Seminarian play comically shows ‘dark side’ of parish life

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | April 1, 2015 | 0 Comments

deathofaliturgistposterr2Parish disagreements aren’t usually dangerous. But when an unconventional liturgist challenges the status quo, even murder is possible — at least in a play seminarians at the St. Paul Seminary are producing this month.

The seminarians will perform “Death of a Liturgist,” a “lighthearted murder mystery” set in a Catholic parish. The play is based on a novel by Lorraine Murray and adapted by Andy Thuringer, a second-year seminarian from the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He’s also the director.

With themes and humor that should appeal to a wide audience, the play pokes fun at all its characters without taking sides. Between laughs, it also looks at people’s resistance to change, the importance of the liturgy and a priest’s role in the parish.

The seminarians will offer three performances April 24-26, free of charge, at the University of St. Thomas’ Brady Education Center auditorium in St. Paul.

Poking fun at parish life

Following up on last year’s zany comedy “Murder and Mariolatry,” seminarians decided to take a different tone this year while still doing a comedy, Thuringer said.

“More than anything, we just wanted to have fun and have a good time with the audience,” he said.

Joseph Wright, who plays the liturgist, agreed.

“It’s a comedy through and through, at least I think so,” said Wright, a first-year theology seminarian from the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa.

In addition to the comedy, the play has the suspense of a real whodunit, said Lyssa Bremseth, who plays the parish secretary and is one of two female actors in the play alongside seven seminarians.

“There are accusations flying,” she said. “It’s the nature of the show that it allows you to think it can be anybody.”

Chaos reigns in one scene when the bishop visits the parish and staff members try frantically to capture a pet hamster that’s made its way onto the lunch table. The lunch ends with a surprise for the bishop.

The craziness of parish life comes through in the play, said Bremseth, who attends Holy Family in St. Louis Park and will graduate from the University of St. Thomas with a Catholic Studies degree in May. “I can definitely see very realistic threads running through.”

Thuringer describes each character as quirky; the liturgist “really quickly in short order turns the entire parish upside down.”

On the serious side, the play shows that certain Church themes and traditions such as those in the liturgy take precedence over one person’s creativity, Wright said.

“Recurring themes in the Church’s liturgical year in practice, which remind us of the great mysteries of the faith — we can trust those more than our own creative instincts,” he said, adding that while the liturgy is essential, “it’s not worth killing someone over.”

More than a show

Father Scott Carl, the seminary’s assistant professor of sacred Scripture who reviewed the seminarians’ plan for the play, said producing a play is a good opportunity for seminarian formation.

“When most people think of seminary training, they might think of studying theology and the history of the Church,” he said. “But a very important part of seminary formation is human formation, being a healthy human being. This is another outlet.”

“Death of a Liturgist” is the third annual St. Paul Seminary production in recent years and represents a revival of seminarian theater from earlier in the 20th century, Father Carl explained.

As seminarians find thought-provoking themes as well as laughs in the play, others familiar with parish life might also find parallels in their own parishes — except for the murder, Father Carl said.

“In classic seminarian style, they found something that is engaging — ‘Death of a Liturgist’ — which you probably couldn’t see coming from many stages other than a seminary,” he said. “But it’s something that people in the general life of the Church can understand and be drawn in by the story to see how not everything is as it always seems.”

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