Professor of Religion Jim Hanson and his director John Woehrle have crafted a one-man play about the apostle Paul titled “Apostle on the Edge.” The play is scheduled for Nov. 2-3 at 2 p.m. in Haugen Theater. Tickets are available before the show or can be reserved by emailing email@example.com.
Manitou Messenger: Did you write “Apostle on the Edge”?
Jim Hanson: Yes and no. The idea was always to have Paul’s own words at the center. His story is compelling because it’s so full of conflict and drama: with his community, with other apostles. And what’s fun about him is that, unlike the Gospels, at least several of [Paul’s] letters are undisputed in terms of being his actual words. So I took the letters and the stories that surround his letters as sort of a nucleus, and then I put that into a dramatic setting. That is the part I’m writing, and John is helping to paste it all together in a way that makes a narrative arc.
MM: Why this story? Why this form?
JH: I had always been interested in Paul. I grew up Lutheran, and Paul, next to Martin Luther, is the big theological hero. I also was interested in the oral interpretations of scripture in history. The Gospels are more like scripts to perform than poems to read. It’s the same with Paul’s letters. He would have had a scribe write down his oration, which was delivered to a community. I had long been involved in the theatre, and it just occurred to me that it would be fun to combine [theater and religion].
MM: What are the challenges that come with doing a one-person play?
John Woerhl: It takes an enormous amount of courage to approach a character like this, because there are so many opinions, and they’re not all the same. What I learned through Jim is the human aspect of Paul and the flaws in his character: the jealousy, the insecurities, the thorns in his skin.
JH: I’ve studied Paul for years, so I know the issues, but John’s been invaluable for letting me shape it and ensuring what I’m bringing to the stage is authentic.
JW: When you are talking to a general audience, you can’t make assumptions [about an audience’s knowledge of Paul]. It means a lot to him not to talk over the audience, but to really find them.
MM: If people should know one thing ahead of time about this play, what would that be?
JH: You will come away with a very different understanding of Paul, as a human being [who] also needed to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. [At the time when the play is] set, he’s pretty sure he’s going to be executed in the morning, and he’s not at all sure that he has accomplished what God tasked him with. And that’s scary for him. He admits that he’s not perfect. He says he’s no saint.
MM: Even though he becomes one.
JH: Yes! [Still,] people have misconstrued him – even people who wrote about him in the Bible misconstrued him. I take the view that there are writings attributed to Paul that aren’t actually by him, because they’re so different from what he had to say on some very important issues.
JW: We’re representing Paul to a 21st century audience with books on the stage which didn’t exist then. So how is [Paul] going to respond? This shows the humanness of Paul but also his doggedness to deliver the truth at all odds. I think that people are going to be pleasantly surprised. And if people are offended in any way, because it goes against a personal view that they don’t share, then [at least] that causes conversation.
JH: The interesting thing about Paul is that we don’t know what happened to him. There’s no really certain tradition about where and when he died except that he died during the rule of Emperor Nero, caught up in the Christian blame for the fire of Rome. [We set our story] in 67 [AD], and it’s the last night of Paul’s life. The audience is there with him as he works through both his legacy and his life. And he tries to come to terms with both of those things before he meets God.
JW: [Paul’s writing] is inspirational and, above all, provides us all [with] hope. It’s not short on entertainment, it’s not short on drama, it’s not short on humor, it’s not short on pathos…I mean, it really has it all. I’m excited for Jim. It’s a work in progress…so the audience is going to participate in the development of this piece.
MM: So, is it meant to stay a work-in-progress?
JH: Any new work that’s worthy of being taken seriously goes through a process and gets reaction. Hopefully there will be enough stuff on the table that people will want to say “Well, what were you thinking when you did this?” or “It seems to me that this direction might be more pursued…” We’re very anxious to hear what people think.
Photo Courtesy of Jim Hanson