Among the Olive Groves, AOG Productions, at Theatre Building Chicago. Paul of Tarsus was controversial, passionate, brilliant, and rigorously principled. But you’d never know it from this tepid, slow-moving account of his life.
Playwright-producer Mark Kollar focuses on the years Paul spent being transported to and detained in Rome prior to his trial for treason. It’s not hard to see why the latter part of Paul’s life would be attractive to a playwright, if only because Paul spent much of this time with Luke, who acted as his defense attorney. But sitting through this talky, reverential account, it’s hard not to wish the author had included some of the more dramatic episodes in Paul’s life: his persecution of Christians early on, his role in the death of the first Christian martyr, and his famous conversion on the road to Damascus. Touching on Paul’s still influential stands against the participation of women and homosexuals in the church might also have added a little spice to this bland stew.
Ten minutes into Kollar’s two-and-a-half-hour show, it was clear that this would be a Sunday-school lesson rather than a fiery evening of history. In directing his father’s material, Matthew Kollar has been dutiful. The actors sleepwalk through their roles, apparently afraid to make the characters too complex. M. Nunzio Cancilla plays Paul as a man so wise, likable, and ready for beatification that he’s almost entirely lacking in human qualities.