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BY LESLYE HEADLAND
DIRECTED BY TRIP CULLMAN
IN ASSOCIATION WITH RED YES STUDIO, RACHEL SUSSMAN, AND SEAVIEW
RODA THEATRE

JAN 26–MAR 3, 2024
TICKETS NOW ON SALE

 

Boisterous…funny…family dysfunction soars

San Francisco Chronicle

With lots of humor, much wit, perceptive writing, well-crafted multi-faceted characters and a perfect sense of timing…Cult of Love is an outstanding play with so much meat on its bones I would happily see it again.

Berkeleyside

Equal parts dark comedy, withering drama and musical feast

Chad Jones’ Theater Dogs

This Cult has universal appeal…. You may not always feel sorry for the members of the family Dahl but you sure do feel seen.

San Jose Mercury News

Everything simultaneously tickles and stings…. This is an ensemble performance not to be missed.

Bay Area Reporter

Wry and wrenching…masterfully directed by Trip Cullman

SFist

[Playwright Leslye] Headland is not afraid to confront complex themes of religion and love and existential challenges and politics in ways that surprise, move, and enlighten…. This complex play is brought off to perfection by an amazing company of actors who have been directed like a fine symphony orchestra.

TheatreStorm

 

From Leslye Headland (Russian Doll, Bachelorette, and the upcoming Star Wars series The Acolyte), a provocative drama about a deeply Christian family who claim all you need is love. The four Dahl siblings were brought up with a devotion to Jesus and each other. Now adults with their own distinct beliefs and years of baggage, they gather once again for the holidays at their childhood home, singing joyous carols and reenacting family rituals until the forced cheer, alcohol, and repressed feelings shatter the façade and all hell breaks loose. Cult of Love dares to challenge our perceptions of faith, family, and love.

 

Production information

Runtime: One hour and 40 minutes; no intermission

Stage effects advisory: None

Content advisory: Contains profanity, discussion of addiction, and depictions of mental illness, homophobia, religious trauma, and self-harm

 

Read digital program

There is something cathartic about watching family dynamics unfold on stage. They can tap into a universal truth about the intricacies of human relationships, even when the story’s circumstances are uniquely specific to another family or period. Because of this, the American family drama has become a staple in the canon of great works for the stage, from the Lomans in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman to the Tyrones in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, and the Youngers in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Every few years a new play emerges that revisits the classic structure and tropes — uncovering family secrets, navigating sibling rivalries, or instigating intergenerational healing — while adding its own unique spin. This ever-growing list includes recent hits like Stephen Karam’s The Humans, Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County, and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' Appropriate (currently on Broadway). At Berkeley Rep, we are thrilled to add another play to the conversation, Cult of Love by renowned playwright and screenwriter Leslye Headland.

 

Cult of Love introduces us to the Dahls, a devout Christian family, as they navigate one of the most joyful and harrowing days for gathering, Christmas Eve. Leslye’s writing perfectly captures the dynamics of the contemporary family drama while injecting her trademark brand of dark humor. Reading the play for the first time, I was immediately struck by the musical complexity of its structure, which utilizes overlapping dialogue and songs to highlight moments of familial dissonance and harmony. Amidst the apparent (though carefully orchestrated) chaos of this 10-character ensemble play, there is a delicate balance between levity and depth, drama and comedy, faith and frustration, love and trauma. A play like Leslye’s demands the attention of a director-slash-conductor capable of weaving together the various parts into one cohesive event.

 

Having had the pleasure of serving as Trip Cullman’s assistant director on several occasions in my early career, I have witnessed the way he understands that cultivating interpersonal relationships among a cast is tantamount to digging into the scripted roles and relationships, especially when creating a family. Making space for each actor to draw from their own personal narratives and discover the quirks between their scene partners and translating them into their relationships onstage adds layers of hypernaturalism and truth to this story. It helps build the impression of years of inherited history and shared memories that underscore family conflicts. With only a few weeks of rehearsal and a play that demands actors to listen with every part of their body, this cast, comprised of actors from the Bay Area, New York, and Los Angeles (many of whom have never worked together) quickly tapped into the familial rhythms and rituals and unlocked decades of deep connections, wounds, and an abundance of love. It is awe-inspiring to see.

 

We invite you to immerse yourself in the rich traditions of the Dahl family, sharing in laughter, arguments, song, and fostering compassion for those you may not understand. Having just spent the holidays at home with my own family I recognize that the Dahl family may look and sound wildly different than my own but watching them navigate the tension between their fierce love and their inability to truly see one another triggers deep empathy. I can see reflections of myself and my family, both blood and chosen, in the relationships onstage, and I hope you too find those in the play.

 

David Mendizábal
Associate Artistic Director

Cast

William “Bill” Dahl | Dan Hiatt*

Virginia “Ginny” Dahl | Luisa Sermol*

Mark Dahl | Lucas Near-Verbrugghe*

Rachel Dahl | Molly Bernard*

Evie Dahl | Virginia Kull*

Pippa Ferguson | Cass Buggé*

Diana Dahl Bennett | Kerstin Anderson*

James Bennett | Christopher Lowell*

Johnny Dahl | Christopher Sears*

Loren Montgomery | Vero Maynez (Jan 26–Feb 25)

Loren Montgomery | Emily Ota* (Feb 26–Mar 3)

 

Understudies
(in alphabetical order)

Diana Dahl Bennett/Evie Dahl | Jess Andrews*

James Bennett/Johnny Dahl/Mark Dahl | Ben Euphrat*

Virginia “Ginny” Dahl | Sharon Lockwood*

Loren Montgomery/Pippa Ferguson/Rachel Dahl | Emily Ota* (Jan 26–Feb 25)

William “Bill” Dahl | Robert Parsons*

 

Creative team

Scenic Design | Arnulfo Maldonado

Costume Design | Sophia Choi

Lighting Design | Heather Gilbert

Sound Design | Darron L West

Music Director and Arrangements | Jacinth Greywoode

Casting | Stephen Kopel, CSA; Carrie Gardner, CSA

Stage Manager | Leslie M. Radin*

Assistant Stage Manager | Emma Walz*

* Indicates a member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional stage actors and stage managers in the United States

Closed captioning Closed captioning

Closed captioning on your smartphone is available for every matinee except Feb 29. See all closed captioning performances. Learn more about our accessibility programs.

 

Events and extras

Docent-led postshow discussions
Join your fellow audience members after all matinees for a thought-provoking postshow discussion led by our knowledgeable docents.

 

Health and safety

Masks are required for audiences in our theatre on all Sundays (matinees and evenings) and Tuesdays. Masks are encouraged but optional for performances from Wednesday through Saturday. Visit our health and safety page for updates on our requirements for audience members.

See and hear

Audience react to Cult of Love

Official trailer: Cult of Love

Leslye Headland and Trip Cullman talk Cult of Love

(l to r) Lucas Near-Verbrugghe (Mark Dahl), Dan Hiatt (William "Bill" Dahl), Vero Maynez (Loren Montgomery), and Luisa Sermol (Virginia "Ginny" Dahl) in Leslye Headland's Cult of Love.

Photo by Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Kerstin Anderson (Diana Dahl Bennett), Lucas Near-Verbrugghe (Mark Dahl), and Virginia Kull (Evie Dahl) in Leslye Headland's Cult of Love.

Photo by Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

The cast of Leslye Headland's Cult of Love.

Photo by Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Season sponsors

BART Peet's Coffee

Photo by Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

(l to r) Cass Buggé (Pippa Ferguson), Kerstin Anderson (Diana Dahl Bennett), Virginia Kull (Evie Dahl, kneeling), Luisa Sermol (Virginia "Ginny" Dahl), and Lucas Near-Verbrugghe (Mark Dahl) in Leslye Headland's Cult of Love.

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