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A Jesuit Off-Broadway: Behind the Scenes with Faith, Doubt, Forgiveness, and More
Loyola Press / 2011 / Paperback
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An Off-Broadway cast has plenty of questions about life and faith and Fr. James Martin, an author and Jesuit priest, is just the right person to offer them some answers. In 2005 he served as theological advisor for an off-Broadway play, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. In A Jesuit Off-Broadway he combines conversations with actors, the director, and playright along with historical details of first century Palestine to take readers for an inside tour of the play itself and the minds of the performers. A Publisher's Weekly "Best Book" of the Year!
Many of us have questions about the Bible: Can we believe the Bible? What was Jesus mission? What is sin? Does hell exist? Is anyone beyond Gods forgiveness? In A Jesuit Off-Brodway, James Martin, SJ, answers these questions about the Bible, and other big questions about life, as he serves as a theological advisor to the cast of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.
Grab a front-row seat to Fr. Martin's six months with the LAByrinth Theater Company and see first-hand what it's like to share the faith with a largely secular group of people . . . and discover, along with Martin, that the sacred and the secular aren't always that far apart.
James Martin, SJ, is associate editor of America magazine. A prolific author, writer, and editor, his books include Searching for God at Ground Zero, In Good Company, My Life with the Saints, and A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, and his articles have appered in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Tablet, and Commonweal. He resides in New York City.
Stephen Adly Guirgis is an American playwright, screenwriter, and actor. He is a member and co-artistic director of New York City's LAByrinth Theater Company. His plays have been produced on five continents and throughout the United States. His plays include The Little Flower of East Orange, Our Lady of 121st Street, Jesus Hopped the A Train, In Arabia, Wed All Be Kings, and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot produced by LAByrinth in collaboration with The Public Theater in 2005.
"Part retreat, part seminar, part master class, James Martins account of his role as theological adviser for a play about Jesus and Judas is ultimately a spellbinding story of faith, friendship, and the deepest mysteries of the heart. Like a great drama, its impact lingers long after the curtain has fallen."
"Father Martins account of his experiences as an adviser to the Off-Broadway production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is not only riveting; it is also theologically important: no one who reads this book can come away thinking that Christianity is just a set of dry rules and regulations. Father Martin helps us see that we all play our parts in a great and complex cosmic drama about the goodness of creation, the pain of sin and brokenness, and the power of Gods redemptive love."
"This memoir is a superb exercise of the Catholic imagination, delighting in the profound connections between sacred and secular. James Martin is both Virgil and Dante, not only guiding us through an engaging drama but also recounting how he himself was changed by the experience. And is that not the goal of all theaterand the Christian life?"
"The estimable James Martin compresses a short course in New Testament criticism along with a glimpse into Ignatian spirituality while creating a model for making friends in this fast-paced account of his experiences as a Jesuit consultant for an Off-Broadway play about Judas. In the narrative, Martin shows us how he almost inadvertently morphed from a consultant into an unofficial chaplain. This book is a vivid lesson about how the Christian life can be led when it is lived out in the midst of the real (and imagined) world."
"James Martins storytelling at its best! A Jesuit Off-Broadway provides a fascinating glimpse into the production of a new play, beautifully blending pop culture with the gospel, and theater with theology. Martin and his colorful cast accomplish much more than five acts. In retelling the Passion story, they make it real."
A Jesuit Off-Broadway: Center Stage with Jesus, Judas, and Lifes Big Questions by James Martin, SJ
A few years ago, I read Father Martins wonderful memoir My Life With the Saints. He commented on that original review, and he was probably the first author to ever comment on my blog, which was extremely gratifying. Thats one thing I really appreciate about the internet: it is so easy for me to get in contact with authors and tell them how much I have enjoyed their work. (One time an author did comment on a bad review in which I was kind of mean. You will notice that I temper my bad reviews a little more now. Or just dont post them.)
Since I dont work at the public library anymore, its hard for me to stay on top of every single thing I would like to read, so I hadnt realized that he had some other books since then. I put his newest one on hold and also got a copy of A Jesuit Off-Broadway, which sounded so interesting to me. Its about his time acting as a theological consultant for the play The Last Days of Judas Iscariot which was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and starred Sam Rockwell. Father Martin walks us through the theology and story of Judas time with and betrayal of Jesus as he is also telling us the story of how the play came to be and what the people involved learned from it.
I came away from this book thinking, yet again, that Father Martin seems like a kind and thoughtful man. I was impressed at how, in his story, he sought to respect everyones faith journey while also admitting that he truly hoped that the experience would in some way convert them to Christianity/Catholicism. I wished that there was more about the long talks he had with the author of the play, Stephen Guirgis, as they worked out the motives and consequences of Judass actions, because I would have loved to hear more of the honest questions and answers that they explored. I also learned a lot about some of the saints that the play featured and expanded my own ideas of who some of the disciples were not just Judas but also Thomas and Peter. The thoughtful discussions about the ideas of forgiveness and despair were some of the other highlights for me personally.
I will admit that I couldnt keep every cast member straight, but there was a chart at the beginning that I could have studied a little bit closer. I was especially impressed at how hard-working and considerate of each other the cast seemed to be. We all have this idea of diva actors, but these men and women seemed to be just the opposite and worked long hours to make sure the message of the play came through as clearly as possible.
I started reading this book just after I gave my This I Believe speech at church, and I was so disappointed that I hadnt started it earlier, because I would have loved to include part of this passage:
C.H. Dodd, the great Scripture scholar, defined a parable as "a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought." In other words, parables are poetic explanations of concepts that are otherwise impossible to comprehend fully.
The concept of the kingdom of God is too rich to be encompassed by something as simple as a definition. And the notion of radical forgiveness is impossible to explain in a few words, no matter how carefully chosen. Jesus grasped the benefit of telling a story about, say, a fathers reconciliation with his prodigal son and allowing the hearers to tease out the underlying meaning for themselves. Besides, if Jesus had given a philosophical lecture to the predominantly peasant community, they probably wouldnt have understood him anyway.
Where a strictly worded definition can be somewhat shallow and actually close down a persons thoughts, a story is endlessly deep and more likely to open ones mind. Jesus stories carried meaning without having to be converted into a concept, and the power of his parables was that they always went against the expectations of the audience, as when the Samaritan, hailing from a hated ethnic group, was ultimately revealed as the good guy who cares for the stranger. "The deep places in our livesplaces of resistance and embraceare not ultimately reached by instruction," wrote the Protestant theologian Walter Brueggemann. "Those places of resistance and embrace are reached only by stories, by images, metaphors and phrases that line out the world differently, apart from our fear and hurt."
That last paragraph explains a lot of Father Martins excitement about the play itself and the people he met while working with it. And it deeply resonated with me as I have been thinking so much about the power of story. I recommend this book for people who have an interest in theological stories and plays and for people who enjoy reading about the workings of theater productions. And I will reiterate my previous recommendation of My Life With the Saints, which is a book that has stayed with me since I posted about it almost exactly four years ago.
You can read Father Martins columns in America magazine and see him as an occasional visitor on The Colbert Report (here is a clip from a recent show).
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