SHOW TITLE: Apostle on the Edge: The Life, Loves, and Letters of St. Paul
PRODUCER: Area Rug Productions
HAILING FROM: Northfield, Minnesota
SHOW DESCRIPTION: The most revered and reviled apostle of Christ thinks he’s gotten a bad rap as a sexist, antisemitic, pro-slavery, homophobic kill-joy. And he has the last hour of his life to prove it to you.
WHAT CAUGHT MY INTEREST: I have a deeply ambivalent relationship with St. Paul. Let’s see if this guy can change my mind.
INTERVIEWEE: James Hanson (writer/performer)
Just who do you think you are, anyway?
Well, I’m a professor of religion at St. Olaf College, who has had two passions for years: First, understanding how Christianity came about in its complex first-century context, and second, the arts, especially music and theater. I have a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, and have fairly substantial, though sporadic training in acting. I’ve been involved in community and some professional theater for most of my life. I guess I’m kind of a weirdo.
So what’s the big idea?
My goal in producing this piece is to reveal both the humanity and the tortured brilliance of the Apostle Paul, one of, perhaps the most important figure in Christian history. His humanity comes out in many ways – his letters are full of passion, jealousy, regret, anger, a little humor, and conflict between his limitations and his lofty commission by God. His brilliance comes out in his overriding sense that the universe is in the hands of a God of love, which he believed was shown supremely in that God’s giving up his beloved son for the sake of humanity and creation. Paul made a profound connection between his own limitations as a human and the fact that God revealed God’s self in the vulnerability of Christ’s humiliating execution by the Romans, rather than by triumphant destruction of “evil-doers.” This love, Paul thought, should be reflected in the way the Christian church operates in the world.
That all seems pretty heavy, but it’s framed in the story of the last hour or so (well, no more than that!) of Paul’s life – he was, tradition says, executed by the Romans in about 64 CE, along with the Apostle Peter and thousands of other Christians. In his prison cell, Paul has mysteriously received access to books (and artwork) from the future that interpret his life – and what he has discovered has driven him to the edge. He feels he’s been completely misunderstood, unfairly blamed for some of the worst sins of the Christian church – e.g., oppression of women, slavery, bigotry toward gays and lesbians, and, worst of all, Christian persecution of his own people, the Jews. So Paul has been given this opportunity to defend himself before a contemporary audience, and he does so with passion, wit, and a lot of sweating.
How did you come up with a screwy idea like that?
In studying the Apostle Paul, I was struck by what a complicated, conflicted, passionate character he displays in the letters that he wrote to the communities he founded, which became a part of the New Testament. A light bulb finally went on that here is a perfect opportunity to combine my two passions, and, hopefully, make a contribution to people’s understanding of this complex figure, and entertain them, as well.
Why should I care?
You should come to this show if: You enjoy entertaining and thought-provoking engagement with a significant historical figure who possesses the qualities I mentioned above; you have an interest in religion, theology, and/or philosophy, and how, especially in its Christian form, it has shaped our culture, for better and worse; you, like many, have been confused or completely put off by Paul’s thinking and/or his influence on our culture.
Justify your show’s existence in haiku form.
Driven to the edge
A love that knows no limits
Understand me please
Questions? Comments? Enraged invective? Check out my answers to occasionally asked questions in Notes on Notes, or the contact info linked from that page!