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LA Theater Review

This Beautiful City

The Civilians, a New York-based troupe, explores the subject of America's burgeoning evangelical Christian movement, zeroing in on the epicenter of the phenomenon: Colorado Springs, Colo. The company attempts an evenhanded investigation, culled from 2006 conversations with the movement's fervent followers and vehement opponents. Co-writer-director Steven Cosson and co-writer Jim Lewis avoid editorializing, letting a versatile six-member ensemble voice the words of the many interviewees. But the intermittently intriguing script suffers from too much repetition of points and insufficient fresh insight. It follows few characters through the course of the 150-minute show, leading to a choppy effect, and the attitudes expressed by each side are largely as expected. The result is closer to efficient journalism than to revelatory drama. The closest thing to a narrative throughline derives from the observations made about the fall of Ted Haggard, the hypocritical pastor of the New Life Church, who was accused of gay-sex solicitation and drug use. The play expends a good deal of time considering homophobic church policies. Two bills on gay marriage — one in support, one in opposition — were on the Colorado ballot that year, and the naysayers prevailed. Emily Ackerman provides two of the show's most indelible characterizations as a beleaguered transgender citizen and a young woman trying to reconcile her love for her gay father with her adherence to the church's condemnation of his lifestyle. Other themes that get considerable mileage are the erosion of the separation of church and state and chilling references to the U.S. Armed Forces' setting of policies based on religious affiliation. The proceedings are pepped up with an appealing Christian rock score by Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson). Other members of the fine ensemble are Brad Heberlee, Brandon Miller, Stephen Plunkett, Alison Weller, and Marsha Stephanie Blake. Salutes are also due for Neil Patel's impressive unit set, Jason H. Thompson's superb projections, Alix Hester's smartly conceived costumes, and David Weiner's versatile lighting effects.

Presented by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sep. 28-Oct. 26. (213) 628-2772.

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