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TRENDING | A.D. Players offers a truth-based perspective to Houston theatergoers

A scene from A.D. Players’ production of The Play That Goes Wrong Miranda Zaebst

Good stories, performed well
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At a recent play in Houston, cast members forgot lines and missed cues, and the set and the props malfunctioned. In other words, everything went off without a hitch. That’s because the play was called The Play That Goes Wrong, a comedy about a disastrous theater production.

Houston may be the Space City, but it also has an energetic arts scene and a wide array of theatrical options that reflect the city’s status as the most diverse in the nation. The A.D. Players, a Christian theater group, is a part of that varied artscape.

The group performs at the beautiful and newish George Theater, which has 440 seats and huge glass windows that look out toward Westheimer Road, a major artery in the bustling and high-end Galleria area. A.D. Players is “a Christian company that exists to further the kingdom of God,” said Jayme McGhan, the group’s executive artistic director. “We fly that flag proudly and without reservation.”

But that doesn’t mean every play or musical has a specifically Christian theme. The organization strives to serve audiences by prompting them to think about the world in a way that allows for a Christian perspective. Sometimes the group pursues this goal with distinctively Christian plays, but often A.D. Players stages productions with an uplifting message or components that allow for reflection. These stories, said McGhan, are “life-giving and -affirming, even if that demands walking through dark places first.”

Among the plays in the 2023-2024 season: Forever Plaid, A Texas Carol, Kingdom Undone, Driving Miss Daisy, Steel Magnolias, and Fiddler on the Roof.

Jeannette Clift-George founded the group as After Dinner Players 56 years ago. (That’s where the A.D. comes from—not anno Domini, as many assume.) The group produces six shows per year and bills itself as “the world’s leading Christian theater company.” It encourages rising artists and offers free tickets to premiere productions in its annual Metzler New Works Festival. It is also starting a new paid internship program beginning in August.

The group employs some of the best actors in the city, who often appear in other major productions in Houston. McGhan says he gets a lot of questions from Christians about the practice of employing nonbelievers as well as believers. Why is the group open to that?

A.D. Players in Smoke on the Mountain

A.D. Players in Smoke on the Mountain Miranda Zaebst

His answer: “Because that’s exactly what Jesus would do. All are welcome at A.D. Players. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done, or what lens you see the world through. You have a place in our house.” He says leaders of the group pray that “all would have an experience with the risen Christ” while working together.

A.D. Players’ shows appeal to both Christian and non-Christian audiences with family-friendly productions. An example is this summer’s musical Smoke on the Mountain, about a ­traveling family music group whose members “reveal their true—and hilariously imperfect—natures.”

But how does a play like The Play That Goes Wrong—an award-winning Broadway hit—fit in with the identity of a theater as “Christian”? McGhan, who gave up a tenured professorship at the University of North Georgia to join A.D. Players last year, explained that such selections are part of a bigger picture: “A big part of our identity and mission is bringing joy to our audiences. And there’s no better way to impart that joy than through laughter.”

Not only was The Play That Goes Wrong hilarious, with an intricate use of props, set, and staging, the audience was left marveling at how they coordinated everything that could possibly go wrong with a play so perfectly.

A big part of our identity and mission is bringing joy to our audiences. And there’s no better way to impart that joy than through laughter.

I’ve been a theater reviewer in Houston for over a decade, and I ­usually can’t stand slapstick or over-the-top physical comedy, but I was laughing the whole time in spite of myself. So was the rest of the packed house that night. But enthusiastic responses are the norm for their high-­quality productions.

The A.D. Players’ philosophy holds that good stories have an arc of redemption that edifies audiences and points them to God. This can be achieved through comedy, through darkness, through conflict, through tales of broken human beings grappling with sin.

McGhan says narratives—including some contemporary Christian ones—that water down sin can come across as disingenuous and false.

“We’re trying to be as genuine and honest as possible in the way we tell our stories, while also understanding that we have an obligation to edify and build up,” he said. “It’s a lovely, complicated little dance that never ceases to be interesting.”


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