Father Damien

The Manoa Readers/Theatre Ensemble production of Aldyth Morris’s play was presented this past weekend at Kennedy Theatre, on the UH-Manoa campus. The play was directed by Tim Slaughter, of Outreach College, and starred veteran actor Dann Seki as Damien. John Keawe sang and provided background music, and Nyla Fujii-Babb performed the opening chant in both Hawaiian and English.

Damien is printed in its entirety in MANOA’s winter 2011 issue, Almost Heaven: On the Human and Divine, which may be purchased at our website. In his editor’s note, Frank Stewart explained the context in which the play was being published:

We…wished to reconsider, in a volume of Manoa, responses by writers to the notion of “exceptional individuals,” people who are regarded as models of compassion. As Joseph Dutton noted, the world may be too impatient to bother with daily heroes, but this is more likely the result of our frantic busyness than evidence that the world lacks persons who are striving to lead ethical, empathic, and self-transcending lives. Whether such individuals are religious or even concerned with spirituality is not the point. Nor is it important what cultural or religious heritage they come from, or from what nation or era. They may influence only one other person or many—what matters to us in Almost Heaven is what the poet Rilke called “heart-work.”

In any case, few would argue against the need to recognize courageous ethical actions, regardless of how local or humble. Wherever and whenever they appear, such acts create in the world what religious thinker Thomas Merton termed “a saner climate of thought.” We can’t achieve much by ourselves, Merton wrote. “We need the help of articulate voices, themselves taught and inspired by love. This is the mission of the poet, the artist, the prophet. Unfortunately, the confusion of our world has made the message of our poets obscure and our prophets seem to be altogether silent.”

A saner world would be a version of heaven. If we didn’t feel ourselves capable of being almost there, through words and action, the world’s heart would always be breaking. In Almost Heaven we’ve brought together writers from past volumes—along with some new to our pages—who believe that the function of art, individuals, and communities is to create Merton’s saner climate of thought. Among these writers, we’re proud to include Aldyth Morris, whose play Damien is the centerpiece.

Dann Seki as Father Damien

Various ethical conflicts shape Damien, the most significant being Damien’s struggle with his notion of what is right and good in the eyes of God. The play ends with him addressing God and asking for a divine sign of acceptance of his faith and actions. The kind of reconciliation we are accustomed to—in which forgiveness is awarded or acceptance clearly voiced—is not found in Damien. However, the play poses a series of questions and shows us, powerfully and memorably, how essential they are to people of conscience. Only at the end of life, the play seems to suggest, are the questions resolved.

The eight-page program guide developed for the play contains information on the production, Father Damien, and playwright Morris, as well as a timeline and a list of selected readings. A medium-resolution PDF version of it is available.

Manoa Readers / Theatre Ensemble presents performances of literature and drama for university, community, and statewide audiences. MR / TE is a collaborative, cross-disciplinary initiative of UHM Outreach College, Community Services Division, and UHM College of Languages, Linguistics, and Literature. MR/TE’s co-directors are Tim Slaughter and Frank Stewart.


One thought on “Father Damien

  1. This reminded me of what Gavan Dawes said (as quoted by Aldyth Morris from the Literary Arts Magazine) about Damien being an ordinary man doing an extraordinary act. There’s nothing heroic about Damien’s choice to remain in Molokai, because he saw it as a service to the people to remain with them. But like you said, readers/viewers of the play are urged to think about forgiveness, faith, and the idea of “human-ness,” the compassion/sympathy for other people (that thing we sometimes call “humane”). Sometimes, people talk about magnanimity like it’s an unattainable concept, but really, it isn’t. Damien showed that to be human is to be humane.

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