May 13, 2004
Vol. 23 No. 16

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    Mystery plays of fifth century revived for special University production

    By Seth Sanders
    News Office


    Giant puppets will parade across the quadrangles to herald the return of a fifth-century medieval ceremony, which will be presented in the performance of The Greater Mysteries: A Pastiche.

    The cosmic story of Genesis, from creation to flood, will be told through music, dance and ancient ritual during two performances at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 14, and again at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 15, in the neo-gothic Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave.

    Mystery plays began in the late fifth century as biblical stories told exclusively in Latin by priests and church choirs. As they became popular, the performances moved from the church to the marketplace. As the secular world of trade guilds (called “mysteries,” from the Latin for “handicraft” or “trade”) adopted them, the plays’ sets and effects grew in wildness and relevance. The involvement of the guilds reinforced the tendency to incorporate contemporary themes into the plays, though the emphasis on salvation and the presence of God remained.

    “God’s relationship to humanity, from the fall of Lucifer and Adam to the reaffirmation of His covenant after the Flood, is the tale that the Mysteries will tell,” said Lorraine Brochu, Assistant to the Dean for External Affairs at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. “The performance will be both wild and appropriate for ages 6 and up, from the arcane cleansing rituals in Hebrew, Latin, Greek and Arabic to the delightful dance of the giant puppets.”

    This pastiche, or compilation, of various mystery plays is the creation of James Redfield, the Edward Olson Distinguished Service Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures and the College, who also directs.

    Redfield applies the insights of modern linguistics and anthropological theory to the language, literature and social life of ancient Greece. In addition to his scholarly achievements, Redfield is the author of numerous published and unpublished plays, poems and works of fiction. He works on a regular basis as an actor and director with University Theater, as well as the Quadrangle Club Revels.

    Performers for this play include Melissa Thodos & Dancers, with three dances choreographed by company member Paul Christiano (Chicago Magazine’s “dancer of the year”); giant puppets from the Puppeteers’ Consortium; the University’s Middle East Music Ensemble; the Bel Canto Choir and pupils of the University Laboratory Schools; Thomas Weisflog on organ; Deborah Bard as cantor; and other University talent.

    The event is open to the public, and tickets must be purchased at the door. Prices are $15 general admission, and $8 for seniors and students. More information and advance group tickets are available by contacting Brochu at 773-702-7059.