With culture wars reheating and a theocratic dystopia on the horizon, this would be a fine time to produce a truthful and empathic play about the tension between homosexuality and the Christian faith. Which is precisely what Mosaic has done with Benjamin Benne’s In His Hands — a homoerotic rom-com framed as a pas de deux between two male millennials locked in a dance of desire and doctrine-induced disgrace.
And OMG it’s good.
The two leads — Michael J. Mainwaring as Daniel and Josh Adams as Chris — are spellbinding together. As stirringly directed by José Carrasquillo, their every moment on stage is an occasion for mesmerizing physicality, movement choreographed to meet up with each meter of Benne’s poetic text. At times it is like watching two danseurs do dialogue. Their lines live in body language. Their unabashed attraction is palpable.
As the play begins, Daniel has recently received a master of divinity degree from Yale and aspires to be an ordained Lutheran pastor. In the meantime, he is working as a receptionist at a Seattle tech start-up. One day Chris arrives to interview for an open engineering position. Daniel crushes on him instantly. “Dear God,” Daniel prays, “please let them hire this cute boy.”
Chris gets the job and a budding boy-boy romance ensues, played out with candy and video games and some very blunt talk about sex and religion.
It turns out that notwithstanding Daniel’s and Chris’s hots for each other, there are some obstacles between them to surmount. For one thing, Daniel prefers anal and is averse to oral, which Chris cannot comprehend. Daniel seeks a real-life relationship with a lover whereas Chris doesn’t believe in love and never has sex with people he knows, only with men from an app. More important, Daniel has an abiding Christian faith, and Chris, who was raised Baptist, has lost his utterly.
Chris never uses his given name, Christian. His devout father sent him to an ex-gay conversion therapist to straighten him out. That left a psychic scar. Daniel too bears scars, real ones. The differences that Benne has put between his very appealing protagonists not only create a “will they or won’t they?” momentum in the consummation of their sexual attraction; those differences drive the play’s deep inquiry into the roots of religion-inspired homo hate.
Dare I say it?: There comes a revelation. From Daniel the divinity student, no less.
Chris’s father (Sasha Olinick) and therapist (Joe Mallon) each make an appearance and jointly flesh out the backstory of Chris’s defection from faith. Olnick and Mallon, both pros, give unequivocal gravity to Chris’s issues. They do not dance as Daniel and Chris do, however; they play it straight, so to speak; as a consequence, the play’s pace drops somewhat when they’re on. Nonetheless, Benne’s father and therapist scenes will hit home for anyone who rejected the religion in which they were raised because that religion rejected them, or anyone who is estranged from a parent who was incapable of loving their queer kid.
Tony Cisek (scenic design), Sarah O’Halloran (sound design), and William D’Eugenio (lighting design) have pulled off a miracle of integrated stagecraft. Daniel and Chris are performed barefoot on an all-black set framed in forced-perspective light bands that change colors like a rainbow in sync with their hearts. Sounds amplify their every interaction and burst into Handel’s Messiah when they kiss. Lights shine down ethereally through a perpetual heavenly mist. The shiny surface of the stage reflects Daniel’s and Chris’s bodies in bed as if on the bank of Narcissus’ pond.
Daniel and Chris’s passionate “will they or won’t they?” drama about sexuality and belief is full of feeling and rich in insight. Underlying it at this political moment, of course, is a glaring “Will we?”: Will we as a society ever learn to love one another, as Someone once recommended we do?
See In His Hands for some hope.
Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes, with no intermission.
In His Hands plays through July 17, 2022, presented by Mosaic Theater Company performing in the Sprenger Theatre at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington DC. For in-person tickets ($20–$68), call the box office at 202-399-6764, or go online. Video On Demand streaming tickets ($40) are also available for viewing July 6 to 17, 2022
The In His Hands program is online here.
Open Captioned & ASL Post Show Discussion Dates:
July 9 at 3:00 PM (Open Caption)
July 9 at 8:00 PM (Open Caption)
July 14 at 11:00 AM (Open Caption)
July 14 at 8:00 PM (Open Caption & ASL Post Show)
COVID Safety: All patrons, visitors, and staff who visit the Atlas Performing Arts Center are required to provide proof of vaccination to be admitted into the venue. Face masks that cover the nose and mouth are required to be worn at all times regardless of vaccination status while inside the building. See Mosaic Theater Company’s complete COVID Safety policies and procedures.