Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Culture, Crisis, and Community: Christianity in North American Drama at the Turn of the Millennium

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Ronald E. Shields

Second Advisor

Cynthia Baron (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Steve Boone (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Bruce Edwards (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Jonathan Chambers


In her edited volume "Plays for the End of the Century," Bonnie Marranca argues that “some of the most thoughtful plays written today join poetic language to a new spiritual energy that addresses metaphysical questions, the crisis of spirit, and theological concepts such as sin, redemption, evil, and grace“ formulated within an iconography of saints, angels, heaven, and hell” (xii). This project explores this issue, and demonstrates how playwrights dialogue with Christianity and culture in meaningful ways. The plays considered, which were not written for specifically Christian audiences, are Anne Chislett's Quiet in the Land (1983), David Rambo's God's Man in Texas (1998), Djanet Sears's The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God (2003), Arlene Hutton's As It Is In Heaven (2003), Craig Wright's Grace (2005), and Mark St. Germain's A Plague of Angels (2006).

In examining Christianity in the contemporary moment, consideration is given to how these playscripts function in a culture where the modern and the postmodern are understood as conditions of knowledge, referencing Linda Hutcheon and Jean-Francois Lyotard. Combining biblical interpretation with script analysis and cultural criticism, connections between Christianity and theatre are explored, applying the theories of Philip Yancey, Robert Webber, and Brian McLaren, among others, to investigate a “new essentialism” in the contemporary cultural moment. The study also considers how the characters in these plays work to create, sustain, or consume culture, as well as if and how they engage in any type of “culture war.” Additionally, this study explores how these plays portray representatives of Christian faith as they experience moments of crisis, investigating the notion of doubt and its interconnectedness with faith.

These considerations reveal connections between the plays and contemporary understandings and expressions of Christianity, investigating how the lives of the characters are religious, and how these expressions of religion are connected with human experience. Indeed, the plays investigate how both Christians and non-Christians address, respond to, and engage with Christianity and the sacred in this particular cultural moment.