Celia Wren

Celia Wren is Commonweal’s media and stage critic.

By this author

Beyond Black & White

Here are some things you might expect to find on HBO: Prohibition-era gangsters. Post-Katrina New Orleans jazzmen. Vampires. Bill Maher.

Here’s something you might not expect to find: an intense ninety-minute closed-room debate about the existence of God, the authority of the Bible, the meaning of suffering, and the nature of salvation.

Chesterton Play Has Legs

In the nation's capital, the Washington Stage Guild production of G.K. Chestertons play Magic has been extended through Feb. 6a happy outcome for a work that isnt produced often in the United States. I managed to catch the show the other day, and found it witty, atmospheric and affecting. The ideas and aphorisms sure do fly by at a mile a minute: Reportedly written at the suggestion of Chestertons pal George Bernard Shaw, the script feels very much like a piece Shaw would have written had Shaw been a believer.

Rare G.K. Chesterton Staging

Here's something you don't encounter too often in the professional American theater: a full production of a play by G.K. Chesterton. In the nation's capital, the well-regarded Washington Stage Guild is plunging into 2011 with a staging of Chesterton's "Magic," a comedy-of-ideas about an upper-class family that hires a magician for laughs, andends up confronting questions about doubt and faith. According to the company's press release, the play hasn't been staged in the U.S. in decades, though it's never fallen out of favor in England.

Praying for a Living

A tattoo of a cross shimmers on an African Methodist Episcopal minister’s calf, a few inches above her red stiletto sandals. A chubby-cheeked young rabbi and his newly pregnant wife dig into celebratory pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. A Muslim chaplain leafs morosely through boxes of paperwork—reports on anti-Islamic harassment he experienced while working in a federal prison.

‘The Game’s On’

In an age of Google Earth and Twitter, when Facebook knows more about you than your mother does, and advertisers track your every move online, would anyone have need of Sherlock Holmes for his deductive powers?

The New Jerusalem

Who knew that seventeenth-century Puritan John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts, allowed a reality-TV crew to follow him around? A hand-held camera has captured him clearly as he scribbles in his journals with a white quill pen or stares gloomily out the window while muttering about religious dissident Anne Hutchinson. Now he’s berating Hutchinson face to face; when she dares to answer back, he looks so startled you’d think he’d accidentally swallowed a piece of Plymouth Rock.

'The Saint Plays" Take Center Stage

As the 2010-2011 theater season revs up, audiences in the Washington, D.C., area can anticipate a newsworthy event: a production of The Saint Plays by Erik Ehn, an experimental dramatist whose elusive, poetic and sometimes hallucinatory plays are deeply informed by his Catholicism. Now the head of the playwriting division in Brown Universitys theater department, Ehn is an artist whose works are far more often admired than actually staged. But Factory 449, a theater collective in the nations capital, will present The Saint Plays Sept. 17-Oct.

The Moral Significance of the Traffic Camera

Feel safer in the era of security cameras and GPS technology? Think again. In this intriguing, readable article from Philosophy Now, scholar Emrys Westacott lays out an unnerving argument: "Ubiquitous surveillance is like a magnetic force that changes the trajectory of our moral aspiration." The article begins:

Sympathy for the Devil

Dante’s Inferno stands on its head in the mildly amusing, candy-colored series Neighbors from Hell, the first original primetime animated entertainment from the cable channel TBS. In the fourteenth-century terza rima masterpiece, a human voyaged through the infernal region, witnessing its hierarchy of torments. By contrast, in the TBS satire—which started airing in June—devil protagonists reluctantly leave hell to live undercover in suburban America.

Faith, Tradition and the Passion Play

I cant claim to be a regular reader of Der Spiegel online, but I did stumble across this fascinating article on the uproar over the latest edition of the Passion Play, the stage extravaganza that has been staged in Oberammergau, Germany, every 10 years since the early 17th century. The play, which reenacts the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, is a cherished tradition in the village, and it attracts oodles of tourists.