By Randall Colburn
Directed by Stuart Carden
At Writers’ Theatre, Glencoe
The clash of religion and sexual desires plays out in small town America
Playwright Randall Colburn’s drama about small town religion’s redemptive powers to ‘save’ two porn stars is a stretch at best. Inadvertently, Hesperia (the small town’s name) both mocks and plays homage to the effects of over indulgence in Christian Fundamentalist beliefs. The Writers’ Theatre production is the second mounting of Hesperia.
When Claudia (aka Jessica) (played by Kelly O’ Sullivan) appears as a sweet innocent women engaged to the youth preacher Trick (Erik Hellman) – possessing a God complex of the first order – we quickly see that she has a seedy past when her ex-lover and porn movie star partner Ian (Nathan Hosner) arrives in Hesperia after Claudia invited him to her wedding. If Claudia/Jessica wanted to leave her past, why would she invite him to her wedding?
We meet Trick as the bible-quoting self-appointed savior of all who he encounters. Although he appears as sincere in his beliefs, there is a hidden arrogance and self-delusional element to his make up. When he “forgives” others for their transgressions from Fundamental Christianity, he comes off with a messianic complex. Is he a mensch or a dangerous zealot? As played by Erik Hellman, we are never sure. (Terrific work by the talented Hellman.)
When Ian arrives, Trick welcomes him and allows him to sleep in his garage. Claudia is uneasy with Ian fearing that her past (know only to Trick) will haunt her and make her redemption and upcoming marriage impossible. Ian, subtly played by Nathan Hosner, quickly becomes enamored with the religious atmosphere surrounding Claudia and Trick. Is Ian really interested in being ‘saved’ or is he simply trying to get close to Claudia who he still loves? Hosner hides Ian’s motivation as he appears sincere.
We also meet Aaron, a horny, bible-quoting teen believer more confused that enlightened by his raging hormones. Tyler Ross is perfect as the naive religiously confused teen. When he finds a DVD of Ian and Claudis ‘performing sex,’ Aaron becomes more troubled as his beliefs conflict with his human urges.
While playwright Colburn vividly dramatizes the stilting Christian beliefs including Dasiy’s (Rebecca Buller) sexual attraction to Ian and Aaron’s confusion, he seems have both Ian and Claudia insincerely using the Christian beliefs more as an escape from their past sins than belief in an all-powering God. The contradictory behavior of Ian is a clue since Ian wants Claudia back, wants to be saved and he wants to have sex with Daisy.
Also Claudia is torn between her past as exemplified bu Ian’s presence and her desire for a secure life with her preacher man. Trick’s knowledge of Claudia’s past doesn’t hamper him from marrying her. Strangely, on their wedding day, Claudia is ‘turned-off’ my Trick’s sexual advances at first. Why? Trick only wants to show his love and consummate the marriage. Strange.
Colburn’s script still needs clarity and depth of character but it plays as an honest look at rural America in the grips of Christian Fundamentalism. He expresses an original voice to the complex reality of love, sex, and religion. This show features terrific work by Erik Hellman and Nathan Hosner. It sure exposes the warts of Fundamental Christianity. Definitely worth a look.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 2, 2012
For more info checkout the Hesperia page on theatreinchicago.com
At Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct, Glencoe, IL, call 847-242-6000, www.writerstheatre.org, tickets $45 – $65, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 2 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 6 pm, running time is 90 minutes without an intermission, through March 18, 2012