A Case for the Existence of God is something a little different for playwright Samuel D. Hunter, whose other plays have titles that either convey broader thematic ideas (The Whale, Rest) or allude to their Idaho settings (Pocatello, Great Clements). This more provocative title is fitting because A Case for the Existence of God includes a very personal fingerprint for Hunter, who continues in this latest work to do what he does best: masterfully explore the value, complexity, and necessity of human connections.
Hunter and his husband adopted a baby girl, who is now preschool aged, and the emotional ties of fatherhood are central to the two characters he brings to life. Keith (Kyle Beltran) and Ryan (Will Brill) meet through their daughters’ day care, and at the play’s beginning that small connection has progressed to a professional relationship. Keith, a mortgage broker, is trying to help Ryan secure a loan for a property that holds sentimental value for him. The plot is parsed out through a series of conversations that occur as Keith and Ryan form a lasting friendship.
Keith is a single foster parent working through the adoption process for his daughter Willa, and he suffers from deep anxieties that he might lose Willa due to the very flawed American adoption system. Ryan is proceeding through a divorce in which his wife has much greater financial security to bring to the custody negotiations for their daughter Krista. These situations drive a relationship that is rarely explored in art mediums – two men providing emotional support for each other during difficult moments in their lives.
A Case for the Existence of God is never cynical as it articulates the wonders of early fatherhood. Consider two representative scenes. In one, Keith mentions to Ryan that their daughters are likely to live to see the year 2100. One cannot contemplate this without trying to picture the year 2100, but our rationality almost immediately reminds us that we have no idea what the world will look like in 80 years. In another scene, Keith and Ryan watch their children playing together at a playground. Their conversation is constantly paused for quick instructions to their daughters – “Don’t climb too high”, “That’s far enough”, “Share.” Putting these two scenes together, we see how fathering a toddler requires constant control and responsibility that is almost irreconcilable with knowledge that a parent has no ability to protect their children far into the future.
Also central to a discussion of A Case for the Existence of God is the very original staging. Almost the entire play occurs in the confines of a cubicle with Keith and Ryan sitting on rolling office chairs. Initially, the characters are within Keith’s impersonal workspace as he explains to Ryan exactly what a mortgage broker does. However, as the play progresses, the conversations shift to different locations including Keith’s house, the playground, and even the expanse of Ryan’s desired property. This provides many challenges for the actors and director David Cromer, who must develop the characters with limited movement. Late in the play, changes to this fixed scenery elevate moments of unforgettable emotional impact.
I have been a dedicated fan of Samuel D. Hunter’s work since seeing The Whale at Victory Gardens in 2013. A Case of the Existence of God continues his streak of excellence. Two announced future showings of Hunter’s work include a remounting of his 2011 play A Bright New Boise at New York’s Signature Theater and a movie version of The Whale, which is in post-production.