The world premiere of "5" opens with a prayer and ends with a meditation so, yes, there is some church in it.
JuCoby Johnson's comedy/drama is set in Big Jay's, a Georgia convenience store run by friends Evan (Eric Hagen) and Jay (JuCoby Johnson), whose fathers opened it.
Early on, the talk is about the future — Jay has meal-prepped for a week, there's a mural to be finished at some point and he wants to fix things with estranged girlfriend June (Isabella Dawis) — but there are also signs of a troubled future. The neighborhood is gentrifying, with a developer (Dana Lee Thompson) haunting Big Jay's, and a freelance preacher/prophet (Aaron Todd Douglas) claims the end is near.
One great thing about Johnson's very good — and sometimes thrilling — play is its sense of history. The five characters speak with the distinctive rhythms, gestures and words of real people. We believe they have known one another for a long time.
The characters have history, which is also true of Chelsea M. Warren's scenic design. You can practically feel the air coming out of the ducts in the set, which bears signs of being halfheartedly remodeled a few times. There's also this: Near the ceiling are stenciled words from the Bible's book of Acts, a verse about the world's last days that speaks of visions and dreams. Do the characters see those words? Or is it just us?
The apocalypse is definitely on the table, literally and metaphorically (will this neighborhood disappear in the midst of new luxury condos?). Still, the characters proceed with their lives because who ever thinks the world is about to end?
So, "5" is very, very funny and even romantic, in a sweet moment when Jay and June promise to tell each other everything — even as we sense something epic and dangerous and scary is coming.
Director H. Adam Harris nimbly brings those elements together. The tight ensemble clicks, with listening that is especially keen, overlapping dialogue that seems almost musical and a brawl that packs a wallop (Annie Enneking was the fight consultant for "5" and for History Theatre's "Diesel Heart," both of which opened Saturday).
Harris and Johnson make sure that "5" has a constant sense of discovery; obviously, the company knows what will happen next but, partly because the potential outcomes are so huge, the audience is in a constant state of surprise.
That's why it's best not to give away too much of what happens in "5." It's classically constructed, with hints of past events that, when revealed, color how we view the characters. But it's also clear that Johnson is willing to explode things if that's what we — and the characters — need in order to pay attention.
All the plot movement comes out of character in the first act of "5," but that's not as true in the second act, which depends slightly too much on explain-y soliloquies.
We still care about these people, though, and Johnson gets them to a good place, facing enormous changes together and, as Jay says, trying to figure out what's next.
Who: By JuCoby Johnson. Directed by H. Adam Harris.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends April 16.
Where: 2951 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.
Tickets: Pay-as-you-can to $45, jungletheater.org.