Playwright In A Pulpit
REVIEW by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES--David Rambo's GOD'S MAN IN TEXAS is a lowkey and
understated drama about the state of religion in the USA--make that Texas. Following in the satirical tradition of Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry, the play takes us inside the Rock Baptist Church in Houston which has been run as a fiefdom by 81-year old Dr. Philip Gottschall (George Coe).

The pastor is proud and protective of what he has achieved over the decades, building a church that has become rich, powerful and popular (with upperclass whites, anyway). With its showbiz- like Sunday ceremonies, its family-oriented social services (everything from recovery sessions to bowling alleys), its choral groups and TV programs, this is religion American-style, not only a big business but a political force, one that helped the Bushes gain the presidency.

When another Texan pastor, Dr Jerry Mears (Francis Guinan) is invited by the elders to preach at Rock Baptist, the play's main conflict is set in motion. Mears is not only younger but more idealistic, more interested in ministering than in marketing. Gottschall likes Mears, but as a son, a weak, naive son he can manipulate and control. Despite his age (and the wishes of the elders) the old man has no intention of giving up his pulpit.

When Mears begins to fight back, the play picks up in needed intensity and energy. Problem is, Rambo doesn't get to the main battle between the two opposing pastors until the second act. Had he started the play at this point, GOD'S MAN IN TEXAS would have generated a lot more heat and excitement. Instead, Rambo takes his time and settles for too much
exposition and setting-up in Act One, resulting in a work that feels as if it's long and slow at 2 1/2 hours. It could also use an injection of Sinclair Lewis-like hormones to pep it up.

Rambo does write excellent dialogue, though, and he's created a juicy
comic role for Ian Barford, who plays Hugo Taney, an assistant to Gottschalk who came to the church via drugs, booze, hookers and juke joints. Hugo helps ground the play, giving it an earthy wit that balances all the theological talk about the best way to serve The Man Upstairs.

GOD'S MAN is directed by the Geffen's artistic director, Randall Arney, who came to L.A. from Chicago's Steppenwolf. Barford and Guinan are also from Steppenwolf; together with Coe they have mounted a capable but only fitfully engaging production. (At the Geffen Playhouse through March 17. 10886 Le Conte Ave, Westwood. Call (310) 208-5454 or visit