By Evan Linder & Tara Sissom
Directed by Meg Johns
Produced by The New Colony
At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater (upstairs studio)
Faith in Each Other
I was skeptical as to where 11:11 produced by The New Colony was going to take me. Were they going to beat me over the head with the glory of the bible or were they going to mock the judgmental self-righteousness of organized religion? I didn’t give playwrights Evan Linder and Tara Sissom enough credit. 11:11 is an honest, intelligently written, humorous telling of the doubts and desires teenagers face as they mature and the realities that come at odds of what the Church preaches as living a life of faith. A story about the human spirit and its capacity for compassion and the strength you find from the support of others.
11:11 is a coming of age story centered at a youth Christian camp; picture Nickelodeon on “Jesus-crack.” A group of Christian camp counselors come together for the first night of camp where they are left alone the night before the kids are to arrive. As for all teens caught in their transitional years, temptations and self-discovery are constantly present in their lives as they strive to live a life that praises Jesus. After unknowingly taking ecstasy (yes, I am talking about the drug) the group bonds together to hide their high and lie to protect each other and the camp’s reputation (a good symbol of the Church’s “holy” exterior not matching the truth of what goes on inside.) Openly talking about their true passions and doubts, from loosing one’s virginity to accepting one’s own sexuality, they find themselves questioning their faith but finding the compassion they need from each other.
When I first walked into the studio upstairs at the Biograph Theater I was a little weirded-out. There were crosses everywhere and I am handed a bag full of Jesus stickers and a religious necklace with the words “Discover the treasure of God’s love” printed down the center of a cross. At the doorway I am greeted with a euphoric kindness that always seems too practiced to be real, and told that Jesus loves me. The lady behind the counter told me that she believe God had sent me here. Whoa. I was afraid to sign the mailing list for fear that Pat Robertson or another right-wing auditorium priest would have me on their press list and bombard me with propaganda. I misjudged it again. In hindsight, I now can’t stop laughing, the people were part of the cast and already in character. I (a member of the audience) was one of the little kids -maybe 9 years old- who were arriving on their first day of youth Christian camp at Camp Methuselah Pines. We being warmly welcomed with hand decorated goody bags and even a CD of the camp’s songs.
Evan Linder and Tara Sissom have teamed up to create a creative and intelligently witty play that develops patiently and gets its audience to listen to their message at the end. Each character is developed to give them a distinct personality unique to their life outside of camp and their experiences with faith. Tackling controversial topics, Linder and Sissom resist shoving their beliefs in the audience’s face. Regardless of your religious beliefs, this play is written to make you laugh (although hopefully not as overtly fake and annoying as the guy behind me) by using slap-stick humor along with very subtle laughs that come from an intelligent attention to detail. They treat the audience with respect, and assume we are intelligent enough to catch what is taking place on stage without telegraphing every joke.
The jokes may be funny regardless of who the intended audience is, but the message is not. At intermission I thought I was watching a hokey Christian skit that in spite of the terrific acting was delivering a loaded message I could see in Sunday school if I wished. However, the real conflict happens in the second act and I also don’t think I am the sought after audience for the play’s intended message. I think the devout Christians who posses big hearts but blindly follow the orders of the Church is closer to the audience that Linder and Sissom are trying to reach. If they had come off too strongly in the beginning of the play, showing support for controversial “sins” such as homosexuality and premarital sex, those devout Christians may have left or tuned-out the actors and never heard the message of joy and security that comes from the love and understanding that exist without the limitations of the Church. Through a foundation built on faith, 11:11 shows the existence of human compassion that does not exist inside the Christian Church.
Painting a picture of loosing one’s virginity as a discovery and a shared loving experience, even with all of the drama that comes along with premarital sex, is a risqué discussion to have at church camp; but the honest dialogue between teenagers brings out the humanity in the situation outside of the religious advice that condemns the girls as sinners. Linder and Sissom touch on the belief that every experience is different for each individual.
Anna- “you sad?”
Anna- “I think I would be.”
Siobham- “I thought I would be…but I’m not.”
Later Anna is with her fling Chance, and caught up with the urges of teenage girls asks Chance,
Anna- “Why does everyone else get to do it, and we don’t?”
Chance- “Because we’ll regret it.”
Theses conversations bring to the surface the gray area in sexual relationships at any age. Decisions made in real life can not be confined to the limitations set forth by the church. Each individual has to decide what is right for them, and faith should lie in the compassion to accept others for who they are. As Jack says in the play “Sin isn’t real, it is invented by man,” but the foundation of love and community that faith provides allows you to mature into the man or woman you want to be.
Fresh off of winning the coveted Chase grant worth $25,000, The New Colony has a quality play running on stage. Lead by gifted writing that produces consistent laughter while presenting worthy topics to be discussed within the religious community. Caitlin Chuckta’s performance as Siobham is spontaneous and her delivery slaps you into a chuckle with her attention to detail. This is a fun show to see in a space that enhances your experience.
By Timothy McGuire
At Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre (upstairs studio) 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL 60614, call 773-871-3000 for tickets.