Dystopian literature is all the rage right now.  With the success of other sci-fi, alternate universe, predictive future stories- it is no wonder that the Baltimore Playwright’s Festival choose this as their top billing.

Crusade is the latest offering from Rapid Lemon Productions for the season.  It was written by a Baltimore native, Bruce Bonafide, and directed by another, Timoth David Copney.  It tells a strange tale of a stranger future where the Christians have taken over.  To be a part of the movement you have to be re-baptized and devote yourself to Jesus.  Sounds okay.  Oh, wait, there’s a catch?  In devoting yourself, you have to forsake every other freedom- freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc. etc. There are still some rogues fighting against it, but it appears to be a loosing battle.

This play begins with a military troop taking cover in a small cabin in the woods.  As they discuss their options and further movement, we discover their ranks and order.  Mitch (Flynn Harne) is the leader, clearly giving directions and orders.  Josh (Eric Boelsche) is the communications expert with laptop, headphones, and messages from base; Hector (Noah Silas) is the soldier and guard, keeping them all safe, and Britt (Lola Reign) is the wildcard.  She seems driven by some inner force of destruction and hate, and takes risks the others won’t.  They hole up and realize someone lives there- enter Galen (Emma Hawthorn), a professor who is writing a book and hiding in the mountains.  This troop has to try to avoid detection, and find a way out.  While Britt is spying and surveying the situation, she brings back a hostage- Kershaw (Stephen Klime).  They find out that although he is part of the Christian brigade or “jeezies” as they keep calling them, he deserted his post because he couldn’t stomach the idea of killing anyone.  They find themselves in a stale mate, unable to move from the cabin, surrounded by the enemy, and without agreement on how to handle the civilian and the hostage.

The play has a warning that Max Garner also announced prior to the show during the curtain speech.  It states (I summarized here) that the characters will deal with mental and physical torture, rape, mass murder, and other issues surrounding war.  It goes on to announce that there are realistic looking weapons and sound effects that “may be disturbing to our audience.”  There was gunfire and a rather intense helicopter effect a few times during the show.  The other items were present but I did not find them so distracting that I was unable to focus on the story.  I thought perhaps if anyone should avoid this show, it should be religious zealots- due to the vilification of Christianity.  I realize it is Christianity taken to an extreme, but there are lots of religious folks out there that aren’t right wing extremists and might be offended.

Director Timoth David Copney keeps the pace tight, and the play clocks in at about sixty-five minutes with no intermission.  Set designer Sebastian Sears creates a minimalist cabin with hanging windows and backdrop to simulate the forest beyond.  Costuming by Deana Fisher Brill is nicely done with military garb for the Unit and a white jumpsuit for the Crusader.

Although the script was a bit uneven in places, it is a local playwright’s work.  Flynn Harne really pulls the whole thing together not only as the leader of the troupe, but a force in the forward momentum of the production.  His skills lend themselves and often set up other actors for their scenes.  When Eric Boelsche finally gets a soliloquy, the lighting shifts and he took so long to start I thought he was going to break out in song (lol).  Britt gets one next with another lighting shift, otherwise the lights stay fairly neutral.  Emma Hawthorn has a task because the doctor is on stage for a good portion of the play but doesn’t have much to do.  The general fret she shows on the side of the stage is sometimes distracting and overwrought to the main action.  Noah Silas does a fine supporting job and has a funny bio to boot!  Lola Reign is a bit too believable as a hotheaded solider with a vendetta.

Post show, Max Garner, Managing director of Rapid Lemon, announced their 2020 season which will also be moving from Theater Project to Motor House.  They usual Variations project will be there, along with two other plays by local playwrights.

The play is interesting and odd, and unfolds unduly, with some rough patches meant to fill in the exposition for the audience.  The story has potential but is a little hard to follow at times.  Unfortunately, this dystopian dream doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it should with our political scope the way it is today.  And that travesty will haunt you beyond the walls of the theater.

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?  As an artist, we always proclaim to the utmost to support other artists and go see local, new work in Baltimore.  Rapid Lemon choose an interesting BPF script to produce and it definitely leaves room for thought about our climate, our culture, our politics, and where the world is headed.

Running through August 18th.  Running time about sixty-five minutes with no intermission.

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