Perhaps there would be no need for faith if this were a perfect world.
But on this Earth, we are imperfect beings at best, struggling to do right by one another as we pursue our untold human destiny.
How we act upon the affection, loyalty and soulful understanding we carry in our hearts to help smooth the way for those we love — and reclaim our own sense of personal worth — serves as the running theme for the Richmond theater community’s 15th annual Acts of Faith Festival.
Known as one of the largest faith-based theater festivals in the United States, this year’s Acts of Faith Festival runs through April 20 and features 19 productions staged at theater venues throughout the Richmond area. It brings a range of live theater performances and post-show “talk-back” discussions to local stages that will highlight the power of bold action to ease loneliness, temper ambition, and even locate beauty in the most humble human spirits.
The festival kicks off with a special preview at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14, at the November Theatre at Virginia Rep Center. Festival producers, directors and actors will discuss their productions and present capsule scenes of shows to give the audience a sense of the plays’ breadth and depth. The event is free and open to the public.
Founded by former Virginia Rep artistic director Bruce Miller, local lawyer Jeff Gallagher and longtime Richmond actor and director Daniel Moore, the ecumenical and inclusive Acts of Faith Festival draws from local Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith communities to sponsor diverse productions that challenge audiences to explore how spiritual values inspire acts and choices in the secular world.
As they have in past years, Richmond-area professional theaters will present the festival’s 12 mainstage productions. Two associated theater companies, the Jewish Family Theatre and the Richmond Catholic Theatre, will each offer a production that explores faith themes through religious and cultural interpretations.
Five Acts of Faith fringe productions will round out the festival with a range of independently produced shows mounted in a variety of performance venues and places of worship throughout the Richmond area.
Many of this year’s Acts of Faith shows key in on how acts of individual fortitude and decisiveness transform personal attitudes and destinies.
Cadence Theatre Company, in partnership with Virginia Repertory Theatre, sounds a bracing clarion call at Virginia Rep’s Theatre Gym with the world premiere of “In My Chair,” award-winning actress Eva DeVirgilis’ stage version of her internationally renowned TEDxTalk that offers a no-holds-barred look at self-esteem, body image and the frustrating, elusive nature of 21st-century beauty standards.
“I physically brought my makeup chair around the world to meet and interview women, some of whom I had only met by tweet,” said DeVirgilis of her spiritual — and literal — journey to explore the boundaries and dimensions of self-acceptance.
“This piece is very much about taking a huge leap of faith and the beauty that comes from pushing through comfort zones — reaching out across racial, religious, geographical and political boundaries — to forge a connection with women all over the world,” she said.
Quill Theatre takes a look at the vagaries of fate and opportunity with “Red Velvet,” a play based on the true story of Ira Aldridge, a young black man who replaces a leading white Shakespearean actor in the role of Othello in early 1800s London and despite facing racism goes on to become one of the most celebrated actors of his time.
Heritage Ensemble Theater Company also explores the theme of individual dignity and persistence with “Looking Over the President’s Shoulder,” a one-man show starring actor Tim Harris that chronicles life in the White House through the eyes of Alonzo Fields, the African-American butler to four U.S. presidents.
Swift Creek Mill Theatre offers “Cyrano de Bergerac,” the classic story of the loyal and selfless long-nosed poet and swordsman who must grapple with the unrequited love he feels for the unattainable Roxane.
TheatreLAB tempers the Acts of Faith Festival’s running theme of loyalty and camaraderie with undercurrents of vengeance with “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s tale of an unjustly exiled 19th-century barber who makes his way back to London to get even with the judge who framed him and besmirched his wife.
HATTheatre delves into multiple psychological issues with “Every Brilliant Thing,” a play that follows a man from ages 7 to 40 who makes a life project of listing every positive thing he can think of in order to restore the spirits of his chronically depressed mother.
“This show deals with issues that touch so many lives — depression, suicide, love and loss — while still trying to find every brilliant thing in the middle of it all,” said Vickie Scallion, HATTheatre’s artistic director. “While acknowledging there are no easy answers, the play shows us that tiny miracles and glimpses of grace that make up a life are all around us just waiting to be found.”
“I happen to think that someone trying to convince their mother to not kill herself by reminding her of the small details of life is exactly what faith is,” said Chris Hester, who stars in the one-man production. “Continuing something a 7-year-old started is quite remarkable in itself and speaks to having faith in the simplicity of youth, and I think the more macro faith element here is really about sharing with an audience a very intimate and taboo story.”
CAT Theatre explores the realm of personal choices — and their consequences — with “Becky’s New Car,” the story of a middle-aged woman in a middling marriage who is given the chance to reset the circumstances of her life when a grief-stricken millionaire visits the car dealership where she works.
Firehouse Theatre presents an updated look at an ancient tale of ambition, pride, fate and existential despair with “Oedipus / a gospel myth” in which the African-American congregation of a 1920s Southern church decides to mount a production of Sophocles’ classic work in order to more fully understand the world’s spiritual contradictions.
Richmond Triangle Players turns to comedy as a vehicle to examine faith with David Javerbaum’s Broadway hit “An Act of God,” a play originally based on a series of tweets that gives us the words and thoughts of God Himself from a cheeky, caustic, modern-day point of view. The RTP production will be the first in the country to mount “An Act of God” with an all-female cast.
Virginia Rep will contribute three entries to the Acts of Faith Festival that highlight how faith is made tangible through faith-filled acts of teamwork and cooperation.
Part of Virginia Rep’s mainstage season at the November Theatre and based on the 2007 film, “Once” follows the classic boy-meets-girl story through the eyes of two musicians and the community they bring together through the redemptive power of music on the streets of Dublin.
“Broadway Bound” gives Hanover Tavern audiences the third chapter of Neil Simon’s trilogy, which follows efforts by Eugene and his older brother Stanley to break into the competitive world of professional New York comedy writing by satirizing their eccentric family.
And Virginia Rep’s original production “Huck and Tom and the Mighty Mississippi” condenses Mark Twain’s two seminal novels of rural American youth into a musical adventure that includes Jim, Becky Thatcher, Aunt Polly and all of the author’s other time-honored characters from Hannibal, Mo.