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Rich, Oddly Resonant 'The Glory of the World' Prompts Contemplation

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Actors Theatre of Louisville
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“The Glory of the World” is a witty, colorful and cerebral romp through the teachings of Thomas Merton. While the premise is relatively simple— a group of seventeen men gather for Merton’s hundredth birthday party celebration to toast the scholar’s accomplishments— the intricately woven, delightfully presented and, at times, subversive points of playwright Charles Mee’s script will stay with audiences long past the production’s end.

This production is a part of the 59th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays.

The play is not incredibly plot-driven; just a group of guys gather for a party filled with a lot of drinking and some frat-style antics framed by divisive opinions about who Thomas Merton actually was— a Buddhist? A pacifist? A Christian? A monk? A communist? A bohemian? Perhaps he was all these things, or in essence, none of these things at his true core. Regardless, the discussion ends in antics.

However, it is the sparkling energy of the ensemble cast, genius staging choices and unexpected touches that highlight the more existential undercurrent provided by the scattering of Merton’s teachings throughout the play.

Choreographed dance and fight scenes, lovers’ quarrels, an acoustic rendition of Brittany Spear’s “Baby One More Time” and a chained rhinoceros that’s led across the stage— these unanticipated plot points are all set in a vibrantly built environment complete with trampolines, Slip’n’Slides, and “the tower of chairs.” (Dane Laffrey, scenic designer; Mark Barton, lighting; Christian Frederickson, sound; Philip Allgeier, Media).

The raucous elements of the show are gorgeously bookended by silence. “The Glory of the World” both begins and ends the show with a man (actor and artistic director Les Watters) a table, facing away from the audience as flickering text is projected onto the screen. Questions like “What is seriousness anyway?” and “What is contemplation?” appear before the stage finally fades to black.

Again, while not a linear plot, Mee’s rich, oddly resonant creation truly prompts contemplation.

“The Glory of the World” plays through April 12 at Actors Theatre of Louisville