Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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Priest playwright tackles the big question onstage at the M.V. Playhouse

by Wendy Taucher, The MV Times

Great theater is built upon conflict, often finding its inspiration in current political issues. Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” was based on a play by Beaumarchais, who condemned the practices of the aristocracy. Beaumarchais’ play — censored in Paris. Mozart’s opera — banned in Vienna. Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” was written as a reaction to the McCarthy-era hearings. Miller convicted — contempt of Congress.

Father Edward Beck is a playwright, a Roman Catholic priest, an on-air contributor for CNN, and the author of three books. A reading of his new play, “Ungodly Pursuit,” is the August 26 offering in the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse’s Monday Night Specials. A full production of his play “Sweetened Water,” which explored issues of grief, faith, and intimacy, premiered in 2015 at the playhouse.

“I didn’t intend to write this play,” Beck says. “In fact, I was on a year-long sabbatical in L.A. in order to write a TV pilot. When the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report on sex abuse in the church came out, it sparked a public re-emergence of the crisis. I became disturbed by the way the report was characterized in the news, feeling no one was talking about its nuances. In order to process my own reaction to the report and the coverage of it, I began to write. The play emerged, and in three or four months it was done.”

The plot revolves around a Los Angeles assistant district attorney, her newly engaged son, and a Catholic priest who are forced to confront their complex history and unresolved relationships.

Television commentary, books on religion, TV pilot, priest? I wondered too. Beck explains, “I am a member of a religious order — a Passionist — which is different than a diocesan priest serving a congregation at a specific parish church. A priest in a religious order takes vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to God, and lives in a community with other priests and brothers of that same order. Technically, my work must be approved by our order’s leadership. They understand the conceptual scope of my work, and allow me freedom to publish without specific prior consent. After the publication of my first book, ‘God Underneath: Spiritual Memoirs of a Catholic Priest,’ I did receive letters from a few bishops who said I was writing about things that should not be discussed in public. But no one has ever tried to stop my work.”

Beck clearly has nerve taking on the fraught issue of sex abuse and the church. It’s interesting to think about what reactions his new play may provoke, from the public and from Mother Church. Beck’s play — not banned on Martha’s Vineyard.

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