Friday, March 2, 2007

Thoughts in the Hours Preceding the Opening Performance of The Pope and the Witch at the University of Minnesota

Robert Rosen, the Director of The Pope and the Witch by Dario Fo, is a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota and director of its Theater Department, also employed as an Artistic Director of the Theater De La Jeune Lune in downtown Minneapolis. While he has a good deal of theatrical experience, none of it seems to have been at any other academic institution.

In the notes to the play on the University’s web page, Rosen made the point that the play is “funny, irreverent and to the point.”

Well, I’ve read the play twice with a lengthy period between readings. I found two lines that I thought might have been considered to have been funny, one referring to Archbishop LeFebvre, a schismatic bishop in France who was excommunicated 20 years ago. I doubt few will pick up on that if the line is used. There are many dated references in the original script of the play that one assumes will be deleted or changed to appeal to a young audience in a new century.

The Theater De La Jeune Lune where Rosen moonlights has a reputation for physical comedy in the French tradition so I can see from my reading that they might be able to generate laughs. My first reaction after the first reading was that it might be a good vehicle for the Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers. Those laughs will come at the expense of the taxpaying Catholics who comprise about one third of the State of Minnesota.

Rosen’s comment that the play is “irreverent” engenders no objections from Catholics. “Blasphemous” is a synonym that they prefer to use. I won’t document that because when communicating with people who don’t believe in anything, there can be no communication.

But one wonders why irreverence is only permitted when Catholicism is involved. The University never seems to dig up old works that ridicule other religions. They are proud that they occasionally have performed Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” in the past which they imply doesn’t deserve performing because of its blatant anti-Semitism. Thousands of theater companies would disagree. And they talked to Salman Rushdie once. This Pakistani wrote a book, The Satanic Verses, ridiculing the Koran, Islam’s holy book.

Wow! Talk about gutsy! One wonders why they didn’t have the courage to display the Danish Cartoons last year if they had the courage to stage “The Merchant of Venice.” (If you want to see those cartoons, contact me and I will email them to you).

Rosen comments that the play is “to the point.” What's the point? That contraception is good? That children are bad?

You women, who taught you that chemical warfare against your bodies at your own expense was a good idea so you could attract a man and have some momentary pleasure? Are you aware that the regular perversion of your bodily functions will result in you having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to make them work when you finally decide at age 45 to have a trophy baby?

Rosen remarked that Fo is said to be the "foremost farceur of our time?" Why is it that his play has been performed only a dozen times or so in the past ten years? Is it possible that it's not funny?

The boilerplate letters sent out by the U's President, Robert Bruininks, and Liberal Arts Dean, Steven Rosenstone to complaining Minnesotans, state that 167 colleges and universities have TP&TW in their library. They also have copies of Hitler’s bible, Mein Kampf. One wonders when a dramatization of that be on the University’s schedule?

Rosen said he received over 2,000 letters. I don’t know if he sent replies or not.

The opening scene of The Pope And The Witch calls for 100,000 orphaned children to be transported to St Peter's Square in Rome to confront the d “anonymous Pope” about his opposition to contraceptives. These 100,000 presumably all wished that they had never been born.

One wonders how it was that they had become orphans? Might the responsibility have belonged to the corrupt dictatorships that had plundered the economies of their homelands and neglected to provide the basics in nutrition and health to their citizenry? Or maybe they just murdered everybody that disagreed with them?

It is interesting that Rosen claims that this anonymous Pope (who speaks Polish and refers to the Polish Solidarity Movement that initiated the toppling of Communism and the Iron Curtain in the original printed script) never saw orphans invading the Vatican in his 27 years as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. What actually did happen was that as he lay dying two years ago, way more than 100,000 children and young adults arrived spontaneously, at their own expense, in St Peter's Square, unbidden, unsent, and then remained and mourned for many days until his funeral and burial.

Nothing like any of Fo's fictitious protesting orphans showed up.

Rosen concludes his Director’s Statement on the U’s web page as follows: Absurd, grotesque frightening, and thought provoking, The Pope And The Witch will simultaneously amuse, engage and provide perspective. A fusion of comedy and vital reality.”

He left out the word “offend.”


Anonymous said...

FYI - They updated the play a little, removed references to JPII, and apparently changed some stuff to more recent historical events.

~ Adoro

Anonymous said...

What excellent points you make, Ray. Good post, as usual.

God bless and keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

This is a great review both of the play and the circumstances of its production by the U of M.

Pat Phillips, CDL

Rollie Sidla said...

Bruinink’s and Rosenstone’s statement about “The Pope and the Witch” being in the files of 167 universities may be correct but most likely not because of any great literary value. Michael C. McFarland S.J., president of the College of the Holy Cross indicates that the play is on file …..”to hone our students’ ability to deal with critics of the Catholic faith”…. He further states that “I believe you will find that other top-tier Catholic institutions of higher education hold similar positions on this issue”.

Rollie Sidla

Adoro said...

A play being "on file" does nothing but gather dust, so your contention is completely useless, but thanks for rehashing it anyway.

Try reading John Paul II's encyclicles, Redemptor Hominis and Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) to understand that criticizm for it's only sake is only so much blubber; the Church has always welcomed legitimate criticizm.

This play has done nothing but skewer MORAL teachings as political, and they simply are not.

Legitimate criticism welcoms a refute; the U of M has not provided for any possible refute or discussion, nor does Dario Fo.

Legitimate criticism asks the question "Why" and remains open for an answer. the U of M, Rosen, and Fo have not done this.

Mr. Sidla, you do not understand the meaning of the word "criticism" nor do you understand the philosophy behind it.

I have provided some resources to answer your own concerns; please take the time to read and understand prior to rehashing a "defense" of the play which has no ground.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Adoro:

I was just lying on my bed musing about the talk back session next Thursday, wondering what I could say, and you put down on paper what I was thinking of.

It would be far better to have the "talk back" session opening night and the public cast reception party on the last night.

One of the University's arguments for staging the play was that they have a tradition of doing controversial things because they have performed Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice." Yeah, right! A play by the greatest playright in the history of the world that just raised the issue of anti-semitism in the minds of overly-sensitive Jewish readers; when it actually provided probably the first popular argument espousing the common humanity of Jews and Gentiles: "If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?"

Have the University Libraries removed all of Shakespeares works from their shelves? Has the English Department ceased teaching Shakespeare? I didn't think so, so he can't be that "anti-Semitic." Has anything been staged accusing Shakespeare of being a fraud? One would think that would be a great subject.

The University apparently also entertained Pakistani author Salman Rushdie, the hero of western liberals because of his anti-religious screed, The Satanic Verses, that caused a fatwah to be issued for his death by Muslim leaders. Big deal. Virtually nobody knew he was here. When Gus Hall came to town in the early 1960s, it caused an international incident at the height of the Cold War when the hammer and sickle flag was swiped. (I often wonder who has it in their closet?)

Should we talk about Danish cartoons? Nah, let's not but I have them on my hard drive if you want to seen them.

In 156 years of University history, that's not much of a record of bashing religions in the Theater Department. How is it that the Pope and Roman Catholicism needed to be mocked and ridiculed and offended this year by staging a 17 year old script that virtually nobody has heard of or seen?

What is the next adventurous attack on religion that we can expect on religion from the Theater Department? I wouldn't expect something on Inherit the Wind and evolution because virtually no Catholics believe in a "Seven Day Creation period." And you wouldn't enjoy going after Baptists.

Maybe Galileo again. In 2,000 years of its existence, it is amazing that nobody in academic institutions can find any other events in Catholic history to talk about than Galileo's "house arrest." The U.S.Government makes more serious errors than what the Church did to Galileo weekly. It is good that you expect perfection out of the Roman Catholic Church. We ask that you understand that it is composed of fallible people (except when the Pope speaks in matters of faith and morals, of course).