September 28, 2006

A Director of Pope and the Witch Responds-Part 2

Mr. Stephan Golux contacted me again via my blog comments. Mr. Golux directed a production of The Pope and The Witch at Yale several years ago. He originally contacted me a few weeks ago, (read it here)thru a post I did on the University of Minnesota's production of The Pope and The Witch scheduled for March 2007.

I am going to post his letter again as a blog post. I think it is important that we hear what he has to say and I don't want his letter to get "lost" in the comments section.

I deleted one sentence towards the beginning of his letter where he gave me a way to directly contact him. I don't think he wants to hear from everyone!

Dear Cathy:

First off, many thanks for posting my letter in your blog. I must admit -- I had bookmarked the page at which I "posted a comment" originally, and checked back occasionally, and it was only after several days of not finding my post or anything to suggest rejection that I figured out how to get to the main page of your blog. So much for my blogging skills.

Let me assure you, as much as I can, that I am who I say I am. In fact I created my blogging identity some months ago to study how this whole blogging thing works, and then I lost interest (or time) and never followed through. So my blogging ID has, as you say, only been used to respond to your blogs.

So much for that housecleaning!

You ask what I mean by "The Vatican". I can define this quite directly -- I mean the political entity that acts on its own right as a nation in the earthly political world of men. The Vatican has ambassadors to other countries in the world, just as other countries have ambassadors to The Vatican. As far as I understand it, it is a governmental structure which is quite intriniscally and fundamentally entangled with the Catholic Church, but it is not the same thing as the Catholic Church. I cannot conceive of a religion as being a country, and (to the best of my knowledge) there is no other religion which is a country. As such, I strongly believe that there is a discernable difference between "The Vatican" and "the Catholic Church", and to reassure you farther, I see a further difference between both "The Vatican", and "the Catholic Church", and (to quote your concern) "the Catholic Faith". While "The Vatican" may be a nation and an institutional bureaucracy, the Church is also an Institutional Bureaucracy, and the Faith is the religion itself pure and simple.

While you may not agree that such a delineation reflects reality, I am quite sure (having met him) that Mr. Fo does make these distinctions. I happen to agree with him.

Please do not put me (or Mr. Fo) in Dan Brown's camp. I don't think that any of that Da Vinci code drivel is good scholarship or good research. He was trying to write a potboiler, and he did, and whether it is his right to do so is, perhaps, a different topic for a different time. I couldn't even get through it because I found it boring. I must say that another book at which you would probably take offense, namely "Another Roadside Attraction" by Tom Robbins, I found to be quite fun and amusing, but please understand that I do not mix fact and fiction, and I take it to be a completely fantastical and completely fictional romp.

Not having gotten through Mr. Brown's book or finding any aspect of it particularly compelling, do you still think I would gain something from Ms. Welborn's refutation? I would be quite willing to read it, but don't want to take the time if it will merely serve to refute claims that I have no interest in bolstering in the first place.

I would also like to point out that Mr. Fo wrote "The Pope and the Witch" in the early nineties, well before "The Da Vinci Code" was even a glimmer in Dan Brown's eye. I directed the play in 1996 as my MFA thesis project, and you can be very sure that my department would have taken an extremely dim view of my basing any of my research on fictional fantasy! Mr. Fo was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1997. I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Fo in Italy in 1998 when working on another project of bringing an unrelated work of his to the United States.

While I can't speak definitively about Mr. Fo's opinions on secret societies at The Vatican, I can say that for my part I do not believe that there are secret groups there who have infiltrated to take over the world. I do believe that there are groups at varying levels of organization within the political structure of the Vatican who work in their own self-interest. This is something I believe to be fundamentally true about all human political structures. I understand that this may be a highly controversial statement for you and for readers of your blog, but (contrary to the poster who left a comment to your posting of my original missive) I do not in any way disrespect those who hold the Catholic Faith merely because I believe the Vatican to be rife with political intrigue. The political intrigue has been there for centuries, and this seems to me to border on established fact. There have even been two popes simultaneously at times, waging war on each other, and the Vatican has itself waged war on other nations for reasons that should not seem to dissimilar to us when we look at the mess the world is in right now.

As far as I understand it, in the history of the Catholic Church, even the concept of Papal Infallibility is quite recent.

As a simple example, even reports in Catholic newspapers about the Second Vatican Council make it clear that the dialog and debate was fundamentally political in a way that mirrors the debate within other national and institutional legislative bodies. This is human. I mean no disrespect in pointing it out.

I believe (and here I am more sure that I can speak for Dario Fo) that the selection of the most liberal pope of all time, John Paul I, left many factions in the Vatican extremely nervous, critical, and ungrounded. And I do believe that John Paul I was assassinated. Again, the notion that there have been papal assassinations, some hatched inside the Vatican and some from outside, over the centuries seems completely uncontroversial to any serious student of history. Whether it is something that is just too "icky" when considering it happening within our lifetime will depend on the person doing the consideration.

Fo believes that under John Paul I, the Catholic Church was poised to take a more liberal turn, and that there were factions within the Vatican, (namely those that would lose power if such an about-face were to happen) who conspired to stop that. This is a far cry from believing that those factions were seeking to take over the world.

Fo posits the fictional idea in his play that John Paul II also takes a liberal turn (this is of course complete fabrication) and is likewise assassinated as a result. This fictional satire is meant to focus attention on the circumstances around the death of John Paul I.

While I don't have all my research from ten years ago on the tip of my tongue, I can remember the most powerful book I encountered, namely "In Gods Name" by (I think!) David Yarrow. This is not a Dan Brown potboiler. It is a dry academic tome that sits dusty in the stacks of university libraries, and exhaustively lays out a great deal of the published and unpublished record around the sudden and untimely and highly suspicious death of John Paul I. I remember that Mr. Yarrow's bibliography was a treasure trove for me when doing my research for my MFA thesis.

By the way, I was not a member of any Yale secret society! For graduate students at the Drama School, there is absolutely no time for such diversions!

Cathy - it pains me (although I understand why) that my original post was sloppy enough to suggest to you that I thought your reaction to be even similar to the Muslim Fundamentalists this past week. Please know that it was absolutely not my intention to put your behavior or response into the same category or even to suggest that your behavior or response are inappropriate (as the Muslim Fundamentalist response categorically is). I meant only to draw a certain parallel to what I see as a mistaken reading of Mr. Fo's play. When you take away the comedy and satire (the tricks of Mr. Fo's trade) there is a serious challenge to the institution of the Vatican and how it functions, which is not (in my opinion) meant to be a challenge to the Faith of Catholics. (I hope I am getting all the capitalization right -- I am dyslexic so this is a big challenge for me!)

I need to offer some information here for anyone seeking to read the play. Within the theatre community, there are huge issues around the rights, especially as they relate to translations, of Mr. Fo's work. When I undertook to do this play as my thesis, there were two published translation/adaptations in English. One was a British version by Andy de la Tour, and the other was an American version by Joan Holden. I found them both unsatisfactory when compared with the original. I found the Joan Holden one was far too politically polemical, and the Andy de la Tour version was camp that got very silly -- almost a Benny Hill or Monty Python treatment of the material. Since that time, I know that there have been additional translations by Ed Emery, Stuart Hood, and possibly Ron Jenkin. I don't know which of these are published and available, but I can only say that just because it is published doesn't necessarily mean that it is a version that Fo himself would like. The politics around publication and performing rights of translations of Fo would be a subject that would lend itself well to a Fo satire, and the situation has only gotten worse since he won the Nobel Prize. I was given the green light to create my own translation and to use the extent English translations to help on the way. My dramaturg spoke Italian, so we were able to come up with our own unique translation/adaptation that, in my opinion, is closer to Mr. Fo's original intent. I was contractually barred, however, when I received these permissions, from ever publishing my translation, so it sits in a binder on my shelf.

I don't know if you are interested enough, but if you are I would be happy to make my version available to you. Based on my contract, however, I would have to insist on the signing of a non-disclosure agreement with you, along with a legally binding promise on your part that the work would not be further copied or disseminated in any way or along any media.

Of course I do not know which translation is being considered for the University production to which you are objecting.

Finally, let me add for the individual who posted a response to your posting of my initial letter reaching out to you: I hope the letter above has answered at least some of your questions. I am confused by your suggestion that I was saying John Paul II was corrupt. I don't think I said it, and I don't think I meant it, and I don't think Dario Fo was saying it. I certainly don't think that Fo in any way meant to suggest that John Paul II was staging a coup to get to the papacy -- I think Fo considers him a conservative who was selected as Pope after the far more liberal John Paul I died.

And I regret that you feel I do not respect you or your beliefs. I'm not sure where you get that either, but I'm sure it came from something I said, and all I can do is apologize. I'll come clean here -- my religious path is that of the Quakers; perhaps better know by some as the Society of Friends. It is completely antithetical to my beliefs spiritually or politically to disregard or disrespect anyone's belief or conscience, or the manner in which they worship, experience, communicate or commune with God. So, again, in all humility, I ask for your personal forgiveness for any offense I have given.

Yours truly,

Stephan Golux

My response:

Dear Mr. Golux:

Thank you for taking the time to write again. As you may have guessed, I have a response to your letter! Sorry, it took me so long to get back to you but I was out of town for several days.

I agree that there is a difference between the Faith and the Vatican. As you have defined Vatican to mean Vatican City, the nation in the middle of the city of Rome, I will use that definition. Vatican City is a nation, with Ambassadors and it's own army, the Swiss Guards. Currently, the Swiss Guards primarily act as bodyguards for the Pope and protectors of Vatican City.

However, neither the Faith nor Vatican City can survive without the other. The Faith needs the organizational structure provided under the auspices of Vatican City for guidance and support. There is no need for Vatican City to exist without the Catholic Church. Vatican City is not a religion in and of itself, it's a nation that needs the Catholic church for it's existence. The first church was constructed in the area now known as Vatican City in 364 A. D. It was a site sacred to Christians even before 364 A.D. It was the site of many Christian martrydoms-including St. Peter.

I suspected you read and agreed with Dan Brown's assertions about the Catholic Church based upon some of your statements being similar to those of the DaVinci Code. I apologize that my suspicion was incorrect and if you were offended. I am glad that we agree that Mr. Brown's scholarship and writing are poor.

I am not familiar with Another Roadside Attraction by Tim Robbins. I am not a fan of Tim Robbins' work. It may surprise you to know that I have read Jitterbug Perfume and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues! You say you enjoyed Another Roadside Attraction and found it amusing. I looked up the synopsis of Another Roadside Attraction on You are correct.
I probably would find it offensive as it appears to deal with a layperson assuming a murdered monk's identity and then trying to evade a Vatican hit squad. It sounds like yet another work of literature attempting to rididule my faith and my church. I find it interesting that you seem to enjoy a fair amount of literature that makes fun of the Catholic church. In the interest of fairness, do you read humorous tales of the Society of Friends? I'm at a loss to think of any, but perhaps there are some? Speaking of faith, I'm surprised you are a dramatist. Didn't George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, frown upon the dramatic arts as being unbecoming to the Christian?

You made a statement about Dan Brown's right to publish the DaVinci Code but said it was perhaps a topic for another time. Let's talk about it now. Dan Brown has the right to publish the DaVinci Code and I have the right to read it or not. I probably disagree with many of my friends and my local Catholic community when I say that the U of MN has a "right" to produce Pope and the Witch. I have an equal right to either attend or not. Mr. Fo had the right to write the play. I have the right to like or dislike it. I have the right to protest or not.

However, what I have a problem with is the U of MN's attitudes, to date, about the play. The response has been along the lines of "Oh, well, it may be offensive, but suck it up and go away". The U has made no attempt to sponsor any dialogue about the play's potential offensiveness but they have made such attempts in other cases. I also have a problem in the fact that I have no choice about paying for the production of Pope and the Witch. My tax dollars support the U of MN whether I like it or not. I'm paying to produce this play even if I don't attend it. I have a choice whether or not to buy a copy of Mr. Fo's play or Dan Brown's book but I have no choice in where my money is being spent in the case of the public, state-funded institution producing material that appears to be offensively anti-Catholic.

I have ordered a copy of Pope and the Witch and I am going to read it. I expect my copy to arrive in a few weeks. It pained me to spend the money, but I want to be fair.

I agree that Vatican City probably has individuals in it looking out for themselves. In my last letter, I said that the Faith is perfect but the individuals are not. By individuals I mean Bishops, Popes, Clergy and laypeople like myself. Any organization is bound to have sinful people in it. I'm glad you are not the conspiracy theorist I feared you were from your first letter!

Vatican Council I (8 December 1869-20 October 1870) formulated papal infallibility. However, the church always believed the Pope has the authority. The Pope is only infallible on occasions when he speaks "ex cathedra" or from the Chair of Peter.

The Pope has only used this authority a few times in history. There have been occasions in church history where as a result of some heresy a second man called himself Pope. Vatican City has never waged war on anyone. Vatican City has only been in existence since 1929. The Vatican does not have a big enough army. The Swiss Guards only number 110 and there is no Navy or Air Force. However, the predecessor of Vatican City, the Papal States did go to war on occasion. My knowledge of Papal State history is limited but I recall they primarily went to war to defend Italy and Rome against the Lombards and the Ottomans.

If by Vatican Council II debate being political you really mean having implications on the Faith then I accept your definition. VII by itself was not political in the sense of being solely about governmental politics. Some of the documents(in particular, Lumen Gentium) touched upon the hierarchal structure of the Church, but most of the VII documents concerned the theological and devotional life of the Church.

John Paul I was the most liberal Pope of all time??!!! Oh, no, no, no, my friend, no. Liberals consider Blessed John XXIII their hero. John Paul I was only Pope for little over a month. Pope John Paul I was in poor health when he was elected. He, himself, predicted that he would not live long. He was by all accounts, a humble man. I'm somewhat familiar with the conspiracy theory's surrounding the death of John Paul I and I've heard of Mr. Yarrow's book. The favorite conspiracy theory about JPI's death is that he was going to reverse Humanae Vitae (the Church's teaching on birth control). Bunk. No Pope has ever refudiated a predecessor's writings.

You used Mr. Yarrow's book for your M.F.A. thesis? What was your thesis?

Thank you for your offer to let me see your adaptation of Mr. Fo's play. I'll think about your offer after I have read Mr. Fo's play myself.

Dialogue like this is very helpful. I am glad you contacted me. You learn something, I learn something, we all learn something. Too bad the U of MN is not.



Blogger Christine said...

good job cathy!

September 28, 2006 6:00 PM  
Blogger stephan said...

Dear Cathy -

Whew - a whirlwind of communication with someone I have not met. So it goes in the newfangled world of the internet and blogging. Just FYI, I am headed into tech on another play (thankfully for both of us it has nothing to do with the Catholic Faith, or really any other per se) and as such I will be pretty scarce for the next couple of weeks as I work 12-hour days.

Even now I am a bit bleary-eyed.

But I will try to answer your questions.

You are right that I have been sloppy with my use, and even my attempt to define "The Vatican". I suppose, since I was bringing up history that was hundreds of years old, that I should have defined it to be (and I'm grasping here) "the political entity that projects the political and/or military power of the Catholic Church into the more-or-less secular world". Although I do not dispute that Vatican City as we now know it did not exist at the time of the Enlightenment or the Inquisition, there were at those times various constellations of Papal States, larger than the current Vatican City, which projected considerable political and military power directly in the maelstrom of the conflicts of the nations of the day. Popes commanded substantial armies, and vast budgets. It is perhaps sloppy of me to use the phrase "The Vatican" to refer to all that anachronistically -- my apologies.

Institutionally, the current nation of Vatican City is far smaller and more humble, at least in comparative terms, then those institutions of old. And yet, I believe that there is a lineage, at least politically.

You ask about whether all (or most) of my reading is in fiction that uses the Catholic Church as material for ridicule. I can assure you that the answer is no. I don't know you, but in my opinion you are being oversensitive to imagine that any writer is going to spend years of their life creating a work of literature whose purpose it is to ridicule your faith, or any other. In my opinion, good literature serves to illuminate ideas, and whether that comes in the form of humor (Tom Robbins) or satire (Dario Fo) or tragedy (Salman Rushdie) or dialectic (L'xio Buang) the purpose is rarely about ridicule. It would be a boring book indeed that set out to ridicule some person or belief or faith as its fundamental project.

In answer to your question, I would be happy to read novels or see plays that poke fun at the various peccadilloes of the Quaker Meeting or Society of Friends -- unfortunately we are so small and quite frankly have such a non-hierarchy that I think it would be difficult to make a compelling story. Within the Meetings I have attended over the years, there has always been a great deal of laughing at our own foibles, something I personally consider refreshing. I am aware that many (not all!) Quakers are far at one end of the spectrum in that regard, and that faiths that are inherently dogmatic typically fall toward the other end of the spectrum. And it is my belief that the Catholic Faith is one that is strongly rooted in dogma. Far be it from me to suggest you are being oversensitive to suggest that Fo, or Robbins, or Golux, or the University are headed out to insult you and your Faith, I know you feel it differently because the notion of heresy is firmly rooted in your embrace of dogma. But I know this only intellectually. I can't actually feel what you feel. For me, all aspects of the human experience, from love to religion to politics to art, are most keenly felt when they can be treated both seriously and comically. As far as I understand it, back in the early middle-ages, even Popes kept Jokers in the retinue -- jokers whose job it was to keep poking fun at their masters.

To me, the main difference between Dan Brown and Salman Rushdie (as artists) is that Dan Brown is a second-rate and somewhat sloppy writer out of his depth and Salman Rushdie is a genius. And a principled genius at that. But both of them write fiction, and I believe that the religious detractors of both men are making a similar error. And I think these errors are tactical as well as philosophical -- as much as the Iranian Mufti were able to drive Rushdie underground and make his life hell with their fatwa, they guaranteed the success of The Satanic Verses as a cultural phenomenon -- a must-read. I similarly think the Christian detractors of Dan Brown have done more to sell his book than all the ads in all the book review magazines placed by his publishers combined. Same goes for the movie. How a movie that bad could have been that widely seen -- it just defies the imagination. I have to say, I think Dan Brown owes a debt to several Christian organizations for helping to assure the success of his movie.

I am slightly uncomfortable addressing the issues of George Fox and my own relationship to the Quaker community and how working in the theatre fits into it on your public blog. I am not sure how to frame what I want to say without proselytizing, which seems both inappropriate to me in your sphere, and actually somewhat counter to my desires and beliefs generally. I hope it will suffice to say that George Fox believed that God gave man a conscience for a very particular purpose, and that man's responsibility is to follow that God-given conscience. And I believe I do that it in my life and my work.

I would be happy to go further into a theological discussion of this, but I prefer it not to be public. I would need to have some way of continuing a discussion with you offline.

I hear you about paying taxes for things you believe run counter to your conscience. I have for years protested paying my taxes to support war and institutional violence sponsored by the U.S. Government around the world. It makes me feel that my heart and soul are being ripped out when I am told I hold some obligation to pay for the hegemony of my country, a country I love deeply but which I believe has gone in a vastly troubling direction, morally. So I can definitely feel that pain.

Finally, you asked about my thesis. At the Drama School at Yale, the project of directing a play and the research surrounding that play are themselves the thesis for students in the directing department. So my thesis was "The Pope and the Witch". Quite literally, my production of the play was my thesis. I was drawn to Fo because of his connection to the Commedia dell'Arte, and drawn to that play because I am interested in dramatic forms that serve political satire. It was also very new to the United States in those days, and as I outlined in my previous missive, there was an opportunity to work on my own translation/adaptation. For the complete record, I was required by the University also to write a more conventional thesis, a bit more dramaturgical in scope, about the production. That document is sitting in "the cage" at the Yale University Library never to be read by anyone.

So it goes in professional school.

OK, off to bed. Back into the thick of rehearsal tomorrow.


September 28, 2006 11:27 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Stephan: I agree that protesting a thing sometimes contributes to an unfair level of publicity for a work of dubious quality.

However, I have a problem with just letting it go and hoping no one notices. I think Catholics have been silent for far too long and I'm hoping to help rectify that situation.

What is your next production? I ask out of curiousity, not to be a snark!

I hope to hear from you again.

September 29, 2006 9:28 AM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

It would seem that a reading would be in order. First dibs on reading your copy if I can't find a copy in a library someplace. And probably I won't except maybe inter-library loan.

September 29, 2006 11:38 AM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

It would seem that a reading would be in order. First dibs on reading your copy if I can't find a copy in a library someplace. And probably I won't except maybe inter-library loan.

But the script as published probably in 1995 or so may not be what the director of the 2007 production at the U will be using.

Producers/Directors are notorious for that.

It's conceivable that Opus Dei could put on a reverent version of TPATW.

September 29, 2006 11:41 AM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Ray: Have you been drinking?


The thought of Opus Dei putting on a play is pretty funny, much less TPATW!

Yes, I'll loan you my copy of the play if you are unable to find it in the library. Hey, the U of MN library probably has a copy! Har-har.

September 29, 2006 12:16 PM  
Blogger stephan said...

Hi Cathy -

I am directing "True West" by Sam Shepard at Vermont Stage Company. It opens on October 11.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to provide a short post for a change!


September 29, 2006 9:33 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Stephan: I like Shepard. True West is an intense play. No wonder you are tired! Good luck with it!

September 30, 2006 10:31 AM  

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