May 25, 1995
Vol. 14, No. 18

current issue
archive / search

    Sahlins staging Murder in the Cathedral at Rockefeller Chapel

    Bernard Sahlins, creator of The Second City and a 1943 graduate of the College, will reprise his 1994 Illinois Humanities Festival hit, Murder in the Cathedral, in honor of Bernard Brown, retiring Dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

    The special presentation, which will run with limited seating in Rockefeller Chapel for 10 performances and a preview, will star Court Theatre founder Nicholas Rudall, Associate Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures. The show -- produced and directed by Sahlins and supported by the John Nuveen Company, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, Court Theatre and University Theater -- will preview Tuesday, May 30, with performances Thursday, June 1, through Monday, June 5, and Saturday, June 10, and Sunday, June 11. For show times, see daily listings.

    "Murder in the Cathedral is arguably T.S. Eliot's best poetry, and certainly his best play," Sahlins said. "We read it in St. James Cathedral last November, and with a mind toward saluting Bernie Brown, we decided to bring it to Rockefeller."

    Written in 1935 to be staged in England's Canterbury Cathedral, Murder in the Cathedral is Eliot's dramatization of the power struggle between church and state and the murder of Thomas a Becket (1118-1170), England's archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170. Sahlins will present the drama in a staged reading, a format he says works particularly well with Murder.

    "For most plays, a staged reading doesn't work, because most plays are focused on physical action," he explained. "This play is closely focused on the words and on the relationships between the speakers. In a cathedral, with the words being paramount -- including in the middle of the show the sermon that Thomas gives at the pulpit, which becomes then the sermon that the audience is receiving -- it's quite spectacular. The net effect is those glorious words, read well by good actors, and also, in this case, enough movement to avoid monotony. Plus we've limited seating so that everybody has a good seat."

    Ten actors will join Rudall in the Murder ensemble, reading the text from around Rockefeller Chapel and distributing the action of the play throughout the space. Several members of the University community are involved, including Maggie O'Donnell, stage manager for Court Theatre; Patrick Billingsley, Professor Emeritus in Statistics; and College student Eleanor Burke and graduate student Matt Abergel of University Theater.

    This production of Murder in the Cathedral reunites Sahlins and Rudall, who first collaborated in 1992 on Court Theatre's The Mystery Cycle: Creation and then worked together on Murder last fall for the Humanities Festival. The two have known each other for nearly 20 years.

    "We were always in contact about the aesthetics of the theater," said Sahlins, who serves on Court Theatre's Board of Directors. "We share an approach to theater that emphasizes the actor's theater rather than the director's theater -- the theater of the word, rather than the concept. That's what brings Nick and me together, and this presentation of Murder reflects our orientation."

    In addition to his long-standing relationship with Rudall, Sahlins has a long-standing relationship with the University. After graduating from the College, Sahlins founded the nationally renowned comedy troupe The Second City, which he brought to campus in 1991 in honor of the University's centennial. In 1987, he helped found Off-Off-Campus, University Theater's comedy troupe, and in 1992 and 1993, he collaborated with Rudall on The Mystery Cycle, Court Theatre's rendition of a cycle of medieval mystery plays. He received the Professional Achievement Award from the University in 1989.

    Tickets for Murder in the Cathedral are $12 general admission, $9 for students, University alumni, Court Theatre subscribers and groups of 10 or more. Tickets may be purchased at the University Theater offices on the third floor of Reynolds Club or charged by phone by calling University Theater at 702-3414. Tickets may also be purchased at the door (subject to availability).