[CUA Office of Public Affairs]

Catholic University Actors Rehearse
Medieval Play For Toronto Production

June 8, 1998


a.gif (1076 bytes)ctors from The Catholic University of America will open their dress rehearsals of a 14th century play to the public in Washington, D.C., before heading to Toronto for the final performance. Rehearsals of "Slaughter of the Innocents" will be at 7:30 p.m., June 16 and 17 at the university's Hartke Theatre on Harewood Road, N.E.

The play is one of 47 that make up the York Cycle, a series of dramas based on biblical stories. The cycle was performed annually on the feast of Corpus Christi during the Middle Ages in York, England. In York, the city council and local guilds sponsored the plays from the late 14th century until 1569.

"Slaughter of the Innocents" relates a New Testament event in which King Herod ordered the murder of Jewish male babies out of fear that the infant Jesus would grow up to become a political foe.

For the June 21 Toronto production, Catholic University actors and other troupes, like their theatrical forebears in medieval York, will perform the play on wagons in different locations in the city and haul the wagons from one venue to the next. "We're hoping for level ground," said Roland Reed, the Catholic University associate professor of drama who is directing the play.

Similar to the York productions, the presentation, sponsored by the University of Toronto, will be in a single day, running from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. Each acting troupe will perform its play in four Toronto locations.

Although Reed adapted the original play to make it easier for modern audiences to understand, it retains much of its medieval language. " It's an awfully good experience for American actors to work with the kind of discipline it takes to communicate through language that is sort of foreign to the audience," Reed said. Because of the medieval language, actors have to choose "more carefully than in contemporary prose which words you need to emphasize to get the point across."

During the play, Herod's soldiers go into the audience to take babies away from their mothers. "People playing the mothers and soldiers initially really had problems. They became quite emotionally connected to this event, even though it's a play," Reed said.

While modern audiences may not be able to relate to the idea of a king slaughtering infant would-be competitors, Reed wants viewers to connect it to events occurring today. "This play is about state-sponsored terrorism as much as anything," he said. "More than most of the plays [in the York Cycle], I saw immediate connections with things in our world that are very troublesome to me: the abuse of power and slaughter of civilians in different part of the world on several continents."

Stephen Wright, a Catholic University associate professor of English, learned of the Toronto production on the Internet and suggested the project to Reed. A medieval expert, Wright has been the scholarly consultant for the project. The play has been underwritten by the Magi Foundation, which supports liturgical and religious aspects of the arts on the Catholic University campus.

CUA's drama department, was founded in 1937 by the Rev. Gilbert V. Hartke, O.P., and has graduated more than 2,000 people in its bachelor's and master's degree programs. Alumni include Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights Paula Vogel and Jason Miller, Tony Award winners actor Philip Bosco and director Walter Bobbie, plus Broadway designers, TV network executives, and heads of college and university drama programs.

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Revised: June 8, 1998

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The Catholic University of America,
Office of Public Affairs.