How we act to­ward oth­ers as we pur­sue our own des­tinies is the theme for this year’s shows

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - CULTURE - BY TONY FAR­RELL

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 grief­stricken 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 faith­filled 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.

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