooden church, with a large cross blocking the view of the choir (excellent work by set designer Kevin Judge). The choir singing vaguely familiar hymns, the wooden interior, the quiet of the stage all of this sets an oddly disquieting scene for a New York audience. It frames the story beautifully.
It is nicely directed by Michole Biancosino, who lets the events dictate the speed of the production. Only as the emotions become increasingly fierce does the play take on a more active, almost frantic pace.
The Revival isnt a show to watch casually. It is an intimate experience that you will want to share with friends, and argue about over glasses of wine. It is a show that makes you think and that is high praise indeed.