ACT show explores religion’s influence on politics

Photos by Nic Antaya/The Herald
Josh Murrell of Ferdinand prepares himself for the dress rehearsal of "Church & State" by Jason Odell Williams at the Jasper Arts Center on Tuesday evening. The show follows U.S. Senator Charles Whitmore in his re-election for Senate seat to give commentary on the current political climate in the country. It explores how religion influences politics and how politics has become a religion.


JASPER — The latest production by Actors Community Theatre explores how religion influences politics and how politics has become a religion in a way that is humorous yet poignant.

ACT will present “Church & State,” a show recently written by Jason Odell Williams.

“It’s a strong comedy that has a heart,” said Health Kluemper, producer of the ACT production. “Politics can be funny if you let it.”

“Church & State“ kicks off a brand new session for Actors Community Theatre. The show is a dinner theater, with Brew catering the meal; a cash bar will be available. The show will be performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening at the Jasper Arts Center, 951 College Ave. The doors will open at 6 p.m. and the meal will be served at 6:30 p.m.

Attendees must be 18 ore older, and tickets must be purchased in advance; no tickets will be sold at the door.

“Church & State” follows the actions of a United States senator who makes an off-the-cuff remark about a recent tragedy in his hometown that a blogger leaks on Twitter. What ensues is conversations between the senator, his devoutly Christian wife and liberal Jewish campaign manager as all wonder if the senator will continue his stance on guns and God and how his remarks will affect his bid for re-election.

Although the play was written during the Barack Obama presidency, “The way Jason wrote the play, it doesn’t have a side,” said show Director Tyler Smith. “Yes, the senator in the show has a side; when you’re in politics, you have a side. But it’s written in a way that you don’t have to know his side to feel the story.”

Josh Murrell of Ferdinand, left, and Jade Marinin of Jasper act out a scene during the dress rehearsal of "Church & State" by Jason Odell Williams at the Jasper Arts Center on Tuesday evening.

ACT’s productions committee decided in June that the company would perform the show; Smith was selected as director in July.

“When we all read it, we thought that we needed to do this show,” Kluemper said. “It seems timely in that, you’re in the middle of a grueling election season.”

ACT is the second or third group in the nation to put on this production. “It just finished its inaugural run in early 2017 in New York,” Kluemper said. “It’s still very fresh.”

Smith grew up in Pike County and participated in theater all through high school. He went to college at Vincennes University and Indiana University-Southeast and studied architecture and theater. He has been involved with ACT for the last three years. This is his sixth time directing a show on his own, a job that he enjoys.

“As a director you get to take your own, individual, artistic take on the show. You can do that as an actor, but you still have to obey the director,” he said.

The cast has been rehearsing since August. “It’s been a really interesting production,” Smith said. “It’s only four people in the cast, and they’ve worked hard to bring the honesty to each character, finding the words, finding the meaning. Good theater recreates life, and recreates something that we walk away with a lesson from.”

Smith is excited for the audience to see the show.

Tyler Smith of Jasper hands a pin to Jade Marinin of Jasper before the dress rehearsal of "Church & State" by Jason Odell Williams at the Jasper Arts Center on Tuesday evening.

“With a show like this, there is such a strong meaning behind it compared to some other happy-go-lucky-feeling shows,” he said. “I feel like it’s going to resonate with the audience more than a Rodgers & Hammerstein (or) Cinderella show.”

“Ultimately, the show turns into a call to action,” Smith said. “No matter what you believe in, you will have to agree that the call to action is something that needs to happen.”

Along with “Church & State,” the rest of ACT’s regular season will include Neil Simon’s “The Dinner Party” in the spring and the Stephen Sondheim musical “Into the Woods” during the summer.

Season packages and individual tickets are available on ACT’s website:

Church & State

Thursday, Friday and Saturday; doors open 6 p.m. at the Jasper Arts Center


Joshua Murrell of Ferdinand, as Senator Charles Whitmore

Jade Marinin of Jasper, as Sara Whitmore

Megan Guerra of Paoli, as Alex Klein

Weston Whitehouse of Boonville, as Tom/Reporter

Director: Tyler Smith

Producer: Heath Kluemper

Meal provided by The Brew: Herb crusted pork, beer braised beef brisket, mashed potatoes, green beans. Cash bar available.

Cost: $25 per person. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

Tickets and more information are available at

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