My friend Stratford Caldecott has written to me recently about a new play that he is helping to put on in Oxford in England. Entitled The Quality of Mercy, it is about John Paul II and is written by Leonie Caldecott. It is being performed at Oxford’s Catholic Chaplaincy on 26, 28, and 29 April. This is the second production from the Caldecotts' theatrical company, Divine Comedy Productions. The first, Divine Comedy: A Theresian Mystery Play, put on in the autumn of 2009, was sold out and helped prepare for the visit to Oxford of the relics of the ever-popular Saint Therese of Lisieux. This caused sufficient waves on this side of the Atlantic for EWTN to sent a film crew to Oxford to interview the Caldecott's about that and the upcoming production. The poster for the play, incidentally, is based on an drawing by Stratford and Leonie's daughter, Rose-Marie Caldecott. All the lines and shading (if you look at it closely) are made up of the words of John Paul II.
Stratford and Leonie Caldecott are the British editors of the journal of faith and culture Second Spring; are the directors of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts' Center for Faith and Culture; and of the annual Oxford Studies Program for TMC's undergraduates.
Stratford writes as follows:
"There is a great revival of Catholicism and Catholic culture going on in higher education in the United States right now. The resurgence of Thomas More College is just one example. Most people would agree that the revival began with Pope John Paul II, who is to be beatified at the beginning of May on the Feast of Divine Mercy. Here in Oxford we are marking the beatification with a dramatic tribute to the late Pope: a new musical play called The Quality of Mercy, written by Leonie Caldecott.
Karol Wojtyla is not being beatified because he was a pope, or even because he did so many remarkable things over his long life, which spanned both the Second World War and the rise and fall of Communism. He is being beatified because of the kind of man he was: one who gave his life over to God, and who reached out to others with love. 'They try to understand me from without,” he once said. “But I can only be understood from within.' It is this interior landscape that The Quality of Mercy seeks to portray.
The play takes place in the last week of John Paul II’s life, the week after Easter 2005, as a small group of young people gather in Rome for a pilgrimage to the shrine of Manoppello in the Abruzzi mountains, which contains a miraculous image of Christ’s face, right. The priest they were expecting to accompany them doesn’t turn up, and instead they are guided through the mountains and forests by a mysterious stranger who calls himself Charlie. As they walk and talk with their companion, the pilgrims discover things about themselves and others that will transform their lives. But it is only in the wake of the Pope’s death that the picture will come fully into focus.
As a young man, Karol Wojtyla was heavily involved with theatre, since during the Nazi occupation Poles used the medium as a form of underground cultural resistance. If he had not become a priest, Wojtyla would certainly have become an actor and director. He wrote numerous plays of his own, and encouraged drama throughout his years as a priest and a bishop in Krakow. Our theatre company, Divine Comedy Productions, is inspired by his enthusiasm for theatre as a medium for the exploration of the human condition.
The Quality of Mercy uses a mixture of realistic dialogue, against a symbolic backdrop of choral and movement sequences which highlight the themes of the Passion and Resurrection, as well as other scriptural references. The play also features an original score by talented young composer Ben Nichols. The cast range from 11 to 25, and are attached to the Oxford Oratory, whose parish priest Fr Daniel Seward also performs in the play. Details with relevant links are here."
The photographs are scenes from the first production of the Divine Comedy company: in the Carmelite community, with her father and in a papal audience.