As the world turns and the stones speak…

John Lesinki as Solomon: "A wise man doesn't quarrel with his benefactor."
John Lesinki as Solomon: “A wise man doesn’t quarrel with his benefactor.”

‘Arguing With God’ postponed due to rain

Due to rain, the premiere of “Arguing with God” is now rescheduled to Sunday, June 5. The grounds open at 5 pm and the show begins at 5:30 pm. Tickets already purchased can be used or, if requested, refunded. In the unlikely event of more bad weather, the June 5 performance will be held indoors at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas. An announcement will be made at least 24 hours in advance of change of venue.

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For tickets, visit Tickets also available at gate ($20). Children free. The Amphitheater is located at 40 Spring Wish Lane, Flint Hill, VA 22627 (off Crest Hill Road, not quite three miles east of Flint Hill). Seating on grass. Chairs are limited to the elderly and impaired. Picnic blankets suggested.

Local production’s world premiere is May 21

Sex! Violence! War! Beheadings! Genocide! Climate change! All that and more, here in pastoral, otherwise peaceful Rappahannock County — at 5 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at Stone Hill Amphitheater in Flint Hill, for the world premiere of John Henry’s “Arguing with God.”

The new drama, according to Henry, reenacts Old Testament stories to confront uncomfortable truths about human nature and explores the psychology of how empires are built by “Chosen People,” “good guys” who believe they have the moral right to use military force against “bad guys.” Produced in the dramatic outdoor setting of hand-laid stone, which Henry built himself, “Arguing with God” depicts the inevitable conflict between power and justice.

The cast is 50-actor strong, with many of the leading roles played by Rappahannock residents. Having just starred as Felix Ungar in RAAC’s production of “The Odd Couple,” Hampton district board of supervisors member John D. Lesinski says: “I’m excited to be playing King Solomon. It’s a very different role from Felix. I think Solomon is a little more confident in himself and thankfully doesn’t have to cry on stage like Felix.”

Lesinski also says that he is “fortunate the role doesn’t require that I divide any babies in half! But I do have to keep 700 wives happy which will be the death of me. All of which is good wisdom-training for my service on the board of supervisors.”

Hugh Hill as Moses: "If you weren’t so murderous, we wouldn’t have so much to argue about."
Hugh Hill as Moses: “If you weren’t so murderous, we wouldn’t have so much to argue about.”

Playing Moses and the Ghost of Moses will be Hugh Hill, who says, “I have enjoyed watching and participating in John Henry’s extensive workshop and multi-party editing process of this play, starting almost a year ago.” Appearing at Stone Hill last year as U.S. Grant in James Reston Jr.’s “Sherman the Peacemaker” brought Hill back to his theatrical roots — including outdoor performances in Cherokee, N.C., Richmond’s Dogwood Dell, and the Sherwood Amphitheater in Salem, Va.

“But the big treat was playing opposite Glenn Close for a season of ‘The Common Glory’ in Williamsburg,” he says. Now after a career in health law and emergency medicine, Hill adds, “This is a great opportunity to return to a first love. And Stone Hill is just a few miles from our place off 522 north of Flint Hill.”

Of “Arguing with God,” Hill says, “Like much good theater, this one will be provocative, even challenging.… Unrestrained by convention, the result will be more interesting than you expect.”

Gay Barclay as Bathsheba: "Calling sex affection doesn't make it so."
Gay Barclay as Bathsheba: “Calling sex affection doesn’t make it so.”

Though women primarily play a secondary role in the Old Testament, Henry has turned that on its head with a somewhat feminist reading. One of the many women parts is played by Gay Barclay, of Flint Hill, who says: “John’s enthusiasm for his play carries us all out of our everyday lives into Biblical stories. I’m honored to be playing/working along with such lively, humorous and generous people.”

Castleton’s Maeve Ciuba, though only 10 years old, is a seasoned thespian — this marking her ninth stage production. She is the daughter of Deverell Pedersen (playing the “Hittite Wife”), and she’s excited to be participating in this play, as it makes her think she’s doing a story out of one of her favorite books, “The Action Bible.” According to playwright Henry, “Maeve has two near-death experiences. First, as a member of Noah’s family, Maeve escapes being drowned in the Flood. Second, as a boy in playing the hair-raising role of Isaac, Maeve barely escapes being murdered by Abraham by order of Yahweh.”

Bill Walton as Abraham: "Isn’t it unjust to slay the innocent with the guilty?"
Bill Walton as Abraham: “Isn’t it unjust to slay the innocent with the guilty?”

In writing and rewriting the play, Henry constantly solicited the views of others, including the local book club that meets monthly at Trinity Episcopal Church and the “reflection group” that gathers weekly at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Little Washington. “I like the play,” volunteers St. Peter’s Father Tuck Grinnell. “It is more than a play about God and the Old Testament. It asks the playgoer to ‘vote’ with their own lives. What’s most important in life? Order? Justice? Fun? Or what?”

Henry may be a self-described amateur playwright, but the play’s direction is very much in professional hands: Rick Davis, the dean of George Mason University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts and executive director of Manassas’ Hylton Performing Arts Center. Recalls Davis:

Director Rick Davis

“When my friend and colleague Jim Reston introduced me to John Henry and his ‘megalithomaniacal’ creations at Stone Hill, I was — and still am — awestruck. The amphitheatre is a one-of-a-kind work of art that, in turn, inspires other works of art. It turns out that drama offers a way to advance one of John’s other projects, which I would call quixotic except that he seems to achieve it with regularity: bringing together smart citizens on all sides of the major questions of the day in civil discourse and mutual appreciation. Now the master builder has turned his attention to playwriting, and it has been a joy to work with him and the aforementioned smart citizens to shape a taut, fast-moving and remarkably intricate argument about power and justice, fealty and free will, leadership and entitlement.”

Davis, a Warrenton resident, says,”The atmosphere in our rehearsals is electric: ideas about fundamental existential questions coexist with suggestions for bawdy jokes, and all the while the play and the performances continue to evolve. My role is to help both playwright and actors discover the layers of meaning and intention in the text, and then to help them shape their performances in the most effective way possible, both vocally and physically.”

In working with stones and now working with words, as a Rappahannock neighbor remarks about John Henry, “it’s been said that he teaches stones to speak.”