Out of orders

DominicanFriar.jpgHow many stories have you seen about friars recently? It's a reasonable supposition that you haven't seen a lot recently, the news hole being what it is.

You probably know this already, but friars, as opposed to monks, don't live cloistered away from the world--and generally are expected to work for a living.

This story from the New York Times, about the new Blackfriars theater production, had the potential to be really good.

Instead, it's goofy in places that mar the wonderful story the writer wants to tell.

Actually, the lede is rather nice, emphasizing as it does the unique mission of this merry band of brothers:

Like the ancient Dominican friars who traveled from village to village to preach the word of God, the Rev. Peter John Cameron plans to take the Blackfriars Repertory Theater troupe and their play about Saint Paul on the road.

The play, "In Charge of the Fire," premiered early this month to full houses at downtown's Little Theater. Dana Sachs of New Haven and Tom Perretta of Stamford starred in the two-man show, which tells the Bible story of how Paul came to believe in God while on the road to Damascus in 36 A.D.

This last sentence is interesting--how does the writer know that St. Paul was converted on the Damascus road in 36 A.D., when scholars have been debating such dates for millenia? It's possible, though, that it's the Blackfriars who actually added the date, as a matter of dramatic license.

Then we have this sentence, a real classic of the genre:

Like all shows produced by this long-running Catholic theater group, "Fire" was more about realizations than religion -- something that surprised Nancy Goldstein of Branford, who attended a performance.

What's a "realization?" And is having one of them (are you guaranteed two with your ticket?) better than having, God forbid, a "religious" experience at a play? Consider how many plays have addressed religious themes (Godspell, Agnes of God, Les Miserables to name but a few) in ways that are aesthetic, experiential and theologically provocative. Unless, of course the writer means: propagandistic, evangelical, or preachy.

As we can see from this wonderful quote from the group's artistic director, Father Cameron the show is, in fact about fundamental questions of faith:

"A friar is a portable monk, and the theater is a portable art," said Father Cameron, 50, who grew up in Vernon. "The theater is also a wonderful place to take part in other people's stories and explore big questions like 'What do I believe?' in a very safe, intimate setting. It's an escape from the busyness of everyday life."

The theater is now, and has been for centuries, a wonderful place in which to do what Fr. Cameron is quoted as saying--invite your viewers into a story in such a way as to help them figure out what it is they they believe, or make them question their beliefs, or to reinforce what they already believe.

But the implied tension between religion (bad) and art (good), right down to the kicker quote, undercuts the story that the writer is trying to tell. This could have been a wonderful story about the ongoing work of a group of friars, or "portable monks" reaching out to audiences as they have for decades--instead, it become a strange combination of feature and morality tale--or should one say, an "anti-morality" tale?

Portrait of Dominican is from Wikimedia Commons

Please respect our Commenting Policy