In his homily last month for Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis declared: “God always waits for us, even when we have left him behind! He is never far from us, and if we return to him, he is ready to embrace us.”
Perhaps this was never truer than in the case of Alessandro Serenelli, a hired farmhand sentenced to 30 years in an Italian prison at the turn of the 20th century for the murder of a young girl, Maria Goretti, who refused to submit to his lustful advances.
Stabbed 14 times, Goretti succumbed to her wounds in a hospital bed, but not before forgiving her killer — an act that led to her being declared a saint in 1950 by Pope Pius XII during a canonization ceremony attended by hundreds of thousands of the faithful who filled St. Peter’s Square.
It was different story, however, for Serenelli, who showed little remorse after the killing. A troubled and lonely 19-year-old raised in a dysfunctional family, he remained bitter and unconvinced of a loving and merciful God — until his life changed forever after a vision one night in prison.
This is the story skillfully told in “Mercy Unrelenting,” the latest production by The Open Window Theatre in Minneapolis. The drama opens 50 years after the murder, when Serenelli, released from prison and living quietly in a Franciscan monastery, is forced to revisit the events of his past when a reporter comes looking for a story on the eve of Goretti’s canonization.
People of faith will be drawn to the play’s underlying message — that redemption is possible for everyone, even someone like Serenelli. But there are other reasons not to miss this show.
The acting is top-notch — from the portrayal of Goretti by Katie Law-Gotich to the performances by Jeremy Stanbary (as the volatile younger Serenelli) and Charles Numrich (as the pensive, older version of the man). Bailey Murphy as reporter Vittoria Cimarelli and Sherry Ward as Goretti’s mother, Assunta, also shine.
The venue, the theater’s black box space, puts the audience within mere feet of the actors. While some may find the closeness a bit disconcerting, the intimacy immerses one in the action and drama’s emotions in ways not always possible in larger settings.
Story of hope
Stanbary — who wrote, directed and produced “Mercy Unrelenting” — has staged other religious-themed plays in the past, including a one-man drama titled “Alessandro.” It’s a story he finds very compelling.
“I love stories of hope that are born of tragedy, because tragedy and suffering are inescapable aspects of the human condition,” said Stanbary, who also serves as the theater’s artistic director. “The true story of Maria Goretti and Alessandro Serenelli, while representing some of the worst dimensions of humanity, also represents some of the best. It’s a story that showcases the unexpected triumph of good over evil. Everyone, I hope, can take consolation in the fact that nobody is beyond the possibility of redemption.”
As Pope Francis said, God’s mercy is available to anyone willing to return and seek his forgiveness, even those like Serenelli who have committed terrible wrongs.
Part of the Open Window Theatre’s mission is to make theater a window to the Divine and celebrate religious faith. In both regards, “Mercy Unrelenting” does not disappoint.
Because of the subject matter, including some intense scenes, the performance is recommended for ages 13 and up. Kudos to the theater for including information in the playbill about services available for anyone who might be suffering from sexual abuse or violence.
- Through May 19
- 7:45 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays;
- 2 p.m. Sundays (2 p.m. show on Saturday, May 18)
- Open Window Theatre, 1313 Chestnut Ave., #102, Minneapolis (in the Metropolis Minneapolis Building)
- $12 to $26, with discounts for advance tickets, students, seniors and children; available at http://www.openwindowtheatre.org or by calling (800) 838-3006.
Category: Arts and Culture