A Catholic California playwright says that theatre is “the grassroots of entertainment” that can have a “profound impact” on young people. He points to his own plays and productions as examples of efforts to bring portrayals of heroism and sanctity to the secular culture.
Cathal Gallagher, author of more than ten plays, was born in County Donegal, Ireland in 1938. He served in the U.S. Air Force and lived in Denver, Colorado before moving to San Jose, California in 1963.
In a Tuesday e-mail interview he told CNA that he had been writing comedies for the stage when he read about Cardinal Josef Mindszenty, a Hungarian prelate who suffered under Communist persecution. Gallagher said he was so moved by the cardinal’s heroism that he decided to write a play about him.
Though Gallagher had thought he could submit the play to a Catholic theatre company, he could not find one. This led him and some fellow playwrights and directors to found Quo Vadis Theatre Company.
Gallagher explained that the company decided to put on its plays in city theatres, not church halls.
“By staging plays about heroic characters, it enabled us to engage the secular culture,” he told CNA, saying his choice of venue exposed many theatergoers to Catholic saints and martyrs for the first time.
Gallagher also sees his work as a way to evangelize.
“A Hollywood producer has stated that movies have more influence on kids than parents do.
“I would go further. We have lost our youth to entertainment. They have been swallowed by the culture. It’s going to get worse. I have seen some Hollywood scripts and they are atrocious.
“Our answer is to show heroic characters on stage. Young people imitate their heroes.”
While movies cost millions to make, plays are the “grassroots of entertainment,” Gallagher explained. He noted that they can have a “profound impact” on college and high school students.
“Great plays become movies and then DVDs and enter the marketplace of ideas,” he added.
Last year, urged by some Los Angeles-area Catholics to go “right to the heart of Tinseltown,” Gallagher and his son Peter founded G.K. Chesterton Theatre Company in Santa Monica.
Because some non-Catholics would not attend a Quo Vadis production, the new company was secular in nature to appeal to a wider audience. However, its plays are in the same genre of inspiring stories about heroes, saints and martyrs.
The new company’s first production was “Malcolm and Teresa,” a play Gallagher wrote based on British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge’s conversion, which resulted from his encounters with Mother Teresa.
It received “excellent reviews,” Gallagher told CNA, explaining that it had a six-week run. Some theatergoers returned for a second viewing and others asked that its run be extended.
G.K. Chesterton Theatre Company is seeking permanent space in Los Angeles, Gallagher said, and needs financial support from the business community.
“A theatre of our own would serve as an oasis in a pretty sordid world. It would enable us to train new playwrights and screenwriters and maybe bring about a Catholic renaissance in the arts,” he said.
Other plays Gallagher has produced include “Viva Cristo Rey,” about the Mexican Jesuit martyr Blessed Miguel Pro, as well as a drama based on a priest’s account of a death row inmate’s conversion in 1944 Mississippi. His play “The Pearl of York” depicts the 16th century English martyr St. Margaret Clitherow.
“Margaret of Castello,” his next production, portrays the life of the young Italian woman who led a life of sanctity in 13th century Florence despite being born blind, lame and a hunchback, and also being abandoned by her parents.
“The theme is obviously pro-life,” Gallagher told CNA. “Every human being has worth and a God-given place in the human family.”
The play opens October 8 at the Historic Hoover Theater in San Jose, California, with tickets going on sale October 1.
The website of Quo Vadis Theatre Company is http://www.quovadistheatre.org.