The Gospel According to Matthew, written and performed by Matthew Francis, probes fundamentalist Christianity’s approach to homosexuality on both a philosophical and a personal level.Francis melds autobiographical storytelling with documentary theater to produce a compassionate examination of the topic –- and a compelling theatrical work.
In an hour and 40 minutes, this impressive production, adeptly directed by David Drake, distills eight years of Francis’ interviews with prominent religious and intellectual figures (Rev. Fred Phelps, founder of www.GodHatesFags.com; Rev. Mel White ; Rene Girard ), gays, evangelicals, gay people who once identified as fundamentalist, fundamentalist who once identified as gay, and more. Francis’ quiet ease embodying each character belies the ambitiousness of such an undertaking.
Francis studied extensively under Anna Deavere Smith, whose ground-breaking solo shows blurred the lines between theater and journalism, and it shows. His portrayals are expertly executed, never veering toward broad caricature or vague abstraction. Like Smith, Francis uses simple costume pieces (a sports jacket, eyeglasses, a do-rag) to visually denote each character and seamlessly transition between them.
Francis proves equally deft at relaying his personal history as a gay man who once aspired to become a leader of fundamentalism. Sharing his own stories – and they are heart-achingly good – allows space for Francis to develop a rapport with his audience and humanizes what might otherwise be a stark presentation of frequently unpalatable opinions.
A recurring theme in the production holds that in Christianity, speaking is an act of faith. By giving voice to diverse –- and divisive –- ideas, The Gospel According to Matthew embodies that ideal. Speaking as an act of faith also describes Francis’ style of performance, in which listening likewise functions as an act of faith. Audiences of Francis’ storytelling will find their faith aptly placed.