Tag Archives: theater

Demons on stage in Minneapolis

May 3, 2011


The Screwtape Letters is coming to the Twin Cities for a few days in mid-May. Everything I have read says the theatrical adaptation is faithful to the brilliant and widely loved C.S. Lewis book.

Has anyone seen it or heard differently?

View the promotional video.

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From Shakespeare’s quill to our lips

February 25, 2008


“Shakespeare: The World as Stage,”
by Bill Bryson

William Shakespeare’s birth was recorded in Latin, but he dies in English.

It’s a factoid that summarizes well the impact that playwright and poet Will Shakespeare had on his native tongue — and it’s been a lasting impact. More than 400 years later; English speakers around the globe use — without knowing their source — words and phrases created by the Bard of Avon.

If you’ve ever said, one fell swoop, vanish into thin air, be in a pickle, cold comfort, foul play, tower of strength, you’ve been quoting Shakespeare.

Bill Bryson points to a dozen or so words first found in Shakespeare, too, but he digs up little known facts about Shakespeare the man, not just the literary figure, to keep the interest of any reader, not just wordsmiths.

Bryson posits, for example, that Shakespeare exploited the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1586), leveraging renewed British patriotism to stage his history plays to the audiences of the day.

Those audiences were working people primarily, evidence that Will knew how to write for the masses. Although late 16th century laborers were poor, they found Shakespeare’s plays worth spending a pence or two to get into the Globe Theater for a “groundling” spot.

A couple times throughout the book there references to Shakespeare’s religion. Was he Catholic? Not enough evidence to say one way or the other, Bryson concludes, but what his research offers is insight into the anti-Catholic prejudice of the day.

Catholics were seen as such a threat to the government after the failed “Powder Treason” of 1604, where 36 barrels of gunpowder were found in a cellar beneath Westminster Palace and one Guy Fawkes waiting for the signeal to light the fuse. Bryson reports, “The reaction against Catholics was swift and decisive. They were barred from key professions and, for a time, not permitted to travel more than five miles from home. A law was even proposed to make them wear striking and preposterous hats, for ease of identification, but it was never enacted.”

There’s much, much more about who Shakespeare knew, who influenced his work, the royalty who supported him and his players, and plenty of investigation into the literary question that continues through the centuries: Did Shakespeare really write everything attributed to Shakespeare?

You aren’t likely to be interested in the details that Bryson goes into, but he’s such a good writer even those parts go quickly in this brief, 199-page book. Bryson makes even Will’s will interesting reading. — bz

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Priest gets inside scoop on NY theater scene and theater people

February 7, 2008


“A Jesuit-Off Broadway: Center Stage with Jesus, Judas, and Life’s Big Questions,” By Father James Martin, SJ, Loyola Press

“A Jesuit Off-Broadway” is a tell-all book.

Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote”) is in it.
You won’t find the latest dirt on him, but you will find Hoffman explain how, in directing “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” he wanted the audience “to see a Christ who fought for people with desperate conviction,” who was “tough and real and exciting.”

You will read what actors struggle with in their personal lives, what they think about religion, and how they grow in understanding the spirituality of their art.

And you will read about a priest-author whose time with the theater company reminds him not only why he entered the Society of Jesus but of the essential truth of Christianity.

Asked to be the theological adviser for a play, Jesuit Father James Martin’s pulls the curtain back to show what theater is like, as you might expect, but more importantly what theater people are like.

The play itself is created on-the-go, built up from a mere concept into a script with action. Along the way Father Jim, as the cast calls him, is asked to explain the teachings of the church on forgiveness, how Scripture came about, how Jesus was fully human and fully divine, and, of course to answer the really important questions like, “Was Mary Magdalene really married to Jesus, like ‘The Da Vinci Code’ says?”

I enjoyed this book so much because it both entertains and teaches. There are some funny, funny lines.

During the casting-call time, for example, Father Martin tells a fellow Jesuit, “They’re looking for Jesus.” The other priest replies wryly, “Aren’t we all?”

Reading sessions for “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” turn into freewheeling discussions covering almost every topic in Scripture and theology. Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis – who first sought help with the religious aspects of his play concept – spouts one day, “I feel like I’m in grad school.”

Read “A Jesuit off-Broadway” and you might too.

Or at least feel like you’ve taken a refresher course in your faith. — bz

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