Love the Sinner
by Drew Pautz
This play wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Sadly, it wasn’t as good as it could have been, either!
Michael, a vaguely uncommitted member of his local Anglican church, has a one-night stand with a hotel porter (Joseph) while at a conference in Africa.
The core plot follows Michael’s wrestling with his guilt, his identity and his faith on his return home. Oh yes, and he’s married, to a woman who desperately wants a baby.
Jonathan Cullen’s performance as Michael is a tour-de-force as he stunningly portrays the slow implosion of a (terribly reserved/repressed) man whose world is crashing around his ears.
He turns to God, seeking ‘reconciliation’ (his word). Significantly, though, he is not seeking forgiveness, mercy and freedom, but to reconcile two contradictory parts of his life. He wants to do the right thing, but with no-one in whom he can confide, and thus no counsel or admonishment, he is left floundering as to what the right thing is.
The play’s opening scene sets this struggle in a wider context; the reason Michael was in Africa was that he was acting as scribe for a council of high-ranking Anglican bishops from around the world. They had gathered to discuss The [Anglican] Church’s attitude and response to homosexuality. Bishops from the West were advocating softening the official stance in order to move with the times, when those from Africa saw the Church’s role as setting and upholding moral standards, not adapting them to the will of the culture.
Seen in this light, it is no wonder Michael struggled with the aftermath of his own lapse. If your church leaders aren’t able to clearly delineate what actions constitute sin and which are perfectly normal and legitimate, how can you ever come to a point of repentance and thus find forgiveness and release?
And before anyone thinks I’m singling out homosexual activity as the only type of sin that requires repentance, let me state very clearly that this is merely a symptom of a wider problem. Homosexuality is a big, ‘hot-button’ issue at the moment, but the situation would have been the same had he slept with a woman other than his wife, or embezzled the Church’s funds, or lied on his tax return.
Any time you try to justify sinful behaviour, brush it under the carpet or explain it away, you find that you are not dealing with it, but merely putting the guilt off till another time. Pautz, through Michael, illustrates this perfectly.
Where the play collapses, though, is in its resolution (or lack thereof). I was not the only one in my party left wondering ‘so what happened?’ at the end. It tries to cycle back round and pick up the international, Anglican-Church-wide significance of the events, but certainly failed to communicate anything to me.
Will Michael ever find forgiveness and freedom? How much longer can his marriage possibly last if not – especially since his wife is due to give birth shortly? Will he find a way to run his business according to godly principles without alienating his staff?
Like Welcome to Thebes, which I reviewed last week, one of the play’s greatest weaknesses was that it tried to cover too much. The sub-plot of Joseph travelling to England in search of a better life and looking for Michael’s help could have been interesting, but was under-developed. Michael’s wife reverts to IVF to have a baby, against Michael’s inclination, which just seemed like a theme too far, with not enough time to explore it.
My main hesitation about recommending it, though, is its portrayal of the Anglican church firstly as representative of Christianity as a whole, and secondly as entirely woolly and liberal, seeking to follow the culture rather than stand against it.
The staging is fantastic, and I can’t speak highly enough of Jonathan Cullen’s acting, it’s just a shame about the plot.
[NB, if you are considering seeing it, please be aware that it contains a little very strong language, and one scene of nudity.]