Elijah Williams Makes A case for the Existence of God

by | Apr 10, 2024

Acclaimed Seymour Centre favourites, Outhouse Theatre Co (Consent, Ulster American) returns with an Australian premiere from one of America’s most celebrated contemporary playwrights. A case for the Existence of God is Samuel Hunter’s heart-wrenching, compassionate, and achingly funny exploration of empathy where two unlikely strangers (Anthony Gooley and Elijah Williams) discover they share a “specific kind of sadness”.

For actor Elijah Williams, both the play and theatre company hold a special place in his heart.

“Firstly, I love working with Outhouse Theatre Co. They played a big part in my early career when I did The Rolling Stone with them, ” says Williams referencing the 2018 production. “That was a really formative and enriching experience so I’m super excited to be back working with them.

The play itself absolutely hooked me. The chance to do such an intimate play with only one other actor, while exploring huge themes, like friendship, fatherhood, resilience, and empathy is very exciting. Keith is a beautiful character. A fully realised, complicated black man with his own hopes, dreams, flaws & fears. Keith is someone who is no stranger to feeling like an insider in his small town of Twin Falls, Idaho. I can certainly relate to the ‘otherness’ that he experiences.”

Williams says he would love to see more of this kind of substantial, well-written BIPOC roles on our stages.

Williams plays Keith, a mortgage broker who resides in a small town in Idaho, called Twin Falls. He is also the gay, single foster father to a very young girl. The other character in the play, Ryan, comes to his office to get help securing a loan to buy some land. This meeting is the leaping off point of the play as we watch the men gradually form a deep, affecting bond.

“I love Keith’s resilience! He’s facing a whole bunch of challenges in his life. It can’t be easy being a gay, black man in small town Idaho. He is also intent on adopting his foster daughter & is terrified of losing her. With all these stresses coming at him, he keeps putting one foot in front of the other and is determined not to buckle. Which I find quietly courageous.”

Williams says the play depicts characters and themes that we don’t often see on stage or screen. It’s a really beautiful portrayal of male intimacy in many ways. “When we see two men on stage, and screen together, they are often fighting or flirting, he says. “But that’s not what this play is about. I think Samuel wants to show us the possibilities of deep, platonic friendship. I think it’s important to see portrays of healthy, heartfelt masculinity, and not just the toxic, conflict driven stuff we often see.”

Williams also stresses that fatherhood, and especially Black fatherhood, is not often depicted with this kind of substance or depth.

“We also see both men, really struggling with the economic and social pressures around them. The play looks at the impossible hurdles facing many people who are trying to own a home or find some form of financial security. With the current real estate and cost-of-living crises playing out across Sydney, I think this will resonate with a lot of people.”

Winner of Best Play by New York Drama Critics’ Circle in 2022 and named one of the best plays by New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Vulture and Time Out New York, Samuel Hunter is also the writer of Academy award winning The Whale. Williams says he loves the complexity of Hunter’s writing describing both characters as fully realised and well rounded.

“They are very complicated and flawed human beings who don’t always say the right thing or behave in particularly noble ways”, he says. “Which makes them fascinating to play and watch. There is also a gentleness and delicacy to his writing. It’s just brimming with empathy, heart and wit. He does this amazing thing where he offers so much hope without it veering into sentimentality. He is writing about very current, real-world concerns so he doesn’t shy away from how tough life can be for many people. But it’s not a dirge! It’s funny and warm and compassionate. And, like I said, he shows us that there is hope and resilience to be found amongst the tough stuff.”

As a two-hander Williams describes the rehearsals as incredibly intimate, with only two actors, the director and stage manager in the room.

“So, it’s very focussed, detailed work. It’s actually quite tiring! It’s a play that requires so much focus and finesse that I’m finding myself pretty wiped at the end of the day. But these challenges are exhilarating and very much worth it. Probably the most exciting element is getting to work with Anthony Gooley who plays Keith. He’s an incredibly generous collaborator who has helped make this process so fun and stimulating.”

As an actor. Williams loves stories that grapple with the realities of living in our modern world. “It’s always exciting to see playwrights engage directly with current issues and the challenges we all have living on this planet. I would love to have the opportunity to keep exploring complex characters. People like Keith who have rich and complicated inner lives.”

Infused with humour, honesty and grace, Hunter’s extraordinary play shows us that, maybe, there’s hope for us all.

Says Williams, “In a world that seems to be full of conflict and volatility, A Case for the Existence of God is a beautiful and hopeful antidote to cynicism. I would love audiences to come and see a play that shows us some the beautiful things that are possible when we open up to one another and seek connection. It’s a play that offers hope and embraces the common humanity that human beings share. In a tough & combative world, I think that’s really worth engaging with.

April 11 – May 4

A Case for the Existence of God – Book Now | Seymour Centre

Images: Richard Farland

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