Page images
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]




O ANY ONE who does not know San Francisco intimately, the idea of a Passion Play being produced in the metropolis of the Pacific Coast must appear something of an anomaly. The man in Michigan who reads about our graft prosecutions, the Vassar girl whose cousin Tom lived here for six months, and the short-skirted tourist from classic Boston who has participated in a specially conducted Chinatown tour-all these and more cf their ilk are very likely to raise their eyebrows, if not decorously to wink, when they read of San Francisco producing a Passion Play. Have they not all heard that San Francisco is the wickedest city in the world? They may not altogether believe it, of course; but at the same time they are prone to hold, with a fair degree of certainty, that San Francisco is not precisely a devotional center.

We who are on the spot, we who were born here and raised here and live here, know better. We know that San Francisco has an unsavory side-how otherwise could Eastern visitors find life here worth while?-but we also know that the typical San Franciscan is not by any means a had lot. Furthermore, if we have probed a little beneath the surface of things, the fact has been brought home to us that San Francisco abounds with men and women possessed of strong, deep and practical religious convictions. Too long has San Francisco been regarded as a city of restaurants and other things; it is opportune to emphasize the fact that San Francisco is likewise a city of churches.

In itself the fact might not count for much were we not to bear in mind that churchgoers in San Francisco differ great ly from church-goers elsewhere. There is very little smug religiosity here. We are not over-burdened with men who cheat and steal and lie all week, and then sit

in their rented pews on Sunday morning. Men of that class elsewhere go to church; here, they stay at home. Many San Franciscans, it is safe to say, do not know what the inside of a church looks like; but those who do know are consistent worshipers. They are true to the basic principles of revealed religion, and they have the courage of their creeds. As a consequence, San Francisco's churches are well supported, and the men and women who support them are actuated by a genuine religious spirit. This it is that made so signal a success of the Passion Play recently produced under the direction of the Franciscan Fathers.

As originally planned, the Passion Play was to have been a strictly parochial production designed for the edification of the German catholics who attend St. Boniface's Church in Golden Gate avenue. The offering was to be staged in the parish hall -the expenditure of time and money was to be small, and the great world was to know nothing whatever of the occurrence. Nothing more ambitious was in the mind of Father Josaphat Kraus, who planned the production.

But San Francisco thought otherwise. Public sentiment was aroused, and potent influence was brought to bear upon the humble Franciscan, with the result that the sacred drama was presented on a scale of almost unbelievable magnificence and grandeur. San Francisco is now justly entitled to the name of a second Oberammergau-unless, indeed, Oberammergau deserves to be called a second San Francisco.

Twenty-five thousand dollars is a conservative estimate of the cost of the production, a cost which involved acres of scenery, countless yards of expensive costumes and miles of electric wiring. The largest auditorium in the city was chartered for the season of rehearsals and pro

ductions, and a stage constructed 234 feet long and 65 feet deep-the largest stage ever used west of Chicago. To further the acoustic properties of the building, a net of finest piano wire was stretched from wall to wall, with results commensurate with the expense and originality of the device.

Rightly to understand the Passion Play we must know something of the man who stands sponsor for it. Father Josaphat Kraus is the direct antithesis of the popular conception of the Franciscan monk. He is not corpulent, nor florid, nor, in the offensive sense, jolly. Father Josaphat is

work-he is an accomplished scholar and linguist-Father Josaphat brought to his routine labors a mind capable of converting experience into knowledge. His duties in the confessional, in the hospital, in the asylum, brought him close to human nature. He learned men and the ways of men, their strength and their weakness; and this knowledge brought the conviction that, despite what prosy moralists may say to the contrary, the average man is influenced less by reason than by emotion.

Father Josaphat is a Catholic monk, and the reason why the Catholic monk exists to-day is that he may help his fellow

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

small in stature and slightly built, with a well-shaped head delicately poised above the expansive collar of his brown monastic habit. His face is youthful, almost boyish-the face of a man who, shielded from the sordid things of life, has devoted years to the calm contemplation of eternal truth.

For something like a score of years, Father Josaphat has labored in the work of the Catholic priesthood at St. Boniface's Church. Admirably trained for his life.

men to live better, nobler lives. So Father Josaphat sought to do his little share in the great work of uplifting humanity. And there is no suggestion of cant in the expression as it is understood by men like him. He sincerely strived for the betterment of the man in the street-for this he labored and prayed. And then, finding that the man in the street is profoundly influenced by an appeal, rightly made, to his emotional nature, Father Josaphat asked himself this question: "How can I

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

make some mighty appeal to the emotional nature of the man in the street, an appeal that will result in his becoming wiser and better and nobler, an appeal that will bring him nearer to God and make of him more of a man?"

The Passion Play of San Francisco is the answer to that question. Believer and unbeliever agree on this, the Catholic monk devoted to a life of self-immolation and service, and the fool that says in his heart, "There is no God," are here at one -in all the history of the world, Christwhether considered as man or as Man-God -is the hero transcendent. What is truly heroic tears at the heartstrings, every man of the red corpuscle thrills at the recital of deeds of heroism. It is purely an emotional appeal; but emotion, and not reason, rules the world.

This consideration it was that gave the San Francisco Passion Play birth. To better man, I must appeal to the emotional in man; the emotional nature thrills at the touch of the heroic; the supreme hero is Christ, and the story of his life is the tale of heroism most exalted. Therefore, the Passion Play will touch man's emotion most intimately and will aid him to become truer to himself and his God. Such, substantially, was the way Father Josaphat formulated the motives for what is destined to be remembered by all who know him as the masterwork of his life.

This conception of the scope of the sacred drama is by no means new. The same underlying principle was the inspiration of those canonized playwrights of the Christian Church, Gregory the


bishop, and Hroswitha, the German nun, and the basis of the elaborate sacred pageants which, in various forms, flourished for long in Italy, France, Spain, Germany and England. Even to-day it is the inspiration of the decennial passion plays produced at Oberammergau and in the Tyrol. But, in Father Josaphat's case, though the idea was not original, the application of it was both novel and new.

Americans are vastly different from Germans and Tyrolese. And in San Francisco, more even than in self-centered and provincial New York, worldly interests and sophistication are apparent. We are not isolated mountaineers and unassuming peasants. A passion play in a

remote German village is one thing; a passion play in a bustling, cosmopolitan American city is quite another. This particular aspect of San Francisco's Passion Play demands emphasis.

In the construction of his sacred drama, Father Josaphat followed, along general lines, the play which has made Oberammergau famous. From the German drama he adopted the unique and impressive device of triple stage; that is, a central stage flanked by two smaller stages. On the main stage was enacted the life story of Christ; on the stages at right and left scenes were depicted from the Old Testament. The Old Testament scenes were chosen with a view to emphasize the symbolism of the sacred drama and to portray, in a manner at once vivid and convincing, the relation between the types and prophecies of the old dispensation and their fulfillment in the life of the Savior.

In the fourth act of the first division of the production, for instance, while on the main stage was depicted the Last Supper and the betrayal of the Master by Judas for thirty pieces of silver, on the flanking stages were presented the sacrifice of bread and wine made by the Priest of the Most High, Melchisedec, and the bartering of the boy Joseph by his brethren. Similarly, in the scene which, for dramatic intensity and depth of appeal must be regarded as the climax of the production, which culminates with the Savior, stripped and agonized, hanging on the cross, the flanking stage to the left presented a wonderfully impressive tableau of the brazen serpent which Moses held aloft to the Israelites as a symbol of their salvation.

Each production of the Passion Play consumed four evenings. This in itself is an indication of the extensive scale on which the drama was performed. cast consisted of more than 400 performers, not including a chorus of 200 voices and an orchestra of 40 pieces.


To give, in anything like adequate phrasing, one's impressions of this superb triumph of Christian piety and dramatic art, is totally out of the question. Not even the hardened and facile dramatic critics of the San Francisco dailies were able to record their opinion in a manner approaching coherence. Like all really great appeals to the emotions, the San Francisco

« PreviousContinue »