Theater Review: The Quietest Loud – Charles Mee’s The Glory Of The World At BAM

Theater Review: The Quietest Loud – Charles Mee’s The Glory Of The World At BAM
Cast of The Glory of the World
Cast of The Glory of the World. (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

For all that is heady behind debating ideology, philosophy, and religion, those debates can get — well — downright physical.

And the stakes are so high.

Perhaps the verbal violence and abuse so prevalent on social media today isn’t new at all. However, there is a big difference between social media and this Charles Mee stunner of a play The Glory of the World — it takes guts and gravitas to look someone in the eye.

Such is the mighty backbone that makes up this production — rife with religious, political, and aesthetic debate, fisticuffs (a 14-minute sequence), a rhinoceros (eat your heart out, Ionesco), slow dancing, and suntanning.

The play is directed by the evocative Les Waters, artistic director of the Actors Theatre of Louisville. Originally staged in 2015, the production has made its way to BAM’s Harvey Theater.

Ostensibly, Mee wrote this play (or rather, was asked by director Les Waters to write this play) to give Thomas Merton (1915-1968) — a writer, Catholic, Trappist monk, mystic, poet (we could go on but we need to get back to the review) — a 100th birthday bash of sorts.

But what does one do to mark the 100th birthday of someone who means so much to so many, but in often varying and contradictory ways? And what if you’re a theatergoer with little idea about who Thomas Merton was in the first place?

Glory of the World
Foreground: Barney O’Hanlon and the cast. (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

The truth is, you need not be a Merton expert — not by a longshot. Such is the beauty of Mee’s work — always a jumping off point should you want to explore historical figures, Greek and Shakespearean dramas, and myths.

Speaking of Greek drama — the all-male cast of 17 actors (Les Waters as Merton makes it 18) in this production often takes the form of a Greek chorus. They weigh in with their robust points-of-view, and then open the stage for someone else to do the same. There’s a Buddhist, Pacifiist, Communist, lover of Lady Gaga, and a few men that just want to flex their muscles.

Literally. (And as a side note, this cast is pretty easy on the eyes when they do said flexing.)

But for all that testosterone on the stage, this production boasts a lot of quiet. The type of quiet that you certainly don’t get anywhere in our urban cacophony.

Glory of the World
Les Waters as Thomas Merton, also director. (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

Without giving too much a way, the play is beautifully bookended with the presence of Thomas Merton. Director Les Waters also plays this role. Without uttering a word (the projections of text onto the set take care of that), his lithe and bearded presence say all that needs to be said about a man as complex as the ideas debated.

Glory of the World
From The Glory of the World. (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

The Mee/Waters one-two punch also knows how to get our heads going as well as our bellies laughing — often at the same time.

In somewhat of a “beach scene” where many of the men are engaged in a tanning session — the debate turns to quotations. We hear from Franz Kafka, Lady Gaga (“I was very depressed when I was 19 … I would go back to my apartment every day and I would just sit there. It was quiet and it was lonely.”), Einstein, Christina Applegate, and a lot more. But this is not mere pontification — quotes begin to form weapons.

Glory of the World
Swimmers: Aaron Lynn (left) and Eric Berryman. (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

But Merton’s work is also utilized with textured, comedic aplomb. Witness a lumbering rhinoceros and two slip-and-slide swimmers — a visual born out of Merton’s essay, “Rain and the Rhinoceros.”

What does The Glory of the World all boil down to? Like great art, it’s up to you to figure it out. Audience members expecting to get a history lesson or neatly packaged “this is what it means” type of play won’t receive either.

But let’s make it clear — this production is satisfying, so satisfying. The stimulating experience will resonate far beyond your time sitting in the theater — if you’re up for it.

And in the masterful hands of this honest-to-goodness collaboration, know that your time in the theater is nothing but sacred.

BAM and Knight Blanc Present the New York premiere of The Glory of the World by Charles Mee and Directed by Les Waters. An Actors Theatre of Louisville Production.
Where: Harvey Theater at Brooklyn Academy of Music (651 Fulton Street between Ashland and Rockwell Places).
When: Through February 6. Performances January 26-30, February 2-6 at 7:30pm; January 31 at 3pm.
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Admission: Tickets start at $30. Purchase tickets online here or call 718-636-4100.

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