March 04, 2007

Pioneer Press Review of The Pope and The Witch

Dominic Papatola's review of The Pope & The Witch in the Pioneer Press is out.

Satire takes on church[Church. Capital!] but cares most about justice [huh? for whom?]

Theater Critic
Is "The Pope and the Witch" sacrilege, blasphemy, an affront to the Catholic Church?

Turns out that's the wrong question [It IS?!], based on the assumption that the controversial play now on stage at the University of Minnesota is about religion [No, it's not about religion in the generic sense. It is about The Faith. It is about Catholicism. Does this play "work" without the Catholic Church being the main player?].

It's not, or at least not exactly [Please, make up your mind!]. Most of Nobel Prize-winning playwright [Thanks for the reminder.] Dario Fo's work is political [The Church is not a political party!] in nature, and "The Pope and the Witch" is no exception. This is a satire of the church [Church. Capital!] as a maladroit bureaucracy [oh, that makes me feel better], but also a dramatic tract about the world [Really? The WORLD? The play focuses on the Catholic Church turning a blind eye] turning a blind eye to the problems of the Third World, and a farce putting forth overblown solutions to gigantic tragedies.

For the unbendingly orthodox [Not me. Hey, I actually saw the blasted thing. How's that for unbending?], that might sound like splitting hairs. For those willing to engage reason and faith [Yes, I've actually heard of that and I believe it. Pope John Paul II wrote an excellent encyclical called just that: Faith and Reason (Fides et Ratio) — in the church [Church. Capital!] or in humanity — simultaneously and vigorously, it's an intriguing, if muddy, evening at the theater [True].

Director Robert Rosen, one of the founders of Minneapolis' Theatre de la Jeune Lune grafts [forces?] that company's physical, highly stylized performance ethos onto his cast of 17 college actors. Nuns in high-top tennis shoes and cell-phone-toting cardinals tear around the papal palace like so many Keystone Kops [Sorry, I forgot to mention yesterday in my review that it is like a dinner theater production of Nunsense or some other illuminating anti-Catholic production].

But Fo's characterization of the pope [Pope Capital!] is, if not especially sympathetic [true, it's not], at least human [The other day Mr. Papatola in a review of a different play featuring the Church, said Vatican II brought humanizing reform. Apparently, he's continuing in this vein by making sure to tell all of us that it's revolutionary that Mr. Fo depicts the Pope as human. Thanks.] The leader of the Catholic Church is not, as reported, depicted as "a paranoid, drug-addled idiot." [Were we at the same play?]

Instead, as played by Brant Miller, the pontiff is a decent and thoughtful if high-strung man. His doubts and anxieties are magnified by the fact that he's the captain of a ship carrying a billion souls, and the sure knowledge that any boat that big is difficult to turn [I agree].

All that stress fuels an anxiety attack [Nuh-uh. It's the Witch who brings these on. I think the script by Fo did a better job of conveying that it's always her.] that has some unusual physical manifestations. Enter a nontraditional healer — OK … a witch doctor (Kat Wodtke) — with a radical style and philosophy decidedly out of step with the church [Church. Capital!]: She believes that birth control and abortion are preferable to crushing poverty and that providing regulated, rationed heroin to her Third World clientele is better than having them resort to theft or prostitution to pay for it [ultra-liberal beliefs in a nice summary, right there].

After much sniping, the pope [Pope. Capital!] and the witch strike an alliance [they do? The Pope has no free will in the play because he's forcibly shot-up with heroin and he's under the witch's spell] so audacious that it must descend into farce: Trapped in a poverty-stricken slum where he's sought another treatment from the witch, the pope [Pope. Capital!] is injected with heroin — unwillingly and to save the life of another. The firsthand experience — not with the drug but with the people [There are apparently no people in the Holy Father's life] — leads him to a change of heart and an encyclical on social issues that turns the church [Church. Capital!] on its head and causes a revolt.

By the end of the evening, the stage is littered with bodies [Shakespeare does it better], and the witch is left to end the play with words Fo attributes to St. Augustine: "Woe to the man of power who takes the side of those with no power."

The play is an irreverent sprawl, sometimes nonsensical, frequently tangential and generally less ha-ha funny than things-look-weird-in-a-funhouse-mirror funny. Those who find it offensive will not be convinced otherwise, but watching "The Pope and the Witch" suggests a play less interested in sacrilege and more interested in comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable [I agree with most of this paragraph. Except I'm not convinced that Mr. Fo did not intend sacrilege].


Blogger Adoro te Devote said...

Redemptor Homiis, Part II, article 13, page 25, mid way down:

"...the Church cannot remain insensible to whatever serves man's true welfare, any more than she can remain indifferent to what threatens it. In various passages in its documents the Second Vatican Council has expressed the Church's fundamental solicitude that life in "the world should conform more to man's surpassing dignity" in all its aspect, so as to make that life "ever more human." This is the solicitude of Christ Himself, the good Shepherd of all men. In the name of this solicitude, as we read in the Council's Pastoral Constitution, "the Church must in no way be confused with the political community, no bound to any political system. She is at once as sign and a safeguard of the transcendence of the human person."

~ John Paul II

(note: all phrases in quotes taken from the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes, footnoted in Redemptor Hominis as such)

March 04, 2007 2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cathy - first of all I want to say I am SO proud of you and Adoro for protesting!

Secondly I have to say that from an objective point of view (after reading your review) this play sounds like something a bunch of 14 year olds in Grade 9 Drama class might have come up with.

March 04, 2007 4:16 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: Excellent quote!

Angela: That about covers it.

March 04, 2007 6:17 PM  

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