by Joan Kane · October 9, 2013
In The Vatican Knows (about the kidnapping of a young woman) Mario Fratti takes actual historical events and extrapolates a drama about the power of the church being challenged from the outside by terrorism and from the inside by nationalism, hypocrisy and deceit. In a nutshell, the new Pope has brought a Polish family from his hometown to the Vatican when he is inaugurated. The adopted daughter of the family fervently believes that she is his biological daughter. She gets kidnapped, tortured and murdered by Islamic extremists when the Church refuses to come to her aid in any way.
The Vatican Knows was inspired by a New York Times article about the kidnapping and murder of Emanuela Orlandi, who really was the daughter of a Polish employee of the Vatican. Weeks after her disappearance the Vatican received a phone call demanding the release of Mehmet Ali Agca, a member of the Turkish neo-fascist terrorist group The Grey Wolves. Agca is the man who tried to kill Pope John Paul II in 1981. This play is Mr. Fratti’s personal vision and political discourse on the details that might have led up to this crime.
Fratti uses the play as a vehicle for the arguments between Islam and Christianity. The terrorist characters have scenes where they lecture us on political and philosophic issues. Fratti also includes conflicts within the Church itself. Sexual abuse by priests is addressed and the idea of a non-Italian Pope is considered a sore point. Overall, I felt that the play gave me insight into the reign of John Paul II and helped me understand some of the politics and events of his time.
I really enjoyed the acting, especially the young couple played by Giulia Bisinella and Ian Campbell Dunn. They had good chemistry together and played their roles with passion and conviction. I found myself worried about them and felt bad about their fate. Jacob Cribbs and Lucas Beck played the Islamic terrorists. They were menacing and convincing. I was mad at them for their contradictions and unreasonable fanaticism.
The actors moved seamlessly between scenes on the realistic, beautifully textured, multi location set designed by Mark Marcante. The eerie and atmospheric lighting by Alex Bartenieff distinguished the three different locations. The soundtrack by Joy Linscheid used music from the Phillip Glass opera “The Civil Wars.”
The direction, by Stephan Morrow, seamlessly flowed from one scene to the next. I always felt I knew where the characters were. Mr Morrow also brought out truthful and powerful performances from the cast. This is a unified, complete production. All of the elements, the staging, the designs and performances were of a piece.