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Religious Fanaticism Is Exposed In Steep Theatre’s New Play

Martyr1

Photo: Lee Miller

“It could have been me,” Joanie Schultz writes in the director’s notes for Martyr, the new Steep Theatre Co. play about religious fanaticism. And for those who have ever felt disillusioned, have struggled to mesh idealism with reality, and who have wanted to feel they are part of something bigger than themselves, it could be you, too.

Martyr is the Steep Theatre Co.’s U.S. premiere of a play by Marius von Mayenburg, one of Germany’s most widely produced playwrights, according to information provided by the theatre. Schultz, meanwhile, is one of Chicago’s most sought-after directors.

Mayenburg’s play tells the story of a high school student’s rapid transition from ordinary teenager to fundamental Christian extremist as his teachers, principal, mother and fellow students watch in amusement, confusion and eventual horror.

The play, which premiers as the United States continues to cope with religious fanaticism within its borders and abroad, addresses the tense contradictions that arise when free expression runs amok, thwarting reason and accountability.

High school student Benjamin Sudel, played by Brando Crawford, begins his campaign to apply Old Testament text to contemporary life by objecting to girls’ bikini-wearing attire in swim class. When the school principal agrees to require the girls to wear full-body bathing suits but doesn’t see a need to change the boys’ swimming attire, the first contradiction, albeit small, becomes clear.

When Sudel then strips naked while protesting a sex education class taught by teacher Erika Roth, played by Kendra Thulin, the principal disciplines Roth and not Sudel.

Later, when Sudel objects to Roth’s teaching of an evolutionary biology class, the principal demands that, from now on, Roth shall co-teach evolution and creationism with the help of Pastor Dieter Menrath, played by Brandon St. Clair Saunders.

At first sympathetic to Sudel’s teenage angst, Roth begins studying the Bible in depth, telling her fellow teacher and live-in boyfriend Markus Dorflinger, played by Steve Schine, that “I can’t blame (Sudel) for intolerance and be intolerant myself.”

Yet when Benjamin’s hateful statements about homosexuality, Jews and women — all buttressed, he says, by the Bible — become a vehicle for assault and premeditated murder, it’s clear this play is about more than just a teenager finding his way.

Martyr takes place Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. now through May 23 and on Sundays at 3 p.m. on April 26, May 3, May 10 and May 17. General admission tickets are $25.

The Steep Theatre is located at 1115 W. Berwyn, next to the Berwyn Red Line stop. For more information, visit www.steeptheatre.com or call 773-649-3186.

 


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