FOND DU LAC — As the details of the clergy sexual abuse scandal were revealed during the first decade of this millennium, Richard Gustin, a playwright and professor of communication and theater arts at UW-Fond du Lac, had to process what he and Catholics throughout the world were learning.
“How do you process it?” he told the Catholic Herald Oct. 21. “I had to write something down, get something out.”
In 2012, Gustin held the first reading of “Leviathan,” the title he had given to what he had written. Among the 40 people at the UW-Milwaukee reading were priests, former priests and therapists. With their feedback and that of others, the play, which has “changed quite a bit since then,” according to Gustin, will debut on the stage of UW-FDL’s Prairie Theater, Nov. 2, and run through Nov. 6.
The fictional “Leviathan” revolves around Fr. Peter Ewert, whom Gustin describes as a “diocesan golden boy,” and a couple, Ed and Julia, who come to him for counseling as their marriage is failing. As the priest tries to help them, he must confront something from his youth he has kept hidden: he was sexually abused.
Despite the seriousness of the topic, Gustin calls “Leviathan” a “very entertaining play.”
“There’s a lot of love in these characters,” he said. “No one’s a bad guy in the play.”
Gustin, a member of St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish, Milwaukee, speaks of theater as being transformational, and he quotes John Reich, former director of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, who said, “The purpose of theater is to spread understanding and compassion for the human condition.”
A theater professional since the late 1970s, Gustin brings to his craft knowledge of the church gained working in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s office of prayer and worship for six years during the 1980s and four years in the office for religious vocations during the 1990s when he did “a lot of background interviews with priests.” But his knowledge and its application to his work has deeper roots.[su_pullquote align=”left”]If you go
“Leviathan” will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 2 through Saturday, Nov. 5, and at 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 6, at UW-Fond du Lac’s Prairie Theater, 400 University Drive, Fond du Lac. General admission: $12; students: $6. For information call (920) 929-1195 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. [/su_pullquote]
“I draw upon my faith; I draw upon my personal spirituality,” he said.
According to Gustin, the response to staging the play at UW-FDL has been positive.
“My 24 acting class students all think it is powerful and that it needs to be done,” he said, adding he also has the support of Martin Rudd, the campus dean and CEO.
While Gustin hopes “Leviathan” will be transformational for audiences, 10 faculty members will be using the play in connection with classes in psychology, sociology and religion, among others. There will also be talkback sessions after each performance.
“We need to raise questions in fresh, honest ways,” he said, adding he was also looking for more feedback.
Gustin, whose play “Being Seen,” was well received when it was performed in New York in summer 2015, hopes “Leviathan” will also make its way to a bigger venue, e.g., The Rep in Milwaukee, the Goodman, or even New York.
“This is a test run,” he said. “This is the first step.”