Transformational Theatre

A review of the 2006 production of God’s Work:

Okay, look, while we are still at the beginning of this review, and before my words fail me, just do this. Call the theater. Tell them that you need tickets to APTP’s show God’s Work. Any night, you don’t care. This is important. It might be the most important thing you do this year. I am serious. Go on. Do it. I’ll wait. (Oh, if you don’t live anywhere near Chicago, you are going to have to book a flight, or quit your present job or something. That’s fine. Do that, too.) If you are ridiculously wealthy, bring your checkbook — this is something you are going to want to support.

All right, if you followed my instructions, there is no need to keep reading. You will get a chance to see the most remarkable theater production I have seen in fifteen years of active Chicago theatergoing. If you don’t trust me and want to know more, well, okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. This isn’t going to work. You know how sometimes you read this incredible book — powerful, interesting — then you try to explain it to someone and it falls flat. Well, that is about to happen….

The Albany Park Theater Project is a group of high school students who…take the stories of members of the company or people from their neighborhood and they find ways to present them that are amazing and innovative and filled with Truth with a capital T. See, I warned you this would happen.

Okay, so their current production is called God’s Work. It is faithfully based on a true story about Rachel who is born into a family consisting of a very religious and very abusive father, a remote and terrorized mother, and [eighteen] children. The children live in abject squalor in a basement where they are forced to memorize Bible verses and confess their sins daily. In order that they might be able to feel the need for forgiveness, the father inflicts horrible punishments upon them. (This isn’t working. You really have to see this.)

When Rachel is still a baby, her father leaves for a time, and her mother farms the children out to relatives. Rachel goes to Aunt Irene and Uncle Peter. For the first time, Rachel is cared for, loved, fed, and feels secure. Then the father returns and Rachel is sent back. The abuse gets worse. The children try to help each other, but the situation gets more and more desperate. Gradually, even their ability to play and make sense of the world starts to fade out. Based on their experiences in the name of Christianity, they would be justified in walking away from the faith forever. But then? But then?

After years of this, um, something happens. I can’t tell you what. And then there is this incredibly powerful, um, well, I can’t tell you really. It would give it away. It would ruin it. But it is redemptive. And it works. In the play it fits and it works and it is just so…I told you this would happen.

Bottom line: this play is an incredibly powerful portrayal of what can happen when Christianity goes very, very wrong. It is also an incredibly powerful portrayal of what Christianity really is. Theologically, this thing nails it. Which is funny because APTP is not a…Christian group….What they are is talented and creative. They use dance, music, movement, thoughtfully symbolic costuming, and an incredibly clever way to portray the physical abuse without representing it realistically, yet still capturing the horror of it perfectly.

Oh, I give up. Look, you just have to see God’s Work. Just order the tickets, okay?