“In His Hands” explores queer love, trauma and faith at the Wallis Theater


Photo courtesy of Ismael Lara, Jr.

Actors in rehearsal for “In His Hands.” The play runs Jan. 28 to 30 at the Hal and Martha Heyer Wallis Theater in the Wirtz Center.

Alexa Crowder, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

Content warning: This article contains mentions of conversion therapy and suicide.

In summer 2019, Ismael Lara, Jr. sat in a coffee shop and read a new play by Yale MFA playwriting candidate Benjamin Benne.

Instantly moved, Lara said he knew he had to direct a production of Benne’s work. The play, “In His Hands,” became his next project as an MFA directing candidate at Northwestern. It will premiere Jan. 28 to 30 at the Wirtz Center’s Hal and Martha Hyer Wallis Theater.

The show tells the love story of two men as they navigate their relationships with Christianity and past trauma. The play contains scenes mentioning conversion therapy and suicide, which may be triggering for some audiences.

“Immediately, I felt so seen as a queer person who has a really complex relationship with religion and with the men that I’ve come across in my life,” Lara said. “I so related to this play.”

This production of “In His Hands” is particularly special because the work is so new, Lara said. Its world premiere will come later this year at the Mosaic Theater Company in Washington, D.C.

Communication senior Brandon Acosta, who plays Daniel, said he appreciates the story’s nuanced approach to the intersection of queerness and Christianity.

“There’s a lot of queer media that loves to represent Christianity as this very violent system and structure — and it has been to that community, and that’s so very valid,” Acosta said. “And then there’s so much Christian media that loves to paint queer people as sinful, debaucherous people, and that is so dense. It’s so interesting to navigate the complexity within all of that.”

Lara and his team faced many obstacles between his first read of the play to its opening night.

The show was originally slated for the 2020-21 academic year but was postponed due to COVID-19. This month, the cast and crew had to prepare virtually for two weeks during Wildcat Wellness. When in-person activity resumed, they staged the entire show in just three days.

Even with scheduling challenges and the show’s serious subject matter, Communication senior Tom Avery said they’ve constantly felt supported by the entire team.

“Ever since the first moment, the rehearsal process has been the most wonderful, loving and caring space, which I think is really a necessity for a show of this material,” Avery said.

To begin creating this environment, Lara addressed the cast and crew on the first day of rehearsals, a practice taught in the MFA directing program to establish the director’s point of view on the show.

Both Avery and Lara remember the speech as a defining moment in the process as Lara articulated what the show meant to him.

“This play is for our younger selves. For the young boys who were told that who they were was wrong, that they were condemned, that they didn’t deserve to be loved,” Lara said. “Actually, we can subvert all of those things. We are not in the wrong. We are not ill-fated and we can be loved.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @AlexaCrowder

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