"The Great Divorce”
Looking for a little post-holiday getaway? How about a road trip to heaven with a busload of the deceased? George Drance, S.J., and the Magis Theatre Company recently began a monthlong tour of the heavenly realm in an original production of C. S. Lewis’s classic story “The Great Divorce.” The plot of Lewis’s tale is straightforward: a group of the departed catch a bus from the sprawling twilight world of purgatory to the rolling hills of eternal happiness. Upon arrival, each rider is greeted by someone from his or her past and welcomed into paradise. It is heaven just as we imagine it, except that—because of past history with their greeter or habits of life they do not want to let go of—the travelers of “The Great Divorce” are not greatly interested in the offer. Believe it or not, most will choose to return to purgatory.
It is this choice between fear and freedom, says Drance, that makes “The Great Divorce” such a compelling and human story. “Lewis constructed these emblematic people who represent basic human struggles—over pride, power, being right, wondering what others will think, needing to be in control, needing to be appreciated—those little attachments we have that pretend to be components of our essential selves.” Lewis’s insight is that these attachments enslave us. Says Drance, “Real freedom is realizing that we already are and have everything that we need, that God has given it to us and we no longer have to make demands.” We come to happiness only by letting go.
An artist-in-residence at Fordham University in New York City, Drance has performed in and directed theatrical productions in more than 20 countries and on five continents. Three years ago he and fellow alumni from Columbia University’s master of fine arts program began the Magis Theatre Company with an eye toward developing skills and creating productions that would allow audiences to appreciate the matter of their own lives. Much as Lewis saw his work as a means by which readers could see more clearly the significance of their choices, “good theater,” says Drance, “allows people to see God’s invitation in their everyday.” The upcoming “Divorce” is a result of two years of conversation by Drance with the C. S. Lewis estate and his longstanding love for the story. “It was the first book I ever read that I could not put down until I finished it.”
Today, says Drance, public discourse often devolves into rhetoric and emotional appeals. “The Great Divorce” offers a welcome antidote: “The clarity and distinctions that Lewis makes really speak to people…the distinction between lust and desire, between getting our rights and receiving mercy, between a kind of false sentiment and true joy.” At the end of “The Great Divorce,” a character says to the narrator, “The choice of ways lies before ye. Neither is closed.” This month, choose wisely.
“The Great Divorce” runs from Jan. 18 to Feb. 11 at Theater 315, at 315 W. 47th St. in New York City. Tickets are available through Smarttix at www.smarttix.com and at (212) 868-4444. A preview of the play can be seen on the Magis Theatre Company’s Web site, www.Magis-theatre.tripod. com.
Jim McDermott, S.J.
“Posada,” a new film by Mark McGregor, S.J., tells the stories of three unaccompanied immigrant children who dreamed of finding shelter in the United States. McGregor, an assistant professor of new media at Fairfield University in Connecticut, weaves together the journeys of Johny, Densi and Wilber, immigrants incarcerated as teenagers in Los Angeles from 1999 to 2003. The Jesuit met or heard about the teens while he served as a volunteer chaplain in L.A.’s juvenile halls. The Spanish word posada means “lodging or shelter.” The film relates the teenagers’ search for shelter to Las Posadas, the Mexican celebration in Advent that recreates Joseph’s and Mary’s search for shelter in Bethlehem. As happens in the procession of Las Posadas (held from Dec. 16 until Christmas Eve), these immigrant young people encounter rejections and sufferings, all the while being accompanied by an angel.
The story behind “Posada” puts a human face on the nearly 100,000 unaccompanied immigrant children who are arrested and turned away each year by the U.S. Border Patrol. The documentary underscores the central theme of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ campaign for immigration reform, “Justice for Immigrants: A Journey of Hope.” In August 2005, after the U.S. bishops called for the three-year campaign, McGregor decided to recount the actual journeys of the three youths and the angels who accompanied them.
Amalia Molina, who, along with her husband, was incarcerated by the I.N.S. after they fled the conflicts of El Salvador, is one of the angels who appear in the film. Amalia worked with the Jesuit Refugee Service before becoming the director of ministry to families of the incarcerated for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “When I asked Amalia to tell about her 16 months of incarceration and separation from her teenage children,” says McGregor, “she responded, ‘Primero los jovenes’—‘first the children.’” Amalia introduced the Jesuit filmmaker to Densi. Then McGregor invited Densi, along with three other young people he knew—Johny, Wilber and Rigo, a 21-year-old who had been brought to the United States from Mexico as a baby—to be part of his film.
But as pre-production started in fall 2005, immigration officials arrested and deported Rigo, separating him from his girlfriend, their 3-year-old son (both U.S. citizens) and Rigo’s mother. “As difficult as Rigo’s plight was,” states McGregor, “his deportation while I was searching for funding and recruiting Fairfield University staff and students to serve as crew on the film confirmed the idea that we had to tell the story of young immigrants knocking on America’s door.” McGregor found financial backing from family, friends, the Jesuit community and several donors at Fairfield University; he began filming in December 2005.
McGregor structures “Posada” as one of the nightly processions of Las Posadas: rejection follows upon rejection, until someone opens a door. While viewers must decide how they will answer the knock on their door by 21st-century Josephs and Marys, “Posada” leaves viewers with a clear model.
Produced, written and directed by Mark McGregor, S.J., “Posada” is available on DVD through www. posadas-project. com.
George Anderson, S.J.
“Xavier: Missionary and Saint”
The very day that two Jesuit scholastics, Jeffrey Johnson and Jeremy Zipple, were scheduled to depart from London for India, they were still waiting for their visas. “It was four hours before the flight,” recalls Zipple, “and we were in the Indian High Commission begging for our papers. We prayed to Francis.” Help was not long in coming. Their visas soon in hand, they left for Goa, one of many stops on their monthlong trip to document the astonishing career of St. Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary (1506-52).
The result is “Xavier: Missionary and Saint,” a fascinating new film on DVD that took two years to complete. Johnson conceived the project in response to the call from the Society of Jesus to be creative in celebrating the 2006 anniversaries of the lives of St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier and Blessed Peter Favre. At the time, Johnson was completing a master’s degree in creative writing at Fordham University; his classmate Zipple had worked at a television station run by Jesuits in Belize. The choice of Xavier as subject seemed obvious. “His story was the most adventurous and the easiest to put into the medium,” says Zipple.
At the same time, Johnson notes that the film, which is narrated by Liam Neeson, hopes to show that Francis Xavier was not simply a “missionary machine.” Rather, he strove to establish deep personal connections with the people in the various towns where he ministered. Often, to avoid long, tearful farewells, Xavier left a town in the dead of the night. “And after his death,” says Johnson, “when his body was being carried back to Goa, all the villages and towns in which he had worked wanted to have his remains buried there.”
The scholastics’ own arduous journey took them from Rome to the town of Javier in Spain, to Lisbon, Paris, Goa and Macau. Their guidebook was the first volume of the massive biography by the Jesuit scholar Georg Schurhammer, Francis Xavier: His Life and Times, whose eye for details was uncanny, as Johnson says. “When Schurhammer says there is a church on a small street in a town in Spain, we would wander down the street, and there it was.”
Biographers often admit growing tired of their subject. But Johnson and Zipple grew in their admiration for Xavier. Johnson was struck by the saint’s ability to connect with unfamiliar peoples while working on his own, far from home. “We know that he must have done this, or they wouldn’t have revered him so,” says Zipple, pointing to the saint’s “absolute availability” and to his unwillingness to become complacent in his faith. Zipple also finds inspiration in Xavier’s apparent failure in his work: “He never makes it into China. The mission he oversees in India is rather a mess. Even Japan can be seen as a failure. But he is ultimately content, and his work paves the way for future Jesuits, like Matteo Ricci. Francis Xavier’s life is a reminder that we plant the seeds, but it is God who brings something from our efforts.”
“Xavier: Missionary and Saint,” produced, written and directed by Jeffrey Johnson, S.J., and Jeremy Zipple, S.J., is available through Janson Media at www. janson.com.
James Martin, S.J.