I came into Chasing Gods expecting it to be similar in style to the only other play I have been to at Davidson, Book Of Will. However, from the moment I stepped into the theatre I realized this experience would be different. Not only because I came way too early and walked in on a final rehearsal but also because the theatre was so different from the Duke Performance Hall. Rather than a raised platform, the stage was the entire room. The audience had chairs arranged in a square, but scenes took place all over the theatre including the balcony above the room. The audience was so incorporated into the stage that it had to turn its head around to see follow the different scenes. It felt as if I was in the middle of these intimate scenes because of my physical location. The use of space in Cunningham Theatre created an attachment to the play that the distant stage of the Duke Performance Hall never could have, even when the play creatively had people walk the aisles of the audience during the set changes of Book of Will. The set design accentuated the use of space by sparingly using set decorations. The scarcity of objects forced the audience to focus on the performances of the actors. This further drew me into the drama because it forced me to develop connections with the characters themselves. The characters had to use their imagination to comb their hair in the mirror, so as an audience member I focused on how they were combing their hair rather than the comb or mirror itself. The sparse use of props also magnifies the significance of each prop used, for example Immanuel’s guitar. Immanuel (fantastically played by Mauricio Lozano) turns to music and his guitar to escape from the pressures of the world. However, in a climax of the play his guitar is shattered forcing him to confront his problems rather than run from them. One of the problems he must confront is family.
Family plays a huge role in Chasing Gods. Immanuel cheated on his first wife with his current wife Deidra; Deidra feels isolated within her family and in the outside world; Olivia, Immanuel’s daughter, dreams of running away from the family to play basketball at Stanford; Elijah’s friend is trapped taking care of her father despite her dreams of change. The family plays a dual role in Paris Crayton III’s play. On one hand, the family causes friction and anger which force people like Elijah and Immanuel to use drugs and alcohol as an escape, while on the other hand the family provides support to each other in the most desperate of times. Olivia’s basketball scholarship shows the full narrative arc of the family. After years of hard work and dedication, Olivia earned a scholarship to play basketball at Stanford. However, Deidra argues with a drunk Immanuel causing her homophobic stances to re-enter the news. Stanford rescinds Olivia’s scholarship to avoid being implicated in the scandal, so through no fault of her own Olivia loses her dream opportunity. Once her family learns of this horrible news, they unite to support Olivia causing a serious dilemma for Olivia. Her family caused her to lose her dream, but how can she turn away from family, especially if family is all she has left? The narrative ends on an optimistic note with Olivia driving off to fight to get her scholarship back. Chasing Gods also comments on family roles and the advantages and drawbacks of the confrontation in the family. One of may favorite characters in the play was Pops. Pops, Olivia and Elijah’s humorous old grandad who recently lost his wife, is still hip enough to use dating services like Tinder. Always ready with a joke, Pops’ sage advice helps the family members reflect on their situation with empathy for others. Elijah in some ways tries to emulate Pops but his role is slightly different. Rather than providing advice on how to navigate difficult issues, Elijah asks his mother, father and sister to avoid them to prevent fighting. He thinks that not fighting over issues will defuse the tension, but one must wonder if the attempts to suppress the disagreement just widen the divides in the family. Elijah’s actions force the audience to consider whether he helps solve the family issues or exacerbates them by pretending they don’t exist.
The largest family issue is religion. Immanuel was once a pastor, Deidra is a pastor but the children don’t share the same religious tendencies. Elijah’s pretense that he does not remember his favorite bible verse shows this contrast. The significance of religion begins in the title Chasing Gods. Chasing implies an elusory nature of religion as if religion promises a salvation that none can achieve. The pluralization of God also stands out because Christianity is monotheistic. The pluralization creates the possibility that God can be unique to each person and that no one’s God is better than any one else’s. The conflict of the play arises from a sermon Deidra Curtis gave to her congregation following the Pulse Nightclub Shooting. The sermon although never explicitly quoted seems to denounce homosexuality and even insult the victims of the shooting. Deidra refuses to hear criticism of her sermon even from her family and maintains the self-righteous attitude that no one can dissuade her because she enacts God’s will. The shooting deeply affects the Curtis family: Elijah consistently listens to the same voicemail from a friend killed in the shooting and there are suggestions that Olivia herself may be lesbian. This commentary on contemporary religious ostracization of certain groups contrasts the debate between Sacks and Dawkins where Sacks claims that religion’s benevolence comes from its sense of community. Chasing Gods asks us to redefine what community we mean. Religion may help the community but only if you are in that community; if outside it, then that religion may persecute you.
I loved Chasing Gods from start to finish. The intimate staging of the play combined with the fantastic performances by my peers made the drama a pleasure to watch.