Thursday, March 1, 2007

My Three Heroes: Curtain rises on disputed play tonight / Local Blogger Cathy of Alex to Pray her Rosary During Performance of The Pope & the Witch

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U theater department's staging of 'The Pope and the Witch' has angered some Catholics

Janice LaDuke [Cathy of Alex, who blogs at The Recovering Dissident Catholic] bought a ticket for tonight's opening of "The Pope and the Witch" at the University of Minnesota. But don't expect her to applaud.

She plans to say the rosary, silently, during the performance. For her, the play isn't a political satire — it's the university ridiculing her faith.

"As a Catholic, you can't separate the hierarchy … from the traditions and scriptural teachings of the faith," LaDuke said. That doesn't mean you can't be critical of some facets, she added, but "I'm not convinced this play is respectful in its criticism."

Months of boiling controversy come to a head tonight as the U's theater department opens a week of "The Pope and the Witch," a play that depicts the pope as a paranoid, heroin-addled idiot and the Vatican as corrupt.

U officials don't expect any disruptions during the run. But they are adding more security for the performances and will take the rare step of checking bags at the door.

The performances, which go through March 9, cap a debate that has played out in Internet blogs and on editorial pages the past few months and that has opened a small window on the tensions of religious and secular life playing out in the Twin Cities and worldwide.

Critics have ripped the play as anti-Catholic. In November, Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis called on the U to reconsider its staging; University President Robert Bruininks declined to cancel it, arguing the school must be a place for many views.

The play's director says it's a political and social farce, not an attack on the faithful.

Written by Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo, the play includes a pro-abortion witch, revelations of evil in the Vatican hierarchy and a paranoid pope who is convinced that thousands of orphans massing in St. Peter's Square are part of a plot by birth-control supporters to embarrass the church.

The play is purposely outrageous but deals with "real things, real tangible issues," director Robert Rosen said. "Sometimes when you do that, take an extreme view of something, you can say, 'Gosh it made me look at that a certain way.' "

Rosen said the play isn't about the Vatican and disagreed with those who don't see the Vatican as a political body.

On Monday, P.Z. Myers, a University of Minnesota-Morris biologist who writes Pharyngula, an internationally known science blog, castigated people who are angry at the U for producing a "blasphemous" play.

"Blasphemy is highly educational, and I hope our university can do more of it," Myers wrote. "We are not here to reassure you that your ignorance and prejudices are alright, we're supposed to shake up our students."

Where one person sees satire, another sees sacrilege.

The Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, [Father "Z", who blogs from Rome in What Does the Prayer Really Say? and who is a regular weekly columnist for The Wanderer, weekly national Catholic newspaper published in St Paul] moderator of the Catholic Online Forum and a graduate of the U's theater program, posted a letter to Bruininks last week suggesting that "Pope" — a rarely performed play — is so vile that the university president should report himself to the U's equal-opportunity office on grounds of religious discrimination.

While the university says it's open to all views, LaDuke and other critics don't believe the university would take on a similar project that, say, Muslims would find offensive. University leaders counter that the U takes on many controversial subjects and speakers from a wide range of social and political thought.

Said Rosen: "I'm not interested in … poking fun at any religion or culture just to poke fun at them. For me this play deals with a lot of social issues."

A forum for people to discuss the play is scheduled following the March 8 performance. The archdiocese doesn't plan to participate in the "talkback" session, which will be led by a trio of U professors with expertise in literature, culture and theater — but not anyone connected to religious or Catholic studies.

Julie Olson, another Twin Cities blogger [who blogs under that name at Adoro Te Devote from Coon Rapids]who has kept close watch on the issue, said that while it's normal for Catholics and others to question their religion, it's not acceptable for the moral teachings of the church to be skewered as political.

She worries that what's intended as humor will bring ridicule and lead to Catholics on campus feeling a backlash similar to the scorn she said Catholics encountered from people who read "The Da Vinci Code" and considered it factual.

"Our concerns just haven't been answered," she said, "and I think our concerns are legitimate."

Paul Tosto covers higher education and can be reached at ptosto@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-2119.

If You Go

"The Pope and the Witch" by Dario Fo opens tonight at the Rarig Center's Stoll Thrust Theatre, 330 21st Ave S., in Minneapolis on the University of Minnesota's West Bank campus. Performances run through March 9. The talkback session, following the March 8 performance, is open to the public. Pioneer Press


Cathy of Alex (Janice LaDuke), who is extensively quoted in the PPD article, has fisked it (line by line critiqued it) on her blog here!



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