Adam Gerber, the 34-year-old New Yorker portraying Associate Pastor Joshua in Center Stage’s current production of “The Christians,” didn’t hesitate to consider the role when his agent called, although he said he learned a thing or two when he began doing research for the role.
Gerber, who is Jewish, grew up on Long Island and attended Temple Beth Sholom, a Conservative synagogue in Roslyn Heights. He said the religious aspects of the play and the character he portrays were not a barrier for him because, as an actor, he digs down to find the universal human element that he can relate to.
And he’s studied his craft.
He holds a bachelor’s in theater from George Washington University and attended the Stella Adler Conservatory, where he went on to teach voice and speech and direct productions for three more years. He then earned a master’s of fine arts at The Old Globe and the University of San Diego’s Shiley Graduate Theatre program.
“It was one of those plays where the play really hits you,” he said. “I related. I was taken in by the characters experiences. I wanted it. And I felt like it hit a chord with me.”
The plot of “The Christians” revolves around a megachurch pastor who has a crisis of faith, rejecting a belief in hell, and changes church ‘[policy. That creates a schism in the church, with which the play’s characters, including Gerber’s Associate Pastor Joshua, have to struggle.
“I think I identified with the fight of why it’s important to try to hold on,” Gerber said. “Especially when you’re coming from a place where you might not have that compass; you might not have that direction. So, I just thought that was a human experience that I identified with.”
The on-stage “church” includes local choirs, such as New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore, which Gerber visited during rehearsals. While doing research for the role, which included watching videos, sermons and lectures on YouTube, Gerber came to a conclusion about religion.
“I’m left with a wonderful feeling, which is that I think we’re all saying the same thing,” he said. “And I think that’s beautiful. I can find the beauty in going to New Psalmist Church. It’s a place of sanctuary, it’s a place of worship and I feel that presence there, as I feel it in synagogue and as I feel it in other places that are not even places of sanctuary.”
And although he had no religious concerns about taking the part, Gerber said his mother got a chuckle out of it.
“What’s so wonderful about this play is that it doesn’t set out to say believe this or believe that,” Gerber said. “It doesn’t set out to answer any questions that it poses. It just kind of asks the questions and leaves the audience with how those questions affect people.”
“But in regards to my mother — I think it was more ironic for her,” he added. Gerber’s mother is the daughter of Holocaust survivors who grew up in Cuba; her parents escaped from Poland during the war.
“Of course she understands I’ll play any part that I feel is appropriate, that works for me,” Gerber said. “But I think there’s a little bit of a chuckle when she talks to my Uncle Schmiel, or something, and she says, ‘Guess what, Adam’s playing a pastor,’ and he’s laughing on the phone.”
The play, written by Lucas Hnath is directed by Hana Sharif, an African American Sunni Muslim. Gerber said the inclusion of the Baltimore choirs reinforces Center Stage’s mission of involving the community.
“This experience has really been wonderful. This theater, specifically, and the mission to include these choirs, to include the people of Baltimore in this play, who are not actors, that to me is the mission of theater,” he said. “To get the whole community, the whole city involved in something that is very important that helps us ask questions and leave the theater thinking. I think this theater has that at the forefront.”