How can love be explained? Love exists between friends. Between two men or two women. There is the love parents have for their children. Love between fathers and their sons. A love of God. Love without God. Love of music. Love of language. Love before and after death. Love of one’s community despite its flaws. This was the love present in Listening for Grace, performed in DeWitt Theater on Sept. 15. It was all-encompassing and honest.
At the center of the play is Daryl (played by the writer of the play, Ted Swartz) and his son Jared (Justin Yoder). When Jared comes out as gay to his father, it sparks discussion within their family, their community and their church. Jared has no dialogue and yet his character feels fully present. He is a musician, sitting in the center of the stage while his father paces and speaks, his music beautiful and melancholic. Jared is the catalyst for the play’s drama. But interestingly, it is the response of the community that plays the biggest role.
As the program states, “this play doesn’t claim to offer any answers” and “takes seriously the idea that the church is a community of people on a journey.” Daryl engages in conversation with the audience and with others as he processes his own thoughts. As the audience, we listen to music from Jared and the pianist (Phillip Martin) as passionate and revealing as the dialogue.
We listen to Daryl speak of God’s grace and of his wife Grace, both as symbols of love. We listen to the reactions of Jared’s family, to Daryl’s recollections of Jared as a child. We listen to a preacher and members of the family’s church give their take and we play a role ourselves as we decide what we took away from this play.
Ted Swartz wrote Listening for Grace and plays many roles in the production. He acts in the role of Daryl, Preacher, friends and family members who all discuss sexuality in the church. To get into character, Swartz finds inspiration in “the words on the page, and through understanding and believing those words.” The characters evolved from a “conglomeration of people, through conversation” with people of the LGBTQ+ community.
In a panel discussion following the play, Swartz revealed he found himself particularly drawn to the character of Daryl’s cousin who leaves his family because of his sexual orientation and the lack of understanding in their community.
One audience member expressed his frustration with the church and questioned the point of reading the Bible in the modern day. He also wondered whether the church would make it. Swartz responded to this by explaining that he is “excited and dumbfounded by the Church”, and continues to do this play because of his love for the Church. Martin then mentioned his background in the Mennonite church and says there are places to be in the Church for LGBTQ+ Christians.
Cast members recognized the anxiety surrounding the Church and homosexuality. But advances have been made, as Martin said, “Now we have the option to use gifts in the community we want to use them in.” Again, the intent of the play is not to offer rules or answers. “Playwrights scrabble around and look for the truth”, Swartz says, and the audience is encouraged to have their own conversation about their understanding—their truth.