Vow of violence: Play about pacifist monk gets punchy

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It’s a world gone wild!

A celebration of a famous Catholic monk erupts into a chair-hurling free-for-all in “The Glory of the World,” starting at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Jan. 16. The play starts and ends long stretches of contemplative silence, but its central section is a surreal trip that includes a 14-minute fight scene, says the show’s writer.

“It’s quiet in the beginning and end, so we thought the middle better be crazy,” said Cobble Hill playwright Charles Mee. “There’s a big, incredible fantastic fight, there’s song, dance, [it is] just this wild, crazy thing.”

The play is set at a 100th birthday bash for the American monk Thomas Merton, who passed away in 1968. The 17 men at the party agree that Merton was a fantastic man, but each for different reasons, says the playwright.

“One man stands up and says ‘I would like to toast him for being such a great pacifist,’ and someone else says ‘Yeah he may have been a pacifist, but I’m a communist, I say he was a great communist,’ and so on,” said Mee. “As BAM put it, it comes together as a layered portrait of what it is to be a human being.”

Each speech, story, and punch thrown by the 17 celebrants adds to Mee’s portrait of Merton, a prolific writer and erudite mystic. The monk’s 1948 autobiography “The Seven Storey Mountain” made him a religious celebrity and inspired scores of young men to seek life in the abbeys. He wrote more than 70 other books, including poetry, biographies, and discussions of pacifism, Eastern religions, and spirituality. He traveled to meet the Dalai Lama and other Eastern spiritual leaders, and Pope Francis gave Merton a nod of his mitre during his address to Congress last year.

Mee wrote “The Glory of the World” for the Actors Theatre of Louisville to perform for Merton’s 100th birthday in 2015. The cloistered cleric lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani outside Louisville for the last 27 years of his life and wrote his most famous works during his time there.

The play would have stayed in Louisville, but a former monk-turned-millionaire theater financier named Roy Cockrum caught the last performance and bankrolled the production’s move to Brooklyn. Cockrum won a $259 million Powerball jackpot in 2014 and has been supporting theater productions with his winnings ever since.

The play runs through Feb. 6, and will perform on Merton’s 101st birthday on Jan. 31.

“The Glory of the World” at BAM’s Harvey Theater (651 Fulton St. between Ashland and Rockwell places in Fort Greene, (718) 636–4100, Jan. 16–Feb. 6, Tue–Sat at 7:30 pm; Sun at 3 pm. $28–$75.

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at
Posted 12:00 am, January 15, 2016
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