The Deacon's Bench

Is the Holy Spirit up to something?

Just days after I posted this little item on Fr. James Martin’s new book, “A Jesuit Off-Broadway,” comes word that a new theater company in St. Louis is planning to stage dramas about religion and spirituality:

A new theater company is set to make its debut in St. Louis next month with the hope of bringing the Word of God to life onstage.

Kevin O’Brien, a convert to Catholicism and member of Cathedral Basilica Parish in the Central West End, launched this month Theater of the Word Inc., a local theater company with a focus on productions from a Catholic perspective.

A longtime actor who has made theater a self-sustaining way of life for himself, 46-year-old O’Brien said he has always had a lingering interest in the power of words and beauty of drama. He said he wants that interest to translate into a message of substance for the audience.

“If we can live out our faith on stage and entertain people and maybe make them think a little bit, we might have an avenue through their hearts, into their own souls and into their own conversion,” said O’Brien. “I hope this will be an apostolate for us … where we can begin to reach people.”

Theater of the Word’s first season begins Friday, Sept. 21, in the Pope John Paul II Auditorium on the campus of the Cardinal Rigali Center in Shrewsbury. The six-person company will offer five performances through April 2008. (See related story, Page 6.)

“They’re all Catholic or Christian dramas or comedies, but they’re not necessarily apologetic in nature,” said O’Brien. “In other words, they’re not preachy, and they’re not necessarily overtly Catholic.”

Theater of the Word has received support from Archbishop Raymond L. Burke and Ignatius Press in getting the initiative off the ground, O’Brien said.

A highlight of the troupe’s first season includes “The Surprise,” by G.K. Chesterton, an early 20th-century British author and convert to Catholicism, whose writings, O’Brien said, are enjoying a renewed interest.

“He was influential in the conversion of C.S. Lewis, who wrote ‘The Chronicles of Narnia,’” said O’Brien. Chesterton “wrote mystery stories, apologetics, he wrote novels, he wrote a handful of plays, and ‘The Surprise,’ I think is his best.”

He described “The Surprise” as a romantic fairy tale with “deep philosophical and theological components, all presented in a very entertaining and surprising way.

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