The Harvest, receiving its world premiere through Lincoln Center Theater’s developmental arm, LCT3, begins and ends with scenes in which a group of twentysomething Christian missionaries fervently pray in tongues. For secular New Yorkers, everything occurring in between during this new drama by Samuel D. Hunter (The Whale, A Bright New Boise) might just as well be delivered in the same nonsensical syllables. The play is slow-going and lugubrious, lacking sufficient dramatic tension to fully command attention. When the speaking in tongues is more compelling than the dialogue, it’s a problem.
Set in the small basement of a nondescript, Idaho evangelical church, the play depicts the congregation’s preparations for their imminent journey to the Middle East. Led by their perkily enthusiastic leader Ada (Zoe Winters), the group includes married couple Marcus and Denise (Christopher Sears, Madeleine Martin) and best friends — possibly more — Josh and Tom (Peter Mark Kendall, Gideon Glick).
Besides attempting to perfect their language skills — “Let’s do some Arab Pictionary,” Ada cheerfully suggests — and engaging in role-playing as preparation for their interactions with their prospective Muslim converts, the group work out their personal issues. For instance, Denise, three months pregnant, becomes deeply upset when she learns that her husband has surreptitiously arranged for them to spend their time abroad working in a church office, rather than in the field, because of his safety concerns.
The sudden arrival of his long-estranged sister Michaela (Leah Karpel) upsets Josh, who’s been sleeping in the church basement and essentially subsisting on ramen since the recent death of their alcoholic father. Michaela, who fled their home as a teenager and became a drug addict, is now clean and sober; she desperately tries to persuade Josh not to go on the mission. Her pleas become even more urgent when he informs her that — unlike the others, who are only going for several months — he plans to stay there indefinitely. When the church’s leader, Pastor Chuck (Scott Jaeck), makes an appearance, he tells Josh a long story that makes the troubled young man see his father in a new light.
While these situations might suggest that Hunter, a MacArthur Fellowship recipient, had written another compelling piece of theater, director Davis McCallum’s muted, hyperrealistic production never fully comes to life. It’s tedious for long stretches, and although several of the performances are outstanding, particularly Kendall as the conflicted Josh and Glick as the vulnerable Tom, much of the dialogue is inaudible, even in LCT3’s tiny black-box theater. The play can be commended for handling its religious themes seriously and without condescension, but The Harvest doesn’t bear much dramatic fruit.
Venue: Claire Tow Theater, New York
Cast: Gideon Glick, Scott Jaeck, Leah Karpel, Peter Mark Kendall, Madeleine Martin, Christopher Sears, Zoe Winters
Playwright: Samuel D. Hunter
Director: Davis McCallum
Set designer: Dane Laffrey
Costume designer: Jessica Pabst
Lighting designer: Eric Southern
Sound designer: Leah Gelpe
Presented by Lincoln Center Theater