Monday, September 17, 2012

The Bishop of Digne

Let me tell you why I’m so excited, honored, and humbled to be portraying the Bishop of Digne in the current production of Les Miserables at Springfield Little Theater.

Firstly, it’s because I’m playing the Bishop of Digne in the current production of Les Miserables at Springfield Little Theater!!! I mean, come on - how cool is that? It’s flippin’ LES MIZ!!!

More specifically, though, and in no particular order…

It is a privilege to play a character who embodies unconditional love and is guided so deeply by the grace of God that he allows grace to dictate every word, every act, even every thought. The acts of welcoming Valjean, sharing a meal with him, and giving him a place to sleep are amazing in and of themselves. But when Valjean breaks that trust and steals the Bishop’s silver, and in response the Bishop not only allows him to keep it, but gives him the costly candlesticks as well, the abject selflessness and audacious grace of the act penetrate to the very heart of holiness.

It is a challenge of musical, physical, and artistic skill to funnel ninety-plus pages of description into two minutes on stage. In the novel, the Bishop of Digne is intimately described in the first section of the book, with overwhelming clarity and detail that reveals a complex and nuanced character. The burden of the actor playing the Bishop is to convey all of that in just a few simple phrases and gestures on stage. It has been quite a humbling process.

It is an honor to be on stage with Lloyd Holt for the powerful “candlesticks” moment. He is not just portraying Jean Valjean; while he is on stage he IS Jean Valjean. The energy that Lloyd radiates elevates the cast around him, myself included, and inspires us to a level of excellence that is rare in community theater settings. As our eyes lock while I am placing the silver candlesticks in his bag, his focus compels me to fully enter into that moment with a passion and depth that I would be unable to access were it happening with a different actor. There is so much that is unspoken underneath that brief moment, and you have to know that the Bishop’s love for Valjean is very much parallel to Andy Bryan’s love for Lloyd Holt.

It is exciting to be portraying a “religious” person who is not a vapid caricature of the faith. Almost every time an explicitly religious person is portrayed on stage or in film, they are shallow, judgmental, hypocritical, or in some other way characterized as “the bad guy.” Not so for the Bishop of Digne. Of him Victor Hugo wrote, “It will be perceived that he had a peculiar manner of his own of judging things: I suspect that he obtained it from the Gospel.” (Hugo, Victor (2010-12-16). Les Misérables (p. 25). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.)

I portray other characters throughout the show, including a poor beggar, a factory worker, a waiter, and … a pimp. (Yep.) I am having a great time with each, and to be a part of such an overwhelmingly talented cast and crew is undoubtedly a life highlight.

But I am captivated by this Bishop. I am hopeful that I can present him with the profound simplicity and powerful humility that he embodies. I hope that in my offering of the Bishop of Digne to the audiences at the Lander’s Theater, I can offer Christ in the fullest possible expression of what that truly means.

1 comment:

Carey Adams said...

I read Hugo's masterpiece when a senior in high school and was captivated by this interaction. LM remains my al-time favorite book, largely on the weight of this depiction of an act of grace that triggered a chain reaction of selflessness and charity that eventually touched so many. Hugo could have stopped writing at the point where Valjean leaves with the gifted silver and it still would have been a great work. Really sorry I can't be there to see you and the whole production.