Samuel D. Hunter’s thoughtful, moving play, A Case for the Existence of God, despite the title, is a beautifully written piece that roots itself in the mundane. Parenthood, with all its trials and tribulations, the wonder and fears it conjures, drives this two-hander. It’s the richness of a philosophy lesson without all the intellectualizing.
Ryan (Kristopher Hanks) needs a bank loan to buy 12 acres once owned by his great grandparents. Keith (Marcus Zollicoffer) is a mortgage broker. They meet at the daycare attended by their 15-month old daughters. At first, it seems that being a parent is the only thing they have in common.
As directed by Thaddaeus Edwards for Bulldog Ensemble Theater, the friendship between these two mismatched men unfolds gradually, in fits and starts, like a new driver learning in a stick shift car. Keith is a privileged, Black, gay man who has traveled. Ryan, white, straight, and the son of drug addicts, has never left his hometown of Twin Falls, Idaho. And here they are in an office cubicle, besotted with both love and anxiety for their children as well as struggling with loneliness. The halting, stumbling, uneven pace of their friendship feels real, an empathetic portrait of fatherhood.
Hanks and Zollicoffer effectively capture the raw and roiling emotions that underline their characters, the chemistry developing naturally between the two of them. Hanks has a loose physicality that belies the passionate emotions of Ryan, a young man who feels a bit lost in the world. Zollicoffer expertly conveys the bundle of nerves that Keith can barely contain as his worst fears seem to be coming true. They’ve both channeled so much of their emotions into building futures for their daughters that it’s difficult for either man to create a bond with someone else – and it makes their awkward reaching out to each other all that more poignant. Yet it is this friendship that is the heart of the argument of the play.
Abby Kuchar’s set design accents the cramped and isolated feelings of the men with a cubicle that can barely contain them. The setting feels more like an island where they are marooned. Lighting changes by Chuck Catotti mark scene shifts which keeps the pace fluid in this 90-minute production. Big ideas proclaimed in the minutiae of daily life – maybe a sign that “God” is in the details.
The Bulldog Ensemble Theater production of A Case for the Existence of God runs through November 19 at Meddlesome in Durham. For more information visit https://www.bulldogdurham.org/.