In Celebration of Santa Fe's 400th Anniversary
Beginning on September 17, 2010, and continuing for three consecutive weekends, The Arden Players (TAP) in association with El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe and Teatro Paraguas, will produce the world premiere of Deborah Dennison’s The Lion in the Lamb: The Revolutionary Spirit of Francis of Assisi (LIL) which will be the first play produced at El Museo under the new direction of an expanded Board of Directors. TAP plan to take LIL to the famed Edinburgh Festival in 2011. The play investigates the historical Francis’s radical response to embracing the true spirit of the Christian message.
The medieval world of the Twelfth and Thirteenth centuries in Europe was built on the conflict of diametrically opposed forces: Holy Roman Empire versus the Papacy, politics versus religion and human ambition versus faith. It was the age of Crusades to the holy lands and the last gasp of feudalism prior to the growth of a middle class and a movement to more democratic social institutions.
Francis was born into this world in 1182 to a rich cloth merchant Pietro di Bernardone. In 1202, civil war broke out among the nobles and the citizens and Francis spent a year in prison in Perugia after his capture at the Battle of Collestrada before being ransomed by his father. Bedridden for a year, Francis still was infected with dreams of knighthood and chivalry and attempted to join the Fourth Crusade before returning abruptly to Assisi. From late 1204 until early 1206, Francis underwent a period of reflection which culminated in a vision in which the crucifix in the Church of San Damiano “spoke” to him telling the young man to rebuild the Church. After an ecclesiastical trial before Bishop Guido of Assisi in which his father sued for the recovery of monies his son had collected from selling some of the merchant’s cloth, Francis radically changed his life by embracing poverty and preaching. After repairing San Damiano and other churches, Francis refurbished Santa Maria degli Angeli (Portiuncola) which was to become the starting point for the growth of his particular religious movement.
In 1208, Francis began to have followers and one year later received papal oral approval of an organization of lay friars. In 1211, Francis welcomed the fateful escape of eighteen-year old Clare Favorini Scifi, from her family and sent her to San Damiano where she founded the Order of Poor Ladies and lived a cloistered life until her death in 1253.
For approximately the next decade, Francis went on preaching tours of Southern Italy, Germany, England, and a final tour of Umbria and established ecclesiastical rules for his community. In 1219, he traveled to Egypt during the Fifth Crusade to nurse the sick and wounded and spoke directly to the Saracens. Inspired by their leader’s initiative, the Franciscans date their presence in the Holy Land to the Thirteenth Century.
In 1224, Francis began suffering the stigmata (five wounds that mirror those suffered by Christ on the Cross) and in 1226 returned to Assisi to die. Francis died in Portiuncola on October 3, 1226, and was buried in Assisi on October 4 which became his official feast day in the Catholic Church. He was canonized in 1228 and has been proclaimed Patron Saint of Italy (1939) and Patron of Ecology (1980).
In an interview on August 24, 2010, with author-director Deborah Dennison, we discussed her life-long interest in Francis of Assisi: “When my Jewish half-sister was converting to Catholicism during her teen years, she told me that Francis took his pigs to meet the Pope. Later, I found out that this was not quite true. However, [her fanciful story] piqued my interest in Francis, and I have wanted to write this play for a very long time.”
Deborah has been driven to compose this play now not just because of the timeliness of Santa Fe’s 400th Anniversary but also because of the contemporary relevance of its message: “Many public figures today make a claim to Christianity and Francis’s life is an example of a man who lived according to the gospel teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in true imitation of Christ.” The playwright is also taken with Francis’s prescient acceptance of all aspects of life: “The play is more history than legend. My historical research revealed a man of extraordinary courage who learned to embrace the most vile and wretched elements of the world around him and to respect nature and our fellow creatures in a consciousness that only today is beginning to be realized in the dominant culture.”
In discussing LIL, Deborah Dennison offers a caveat while articulating the work’s essential theme: “This play [LIL] does not attempt to proselytize or to promote religion. Indeed, it’s an exploration of the idea of faith in action. [Furthermore], Francis’s contemporaries considered him an extremist. The purity and joy of his belief attracted an enormous following among people both rich and poor. The heart of LIL is that passionate faith does not have to be violent, destructive, or judgmental whether we are talking about Islamic jihad or Christian fundamentalism.”
In response to a query about how one presents to a Twenty-First Century audience the world of the Thirteenth Centuries, Deborah was expansive: “I always ask myself what it is to breathe the air and walk the streets [of any historical play I am directing]. For example, when I directed Tartuffe, I wanted to recreate the feel of late Seventeenth Century Paris. [With LIL], I did hours of searching through contemporary records and reading authoritative histories. I also remembered my own previous travels in the Mediterranean and drew on personal anecdotal experiences, including my trip as an eight-year old to the dungeons in the Medici Palace in Florence….To bring an audience to time and place, I employ costumes, the set, physical movement, and language. [For example], in LIL, I tried to create a slight formality of language to separate the culture of the play from the audience’s vernacular.”
Deborah’s challenge as an author-director is simple: “…a lack of distance and perspective. However, I am trusting the audience feedback will be enormously helpful” She also praises her cast for their intelligence and professionalism: “The great joy of having such a seasoned, smart, and talented cast has been essential in fine-tuning the play.” The cast includes Angelo Jaramillo, Jonathan Richards, Tad Jones, Beth Jones, Paul Walsky, Todd Melnick, Robert Thorpe, Allison Roper, and Ray Gere.
As a final observation, Deborah Dennison reiterates her essential point that “[LIL] is not a treatise but a fast-paced, entertaining show.”
The Lion in the Lamb will be performed on Fridays (9/17, 9/24 & 10/1) and on Saturdays (9/18, 9/25 & 10/2) at 8 P.M. and on Sundays (9/19, 9/26 & 10/3) at 2 P.M. at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe (Santa Fe Railyard).
Tickets are $15 for adults & $10 for seniors and students. There are special rates
available for groups of eight or more. Sunday 9/19 is a pay-what-you-wish performance.
A percentage of all the box office receipts will benefit Endangered Species with donations going to the Environmental Defense Fund in the name of St. Francis and Santa Fe.
For further information and reservations, please go to www.theardenplayers.org. or phone (505) 501-1709.