Performance » Theater

The Stage is a Calling

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On a drizzly Monday afternoon, I duck into the back of Christ Church Cathedral (125 Monument Circle) about 10 minutes after the noon service has begun. The pew creaks loudly when I sit down and I wince. Shortly after, however, a man in a suit comes in, crashes onto a nearby seat, drags the hassock toward him, and half-applauds when he clasps his hands together in prayer. Anyone who is paying attention has likely forgotten about me.

A group of about six men are gathered at the front of the sanctuary, a grand expanse of dark wood and stained glass that reminds me immediately of the Episcopal churches I grew up attending. The preacher, Gray Lesesne ("le-sane") leads the men in worship. In a short 20 minutes he and the congregants celebrate the Eucharist, which includes communion service, exchanging greetings and the Lord's Prayer (which I automatically find myself reciting). After shaking hands with Lesesne, the men depart, some of them likely headed back to nearby office buildings. Inside the quiet and calm of the church, it's easy to forget about the hustle and bustle of downtown Indy at lunchtime.

Gray Lesesne discusses his role in the upcoming play The Death of Me, playing this week at IndyFringe. - JENN KRISCUNAS
  • Jenn Kriscunas
  • Gray Lesesne discusses his role in the upcoming play The Death of Me, playing this week at IndyFringe.

An associate pastor, Lesesne has been with Christ Church for six years. He grew up in South Carolina and attended seminary in Virginia, serving congregations in his home state and New Jersey before answering the call to come to Indianapolis. "I wanted to be in an urban church that was really doing things in the middle of the city," he says, adding that Christ Church is a welcoming and friendly atmosphere with lots of activities.

Lesesne keeps himself busy outside of his church duties, including taking on roles in local theater productions. He's played a self-described mama's boy, a 1950s doctor with a mentally ill wife and a regular Joe in a work environment similar to former TV series The Office. He's currently in The Death of Me, an IndyFringe show by Canadian playwright Norm Foster. Lesesne describes the play as mainstream among Fringe's more experimental theater, even though the protagonist, John Adderly, dies suddenly and meets the Angel of Death:

John: Your receptionist said ... she said I'm dead.
Angel: I'm sorry. That was a mistake. She shouldn't have said that.
John: You mean I'm not dead?
Angel: Oh, no, you're dead alright. It's just that I like to break that news to folks myself. It comes under the heading of 'perks.'

Adderly strikes a deal with the angel to go back to Earth and correct some wrongs he felt he made in his life. He quickly finds out it's not as easy to do as he thought.

Gray Lesesne will be performing in "The Death of Me" with acting troupe Assorted Fruits and Vegetables at IndyFringe. - JENN KRISCUNAS
  • Jenn Kriscunas
  • Gray Lesesne will be performing in "The Death of Me" with acting troupe Assorted Fruits and Vegetables at IndyFringe.

The play is performed by a company called Assorted Fruits and Vegetables, which Lesesne describes as "a good way of summarizing the Kingdom of God in general." They have worked hard during the past few weeks to get ready for the stage. Lesesne describes his castmates as being really passionate about good theater, and he's pleased that Indy is a "world-class city in terms of theater ... with lots of venues that let amateurs try their hand" at the craft.

He says his one regret is not pursuing a theater degree in college. "I've always [acted] as a side hobby, kind of an avocation. I would love to be professional actor, but another calling came my way."

Lesesne's ability to perform in local plays is dependent on his liturgical schedule, but says "the church has been really great about saying 'We know you need to do something that feeds you,' so they've given me time and space to act when I can." He adds, "The acting is something that's mine ... it's kind of a spiritual discipline for me. A good church, good liturgy is in some ways good theater ... helping people connect with something beyond themselves."

The Reverend Canon Gray Lesesne gives a sermon during a noonday service at Christ Church Cathedral, a building that features extensive stained-glass work. - JENN KRISCUNAS
  • Jenn Kriscunas
  • The Reverend Canon Gray Lesesne gives a sermon during a noonday service at Christ Church Cathedral, a building that features extensive stained-glass work.

Though his fantasy is to one day be in a show at the IRT or Phoenix Theatre, Lesesne knows how much more work that would require. For now, he's happy in smaller productions, performing for theatergoers that sometimes include members of his congregation. "It's great for them to see that pastors are real people too," the actor says with a smile.

The Death of Me is being staged at Theatre on the Square (627 Mass Ave.) on Stage Two. Remaining performances are:
Saturday, Aug. 16: 1:30 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 17: 9 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 18: 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 22: 6 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 23: 9 p.m.

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