In 1980, The New York Times quoted Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan, GSS ’61, as saying that his mission in the Diocese of Brooklyn would be to serve “the hurting people of society.” Shortly before his death in a car accident last year, Bishop Sullivan commissioned a play to be written about LGBT Catholics.
The play, Full of Grace, had a reading at the Pope Auditorium on Mon., Nov. 24, at Fordham’s Lincoln Center Campus. Two-time Tony nominee Moises Kaufman led a dialogue with the actors and the creative team, Scott Barrow and Robert Choiniere. The evening was sponsored by the Department of Theology and the Fordham Theatre Program.
Bishop Sullivan reached out to Choiniere, a practicing Catholic, whose theater experience and connections seemed a natural fit to explore the difficult terrain. The result was a collaboration with Barrow that became an interview-based docudrama. Dozens of Catholics told them their tale. Clergy and lay people from around the country, from teenagers to octogenarians, discussed inclusion and exclusion, self-acceptance and shame.
“One of the perplexing questions this play asks is why do people make a choice to remain in a difficult situation,” said Choiniere. “It’s really about the faith that holds them.”
The play represented an opportunity for Choiniere, a dramaturge and theologian, to bring together the two major aspects of his life. For Barrow, however, the play brought him a bit closer to spirituality. Raised as a Quaker, Barrow said that he and his wife are lapsed in the faith of their upbringing. Being immersed in the stories of the play changed him.
“It’s absolutely brought me closer to faith,” he said. “To hear anyone talk with passion about any subject helps you gain an appreciation for the subject.”
As a non-Catholic, Barrow provided an objective viewpoint from a purely theatrical perspective, asking Choiniere straightforward questions that helped shape the play.
“When these stories or interviews are on the page they lose their humanity,” said Barrow. “But theater is a live event. It brings life experience, especially when watching it with an impromptu community and having that experience together.”
But for Choiniere creative distance wasn’t really an option.
“What I learned from the project was the courage to talk about really difficult issues in a public way,” he said. “As a lay minister this was a scary project for me. There are potential consequences. But these are real Catholics and their stories need to be heard.”