“In God’s Own Country” celebrates Reformation with timeless themes
“In God’s Own Country,” a collaboration between Piedmont Players Theatre and Landesbühnen Sachsen, offers a unique perspective into the trials and tribulations of 18th-century American settlers.
The drama, an adaption of the historical novel by Eberhard Görner, is rife with themes of culturalism, language and moral obligation. These themes are wound within the story of Heinrich Mühlenberg, a man considered to be the patriarch of the Lutheran Church in the United States.
Mühlenberg was sent to Philadelphia in 1742 as a missionary, at the request of Pennsylvania Lutherans. Upon reaching this new land, he finds both church and country riddled with infighting, intolerance and divisiveness.
Native Americans are being forced to convert to Christianity to trade with immigrant neighbors. Colonies are being pressured to anglicize, and the French and Indian War is brewing as immigrants refuse to honor treaties with America’s native inhabitants.
Here, Mühlenberg steps in with messages of tolerance and peace, reminding his congregants that they must worry over their own faith before forcing it upon others – though we see his personal struggle to remain steadfast in his ideals as the story progresses.
Several stylistic choices went into the production of the play, helping the audience truly experience the alien nature of early America. A small part of the German dialogue is kept, illustrating just how intentions can be lost in translation.
Set and lighting designer Tilo Staudte created a brilliant and versatile staging system with a collection of wooden benches. First staged as what looks like a box made of pallet wood, each bench is easily transformed throughout the play as a church pew, carriage, coffin and even a printing press.
Mühlenberg is played by Moritz Gabriel, one of 14 German actors with Landesbühnen Sachsen. Gabriel has a palpable and infectious means of displaying emotion – and there were many with this role. From trepidation to frustration to passion, he remains believable through it all.
Playing Anna Maria Weiser, Mühlenberg’s eventual spouse, is Julia Rani, also of Germany. Anna Maria is the strong woman behind her husband, reigning him in and acting as a beacon toward their moral obligation as necessary. Rani also has a means of expression that can cut to the core or melt the heart as needed.
Another two of many notable German actors are Holger Uwe Thews and Tine Josch, serving as half-narrators, half-personified consciences for Mühlenberg. The pair work in tandem to not only keep the audience members up to speed but keep them laughing and engaged.
Catawba College junior Austin Young made a few brief appearances throughout the performance, notably as Pastor Handschuh, a rival of Mühlenberg.
Chief Flying Arrow is portrayed by the Rev. Fleming Brown Otey III. This is his first performance with the Piedmont Players, yet he masterfully portrays the hurt and frustration of the Native American people as they are continually slaughtered and abused at the hands of foreign people.
Music throughout the performance was provided by a community choir, including many members of St. John’s Lutheran Church. The choir was joined by the Ensemble Nobiles, a German quintet whose a capella versions of traditional hymns brought further depth to the emotional story being told.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. today and Oct. 18-21 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The play is at the Meroney Theater, 213 S. Main St. For tickets, call 704-633-5471 or visit www.peidmontplayers.com.
SALISBURY — Heather Teeter — who co-owns Sweet Meadow Cafe with her husband, Scott — announced on Facebook Wednesday that she is... read more