I just returned from a matinee performance of one of the most beautiful and life-affirming plays I have ever seen – Horton Foote’s Trip to Bountiful. Performed at the Goodman Theatre of Chicago, this play is a classic work from one of America’s finest living playwrights. Horton Foote is beginning his seventh decade as a writer for the stage. He also won an Academy Award for his screenplay adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird and for his original screenplay, Tender Mercies. Most of Foote’s plays focus on characters from a fictitious town, Harrison, Texas, patterned after his own hometown of Wharton, Texas. But the characters could be from anywhere in that they display the struggles within families common to all humans. This particular play explores the themes of what it means to go home, to be home, to be grounded in the rich gift of family and familiar places.
I celebrated the incredible craftsmanship of the play’s writing, direction, and staging. But what most brought me to my feet at the end (and moved me to tears) was the brilliant performance of Lois Smith in the lead role. Only a few times in my life have I witnessed a performance so filled with depth and reality and power – she totally inhabits the character from beginning to end. I stand in awe of her giftedness and skill. What a rare and remarkable theatrical experience!
Some people believe that live theatre is no longer an effective art form for ministry on Sunday mornings. I wish all those folks could have attended this play with me today. There is nothing comparable to a magnificent moment in live theatre. My perspective is that many have abandoned the use of drama in church primarily because they have never seen it done well, never really believed the performances, or witnessed the power of a tremendous script in the hands of a gifted director and team of actors. We must not abandon an entire art form simply because we have not yet been able to recruit and leverage the giftedness of dramatic artists. When music is done poorly, I don’t hear anyone advocating that we stop all music in the church. We simply devote ourselves to doing it better. I, for one, will never give up on the potential of the dramatic arts for effective, life-changing ministry.