Play offers opportunity for interfaith discussions

| Susan Klemond | February 1, 2012 | 0 Comments

Open Window Theatre’s ‘Edith Stein’ set for Feb. 9-26

The producer of a play about the 20th-century Jewish convert and Catholic saint Edith Stein is hoping her life of holiness and courage will inspire not only Catholics but also encourage dialogue between attendees of different faiths and backgrounds when it opens in Minneapolis next week.

“It’s a great play and it really does promote interreligious dialogue,” said Jeremy Stanbary, co-founder of the Open Window Theatre. “It promotes sort of a mutual respect among religions, which is something that the Catholic Church is very much about in terms of its own efforts for ecumenism [and] interreligious dialogue.”

The play, “Edith Stein,” opens with a scene in the 1980s at a controversial Carmelite convent located near the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, and tells the story of the German saint — a prominent Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism and became a Carmelite sister before her martyrdom at Auschwitz in 1942.

‘Powerful spirituality’

The theater, a new 100-seat venue that presents a variety of productions with Catholic and Christian values, is promoting the play to Twin Cities Christian, Jewish and secular communities, said Stanbary, a parishioner at Holy Spirit in St. Paul who co-founded the theater with his wife, Sarah, last year. A goal of the theater, located near the Basilica of St. Mary, is to reach out not only to Catholics but the broader Twin Cities culture, he said.

A deeply spiritual though not entirely biographical story, the play — by Arthur Giron and directed by Joshua Campbell — spotlights an intriguing historical figure who devoted herself in prayer to the Jewish people while embracing the Catholic faith and displaying great courage, Stanbary said.

“It is very faithful to the heart of Edith Stein,” he said. “It’s very faithful in its representation of Catholicism. It has really powerful spirituality . . . as it represents Edith Stein’s life and what led to her martyrdom. It’s incredibly faithful to Carmelite spirituality, Edith Stein’s spirituality and her holiness.”

The play may be good material for Lenten reflection, Stanbary said.  “I certainly hope it has an effect on people that can help them in their Lenten journey as well,” he said. “I think it certainly has that potential.”

While St. Edith Stein’s life itself has been controversial, especially in the Jewish community because of her conversion and the reality of the Holocaust, the play also involves some controversy, Stanbary said. When the actual convent the play is based on opened in the 1980s, Jewish leaders objected to its proximity to Auschwitz. As a result, Blessed Pope John Paul II ordered the nuns to close it. In the play, controversy fictitiously centers on the naming of the convent after St. Edith Stein, he said.

Fictional characters such as the Nazi official Stanbary portrays representing the evil of Nazism, are introduced along with historical ones to help drive the plot, he said. “The play definitely intermixes historical characters from her life with some fictional characters in order to portray the spiritual battle, the spiritual trials that she underwent in her life.”

Edith Stein is a more serious play than those Open Window Theatre has produced so far during its inaugural season, but it’s disarming and not too heady, Stanbary said. “The characters are very rich in the play and there’s some wonderful humor for being a [serious] play.”

Post-performance discussions

The play is best suited for teens and adults, he said, because of the subject matter. While it doesn’t shy away from the darkness of Nazism, the theater remains faithful to its standards for acceptable material, Stanbary said.

Anticipating that audience members may want to talk about the play, the theater will lead question-and-answer discussions after some performances.

Performances will be most Thursdays through Sundays from February 9-26. Tickets are available through or by calling 1-800-838-3006. On Thursday nights “Pay as You’re Able” tickets that would otherwise have been unsold are available at the door.

‘Edith Stein’

  • When: Feb. 9, 11, 12, 16-19, 23-26
  • Where: Open Window Theatre, Metropolis Minneapolis Building, 1313 Chestnut Ave., Ste. #102, Minneapolis
  • Cost: (advance rate) $18/adult; $15/student/senior; $12/children 6 and under with seat
  • Times: 7:30 p.m. Thursday – Saturday; 2 p.m. Sundays and Saturday, Feb. 11

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Category: Arts and Culture