Renee Calarco is onto something when she suggests in her new play, “The Religion Thing,” that America’s biggest taboo isn’t talking about sex — or even, as plays such as “Clybourne Park” might have it, race. No, it’s talking about faith.
The uncomfortable silences that sometimes follow a public confession of devoutness are reproduced amusingly in this world-premiere comedy, which had its official opening Monday night in Theater J’s Goldman Theater. Now, if Calarco would only trust her premise and cut some of the clunkier conceits in this overreaching effort, she might see her way clear to a taut, provocative satire. In downshifting too often from sociological insight to ill-advised bursts of magic realism and other cutesyness, “The Religion Thing” squanders much of its comic momentum.
The play, directed by the dramatist’s brother, Joe Calarco, launches Theater J’s Locally Grown festival, an important new showcase for District playwrights. Over the next two months, the company will present readings of works by four other writers from the region, as well as several performances of “The Prostate Dialogues,” a new solo piece by Baltimore-based Jon Spelman.