WHAT: T.S. Eliot's "Murder in the Cathedral"
WHEN: Opens in previews Thursday and continues through Oct.14
WHERE: Niagara University-at-the-Church, 415 Plain St., Lewiston
ADMISSION: $8 to $10
By the time T.S. Eliot wrote "Murder in the Cathedral" in 1935, the poet had scuttled the spiritual hopelessness of his younger years and looked to religious faith -- the Anglo-Catholic version of it, anyway -- as the best means to grapple with the ongoing human dilemma.
Although the play is a stately drama about the complexities of martyrdom, it's also about the indomitable ego and how it gets stirred up by ideas of self-glory even when the cost is death. The martyr here is Thomas Becket, the real-life 12th century archbishop who was murdered Dec. 29, 1170, in Canterbury Cathedral. Eliot doesn't spell out exactly how Becket got at such odds with the reigning monarch, Henry II, but history has it that the antagonism was over the archbishop's refusal to merge the powers of the church and state. His martyrdom made him one of England's great saints, St. Thomas of Canterbury.
In this richly textured play, Eliot revives age-old dramatic conventions, even mustering a chorus of eight women to comment on the proceedings. With the chorus he keyed on the ancient Greeks, who, like Eliot, liked ample time to lament the tragedy in beautiful verse before it actually happens.
On route to his saintly death Becket encounters a trio of unhelpful priests and four tempters who offer the usual run of temptations, from fleshly delights to earthly power. One tempter may be the devil himself. The climax comes with the murder, by which time Thomas has scrubbed his soul of every last shadow of pride.
The Niagara University production is directed by Brother Augustine Towey. David Autovino will play the doomed archbishop, joined by a host of NU actors in a large cast of clerics, tempters, chorus members and the knights who do the deed.
-- Richard Huntington