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Even faith can take a wrong turn

October 28, 2004|Lynne Heffley | Times Staff Writer

A simple act of kindness -- a starving girl shares a bit of cheese with a wounded soldier -- sparks a religious movement and a conflict of faiths in "Believers," a political satire by British playwright Ron Hutchinson.

This multimedia exploration of religious divisiveness and the need for religious beliefs, inspired by the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, will be presented by Playbox Theatre, one of Britain's most respected youth companies, today and Friday at the Santa Monica Playhouse. (Because it uses footage of the terrorist attacks, it is not recommended for children younger than 13.)

The play was born out of conversations between the Playbox's teenage members and Hutchinson, former playwright-in-residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company and an Emmy-winning screenwriter whose credits include "Traffic: The Miniseries."

"When you're a teen you sometimes ask deeper questions" than older generations do, Hutchinson said. "I realized that what they were really interested in was not just the specifics of fundamentalism but what it is that makes belief, what it is that makes people believe in a religious impulse."

Told as a fable, with butoh-inspired movement, the piece shows how the girl's small act of charity blossoms into a new religion among a persecuted minority. When the minority becomes the majority, they in turn become the oppressors.

"The religion eventually spawns its own antidote and another religion starts to form in this sort of endless cycle somehow connected with who we are as a species."

Hutchinson wrote it not to condemn religion, he said -- "because I grew up in Northern Ireland and it would be very easy for me to do that" -- but to explore "the joy of belief as well as the horrors that fundamentalism of all stripes can visit on us."

Playbox will end its visit with "Voices From the Darkness, a Halloween Cabaret" for all ages at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The shows are the latest in a long-term partnership between the British company and the Santa Monica Playhouse.

*

'Believers'

Where: Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St., Santa Monica

When: 7:30 tonight and Friday

Cost: $15

Info: (310) 394-9779, Ext. 1

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