by Tulis McCall
Sometimes it is a good thing to see a play, such as The Glory of the World by Charles Mee, now at BAM, after it has opened and the various critics have taken their turns opinionating and bloviating as we all do. It is a good thing because sometimes a person can wonder, as I do now, “Did Charles Isherwood and I see the same play?” I guess so, but that is why I love the theatre. First of all, no two performances are identical because the theatre is alive. No two breaths are identical, and breath is the source of theatre. Each moment is unique and yesterday’s performance cannot be repeated, no matter how hard an actor tries. Second – it only seats one up here in my head. Therefore, even if we were at the same show together, you and I would see different productions. As Mr. Isherwood and I did.
I adore Charles Mee’s work. When I attend his plays I am asked to check my coat, my hat and my head at the door. Relinquish my thoughts and predispositions, fasten my seatbelt, and enjoy the ride. On the way out my head and other belongings are returned to me with a few minor adjustments having been made during our separation.
The Glory of the World is billed as a birthday party for Thomas Merton , Catholic priest, author, poet, philosopher, social activist etc. And I’ll say it is. Is it ever. More than that, however, it is a present day mythic tale that could be title What Happens When Men Get Together With No Adult Supervision. I once heard a friend say that he never goes to a party unless he is the top dog, because he doesn’t like to waste time sparring for position. Ever since then I have noticed this phenomenon over and over again. It’s all about positioning when the boys are involved. In Glory this phenomena is revealed in spades.
Although these men initially come together to celebrate the great philosopher and pacifist, they end up each holding the short end of the stick, because that is the end reserved for humans in all their unwieldy messy aliveness.
The play opens with a man sitting at a simple desk with his back to us. His thoughts, specific but not remarkable, are projected onto the rear wall. He withdraws after a bit as nineteen men of various hues, heights and builds – all very fine eye candy, thank you – swan out onto the stage in an amiable mélange. Drinks in hand, they are every bit the modern men they represent themselves to be. This faux congeniality lasts roughly a nanno-second before the games begin.
First there is a toast to welcome every one and salute Merton the Pacifist.
This is followed with a not-to-make-too-fine-a-point-of-it-toast to Merton the Buddhist.
Here -here -here.
Which is chased down by a toast to Merton the Communist.
Which is seconded and raised…. And the barn doors yawn open.
The men salute Merton the writer, the drinker the lover and the father. For good measure other famous folks are quoted until the boys become a little rowdy and start to turn on each other. Passions, disappointments and desires are revealed. They throw bottles. They throw their own bodies. They dance. They compare and capitulate. They philosophize on truth, the origin of life, and the fact that Merton would have likes this party. Because he was a life adventurer, was he not?
Eventually these men fall in love with the sound of their own voices trippingly telling tales and expounding on fantasies. It would be great to be a bohemian. It would, however, be even better to be one with 6 mill, in the hands of an investment banker, which would give you the freedom to act like a bohemian without having to be one burdened by all the things that burden bohemians. Or you could join a monastery like Merton did and – *Presto* – have no worries. Soon the men are on the quoting jag again, slightly elevated they think, bringing in a slurry of the famous and the not so. Philosophy comes from the oddest places! Woody Allen to Mary Crowley to Chuck Palahniuk.
The quoting passes like a torch from one to the other. Birthday cake is brought out. Clothes are changed. There is singing and dancing and games upon games. No one relaxes for a minute. The men are on the prowl. They are hounds of the human sort.
Finally we return to Merton: We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone—we find it with another. There is a short medley of the variations on the Shit Happens series. And this devolves into some serious grumpy behavior.
Like I said – this is what happens when you leave a bunch of guys sequestered with only their own lousy thoughts bubbling up to remind them that the pretend game they are playing doesn’t fly. Especially when you are talking about Merton. You can’t pretend for very long when you are focused on a perfectly imperfect man who was in pursuit of his own humanity. Who studied life and this business of being alive. He took no prisoners, and when lesser-thans try Merton on for size, it is not a perfect fit.
Nor should it be. It is, nevertheless, a fascinating evening. It may not be your cuppa, because you will have a few brain cells scrambled. But it certainly is mine.
Up for an adventure, anyone?
The Glory of the WorldBy Charles L. Mee; directed by Les Waters;
by Philip Allgeier; dramaturge, Amy Wegener; production stage manager, Amanda Spooner; consulting producer, Jessica R. Jenen; line producer, Jeffrey S. Rodgers; technical director, Noah Johnson. An Actors Theater of Louisville production, Mr. Waters, artistic director; Jennifer Bielstein, managing director; presented by Brooklyn Academy of Music, Alan H. Fishman, chairman of the board; Katy Clark, president; Joseph V. Melillo, executive producer, with Knight Blanc. Through Feb. 6 at the Harvey Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 651 Fulton Street; 718-636-4100, bam.org. Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes.
WITH: Bruce McKenzie (Albert), Andrew Garman (Benny), David Ryan Smith (Cameron), Conrad Schott (Conrad), Aaron Lynn (Robert), Eric Berryman (Roland), Ryan Bourque (Arnold), Barney O’Hanlon (Bobby), Les Waters or Will Oldham (a Man), Cameron Benoit (Pizza Boy) and Josh Bonzie, John Ford-Dunker, José Leon, Joe Lino, Max Monnig, Collin Morris, Brian Muldoon, Blake Russell and Lorenzo Villanueva (Ensemble).