I found myself at the Teachers’ Club again last night. This time to watch some theatre from the week two programme of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. For my viewing pleasure I saw ‘Monastic’ from Ireland in my old stomping ground of the basement theatre; as well as ‘Like Orpheus’ from Outré Theatre in Canada.
‘Monastic’ is a new work by playwright David Donovan and is directed by Kate Haley. It takes its inspiration from a news story a couple of years ago, when it was revealed that almost all seminarians in Maynooth College were active on Grindr, and were overwhelmingly gay and closeted. I remember being unsurprised by that revelation. About twenty years ago I was friends with a former seminarian who had shocked me to the core by telling me that he had once been in training to be a priest, and that by his estimation 90% of his class had been gay. I passed no outward judgement, but I had been confused as to why any healthy young man would want to sign up to that life. My reaction was possibly inspired by my deep-rooted atheism. I wasn’t impressed by the news story in 2016 however. It seemed so invasive, prurient and damaging to the troubled souls at the centre of the scandal. Were they suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? The homophobia, misogyny and self-hatred of the closeted church hierarchy is blatant to the world. I regarded the trainee priests at the centre of the ‘scandal’ as naïve victims who would have seen sense and left the seminary before ordination. Which had been the case for my friend and his entire class in the 1990s. They weren’t given that time thanks to the scandal.
‘Monastic’ is about three seminarians who are studying at the college. Ian and Harry (Kit Geraghty and Connor Molloy) are openly gay to each other. Both are tormented by their sexuality, but very fond of anonymous online hook-ups. Their square classmate Jack (Brian Briggs) is ignorant of the twitching bedsheets in the seminarian dormitories. The play explores the struggle of these three characters, as well as a mother (Antoinette Conroy) as she struggles to understand why her son would want to devote his life to the priesthood, The performances are all strong in this piece, capturing the confusion and isolation of these foolish, naive young men, who struggle to reconcile their faith with their sexuality. The set is very striking with a neon crucifix glowing ominously in the background; and a chequered black and while floor. This is an interesting, well directed play that was enjoyed by the entirely male audience (the ban on women priests probably the reason for this). I found the play quite challenging in places – this is related to my incomprehension why any young gay man – even a man of faith – would regard such a lonely existence as a valid career choice. Worth checking out.
Next on my agenda was ‘Like Orpheus’ also in the Teachers’ Club. This is a production from festival veteran Theatre Outré who has performed over several years at the festival – I had been deeply impressed by the production of ‘Montparnasse’ in 2017. Written by Brett Dahl; directed by Jay Whitehead, and starring Dahl and Kevin Jesuino ‘Like Orpheus’ follows the aftermath of a serious sexual assault of a young man, drugged while dancing in an underground nightclub. The assault has been witnessed by others one of whom is now haunted by recurring visions of the horror he has witnessed. He pursues the young man seeking redemption.
‘Like Orpheus’ is a mixture of dance and text that jumps around in time and place. It tells the tale from the varying perspectives of both characters – the assault and the fallout. It is a beautiful piece of theatre – dark, fluid and haunting. It’s quite experimental so I am not sure whether my interpretation of the narrative is accurate, but I guess it’s open to different interpretations. The nudity contained in the piece is unnecessary to the arc of the story, but as I believe in the credo that nudity is not wrong, it is therefore quite acceptable. ‘Like Orpheus’ is a fascinating work, and well worth seeing if you are someone who can enjoy something a bit out there (or ‘outré’).
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