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ISSUE 120 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/16/2007

Pope portrayal protested

By Shayna Melgaard
Staff Writer


Friday, March 16, 2007

Blasphemy: Irreverent or disrespectful speech about God or something sacred. I’'m no religion major, but I’'ve sat through 500-some sermons since kindergarten. Check my sources, but I'm pretty sure the Bible condemns blasphemers.

However, when I read about the March 2 protest by 70-plus representatives of the St. John Vianney College Seminary at the opening of “"The Pope and the Witch”" at the University of Minnesota, I wondered if artists should be exempt from accusations of blasphemy.

Star Tribune theater critic Graydon Royce reviewed the Nobel Prize-winning show, saying that "“the absurd theatricality, directed with the flair of commedia that has distinguished Rosen’s work with Theatre de la Jeune Lune, made Fo’s work easy to understand as a metaphor in the service of a broader goal."”

However, if Fo’'s work were so easily understood, the director probably wouldn'’t have chosen to produce the show. It’'s rare that a theater department would put up a show that wouldn'’t make the audience seek a deeper or personal meaning. Furthermore, if those St. John Vianney students (who apparently studied the script intensely) and others failed to comprehend the metaphor within Fo's script or could not separate heretical concepts from imagined ones, it’'s unfortunate that they missed Rosen’'s production, which, in Royce’'s words, so gracefully de-complexified the script.

I have an inkling that the protest was not about one play. Any story depicting the Lord's "“right-hand man”" (fictional or representative) publicly falling from grace to rise up again is another case of bad publicity for the Catholic Church and Christianity in general.

Some may see this fictional pope making mistakes and view him as a real person with internal conflicts, as the playwright and director likely hoped. I can see how this idea might offend, especially with current child molestation accusations aided and fueled by documentaries. If I were going into service in the Catholic Church, I might feel a bit like Job from the Old Testament. Haven’t they suffered enough? So why did Rosen decide to add another thorn to the crown of humiliation that mass media and the culture industry have so squarely placed upon the head of the Catholic Church? It must be the "“underlying message."”

The pope in “"The Pope and the Witch"” is not based on any historical pope. But Fo takes this high-profile religious figure and, in a way, slanders his reputation through the sinful actions of that character.

Yet the theater is not usually out to sabotage religious leaders, to make people leave their faith or to blatantly offend religious people. Most theater folk want people to learn to question the old standards – of religion, of race, of sexism, of pop culture – and to feel doubt that will stir them to seek the truth. I think that’'s what “"The Pope and the Witch”" sets out to do. However, given the current polarizing religious climate, I'm not sure that putting this play up now was tasteful or an effective wake-up call. It may just be controversial without benefiting society.

Nonetheless, I believe the U of M should continue the production. It’s ironic that those seminarians used their Constitutional right to peacefully assemble and their own freedom of speech to ... what? Try to get the University to censor an offensive play? If that’s the case, I would say that Fo’'s play isn't the only thing that’s a little absurd.

Yet, I would not tell those seminarians to sit down and shut up if I had witnessed their protest. They probably weren'’t causing much of a rumble, regardless of their numbers. More than that, they have the right to express their opinion, even when they haven’t seen the performance. And artists have the right to express their opinion, even when they haven't gone to church in years, or ever. But it's my hope that someone up at the U of M was smart enough to assemble a forum in which both sides could discuss their concerns surrounding the play, such as blasphemy, perpetuating stereotypes, freedom of expression, censorship and the true goals of the play. I think the heart of the issue here is that everyone just wanted to be heard and understood. In the theater as well as the church, without dialogue, you’'re just preaching to the choir.

Staff Writer Shayna Melgaard is a senior from Bismarck, N.D. She majors in American studies with a concentration in media studies.





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