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Play About a Pope Resigning Heading Off-Broadway

By MARK KENNEDY, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — The debut of Tom Attea’s new play is likely to benefit from some holy timing — he’s written a play about a pope resigning.

The off-Broadway company Theater for the New City said Friday it will produce Attea’s “Benedictus,” a play written two years about a pope who steps down.

It is slated to run from May 30 to June 16 at the company’s home in lower Manhattan. Mark Mercante will direct the production with incidental music by Arthur Abrams.

According to producers, the play is about the fictional Pope Benedictus, who has visions that command him to follow a new calling. Top cardinals must then decide what to do with him.

Attea, a playwright and lyricist, has had eight musicals and one play produced off-Broadway.

Art Imitates life in Theater for the New City Play, ‘Benedictus,’ Which Focuses on a Pope who Resigns

Nancy Dillon, New York Daily News

Pope Benedict has left the world stage — but playwright Tom Attea hopes his resignation will bring his flock to the theater.

Attea has written “Benedictus,” an Off-Broadway show about a fictional pope who tries to retire after having a series of visions directing him to liberalize the Catholic Church.

In reality, of course, Pope Benedict XVI retired claiming exhaustion — and amid new reports of sex scandal coverups.

“The exterior parallels are remarkable,” Attea told the Daily News.

Attea actually wrote the play two years ago, but stashed it in a drawer thinking it was “too controversial.”

Then life imitated art.

So when Benedict made history as the first pontiff to step down in 600 years, Attea dusted off the work and got it booked at the Theater for the New City on the lower East Side in a matter of days.

The uncanny storyline includes Vatican intrigue, a cavalcade of cardinals and questions of mental fitness. The action really begins when Attea’s fictional Pope is visited by Jesus, Mary, God and the Holy Ghost, who urge him to abandon his conservative theology in favor of humanistic fulfillment.

“This play delivers the drama audiences are looking for but also an uplifting reason for a Pope to retire, rather than this regrettably sordid stuff going on in Rome right now,” Attea said.

“The position of this play is that it’s time for a historic change — to see that true holiness consists of true commitment to this life as a gift from the ultimate source,” he said. “We need to stop the destruction of life with war, pollution, whatever.”

Attea, who grew up Catholic, said devout parishioners might find some of his material unsettling but it is never offensive.

“I hope they sit back and think a little about their own lives. It’s spiritually nourishing,” said Attea, whose most recent play, “Living in a Musical” earned raves three years ago.

“Benedictus” opens May 30 for three weekends. The theater’s artistic director couldn’t stop praising the play.

“He writes about this man as a human being with all kinds of inner turmoil and questioning. And that is wonderful,” said Crystal Field, executive director at Theater for the New City. “It’s really the way we need to see people who have great power.”

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