Saving Grace Around Negative Religious Sentiment

Documentary play Dialogues on Grace combines a variety of different religious ideals with thoughts on anti-Muslim sentiment.

By Camilla Cook February 16, 2016

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Image: 14 Pews

After a couple of nightmare dates, playwright Cressandra Thibodeaux came to a few realizations, chief among them including finding a new dating site and bringing up the uncomfortable conversation centered around anti-Muslim sentiment. On one of Thibodeaux’s dreadful encounters, her date expressed fear that by 2050 the U.S. would be under Sharia law. He sent her an email later, doubling down: “Our only hope is the Mexicans, because they are the fastest reproducing Christians.”

As Executive Director of 14 Pews in Houston, Thibodeaux felt the call to action by creating Dialogues on Grace, a 75-minute documentary theatre play, encompassing more than 50 different interviews taken in 2015, from Houstonians, all with different faiths. During her interviews, Thibodeaux came across people that simply didn’t like Muslims. "The hatred and nastiness has been sifted out, so what we’re left with is truly a space of acceptance and listening," Thibodeaux says. "Not to say that we’ve toned it down or anything, we know that those voices exist—they are the loudest. We get enough of the media slanting their views on us, what is not as accessible is this open dialogue."

Directed by dramaturg Jacey Little, Dialogues on Grace showcases four actors, playing 20 different roles, with some of the characters acting in up to six monologues. “It’s truly an ensemble piece,” Little says. “We won’t be trying to hide any of the normal behind-the-scenes theatrics—no one is going to exit and change their clothes.”

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Image: 14 Pews

To many people, the term “grace” might seem like a loaded word, based on a Christian concept. You may feel that if you’re not a participant of a specific organization or religion, then that word has nothing to do with you. But after studying the personal narratives, from a wide variety of people, Thibodeaux learned that no two individuals share the same definition of grace. "Everyone has an intangible feeling of grace," she says, "however we want to define what grace is—it’s the humanity that remains."

Through her research, Thibodeaux discovered an interesting dialogue happening on one side of her family, but not the other. Being mixed herself, she noticed how, on her father’s side of the family, they talk a great deal about what’s happening in the news with regard to oppression in black America. On the flip side, she says, her white friends and family are not in that same dialogue. According to Thibodeaux, “They have not seen some of these videos, they have not heard these sides. It shouldn’t be my diverse family having these dialogues, but all of us having this dialogue of grace and things like that, I think it’s very healthy.”

The experience has been therapeutic for Thibodeaux; the through-line of the play will be her narrative. She will be the connective tissue, whose voice will be present among the many, many others. “The ‘grace within race’ is what this whole piece is about. For me, it was about my life. Through dating a black man, I was able to understand, forgive, and love my father, who I thought was prejudiced against whites,” Thibodeaux says.

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Image: 14 Pews

At the end of the show, audience members can elect to participate in an open Q&A talk-back, led by a member of the artistic team. Little hopes the audience can walk away feeling like they’ve gained new insight into someone else’s life, but also feel connected with them.

“I think it’s unlikely that anyone is going to come to this play and not hear a new perspective, because the pieces [Thibodeaux]'s chosen are so diverse—from backgrounds to personal experience. They have this common thread of humanity, so I hope that people will come with open ears and can receive this humanity and hopefully take it out there and utilize it all the time.”

Thru Feb 28. $10. 14 Pews, 800 Aurora Street.  

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