Our relationship to our religion changes at different stages in our lives. In Renee Calarco’s new play, “The Religion Thing,” a Jewish man married to a Catholic woman finds himself at both a religious and emotional crossroads when his wife wants to get pregnant. When it premiered in 2012 at Theater J in Washington, D.C., critic Peter Marks of the Washington Post said that the playwright is astute in observing that America’s “biggest taboo isn’t talking about sex … it’s talking about faith.” The New York production, with a new cast and director, began previews this week in Chelsea.
Directed by Douglas Hall, “The Religion Thing” takes place in the young, upper-middle-class social set in the nation’s capital. It centers on a secular Jewish man, Brian (Jamie Geiger), who is married to a lapsed Catholic woman, Mo (Katharine McLeod). When their friends Patti (Danielle O’Farrell) and Jeff (Andrew W. Smith) announce that they have become born-again Christians, Brian and Mo begin to re-examine their feelings about their own respective faiths. Meanwhile, Patti and Jeff turn to their brand of religion to help them to weather a sudden crisis in their own marriage.
Calarco hails from upstate Rochester, where she grew up as a “minimally observant Jew in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood,” with a Catholic extended family. After graduating from SUNY Binghamton, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she still resides. Her play, she told The Jewish Week, is about how religion can suddenly become highly significant in people’s lives. “It’s more important to Mo and to Brian than they are willing to admit,” she said. “Meanwhile, it’s a crucial lifeline for Patti and Jeff — it keeps them grounded, sane and human.”
What makes it especially difficult for Mo and Brian, Calarco explained, is that they have avoided the potentially explosive subject of religion. Only when Mo wants to start a family does the difference in their religions get pushed to the forefront, triggering conflict.
“Brian is surprised how attached he is to his religion,” the playwright noted, “even though he’s been away from it for a while.” This is underlined by the appearance of the ghost of Brian’s grandfather, who insists that Brian redo his wedding with the Jewish rituals that were omitted the first time around. For secular Jews like Brian, Calarco noted, “religion gets planted early and never really goes away.”
“The Religion Thing” opens on Tuesday, July 1 and runs through Friday, Aug. 1 at The Cell Theatre, 338 W. 23rd St. Performances are Wednesday through Friday at 8 p.m., with no performance on Thursday, July 3. For tickets, $25, call TheaterMania at (212) 352-3101 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com.