“Man of God” Stages Vengeance for Survivors
Danny Reinan, copy editor
Four high school girls crowd a camera, each shouting out a variant of “What the fuck?!” The girls, members of a Korean Christian group on a mission trip in Bangkok, discovered this camera hidden in their hotel room bathroom – and each must come to terms with the fact that their trusted Pastor planted it there. How will this incident dredge up pain from their pasts? How will they hold Pastor to accounts? What does it mean that a supposed “man of God” could do something so vile? Theater Mu’s “Man of God,” directed by Katie Bradley, explores each of these questions with a deft blend of humor and horror, a dynamic set and authentic performances from the cast.
“Man of God” lives in a world of extremes, juxtaposing comedy with dark subject matter, including sexual abuse, eating disorders and religious corruption. Augsburg alumnus Dexieng Yang toed the line of these extremes with her character, Mimi, who hides deep angst about her familial abuse beneath a hot temper. “Mimi is angsty for a reason and she is hurt for a reason and we get to see and explore a bit of that,” said Yang. “Not just ‘this is the angry teenager’ character.”
Augsburg theater instructor Rich Remedios’ performance as Pastor was chilling. His eerie presence often earned audibly repulsed reactions from the audience – “The girls got all the laughter, but I could only get sounds of confusion and rage and anger,” he said. Playing such a villainous character brought the challenge of finding his humanity, which Remedios did by conveying Pastor’s veneer of trustworthiness, which he and many real abusers like him earn through amicability. “Otherwise he’s just a two-dimensional villain,” said Remedios. “That wouldn’t be interesting for me to play, and that wouldn’t be interesting for the audience to watch.”
The most striking moments of the play are the girls’ revenge fantasies, born from their collective fury and disillusionment. Each girl envisions how they would take revenge on Pastor, transforming the space for a Kung Fu battle and a noir-infused interrogation. Mimi’s revenge fantasy is especially striking for how it alters the hotel room – the bathroom blinds are opened to reveal a glimpse of the gore through bloodied towels and Pastor’s maimed body, and the room is dyed with eye-searing orange light as Mimi delivers the killing blow.
That malleability was essential, explained Augsburg instructor and set designer Sarah Bahr. “The set was designed so there could be quick and secret entrances, provide a space for each moment to be lit in dramatically different ways, and opportunities for blocking to enhance each scene,” she said. “The blinds in the bathroom created an obscured view of the horrific scene happening inside the bathroom, sometimes it’s scarier if you can’t fully see what is happening and your mind has to fill in the blanks!”
After the horrific nature of Pastor is revealed and the girls imagine their vengeances, the ending feels anticlimactic by design. The Pastor isn’t killed, or even implicated – he conjures an excuse for the girls to return home early, and brazenly pockets the planted camera directly in front of them. I could feel the audience around me seething in sync. We all wanted the Pastor to meet his end. Yet, this ending still carries a glimpse of hope – as they’re leaving the hotel room, he speaks to Kyung-hwa (played by Janet Scanlon) alone, putting a hand on her shoulder and complimenting her for being such a “sweet girl.” Kyung-hwa, who has spent the entire play searching for excuses for the Pastor’s actions, looks him dead in the eye and says “I’m gonna work on that.”
Although Pastor isn’t put to justice, it’s a small victory proclaiming that survivors can still find their voices, even if they’re not able to defeat their abusers. “For her to even just say to him, ‘I’m gonna work on that,’ it’s a deliberate step that she’s taking towards her own recovery, towards facing her demons,” said Remedios.
Yang finds meaning in the ending by tying it to the play’s inspiration – a buried incident that happened in a real Korean Christian church. “We don’t know what happened with the girls and where they ended up and the play does that similarly,” said Yang. “Only those involved know and understand what happened. And that’s okay that we, the people outside, don’t know the ending. The point that matters is that they survived.”