Review: Diversionary’s ‘Beautiful City’ has new resonance on 10th anniversary
Ten years after the docu-musical “This Beautiful City” examined the divide between born-again Christians and the LGBT community in 2006 Colorado Springs, it has made its San Diego premiere at Diversionary Theatre.
The quirky investigative theater piece feels as timely as it was in 2008, when anti-gay marriage initiatives peppered state ballots nationwide. Today, gay marriage is legal nationwide, but a new wave of judicial conservatism is chipping away at gay rights.
Diversionary’s executive artistic director Matt M. Morrow directs the entertaining production, which opened Saturday. The six-member cast and scenic design by Justin Humphres are excellent. But at times the tone of the production wobbles.
Diversionary is the nation’s third-oldest LGBT theater, and its opening-night audience was fired up on the issues of discrimination. As a result, many attendees laughed at the portrayal of the most-fervent evangelicals’ faith.
There are intentionally humorous songs and monologues in the play, but the sometimes-wild-eyed portrayals of the faithful felt incongruent with the objectivity of the reporting by the show’s creators.
“This Beautiful City” was produced in 2008 by New York’s The Civilians theater troupe, who spent 10 weeks in 2006 conducting interviews in Colorado Springs.
Since the 1970s, the former hippie town has been home to more than a dozen evangelical Christian organizations, including New Life Church and Focus on the Family. The musical is presented as a series of mostly monologues and original songs drawn nearly verbatim from interviews with the faithful and non-religious, straight and gay, black and white, aggressive and passive.
All six cast members play multiple roles.
San Diego newcomer Theo Allyn makes a moving local premiere as a transgender woman and a conflicted, vulnerable Sunday school teacher with a gay dad who seeks to reconnect both sides of her life. Allyn is an excellent and authentic actress and a powerhouse singer.
Victor E. Chan shows impressive versatility as a fiery preacher casting out demons; the liberal son of gay parents who publishes an anti-megachurch newspaper; and an Air Force Academy dad furious at the “Christian Taliban’s” proselytizing efforts on the Colorado Springs campus.
Multitalented Michael Louis Cusimano plays guitar in the show as well as various pastors at New Life Church. He’s most memorable as the disillusioned son of New Life founder Ted Haggard, who resigned in disgrace in a 2006 gay sex scandal.
Kim Heil makes a welcome return to the stage after 17 years as a local theater administrator. Her roles include a political canvasser for a gay rights referendum; an evangelical looking forward to the “end times”; and the Bible verse-quoting business recruiter who brought in the megachurches.
Jasmine January’s diverse roles include a teen faking her religious devotion to her faithful friends; black Baptist preacher Ben Reynolds, who was fired after coming out to his congregation; an anti-gay church congregant and Reynolds’ soul-searching replacement.
Tony Houck plays an ever-smiling, slyly suspicious church leader and a funny gay “Celtic Wiccan,” among others, and he plays keyboards and serves as show musical director.
Humphres’ handsome scenic design, accented with projections by Blake McCarty, mixes the looks of modernity with corporate industrial to represent a myriad of locations. Elisa Benzoni designed the costumes, Curtis Mueller designed lighting and Matt Lescault-Wood designed sound.
The script aims to present each character and their beliefs with honesty. Its ultimate message is about how each finds his or her own truth. Truth can upend your life, but if you embrace it and are honest, you may be rewarded with inner peace.
“This Beautiful City”
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; plus 7 p.m. Wednesday and Nov. 26 (industry night). Extended through Dec. 16.
Where: Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights.
Tickets: $27-$55 (discounts available)
Phone: (619) 220-0097
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