God's Man in Texas 

GOD'S MAN IN TEXAS, Northlight Theatre, at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. Televangelist Phillip Gottschall oversees a multimillion-dollar ministry with its own bowling alley, multiplex cinema, and dinner theater, yet David Rambo's play is not about hucksters. In fact, what's most intriguing and gratifying about this comedy-drama is that it treats its characters--including the spry 81-year-old Gottschall; his potential successor, the earnest Reverend Jeremiah Mears; and the born-again sound technician and gofer Hugo Taney--with refreshing seriousness and respect. Gottschall may be obsessed with TV ratings and the trappings of evangelical fame, but he's less a calculating cynic than a true believer with misplaced priorities. When Mears's efforts to succeed Gottschall are thwarted by the old man's paranoia and his own reservations about running a Las Vegas-style Christian empire, the result is a compelling consideration of religion's role in a cynical, media-saturated society that's critical of the church without rejecting it entirely.

Performed with admirable professionalism and accuracy by Tony Mockus, B.J. Jones, and Michael Grant as Gottschall, Mears, and Taney, Northlight's production under Susan V. Booth's direction uncovers great subtlety and wit in a domain not usually credited with either. At play's end, when Jones as Mears eschews the glib folksiness and rehearsed theatricality of his sermonizing for an honest, unadorned statement of his own beliefs, one can almost sense him restoring the audience's faith, if not in organized religion, then in faith itself. No small accomplishment.

--Adam Langer

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