Karol Wojtyla Theatre Festival
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 18, 2007
The Storm Theatre is producing two of the plays that John Paul II wrote before he became Pope. The first to be presented is the second chronologically: The Jeweler's Shop was written in 1960, when Karol Wojtyla was Bishop of Krakow (and that's important).
It's a stark, intellectual play, in three short acts (performed here without an intermission, with total running time of about an hour and a half). The first segment is about a man and woman who have decided to get married. Through interwoven monologues that represent their thoughts as they gaze into the window of the jeweler's shop where they're going to buy their wedding rings, they contemplate the history of their relationship and its evolving nature; they also consider what is signified by the rings they're about to purchase. It's far-ranging, conceptual, analytical, and precise; the monologue form makes it come across as talkier and more remote than it might otherwise feel. But there's a lot of content, and for a while I was struck by how much Wojtyla's play felt like those of T.S. Eliot. (The language, translated here by Boleslaw Taborski, is less beautiful, perhaps, but in terms of sheer density there's a real kinship between the two.)
The second and third scenes, though, take us somewhere very different. The form of the play starts to vary just a bit, introducing interactions that usually involve an enigmatic man named Adam who is a patriarchal (but sexless!) teacher figure. In Act Two he counsels an unhappily married woman named Anne that she should not abandon the husband in whom she has lost interest (the feeling appears to be mutual). In Act Three he attends the wedding of two young people, 20 years later, who happen to be the son of the first couple and the daughter of the second. Through/to them Wojtyla makes his message absolutely plain: love and marriage are a divine gift from God, to be neither questioned nor squandered.
If, when the College of Cardinals were choosing the successor to John Paul I back in 1978, they had studied The Jeweler's Shop, they'd have begun to get a very clear picture of the kind of Pope they would get in Karol Wojtyla. Viewed today, with his legacy well understood, the ideas of the man—at least with regard to the institution of marriage—are painstakingly and clearly laid out. Is it a great play?—no, I don't think so; but it's a great demonstration of Wojtyla's faith in the Word of God and his service to it. Fascinating, no doubt about it.
Peter Dobbins and Robert W. McMaster have staged the play with enormous respect and simplicity, allowing its powerful ideas to speak for themselves. It's performed on Todd Edward Ivins's set, which consists of what looks like the base of a fountain surrounded by four canvaslike drops that frame the action; the eponymous jeweler's shop is never seen but is clearly defined downstage left. Lighting by Michael Abrams, sound by Scott O'Brien, and costumes by Jessica Lustig are evocative in terms of mood and period (the play's action runs from the 1930s in Act One through the 1960s in Act Three).
Dobbins himself anchors the play with a solid, thoughtful performance as Adam. Six other actors play the three couples (and serve as members of two different choruses); particularly effective among them are Kristopher Kling as Andrew, the husband-to-be in Act One, and Chris Keveney as his son, who is the groom in Act Three.