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Acacia's first offering explores relationship

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

October 24, 2013

 

MILWAUKEE - Acacia Theatre, which uses Concordia University’s stage for its productions, chooses its plays based on their moral value. It describes itself as a Christian theater, but its choices are not as narrow as that may sound. 

It has recently presented “Quilters,” “Little Women” and “The Miracle Worker,” for example, none of which are overtly “Christian.”

The first offering this season, “Malcolm and Teresa,” by Cathal Gallagher, explores the relationship between the British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge and the social reformist Mother Teresa. Both were concerned about societal ills, such as poverty, injustice, and abuse of power, though they approached their concerns from different perspectives.

This play is more about the evolution of Muggeridge and his moral journey than about the personality of Mother Teresa, though his interview with her in 1968 and the world’s response to that interchange gave him pause. It challenged his thinking; it gave her publicity and fame.

The drama itself is somewhat choppy and the production not as smooth as it might have been if they had used spot lighting to change venues. However the assortment of philosophies represented here proved provocative. 

Muggeridge spent a year in Russia (1932-33), where he uncovered and criticized Stalin’s regime as a dictatorship disguised as socialism. He also revealed the real cause of The Great Famine and other atrocities going on there. He was ostracized for his unpopular views, but it provoked his journey toward questioning the role of government and religion as the remedy for making the world a more amenable place for the health and happiness of all.

Later in the 1960s, he had a TV talk show on the BBC, and when his scheduled guest, Billy Graham, was unable to appear as scheduled, Mother Teresa was substituted. In 1968, Muggeridge had never heard of this little nun who spent her time in the slums of India attending to the needs of the homeless and dying. This meeting changed the lives of both; his probably more than hers.

Beyond these two characters, very ably portrayed by Jason Will and Glenna Gustin, the story also included a socialistic aunt; an Anglican priest; Muggeridge’s wife, Kitty; and an associate producer at the BBC. Aunt Bo, played by Stacy Becker, was hard to hear at times; Kitty was well rendered by Nicole Gorski-Ray; Ian H. DeJong created an interesting producer; and Michael Chobanoff, an affable priest.

What struck me most about the story was how polarized people become in their views and often, how arrogant. Mother Teresa certainly was a very good woman and was motivated to serve the needs of others because that was her conception of the message of the Gospel. But working for justice and treating others with respect and kindness can be motivated by many different perspectives and sets of beliefs.

One has only to study history and even the present world situation to see that religion often divides people and creates conflicts rather than inspires compassion and harmony. 

“Malcolm and Teresa” gets one thinking and could lead to a fruitful discussion if only people were humbler and better listeners.

“Malcolm and Teresa” runs through Sunday at the Concordia Wisconsin University, 12800 Lake Shore Drive, Mequon. For tickets, call 744-5995, email acacia@acaciatheatre.com or visit www.acaciatheatre.com.