Theater company focuses on faith, Scripture


As a St. Louis-based Catholic theater production company launches its new season this weekend, its founder noted that the goal remains to bring people closer to the faith and Scriptures.

Theater of the Word will kick off its sophomore effort the weekend of Dec. 5-7 with "Morning Star Christmas," a two-act play that delivers two separate, yet important messages on the meaning of Christmas, according to Kevin O’Brien, a member of the Cathedral Basilica Parish who started the company in the summer of 2007.

The first half will share the story of a recently converted Ebenezer Scrooge as he encounters three new ghosts — the spirits of Christmas past, "presents," and future — who represent "elements which are active today in our culture and seek to kill the spirit of Christmas," said O’Brien. "They represent attitudes that make Christmas difficult for all of us, even if we have had a conversion of heart, as Scrooge did."

Audiences also will catch in the second act a glimpse into the story of the nativity from the perspective of the Bethlehem innkeeper and his wife who turned away the Holy Family on the night of Jesus’ birth.

It also is a "modernized" version of the Second Shepherds’ Play, a famous mystery play from medieval times in England, said O’Brien. "It’s very entertaining and funny in parts, but it’s also a poignant, touching story," he added.

In 2009, Theater of the Word will welcome British author Joseph Pearce, who penned "The Quest for Shakespeare," an insight into the famous literary writer’s connection to the Catholic Church.

Pearce will intermingle his scholarly work with short scenes from Hamlet performed by the cast, according to O’Brien. Pearce’s research, he said, has shown "a good deal of documentary evidence. He is at the forefront of this scholarly investigation into the possibility that Shakespeare was in fact a Catholic. He was a recused Catholic who adamantly continued to go to ‘secret’ Mass and resisted the official imposed state religion in Elizabethan England."

Other productions in 2009 include a special presentation on St. Valentine’s Day, which will feature a one-act comedy about the "war" between the sexes and another segment that presents a view of love based on Scripture and the saints.

"Passion of Our Lord," held during the Lenten season, will be culled from the four Gospels and will include short films and other clips "from a Catholic point of view," said O’Brien.

"Socrates Meets Jesus," shown in April, is an adaptation from Peter Kreeft’s fictional book, which depicts the story of Greek philosopher Socrates, who comes back to life and enters college, only to discover someone whom everyone’s talking about: Jesus Christ.

"Socrates finds himself at a modern American college, and he starts going to classes and talking to students," said O’Brien. "They think he’s a crazy old man, but he engages them in a theocratic dialogue.

"Then there comes this point where he’s hearing about this Jesus. So he starts going to classes: one on the Old Testament, and then one on the New Testament. Kreeft shows what the greatest thinker of pre-Christian time would have made of Jesus Christ."

Theater of the Word has been taking more of its productions on the road, noted O’Brien, who added that the company just returned from a week on the East Coast.

"We did nine shows in New York, and in every case, people were just so happy about what we were doing," he said. "We’re beginning to see that this is something that people from all walks of life are really hungry for and really responding to."

In addition, Theater of the Word also will appear on EWTN on several occasions in the coming year.

On Monday, Dec. 15, O’Brien will share his personal story of conversion from atheism to Catholicism during a live interview with Marcus Grodi on "The Journey Home." The program will air at 7 p.m. St. Louis time.

Theater of the Word also will bring its "Quest for Shakespeare" performance to EWTN for a series of the same name, featuring Joseph Pearce. It is expected to air sometime in March.

And in the fall of 2009, O’Brien will launch a 13-part series, called "Theater of the Word Incorporated," which will serve as an anthology of Catholic drama, as performed by his troupe as well as other Catholic performers from around the United States.

As for the future, O’Brien said he is looking forward to continuing to spread the Gospel message to the masses through drama.

Printed with permission from the St. Louis Review.

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