is the author of the successful book—THE MAKING OF A MORON
THE difficulty with the idea of 1 Catholic Theatre is to get at what it means. It is widely used, not always understood in the same way, and provocative of much argument. A pity, for like the church it is no one exclusive thing. Jacobs coat always hangs in the theatre wardrobe.
Since the word "theatre" more commonly refers to an architectural rather than a philosophic entity, the word drama is preferable; and Catholic Drama exists when a group of Catholics is sufficiently interested hi the present condition of entertainment to try and do something about it.
The result may be good or bad, but the idea is there. It is not always a clear idea. The fact that entertainment can be a means of sanctification is hotly contested by many people who have to sit through certain kinds of religious play.
It is unfortunate that some who are more fervent than competent put their energies into the sanctifying rather than the entertaining. Piety is no substitute for competence. A production which self-consciously preaches a second-rate sermon is a bad production.
The function of Catholic drama is to entertain; by so doing it justifies its claim to be drama. So far as it is good drama, rightly resolved, it will implicitly contain a sermon, though neither audience nor participants may recognise it as such; and so far as it gives to the audience something which makes their spiritual life easier or clearer, it justifies its claim to be Catholic.
Such groups are normally of two kinds: the one which is already connected with a parish or Catholic organisation and which runs amateur theatre for its members; and the group of Catholics who come together deliberately because they dislike contemporary standards of amusement and want to provide something better.
Fr HERE is no greater militancy 1 demanded of the amateur group, but it fulfils a precious need both for players and for audiences. The parish amateurs are probably the nearest we can get now to the spontaneous drama of the Middle Ages. If the standards are sometimes low, it is not the fault of the idea; and the standards are often extremely good.
The csansciously-formed apostolic group takes a greater risk, and sometimes achieves a better result. Its danger is over-zealousness; the corresponding advantage is the chance of making something passionately alive and, today, original.
Both groups complain about the shortage of Catholic plays. Catholic plays are plentiful. Practically every play written in Christendom before Protestantism infected our literature is at least negatively Catholic; that is, they contain nothing offensive to faith and the conflicts are resolved in accordance with morality. A substantial number of European plays written since are of the same type.
In addition to the recognised classics of all languages, the Catholic :trnateur group has the rich field of medieval drama from which to choose. There are many old plays of proven literary and dramatic quality whose adaptation to the modern stage can and ought to be done. There is admittedly a chronic shortage of modern plays in English suitable for Catholics, and of course virtually no "fashionable" plays of today are suitable. This point might well be remembered by the Catholic West End theatre-goer whose box office ticket helps to keep so many nasty plays on the stage. Nobody worries about his subsequent snort pi disapproval; he has paid his money and that is all the adversary asks of him.
The Catholic amateur group still has the pick of the world's proven hest plays from which to choose. The objection that they are more costly IC' stage cannot be sustained if a few unnecessary conventions arc abandoned; and the resultant simplicity not only enhances the play but makes it economically easier to stage.
THE difficulty with old plays which I has to be overcome is not the .supply of suitable plays. but the fact that our infection by 300 years of wrong thinking makes so many of them unacceptable not because of subject of resolution but because of language, treatment, and plot. The unexpurgated "Othello," a vividly Christian play, takes for granted an easy familiarity with the facts of life.
We have not become more moral; we have only become more delicate. A sophisticated satire on marriage wittily spoken and elegantly dressed offepils us less than a rousing, ribald Elizabethan statement of Christian virtue. The fault is ours. We should become less Puritan and more European.
A living theatre must however have its own playwrights. There is a bad shortage of modem writers in English for the Catholic stage, but there arc some. They are not well known because there is little demand for them.
Negative Catholicism has some chance of success, even in the West End. Plays morally indifferent and artistically presented will naturally come into the pattern of Catholic theatre, and such plays are the least that can he asked of the Catholic amateur group seeking sophistication unsullied by any sign of apostolicity. The positively Catholic play is another matter and the danger facing the playwright here is to avoid committing himself to a second-rate sermon.
All drama is conflict and its resolution. The resolution of a conflict appreciated only by the logic of Catholics. or advanced Christians is not however likely to command a wide audience. If there is no resolution of a conflict but merely a pious vanquishing of the wicked, the production is not likely to command any sort of audience.
While there is a place for the play. aimed at an exclusive initiated audience, the obvious and most fruitful field for the Catholic writer is the resolution of conflicts known to all men and in terms olthe whole man : that is. in universal or Catholic terms. The Catholic answer to a universal problem is the formula which may even get Catholic playwrights on to the commercial stage.
Only one answer
ERIOUS modern playwrights, 1-ithroughout the English-speaking world, and on the Continent, have grappled with universal problems and failed to supply the answer to them. The result is on the one hand a spate of morbid and pessimistic tragedies, on the other indulgence in pointless frivolous comedies.
Universal problems are the logical material for great drama. and in France, England and U.S.A., the secular playwrights have failed to cope with this material because there is really only one answer: the Catholic answer. T h e Catholic answer derives from the only true understanding of the problem : the awareness of the whole man, body, soul, life-after-death, and original sin to name only a handful of the elements which make up a man.
The simplification of the concept of man has not only caused chaos in politics and society; it has caused chaos in literature. It is up to those who know the truth to supply it to those who want it.
Catholic drama needs one other thing. The theatre is a dangerous environment. It breeds jealousy, neurosis, excitement, laxity and vanity. And all of these can intrude into the most innocent Catholic company if the object in view is obscured by the immediate distractions.
That is why, all other things being equal and technical competence having been attained, Catholic drama still cannot operate solely as a theatre project. It needs its liturgy. Nothing helps the apostolate of entertainment quite as much as the group prayer, at rehearsal or on stage before the curtain rises. There are many suitable prayers available. They should be said as much to keep the objective clear as to ask God's help for a worthy work.