A comedy about the tension between faith and reason is now playing at the University of Wyoming as part of the UW Department of Theatre and Dance’s 2018-19 season.
“Below the Navel Above the Knees,” written and directed by playwright-in-residence William Missouri Downs, opened Wednesday at the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts Studio Theatre. Productions are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. today-Saturday and Oct. 11-13. Tickets are $14 for adults, $11 for seniors and $7 for students.
Downs, whose recent UW productions include “The Exit Interview,” “Women Playing Hamlet,” and “Fascism The Musical,” said audiences who have enjoyed his past work will also enjoy his latest production.
The title of “Below the Navel Above the Knees” references an area of the human body that’s off limits for discussion at a Bible college in rural Kansas, where an agnostic, liberal professor from California has taken a job.
“She’s not a believer, and I make fun of both liberal college professors and conservative Christians,” he said.
Downs called the comedy “controversial,” and said it wasn’t for everyone. Because of its content, it’s not intended for children.
“This is a comedy for those who want to have a damn-good belly laugh about the way the world is and not hide their head in the sand,” he said.
Downs said the play was inspired by current affairs in the country, “and how we are dividing into close-minded tribes.” Democracy doesn’t work, he said, if no one is willing to compromise.
He said a similar division reaches back to the founding of the country, which was shared between Christians seeking religious freedom and “enlightened people” who were trying to form a democracy.
“The enlightened side of America and the religious side of America have been at war with each other for a good 240 years, so I wanted to look at this and look at the difference between faith and reason,” he said.
Downs is known for writing controversial comedies, and there have been several attempts during his tenure to shut down his plays. He said universities should be places where people are free to question all points of view, and thus he aims to create theater that challenges audiences and makes them uncomfortable.
“Once again, I’m trying to hit a vein,” he said.
Downs has written eleven plays and four books and has written for several sitcoms. Last year, he worked with actor Jim Parsons of “The Big Bang Theory” on a TV pilot of “Below the Navel Above the Knees.” His plays have been produced more than 150 times in a dozen countries.