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Theater J’s The Religion Thing centers on two couples. But, as that bland title suggests, the show’s primary focus is on faith. Is faith the cure-all for whatever ails you? Is it all just a matter of belief and control? Those are key questions to ponder in local playwright Renee Calarco’s play, in which two former best friends, Mo (Liz Mamana) and Patti (Kimberly Gilbert), struggle to reconnect after Patti becomes born-again. Further complicating matters is the dawning realization that neither is in as rock solid of a marriage as each once believed.
The realizations are provoked after Mo and her husband Brian (Chris Stezin) invite Patti and her husband Jeff (Will Gartshore) over to their D.C. apartment one Saturday night. Except Patti didn’t tell Mo and Brian that she and Jeff had already married. Or that they met at church. Those revelations provoke shock and laughter among the four. But it’s not until later, in the course of conversation, when Jeff shares his past, that The Religion Thing, directed by Renee’s brother, Joe Calarco, genuinely becomes an uproarious comedy for the audience.
There’s a stunning twist to The Religion Thing, but it’s better to keep it a surprise.
Gartshore really shines as a fundamentalist Christian. In fact, all four lead actors are superb. Kimberly Gilbert, in particular, has a way about her that may put you in mind of Tina Fey.
All in all, you’re bound to be troubled at play’s end, but not in a bad way. It’s troubling in the same way life can be both perplexing and thought-provoking. The Religion Thing is a very modern, very realistic, very funny play that deserves the boost Theater J is giving it, as part of the company’s project to create more ”Locally Grown” art. In particular, here’s to more to come from the pen of Renee Calarco.