Review: Benjamin Benne’s “In His Hands” muses on sexuality and faith

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The colorful landscapes of Mario Kart cross the minds of two adult gamers who name their favorite virtual racing courses: Sherbet Land, Choco Mountain, Rainbow Road. This play sequence in the world premiere of Benjamin Benne’s “In His Hands” by the Mosaic Theater Company is revealing, since the two men, Daniel and Christian, could fall in love. The imagined views of Mario Kart also stand out for their expanse which contrasts with the concentration of the room. With poetry, occasional candor, and a determination that can sometimes feel cramped, Benne casts her gaze on faith, sex, love, and the perceived conflicts and harmonies between them.

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Director José Carrasquillo’s generally elegant production emphasizes thematic compression with Tony Cisek’s austere setting: black surfaces that are sometimes etched with frames of light and sometimes recall the void mentioned at the beginning of the Book of Genesis. Daniel (played by Michael J. Mainwaring) and Christian (Josh Adams) recite these Bible verses at the start of the show, in a taste of the lyrical and stylized sequences that alternate with more naturalistic scenes.

Chris (his preferred name) and Daniel both know Genesis and the rest of the Bible. Although he is an office manager at a Seattle tech start-up, Daniel hopes to become a Lutheran pastor, believing that his gay identity presents no obstacles in his progressive branch of Christianity. Daniel’s reconciliation between faith and sexuality astounds Chris, an engineer at the startup who was raised Baptist and survived conversion therapy. When Daniel and Chris become intimate, they cannot escape the minefield of their divergent experience of religion.

While the play tells of a flirtation around the office candy bowl that deepens into a relationship, Adams is perfect as Chris, whose understated sibling tones and measured physique suggest stoicism dulls the pain. Mainwaring skillfully displays Daniel’s vulnerability and exuberance, while Sasha Olinick brings the right ambivalence to the Father role and Joe Mallon channels The Therapist.

Focusing assiduously on sexuality and faith as consonant or conflicting forces, the piece can be heartbreaking, as when exploring Chris’ trauma. It’s clever, too, with dialogue that touches on topics like the nature of eternity (Chris imagines endlessly nested snow globes) and predestination.

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Yet the focus may seem too invariant. Notwithstanding the Mario Kart scene, one sometimes yearns for a brief change of subject or pacing to give even more relief to the central motifs of the tale. Production-wise, the occasional dollop of dance moves doesn’t help, registering as arty, and a recurring major cue is too much of a scary musical quote.

But with lively characterizations, poetry and intelligence, “In His Hands” testifies to the talent of up-and-coming playwright Benne. In one of the screenplay’s clever touches, Daniel and Chris recurrently recite inventories: logical errors. Candy brands. From the powerful moments of this piece, one could make a good list.

In his hands, by Benjamin Benne. Directed by José Carrasquillo; lighting design, William D’Eugenio; costumes, Moyenda Kulemeka; sound, Sarah O’Halloran; combat and intimacy director, Jonathan Ezra Rubin; assistant director, Erika Scott. About 95 minutes. $20 to $68 (in person); $40 (broadcast, July 6-17). Through July 17 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. 202-399-6764. mosaictheater.org.

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