Any minister of religion who despairs of the secular obsessions of modern society hasn’t been paying much attention lately to the Chicago theater scene. These last couple of weeks, it’s felt like every opening night has been the harbinger of another religious debate.
Let’s take it from north to south.
Up in Glencoe, Southern Protestants currently battle Southern Catholics in Evan Smith’s limp new comedy, “The Savannah Disputation.” In Evanston, a progressive Anglican minister is trying to square her faith with familial reality in Keith Bunin’s slick, smart and theologically obsessed drama, “The Busy World is Hushed.” On the North Side of Chicago, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s skilled director Anna D. Shapiro has taken that old rationalist Arthur Miller and ramped-up “The Crucible” as a probing of the dangerous gap between factual truth and hysterical belief. And in the Loop, Sarah Ruhl’s unruly epic “Passion Play” is deconstructing the political and human manipulation of the Passion of the Christ over two continents, 500 years and more than three hours of stage time.
Some of this is theatrical business as usual — to go to the theater every night is to ponder the meaning of life with atypical and probably unhealthy regularity. But you couldn’t see all (or even most) of these shows without noticing the sudden preponderance of actors in vestments.