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Review: From the pulpit: The unfolding story of the ‘Captain of the Bible Quiz Team’

An interim pastor (Wayne Tyrone Carr) tries to guide a Minnesota congregation through a crisis in Rogue Machine's presentation of "Captain of the Bible Quiz Team."
(John Perrin Flynn / Rogue Machine Theatre)

A church is a community — a family, even. When a member is in crisis, others step forward with prayers, words of encouragement, helping hands and Jell-O salads.

Prolific Los Angeles playwright Tom Jacobson marvelously assembles such a family in the course of his new play “Captain of the Bible Quiz Team,” presented by Rogue Machine in churches in West L.A., North Hollywood and Los Feliz.

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The audience, it naturally follows, becomes the congregation — a Lutheran one, as it turns out, at a modest church in Minnesota in 2009. We are invited by the organist to sing the opening hymn, and when we have finished, Pastor Landry Sorenson is standing in the pulpit.

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The story progresses via sermons at seven services of great significance in the Christian calendar (including Christmas Eve, Epiphany and Good Friday), their meaning resonating with developments in the lives of the young pastor and the congregation in which he/she grew up and served as Bible quiz captain.

He/she? Well, you see, Pastor Sorenson is a shape-shifter, played at alternate performances by Wayne Tyrone Carr, Deborah Puette, Mark Jacobson or Amielynn Abellera — the son/daughter of the church’s longtime reverend, now assigned to fill in during his/her father’s hospitalization.

At the reviewed performance, Carr radiated good humor, earnestness and lots of heart as, with gentle humor and generous insight, he preached about assistance, compassion and — via a quick detour through “Star Wars” — bonds both earthly and heavenly.

But love is tested all around. The absent Pastor Sorenson’s health is deteriorating, and the younger pastor’s sermons hint at parent-child tensions. The congregation, meanwhile, faces a financial crisis and precarious attendance, but what shakes the membership to its core is fallout from the larger Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s widening embrace of LGBT clergy and parishioners.

Although the drama from pulpit to pew inevitably calls to mind Lucas Hnath’s similarly church-service-structured “The Christians,” the crises of faith are different. And although “Captain’s” rootedness in Lutheran theology leads to some inside-baseball moments, the overarching issues are at the forefront of American religion — and society in general. While developing the script, Jacobson interviewed several LGBT pastors, which lends palpable authenticity.

Michael Michetti’s direction is as direct and unassuming as Jacobson’s script. The two are frequent collaborators: “Ouroboros,” “The Twentieth-Century Way” and so on. This fleet, two-person piece (the actor du jour and an organist, Barbara Browning) benefits from that familiarity.

Carr’s Pastor Sorenson ended up in tears and, judging by the sniffles, so did much of the congregation.

“Captain of the Bible Quiz Team.” For times and locations, visit www.captainofthebiblequizteam.com. Ends Oct. 3. $34.99. (855) 585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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daryl.miller@latimes.com

Twitter: @darylhmiller


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