Sep 27, 2007

"Judas" Priest

As someone deeply interested in theater and theology, and the intersection of the two (indeed, I think I've had several of my most "religious" experiences in and around live theaters), A Jesuit Off-Broadway is like catnip in book form. This fascinating and entertaining book is by James Martin, S.J., the priest who edits the journal America and who a few years ago found himself roped into the role of theological advisor, and soon company chaplain, for Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at the Public Theatre.

I had the pleasure of meeting Fr. Jim recently (in conjunction with that big Time bombshell on Mother Teresa's "dark night" of doubt, about which Martin is something of an in-house expert), and also of attending a special benefit reading of his book at the Public earlier this week, at which members of LAByrinth and of the original Judas company were cast in the unexpectedly awkward roles of themselves, repeating quotes they'd given to Fr. Jim through the course of the play's development about their craft and their spiritual paths.

Though it's not a dense or scholarly work, the book seamlessly and accessibly binds together reflections on Christology, interpretation of Scripture, the divergences and similarities among various spiritual traditions, the punishing vagaries of the acting life, the role of priests in unlikely places and, perhaps most movingly and fundamentally, the unavoidable bond between the sacred and the theatrical. I was particularly struck by the unsettling yet inspiring concept of "spiritual poverty," one of Fr. Jim's favorite ideas (indeed, this is likely the next book I'll check out). A Jesuit Off-Broadway also contains just about the best, most succinct description of how it feels to find one's vocation, in any walk of life: Eric Bogosian recalling his first stab at acting in college and saying simply, "I loved it so much that it hurt." Highly recommended reading, even if you don't share my enthusiasm for what David Cote would call wretched goddism.

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