Sunday, June 17, 2007

Let yourself be moulded by love: Our God's Brother

Well, as I indicated in the post below, my general reaction to the play was "wow." The little theater (next to the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin) was packed (they had an extra row of fold-out chairs to accomodate everyone) and I spotted several young religious (the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal were immediately recongizable) and religieuse in the crowd. I knew nothing at all about the background of the play, or even the outline of the story (I'd decided not to read too much before hand so I could go in with fewer preconceptions). It is very clearly Wojtyla's writing though -- dense, verbose, abstract, serious: for instance, the play opens to a scene with two artists debating the nature of art and the responsibility of the artist to himself and to truth. The dialogue doesn't descend from that intellectual level. I concentrated hard on every word.

You can get a synopsis in the links below ... what really struck me were the powerful, soul-wrenching soliloquies where the main protagonist, Adam (I thought his name also reflected his status as everyman, as representing all men and women. And the painting that he is struggling to create is an Ecce Homo, which, thanks to some brilliant stage direction, is slowly illuminated in the background in the middle of the play. As it turns out, there is a historical reference to the name as well -- see below), wrestles with his calling with the devil tempting him (the reviewer listed below seemed to think that this was the voice of God! Nope!) to ignore the reality of the suffering of the poor and to focus only on intelligence and knowledge. "Love kills knowledge!" At many levels, apart from the struggle to discern one's call and the voice of God (yup yup, that's what I'm doing right now as well, right?), there was clearly a debate between Marxism -- crying out for revolution and the channeling of the righteous anger of suffering workers and the poor -- and Christianity. In one powerful scene, Adam is pouring out his heart to a priest in confession. I wish I could remember the exact dialogue (I'll have to get a copy of the play itself!), but the priest presents a beautiful image of the Christian path as self-emptying reliance on grace, and then adds, "Let yourself be moulded by love." In the final scene, as the chaos of revolution advances from the town towards the poor house and the small religious community, Adam seems to be sympathetic to the anger exploding all around, but adds, "I have chosen the path of greater freedom."

I went not knowing at all what to expect and got a fantastic -- visceral even -- performance by a talented cast, which supported the weighty text most brilliantly.

Having Googled around a bit, I learn that the play was Pope John Paul's dedication to the life of St. Albert Chmielowski (Adam Hilary Bernard Chmielowski), a 19th century Polish freedom fighter and artist who founded a religious order dedicated to serving the poor and homeless, the Albertines. Pope John Paul canonized St. Albert in 1989. The play has also been made into a movie.

Now I really want to go see the other play on offer -- The Jeweller's Shop. It seems to be an even more challenging text, and the ideas eventually ended up in Bishop Wojtyla's "Love and Responsibility" and later on in his Theology of the Body. I think I'll be back in Midtown at 2:00 pm tomorrow.


NYTheater.com review of both plays
. More stories and links at the Storm Theatre website. I learned about these performances through this informative piece John Allen did on the festival and the artistic director, Peter Dobbins, in May.

[I should add that I was very pleased to see a Paulist thanked in the acknowledgments in the program (which I forgot in the theater!) -- Fr. Dave Dwyer CSP of Busted Halo fame. Supporting this kind of initiative, it would seem to me, is very much in line with the Society's mission.]

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