“Love thy neighbor”: It’s a beautiful and simple (let’s not say specious) dictum.. As the story goes, someone asked Jesus to clarify. “But who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, obliquely, by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan: A priest then a Levite passed by a dying man and didn’t stop because they would be defiled if they touched blood, leaving a stranger from a hated tribe to help. This story ripples through Curio Theatre’s powerful retelling of recent events: THE MATTER OF FRANK SCHAEFER, which tells the tale of a priest’s moral stance in the face of non-scriptural church dogma.
Schaefer (Paul Kuhn) achieved a measure of fame in 2013 when he was defrocked by the United Methodist Church after revelations came the to light that he had quietly officiated the same sex marriage of his son Tim (Steve Carpenter) several years before. Schaefer could have escaped punishment if he apologized and promised never to officiate such a ceremony again. Instead, he stood up for what he did in the name of human rights.
Curio conducted hundreds of interviews with Schaefer, his family, his congregation, and others involved in the events, piecing them together into a coherent narrative directed by Gay Carducci. Six actors play various roles, including the judge, counsels, and jurors of Schaefer’s church trial, which gives the work its basic structure. Kuhn is a bedrock to the cast as the noble priest and Carpenter gives the story its pathos as the tormented son Tim. Among the support, Ken Opdenaker struggles to enliven some of his roles but presents the humorous highlight of the evening as a fast food worker asked to provide local commentary.
For someone only very hazily familiar with the events, THE MATTER OF FRANK SCHAEFER provides an excellent introduction. It’s 2014, and many—but crucially, not all—priests still feel that stricture overrides moral responsibility. Although it fails to bring much dramatic tension to the two-act presentation, Curio’s documentary theater succeeds in personalizing an unfortunately still-relevant news story. [Curio Theatre Company at Cavalry Center, 4740 Baltimore Avenue] November 12-December 6, 2014; curiotheatre.org.