Cult of Love - Theatre Review

By Bill Garry

Cult of Love
Graham Sibley, Tom Amandes, Keliher Walsh, Christine Woods, Christian Durso, Sarah Utterback, John Lavelle and Tina Huang
Photo by Dean Cechvala

There's a happy Christmas party just getting started at the Dahl's house in rural Connecticut. Dad is at the spinet and, as each grown-up member of the family arrives, the rest of the adult children -- and mom -- pop up and reenact the family Christmas sing-a-longs of long ago.

There is a little -- make that a lot -- of forced joviality during those sing-alongs. And that is when you start to realize that the Dahl's have issues.

Father and Mother Dahl -- strict Christians -- expect this Christmas to be like every other: a time to set aside issues and just love one another. But this year, the issues -- and there are a lot of them -- will not be suppressed.

The set-up is a little sitcomy: Mom and Dad, as I said, strict Christians. Daughter 1 newly gay married. Daughter 2 starting a prophetic church with her husband, an Episcopal minister. Son 1, seminary dropout bouncing from law school to politics, married to a liberal woman. Son 2 fresh from drug rehab with a woman he is sponsoring in 12-step spirituality.

Cult of Love
Christine Woods, Graham Sibley, Sarah Utterback
Photo by Dean Cechvala

Obviously, a lot of issues. But the genius of this show is how they overlap, shift, and morph between the characters -- Mom and Dad, Mom and child, child and parent, child and child -- and right in front of our eyes. Religion moves from something to yearn for to something totally made up. And back again.

Playwright Leslye Headland blurs the lines between knowledge and faith with piercing perceptiveness and humor. God can be a strategy for avoidance or healing. Rationality is on the flip side of religiosity. One person's theology is another person's mental illness.

The ensemble cast shifts from rousing carolling to conversational confrontations with natural skill. Tom Amandes, Laila Ayad, Christian Durso, Tina Huang, John Lavelle, Graham Sibley, Melissa Stephens, Sarah Utterback, Keliher Walsh and Christine Woods are well cast. Ms. Utterback plays the outsider with both wide-eyed wonder and fear. Her character, the 12-stepper, is the person the audience latches on to and identifies with; we needed her more and earlier.

Cult of Love
Keliher Walsh, Laila Ayad, Tina Huang and Melissa Stephens
Photo by Dean Cechvala

Annie Tippe's direction was straightforward, although there were times when overlapping conversations and action at opposite ends of the stage caused me to split my attention. The good news: those conversational confrontations were too juicy to choose between. The bad news: it was difficult to choose and I was pulled out of the action for a scene.

The show is billed as a black comedy, but there are more "ah-has" and "hmm-mms" than laughs. Spend Christmas with the Dahls and you'll be looking at your own religious boundaries and beliefs.

Cult of Love is the final installment in Leslye Headland's "Seven Deadly Plays" cycle. It plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through June 24 at the Atwater Village Theatre.

For reservations and information, call 323-380-8843 or visit

Posted By Bill Garry on June 11, 2018 12:09 pm | Permalink