‘Church and State’ hopes to challenge views, open minds at the MAC

Nov 1, 2022

MARION — The Marion Art Center’s upcoming production of “Church and State” asks audiences to come with an open mind and be ready to rethink entrenched ideas about God and guns in the United States. 

“Church and State” follows fictional North Carolina Senator Charlie Whitmore (Garrett Olson), in the final days of his reelection campaign. As he begins to question his faith in God after a mass shooting in his hometown, Whitmore is supported and advised by his wife Sara (Jennie Williamson) and his campaign manager Alex Klein (Susan Sullivan). 

Oliver Asker plays a campaign intern, conservative blogger and security guard while Pippa Asker rounds out the cast as an announcer and news reporter. 

Director Donn Tyler, who has been involved with the MAC for around 40 years, said “Church and State” is “a comedy with serious undertones.” 

Tyler said that the play is at its best when the audience is caught up in the comedy and forgets that they’re watching a drama about real-life issues. 

Gradually the playwright's point reveals itself, but we don’t get it fully until the very end,” he said.

According to Olson, while the play does tackle serious subject matter, the goal is not to be overbearing. 

“We don’t want to preach,” said Olson. “I think the beauty of this show is that there are perfect opportunities for humor and comedy and there’s also moments to really, seriously think about what just happened.”

Olson is reprising his role as Senator Charlie Whitmore after playing him in a different production in 2020 with the WatermelonAlligator Theatre Company in Cotuit. This time around, Olsen is diving deeper into Charlie’s character. 

“I didn't have a good opportunity to get into depth with what [Charlie is] feeling,” said Olson.  “There’s a lot of emotion to Charlie. He's really up and down and I wanted to explore more of the vulnerable moments of Charlie, and Donn [Tyler] encouraged me.”

For Williamson, she has already gotten well acquainted with her character, “getting into [Sara’s] skin to really appreciate [her] perspective.”

“[Speaking] as a liberal northeastern woman, we’re losing a lot when it comes to listening to each other and having empathy for each other's viewpoints,” she said. “And that part of this was a really good experience to help me understand that more conservative viewpoint — there’s nothing more empathetic than trying to play that character and really embody that character.”

Sullivan, who sits on the theater committee at the MAC, wanted to put on this show because of its subject matter. 

“I think it's a very important message and a very timely message and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to the audience and how they [receive it],” she said. 

“Church and State” will be playing at the MAC on Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 12 at 12 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and on Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for MAC members and $20 for non-members. Visit marionartcenter.org or call 508-748-1266 for more information.