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On the Rooftop with Bill Sears, a new one-man show about the Bahá'í Faith written and performed by Drama Circle playwright and artistic director Mark Perry (A Dress for Mona), is a thought-provoking piece about former Philadelphia radio broadcaster and early 1950s children's show host William Sears (1911-92). Sears is a prominent figure in the Bahá'í Faith community in America, but is largely unknown to the rest of us. Consequently, the story of his abandonment of a lucrative broadcasting career in order to proselytize for his faith lacks the resonance of a story about a more familiar figure and a more familiar faith. Indeed, the audience is never told when and why Sears converted.
All this is not to say that the current Drama Circle and Flying Machine Theatre Company joint presentation of On the Rooftop with Bill Sears, smartly staged by Flying Machine artistic director Julian "J" Chachula, Jr. on a beautifully detailed set by Jeff Marvin, is not first rate. It is. Mark Perry is a charismatic actor who smoothly slips beneath the skin of the complicated title character and utterly charms the audience while relating the details of his religious conversion without mentioning the Bahá'í Faith, which Encyclopædia Britannica identifies as a "religion founded in Iran in the mid-19th century by Mirza Hoseyn 'Ali Nuri, who is known as Baha' Ullah (Arabic: 'Glory of God'). The cornerstone of Baha'i belief is the conviction that Baha' Ullah and his forerunner, who was known as the Bab, were manifestations of God, who in his essence is unknowable." (Note: To learn more about the Bahá'í Faith, visit http://www.bahai.org/ [inactive 9/04].)
My main problem with On the Rooftop with Bill Sears is, until Sears mentions Baha' Ullah — a climactic moment near the end the show — he could be describing a traditional belief in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and his commitment to work full time for a mainstream Christian denomination. Indeed, there is little concrete to inform the casual observer what motivated Bill Sears' conversion (presumably) from Christianity to the Bahá'í Faith.
Consequently, accepting an invitation to attend On the Rooftop with Bill Sears, without knowing its faith agenda, would be a little like the time one of my South Carolina cousins invited my girlfriend and me over to his new house at North Myrtle Beach for a few drinks, and then whipped out his sales materials and tried to recruit us to sell Amway products. Only the soft sell in On the Rooftop with Bill Sears is so faint that the non-Bahá'í audience members may leave the theater wondering what just happened, and who the heck is Baha' Ullah?
The Drama Circle and Flying Machine Theatre Company present On the Rooftop with Bill Sears Friday-Saturday, April 23-24, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 25, at 3 p.m. in the PSI Theatre, Durham Arts Council, 120 Morris St., Durham, North Carolina. $8-$12. 919/594-1140. Note: There will be a talk-back session after each performance. The Drama Circle: http://www.dramacircle.org/. Flying Machine Theatre Company: http://www.flyingmachine.dreamhost.com/. Script: http://www.dramacircle.org/Plays%20&%20Excerpts/ontherooftop.htm. The Bahá'í World: http://www.bahai.org/ [inactive 9/04].