Spirituality and the Collection
For today’s blog post, enjoy an excerpt from the Introduction of Scenes and Monologues of Spiritual Experience from the Best Contemporary Plays, by Roger Ellis.
As the title of the book indicates, this anthology is governed by the theme of “spiritual experience.” I use this term broadly to include not only spiritual issues that directly affect established religions, but also those issues that have been traditionally viewed through the lens of organized religion but that now, in our secular age, force individuals to grapple with problems without the support of religious teaching. For example, churchmen of every sect have long busied themselves with problems of clerical celibacy, conflicting belief systems, or killing others in a “just war.” On the other hand, many today prefer to regard issues such as substance abuse, suicide, capital punishment, or abortion simply as matters of social justice and human rights. Thus, our modern age is no longer bound by sectarian interpretations of God and the supernatural; instead, we confront a spiritual landscape populated by voices proclaiming the values of Judaism, Christianity, reincarnation, Buddhism, zombies, jihad, astrology, ghostbusting, tribal beliefs, and many other “spiritual perspectives” that are widely reflected in the playhouse.
I’ve tried to represent as many of these perspectives as possible in this limited collection while still remaining faithful to the major artistic criteria mentioned above; I believe readers will be pleasantly surprised by the wide range of philosophical and theatrical excitement they encounter in a body of plays dealing with “spiritual experience.” Angels in America, for example, certainly expresses a rather novel interpretation of how “angels” busy themselves in contemporary American society; the same might be said of José Rivera’s Marisol, where the angel character seems more like a military recruiting officer preparing for Armageddon than a traditional ambassador of heaven. Yet, both plays pose disturbing philosophical questions as well as exciting theatrical challenges to audiences and theater practitioners alike.
This is not to say that contemporary playwrights are pushing organized religion to the back burner by focusing attention on humanitarian solutions to social problems, or by debunking Christianity, Mormonism, and other faiths. On the contrary, there are numerous examples of contemporary inspirational or devotional religious plays attracting large audiences to our playhouses. Think, for example, of the many productions and Broadway successes that plays such as Godspell, Doubt, Agnes of God, or Mass Appeal have achieved over the years. In fact, there are several monologues and scenes in this collection dealing with Joan of Arc, whose life has inspired modern audiences for generations.
It is noteworthy that before now, no anthology has gathered this kind of dramatic material into a single collection. It may surprise some readers to consider that so many contemporary plays deal with aspects of religious faith. The fact remains, however, that a concern for religion and the supernatural – and a focus on moral and spiritual problems – has permeated Western dramatic writing for at least the past century. Plays inspired in whole or in part by the life of the spirit continue to fascinate playwrights and challenge our most talented theater artists even today.
In this anthology, theater expert Roger Ellis culls together dramatic scenes and monologues that all deal with spiritual experience. From various religious and non-religious perspectives, the book explores various aspects of spirituality – religious faith, martyrdom, death and afterlife, fate and destiny, mercy, and romantic love. The material comes from contemporary plays by some of the most gifted playwrights – Arthur Miller, Tony Kushner, John Patrick Shanley, John Pielmeier, Tammy Ryan, Elie, Wiesel, Karen Sunde, and others. Perfect for high-school through college-age students, as well as for actors and general readers, this volume contains nearly 100 scenes, ranging from comic to serious, grouped in five categories: “Scenes for a Man and a Woman,” “Scenes for Two Women,” “Scenes for Two Men,” “Monologues for Women,” and “Monologues for Men.” In addition to the monologues, Ellis includes notes on staging to help actors and directors bring these scenes to life. Some of the plays sourced for this anthology include The Crucible, Doubt, In the Shape of a Woman,Agnes of God, Epic Proportions, Our Lady of 121st Street, Angels in America, and Affection in Time.
Posted on December 16, 2013, in Theatre and tagged Applause Books, excerpt, Roger Ellis, Scenes and Monologues of Spiritual Experience from the Best Contemporary Plays, spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.