Chicago Theatre Review
Circles Around “Paulus”
Circles Around “Paulus”
THEATER REVIEW: “Paulus” by Silk Road Rising
A Review by Kazuko Golden
In the world premiere of the play, “Paulus,” by Motti Lerner, the lead character Paulus (played by Daniel Cantor) leads us into 58 C.E. where he witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Paulus is then tormented with determining his life’s path forward. Having fantastical illusions about Jesus revisiting and spiritually motivating him to reinvent what he knows about Judaism and the Roman occupation of Judea, Paulus is internally conflicted and battles both religious and political forces that threaten to execute him if he either denies his traditional heritage and beliefs or rejects vowing faith to the Roman hierarchy.
If you are in need of “popcorn for the brain,” entertainment for the holidays, “Paulus” will not sit lightly with you. Rather the highly academic nature of the history and religious studies that Lerner, an Israeli playwright and self-described atheist, presents through his script (translated from the original Hebrew by Hillel Halkin) is a pedagogical and philosophical debate about the doctrines of salvation and atonement, as grounded in the doctrine of Christian theology and represented in the crucifixion of Jesus (played by Torrey Hanson). Further, the discussion about the psychological experiences of those who witnessed the crucifixion and its meaning is articulated fully by Paulus. As a witness, Paulus is then tormented with how to move forward after this experience. Those closest to him – Trophimos (Anthony DiNicola); ex-wife, Adima (Carolyn Hoerdemann); and nephew Eleazar (Glenn Stanton) -suffer as well.
The timing of this play is difficult. Lerner has presented his thought-provoking play right before the beginning of the Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year seasonal celebrations. As Chicago audiences wander in to take a load off from the hustle and bustle of the busy retail season, this play does not permit them t to rest their brains. Every minute of this two-hour play is crammed with positioning the meaning of the history of Second Temple Judaism and the apostolic age of early Christianity. According to Silk Road Rising, “(Lerner) is not interested in relaying facts but in revealing truths.” The pauses between the political tumult and social upheaval and the fierce theological battles are slow and lingering.
The location of the play is breathtaking. Pierce Hall is housed in The Historic Chicago Temple Building, home of the First Methodist Church. At one time long ago, the building in Chicago’s Loop area was the tallest skyscraper in the city. The ornate interior of the church includes 16 stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible.
For those with questions about their theological positioning and for those that during this time of the year are interested in seeing a play that presents philosophical pedagogy about the reinvention of religion in the first century, “Paulus” will be an appropriate play to consider seeing. What is admirable about Lerner’s approach is that his message raises questions from Paulus’s experience that are relevant to contemporary questions about universalism, radical modernization, and the conflicts that arise when individuals attempt to challenge norms and enter into worlds of monotheism and ethnic diversity. Paulus’s questions about multicultural modes of practicing religion and pedagogical thought are drawn from and mirror Lerner’s questioning.
When: Through Dec. 15
Where: Silk Road Rising, Pierce Hall at Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St.
Running time: 2 hours
Tickets: $35 at 312-857-1234, ext. 201, or silkroadrising.org