Anthony E. Gallo
November 18, 2017
Impressions by Gregory Bernstein
The first plays by Anthony Gallo I read with the Cosmos Writers, where the recognized authors and the ignorant cement men discuss what’s on the page, ponder what works, and offer suggestions. My only wish was to once see these dramas staged - the actors moving, floors squeaking, music playing, the light merging with words. One special evening came within the heavy clouds, the thunder and traffic at the Arlington Mill Community Center, room #526, where Tony’s play “Charleston Revisited” came alive. I remember this first time in Room #526, as if it was the first night at the London National Theater. This memory is not strong due to a strange room #508 “Employment Center”, or the room #523 “Department of Human Services & Community Outreach Program Satellite Office”, but because it was an excellent new art – pleasure, wisdom, humor.
The new invitation from Tony read: “Cosmos Theatre presents LUTHER By
Anthony E. Gallo Saturday, November 18, 12:00 PM STAGED READING: LUTHER
Saturday, November 18 12:00 PM”. We cancelled Sophie’s swimming lesson – let it be another fault to add to the long list of the world problems caused by Martin Luther. At 11:55 we entered a new Cosmos corridor, which has chipped away one third of the restaurant, as if the renovation replaced the executioner (can’t blame the reformation).
There was no light at the end of that tunnel, but the heavy steel door, behind which was a small wardrobe, two bathrooms and the last entrance, finally to the Powell room overlooking the calm autumn trees, the fountain and the peaceful garden. The ball room was set for with the brilliant white cotton cloth round tables, bright crystal lights sparkling on a rich buffet and a long stage with the chairs and music stands for sixteen actors.
Meeting friends is always wonderful, especially after the long corridors. Several hugs, cheer up Tony after his slightly anxious: “tell me exactly what you think”, deflecting several sisters wondering if the play was appropriate for the six years old, we finally sat down in front of four shining plates, in a good company. In less than a moment Sophie finished the lobster soup – Luther would have appreciated it even if he is in heaven. She cracked and squeezed the juice from the shrimp tails, and arrived to salvation - the lemon cookies. This false indication of maturity won her approval from our table participants. It may have even won her Luther himself based on what we have learned from the play about some of his theology, but fortunately Martin passed away in 1546.
Star Kopper read radiantly for Katherina Von Bora, as I now know a nun fifteen years younger than Dr Luther, who’s certain California-inspired (or vice-versa?) believes made them to marry. It was a sign that many things were possible after the reformation, even the priest to marry a nun, or - guessing by the two other young ladies reading next to Katherina – perhaps one priest married with several nuns, or they just loved each other, or both, or neither, it seems Luther’s behavior or views are not always easy to interpret.
The author and the actors manage to narrate about possibly one of the most influential, complex and controversial intellect in history tactfully. Luther’s genius, leadership, faith, love of Jesus is well summarized in the play, just as his ambiguity, cruelty, bullishness, grave personal and social mistakes, may be insanity. The Lutheran church became one of the world largest, his teaching became the foundation of the renaissance. However, while preaching “to love your neighbor”, he supported one of the bloodiest murder of the peasants, wrote the profound anti-Semitic manuscripts credited as the basis of Hitlerism (for which the Lutheran church recently apologized), his opinions about women’s role are horrific. The list of his contradictions is long, but the play would not leave any of the relevant groups insulted. It is an honest and tactful portrait of a great man – magnificent and horrible, genius and insane - as the other modern and ancient leaders we know.
Stan Cloud read for Luther with great energy, powerful deep voice, and the leadership quality fit to an American executive, refinery manager or four star general, even “Mad Dog” Mattis perhaps. In reading such presence is helpful, as it allowed me to hear every word, and to clearly follow Luther‘s line in between many characters, music and dialogs. However, if this play is staged in full production – and I hope it happens in a large, red velvet London theater with the turntable – I don’t yet see Stan’s style of an efficient American leader transfer into fat, beer drinker, and possibly mad philosopher, priest, composer Luther. May be we bring to life Peter Ustinov, unless they play it in heaven.
Paul Eckert convinced me that he could be a cardinal. In the first act I missed who he was, but I felt it had to be some anti-Luther “very bad guy” - grey cardinal perhaps at the service of the pope, and so he was. George Spencer’s role unfortunately was short, and he looked too kind for Leo X. Sophie asked: “who is the grandfather in the white hat?”
Brian Doyle was devilish, satanic, luceferish – probably as intended. We enjoyed the lifted up collar, and discussed The Damnation of Faust with several friends.
I feel bad to not mention all the other readers – everyone helped the play’s success. Perhaps one concern is that almost all the other roles are too short to enjoy. This is a predicament. On the one hand, short and well selected episodes with many characters allowed me to learn Luther’s story. On the other hand it does not give more time to each character. Perhaps I would likely favor less scenes and longer acting. Not sure.
In the evening I listened Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony (#5) by Vienna Philharmonic, and hymns by Luther as heavy as - "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" ("A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"). Selection of these composers add another intrigue – thanks to Luther, someone as Mendelssohn was burned alive in the 20th century despite his conversion and even profound Christian compositions. My complaint – after years in Paris how could I have no complaint - one needs the mighty cathedral, live performers and 500 people choir for each of the 500 years reformation to appreciate such hymns. Cosmos sound technician was doing wonders, but even he could not elevate the ceiling to the sky. Perhaps the full scale premier must be staged in the Wittenberg Cathedral?
I enjoy plays which make me rest, indulge in the pure pleasure of the spoken word, watch the actors acting well, learn something new, think in some different way. This play over-achieved. The only negative result is that I was watching a u-tube lecture about Martin Luther until four in the morning, when Anna cut the wireless, just as Katherina Von Bora would have done. May be Luther was right not only in preaching about the love of Jesus and the fight against the indulgences, but the benefits of marriage?Luther by Anthony E. Gallo