In the 90 minutes of Ken Jaworowski’s Believers, the playwright packs a whole lifetime, opening up the past and present of what could be any couple living right here, right now.
In this Workshop Theater production, directed by Alex Dmitriev, two sets of actors portray a couple in different periods in their life through a number of discrete moments -- some mundane, some sad, some fun and loving, just like your typical relationship. The play tosses back and forth between the younger versions of Chris and Donna (Ben Sumrall and Allison Linker) and their grown-up counterparts (Tony Tavostino and Mary Lauren). They meet in college. Like every couple, Chris and Donna start off laughing and enjoying life. Even though they come from very different backgrounds -- he is an artist on full scholarship at a Christian college, and she a theology major and philosophy minor -- they bond quickly. In their flash-forward scenes, it is clear the bond of Chris and Donna remains intact despite the hardships they have endured, such as trying to have a baby and, when they finally do, their concern that there is something wrong with the child. Questions of faith are brought up throughout the play (occasionally with a slightly too heavy hand): what does it mean to have faith, what happens when your faith is tested, are things just coincidences or is God behind them?
It can be tricky for actors to to play younger and older versions of the same character. You want the audience to see and believe that the younger version of Chris would grow up to be the older version, and the same goes for Donna. They need not exactly replicate one another – after all, humans do change as they grow up and shed certain styles and affectations – but at the core there has to be something that links the younger and older selves.
Ben Sumrall (younger Chris) and Tony Travostino (older Chris) together create a unified character in the way they carry themselves, their sensibility, and their devotion. The younger Donna and older Donna can feel out of sync at times, but as Donna has the greater emotional and moral change of the pair, perhaps the marked difference in Linker and Lauren's portrayals makes some sense. Ms. Linker plays young Donna as a girl whose world is just opening up and she faces it with spirit and joy; meanwhile, the older Donna’s world is rapidly closing in around her, Ms. Lauren’s smile-through-the-pain ages away from the spirit of her younger self.