February 18, 2010 / 10:44 AM / in 8 years

Dublin theater throws spotlight on priestly sins

DUBLIN (Reuters Life!) - The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland could well feel it has nowhere left to hide.

As the press carried blanket coverage of this week's meeting between the Pope and bishops summoned to Rome following the Irish church's vast pedophilia scandal, Ireland's national theater has joined those taking up the theme of ecclesiastical hypocrisy, to loud applause.

Irish playwright Thomas Kilroy's new play "Christ Deliver Us!" at Dublin's Abbey Theater is nominally set in the 1950s, but its topicality is startling.

It does not directly accuse the church of pedophilia, but it is severely critical of sexual repression, corporal punishment and censure of minor teenage lapses that are insignificant compared with those of the religious teaching fraternity.

"We're hiding under the black ... The truth will out," declares one character Father Seamus, played by Tom Hickey, whose credits include a part in the film "My Left Foot" and extensive theater work.

He then tears off the black priest's cassock that has been effectively concealing his sins as he has laid down the law to students grappling with puberty.

The Abbey Theater itself underlines the parallels with the findings of two reports into child abuse by priests published in Ireland last year.

"We as a society are still reeling from the revelations of the Murphy and Ryan reports," the theater said in a program note. "For this reason, it is an important play for the Abbey, as the national theater, to present now."

It plans to follow it up with a series of documentary theater presentations later this year, shining light on "the darkest corner" -- a phrase used by Prime Minister Brian Cowen in response to the Ryan report on child abuse.

That a theater should tackle such subject-matter would once have been a scandal in itself.

Kilroy's play drew inspiration from German writer Frank Wedekind, whose criticism of sexual repression in the late 19th century in his play "Spring Awakening" stirred up huge controversy as audiences denounced it as pornographic.

The Abbey Theater was caught up in its own storm shortly after it opened in 1904 to serve as a nursery for Irish writing and acting.

Its production of John Millington Synge's "Playboy of the Western World" triggered riots in 1907 when the audience took issue with its depiction of rural Irish society and its criticism of the Catholic Church.

Audience applause at Tuesday's official opening night of Kilroy's play suggested it considered criticism of religious authorities entirely valid.

Editing by Steve Addison

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