Ten years ago, I saw The Hollow Crown when it was touring in Melbourne.
The Hollow Crown basically consists of four stage actors sitting on stools and reciting historical speeches, proclamations and diary entries about the Kings and Queens of England. It sounds boring, but it’s not. It’s captivating theatre which makes history come alive.
Several years later, I saw the idea adapted to the lives of the saints in a stage production called Saints Alive. Three actors sat on stage and recited extracts from hagiographies, testimonies and spiritual diaries relating to dozens of saints. Saints Alive was every bit as as captivating as The Hollow Crown, and true to its name, it brought the saints to life.
I was reminded of these simple but compelling productions when I came across a one-man play about one of my favourite saints:
Leonardo Defilippis’s latest one-man stage production, Vianney, opens amidst the chaos of the French Revolution, a time which mirrors the secularization, materialism and anti-religious sentiment of our own day. Against this dramatic backdrop, a simple ignorant peasant priest enters the backwater town of Ars, a place where no one cares much about their faith, or sees the Church as particularly relevant. They don’t expect much out of Fr Vianney. But then the impossible begins to happen through this unlikely shepherd – his example, his love, and his sacrifice stir the townspeople to change: they start to listen, and they start to pray.
Today is St Jean-Marie Vianney’s feast day. “The Holy Curé of Ars” is patron saint of parish priests, and his spirituality and example have always nourished my own priestly vocation.
The Youtube trailer provides a good introduction to anyone who is unfamiliar with St Jean-Marie, but apart from that it has convinced me to order the screen adaption of the play! I’ll let you know what it’s like.
Sorry Padre, that looked awful.
Screen directors have got to come up with something better when trying to portray people at prayer. They can’t handle silence so they fill it up with lights shining on faces, screaming, wailing before crucifixes and gestures that would make a St Aloysius holy card look profane. For those that know better, it’s cringeworthy; for the uninitiated, it gives the impression that prayer is best left to psychotics.
That’s all very well, but we’re talking about stage craft here. Theatre and screen are entirely different media. Theatre lends itself to the sort of artifice you criticize without descending into melodrama. I think you’re right that film and TV generally requires more realism.
I said screen – I meant stage, whilst also being general.
I remember seeing a St Mary of the Cross play and the actor portraying Tenison Woods went off his rocker whenever he was in “prayer”. It frightened the school children.