Chautauqua Theater Company guest artist Jamison Jones spends most of his time in Los Angeles, acting in television series and movies, yet he holds a deep passion for live theater.
“I always say that television is the thing that supports my bad theater habit,” Jones said.
Jones takes the stage as the charismatic Pastor Paul in CTC’s production of The Christians, a story about how one man’s dramatic change in belief slowly but surely rips his interpersonal relationships apart.
The show continues its run at 4 p.m. today, July 5, in Bratton Theater, and Jones said the performance is shaping up to be one of his favorites of all time.
“(Pastor Paul) is fast becoming one of the most exhilarating roles I’ve ever had the chance to play,” Jones said.
Jones said that even though Shakespeare’s Macbeth is easily his favorite play, and the experiences he’s had working on that show have been amazing, playing Pastor Paul has been unexpectedly rewarding.
“Between the Scottish play and The Christians, it’s hard to choose which I’ve enjoyed more,” Jones said. “Honestly, this show might trump (Macbeth).”
According to Jones, The Christians is a show that has challenged him to grow and evolve, all while raising important questions about the nature of belief and community.
“I love to be pushed as an actor; I love to work hard,” Jones said. “And this show has made me work truly hard. It’s thrown me in the water and made me find my way back to the surface. With a role like Pastor Paul that is all-encompassing and all-consuming, it has been challenging to get to the surface, in the best way possible.”
But despite the enjoyment that Jones has gleaned from working on the show, it isn’t all fun and games. The Christians doesn’t bring up issues lightly, and Jones said the conversation the show attempts to ignite is one worth having.
The Christians playwright Lucas Hnath has created a story that pits the value of relationships against the strength of personal beliefs. Pastor Paul watches his community turn on him based on a single choice he made, and Jones said that he’s keenly aware of how easily relationships can falter.
“To me, religion can be just as much about community as it can be about belief,” Jones said. “There’s an assumed sense of community within a church based on shared belief, so when it’s revealed that some of those beliefs don’t line up, things can change quickly.”
Raised as a Pr esbyterian, Jones said that — just like Pastor Paul — his relationship with religion and his religious community hasn’t always been a smooth one.
“The interesting thing about this show in particular is that it asks the questions: What does religion mean? What does a faithful community mean? What do relationships without that belief mean?” Jones said. “Being brought up in the church, I felt like I was never really invited to ask questions. So I’m glad that this show is able to be a conversation.”
In preparing to embody Pastor Paul, Jones drew upon inspiration from real-life preachers and personalities to give his character a sense of authenticity. He said that, in particular, he studied the mannerisms and tendencies of televangelist Joel Osteen.
Jones said Osteen brings a lot of warmth to his lectures, and that he’s a “feel good” sort of preacher. Presentation of compassion and lack of contempt were things Jones sought to bring to Paul’s demeanor.
“I think there’s something about Pastor Paul that makes him one of those feel-good pastors,” Jones said. “He wants them to come to church, he wants to help them, to make them feel saved and to make them feel connected.”
According to Jones, it’s that desire to connect and communicate with his congregants that makes Paul’s fall from grace all the more compelling.
And although The Christians gets at a number of difficult questions concerning faith and family, and although Pastor Paul is taken on a tumultuous journey that leaves him questioning his own actions, Jones said his takeaway from this show had little to do with the harsher side of the play.
Instead, Jones said he’ll walk away from the production with a greater appreciation for the good people can do for one another.