A Jesuit Off-Broadway

A Jesuit Off-Broadway

by James Martin

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A Jesuit priest, a New York play, and questions as profound as they come . . .

A few years after being called to the priesthood, Father James Martin was startled to get a very different kind of call one evening in 2004: a phone call from actor Sam Rockwell. Rockwell had been cast for the part of Judas Iscariot in an Off-Broadway play, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, where Judas was on trial for his crime of betraying Jesus. Would Martin be willing to serve as a theological consultant for the play? Martin gladly obliged, and within weeks playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, director Philip Seymour Hoffman, and members of the cast began to dialogue with Martin about a host of spiritual issues that the play evoked: Can we believe the Bible? What was Jesus' mission? What is sin? Does hell exist? Is anyone beyond God's forgiveness?
A Jesuit Off-Broadway recounts Martin's six months with the LAByrinth Theater Company and his education in the making of a play, from the writing of the script to the cast party on closing night. At the same time, the occasionally profane and routinely free-spirited creative team and actors learned from Martin key insights into Christian faith and theology, while often revealing a profoundly spiritual side to their lives. By the time the final curtain fell, Martin and the cast had gleaned important and at times surprising lessons from each other as they realized how the sacred and the secular aren't always that far apart . . . and how, in the end, questions tell us more than answers ever do.

What happens when theater and theology share the stage?

Discover the answer in this thought-provoking memoir by Christopher Award-winning author and Jesuit priest James Martin. Take a front-row seat to Father Martin's six-month experience as a theological consultant for the New York theater production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, directed by Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, and starring Sam Rockwell and Eric Bogosian. While Martin thoughtfully responds to the deeply spiritual and soul-searching questions posed to him by the creative team and actors-questions that many of us ponder at one time or another in our lives-he learns about the world of professional theater and all that is required to put on a successful play.
Join Father Martin as he takes this fascinating foray into the acting arena . . . and offers answers to some of life's biggest questions.

"A vivid lesson in how the Christian life can be lived in the midst of the real world."
Lawrence S. Cunningham
John A. O'Brien Professor of Theology
University of Notre Dame

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780829429930
Publisher: Loyola Press
Publication date: 06/01/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 859,661
File size: 3 MB

Read an Excerpt


Have you ever wanted to cross-examine a Priest? I did. Over many lunches and dinners and coffees and late-night phone calls and even-later-night calls, and then during early-morning meetings after late-night dinners and phone calls. I forcefully, aggressively, and desperately cross-examined Father Jim on anything and everything having to do with Scripture, Catholicism, The Priesthood, Jesus and Judas, Heaven and Hell, God’s Plan and the Nature of Man—and then followed up my questioning?with more questions that had little, if anything, to do with ANY of the above. I asked many questions that, perhaps, one is not supposed to ask, and, on occasion, Father Jim would reply with answers that perhaps he was not supposed to give. I tried to—and needed to—leave no stone unturned, and Father Jim, secure in his faith and his priesthood, never did anything but supply direct answers to pointed questions. And he did so kindly, thoughtfully, and with both a passion for the subject and a wealth of com-passion for me—his confused, often irate and disconsolate lapsed Catholic Interrogator. In short, he was everything I think a Priest should be: kind, caring, thoughtful, strong, unimpeachable—and up for the challenge. In short, I have no doubt that Father Jim is one of Jesus’ true soldiers. And trust me: I’m not the doubt-free type. I drown in doubt, and to the degree that that’s true, Father Jim, from our first meeting and right up to today, is slowly teaching me to swim.
—Stephen Adly Guirgis Author, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Until a few months ago, what I knew about the theater—playwriting, directing, acting, dramaturgy, set design, and all the rest—wouldn’t have filled a paper cup. When the playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis and the actor Sam Rockwell contacted me to help with a new Off-Broadway play called The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, I wondered how much I could contribute to their production. On the other hand, after sixteen years as a Jesuit, I thought that I might be able to help the two learn something about what happened in first-­century Palestine to the itinerant preacher and the man who betrayed him.
My journey with the cast of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot was actually a short one, beginning and ending in the space of just six months. Like many memorable trips in one’s life, it wasn’t one I had planned on making.

Act 1: Into the Deep End

October to December

Judas called first.
About Judas Very little is known about Judas. The Reverend John Meier, a professor of New Testament at Notre Dame and the author of a multivolume study on Jesus called A Marginal Jew, is one of the leading contemporary scholars on the “historical Jesus.” In the third volume of his work, entitled Companions and Competitors, Meier notes that only two basic things are known about Judas: Jesus chose him as one of the twelve apostles, and he handed Jesus over to the Jewish authorities.
“That soul up there who suffers most of all,”
As Paffenroth notes, most of the Passion plays popular throughout Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries accentuated the ties between Judas and the Jewish people. The development of the most famous of these plays shows how central that identification was.
The Birth of a God-Haunted Play Stephen Adly Guirgis’s theological interests were even more wide-­ranging than Sam Rockwell’s. As the playwright, he needed to know not only about Judas but also about all the events leading up to the Crucifixion, including the roles of Pontius Pilate, the Jewish leader Caiaphas the Elder, and the apostles.
The Making of a Playwright Before my first meeting with Stephen, his new play already had a long history. In a way, it had begun when Stephen was in third grade. That year, one of the Dominican sisters teaching at Corpus Christi told his class the story of Judas. Stephen was horrified. He believed in a loving God, and the idea that God had consigned Judas to a place called hell “just stopped me in my tracks.” He loved and respected the nuns in his school but wondered about what they were telling him. How could God not feel sorry for Judas?
Theological questions were indeed foremost in the playwright’s mind, and our conversations ranged from broader questions about grace, forgiveness, and despair to more detailed inquiries into the history of the individual characters in the drama.
    Cunningham.    I see. And you governed or procurated over Judea from ­twenty-six to ­thirty-six A.D., correct?
Pilate’s dismissive responses to Cunningham always elicited laughter from the audience. But Guirgis was interested in more than simply getting laughs or making Pilate a risible figure. Ultimately, the playwright wanted to help the audience appreciate the complicated mix of motives that led to the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.

Who Killed Jesus?
The most notable recent effort to answer Stephen’s question is a ­sixteen-­hundred-page, two-­volume work, The Death of the Messiah, written by Raymond E. Brown, a Catholic priest and one of the leading New Testament scholars of the late twentieth century. He points out that while it is clear that some of the Jewish leaders were opposed to Jesus, it is also clear that only Rome had the power to condemn and crucify a man.
    Caiaphas.    Our Torah has six hundred thirteen Sacred Laws—I can’t even count how many Jesus broke or treated with wanton disregard and disdain! He broke the laws that came from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! He violated the word of God. He violated the Laws of Moses. He consorted with the Unclean, and women, and prostitutes. He performed Miracles on the Sabbath, He proclaimed himself Messiah! He forgave sin! Who was he to forgive sin?! Only God can do that! If that’s not crossing the line, then I don’t know what is!!

So controversial was this question of responsibility that Jeffrey DeMunn, who would play Caiaphas, said that taking on the role scared him, though he had worked as an actor for more than thirty years.

Excerpted from "A Jesuit Off-Broadway"
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Copyright © 2011 James Martin.
Excerpted by permission of Loyola Press.
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Table of Contents


Dramatis Personae    ix Foreword by Stephen Adly Guirgis    xi Prologue    xv

Act 1: Into the Deep End    1
Act 2: Teasing the Mind into Active Thought    53
Act 3: Fully Human, Fully Divine    127
Act 4: The Messiah Has a Cold    167
Act 5: Hearts on Fire    201
For Further Reading    231

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