In celebration of the 85th anniversary of the United Church of Canada, Cape Breton’s United Church congregations are presenting the premier performance of an original play that celebrates its history. Love Divine and Love Less Perfect follows the personal lives of John Knox and John Wesley, founders of the Presbyterian and Methodist movements. Both are the main founding streams of the United Church.
But this play does not aim to be a staid recounting of a history book. A confrontation with a monarch, a potentially disastrous romantic setback, and the charisma and conviction of the play’s historical protagonists are all elements that make for compelling storytelling. As director Ken Chisholm commented on the characters, “Knox and Wesley have become icons of iron will, but they were as subject to misjudgment and indecision as any mortal.” The play incorporates a live choir performing some the sacred music of the period, adding a special dimension to the evening.
The play’s author Wade Reppert was inspired to write the story while reading about Wesley, a charismatic preacher with an staunch self-discipline and determination. However, upon reading further about the details of Wesley’s personal life, Reppert discovered a fascinating set of personal misjudgements and complexities that made the historical figure seem more down to earth. “The intrigue, the treachery, the betrayal, and the way he bore up under all that weight of tragedy in his personal life…he did nothing wrong on a moral level, but he did also show a great deal of lack of judgement and balance in his life.” Reppert explained, musing ”Maybe you can’t be balanced and accomplish great things.”
The opening act of the play introduces the audience to John Knox, the other main character. He was a founder of the Presbyterian church in Scotland, known as a great reformer and leader who accomplished much good, but like Wesley, with his own set of flaws. “[Knox] was a staunch woman hater; misogynist and extremist,” explained Reppert. “He didn’t believe a woman should have any authority over a man so much as his little finger. And certainly no Queen. He called it ‘monstrous’ that any woman should be ruler. So he gave Elizabeth the I, bloody Mary, and Mary Queen of the Scots a tongue-lashing..and Mary Queen of Scots stands right up to him in the play.” Many of the play’s scenes were written with faithful attention to historical text, and Reppert identified the confrontation between Knox and the Queen to be one such scene.
Reppert also wrote the play in reflection of the past and present role of the church in society. “I’m a historian of sorts…I wanted to see if there was any way to encourage people to see some pattern in in the dynamics of people who manage to change the church onto another basis of operation entirely. John Knox did that with Presbyterianism in Scotland and john Wesley did it out of the Anglican tradition. [Wesley] emerged in the time of the industrial revolution and the misery it was causing across the British Isles. He started a new kind of reaching out to people that first caused people to scoff at him…and ended up converting nearly a half a million people whose lives were considerably improved, even materially, as a result having had that religious re-routing of their existence.”
The performances will take place at the First United Church at 105 Whitney Avenue, Sydney, on November 12 and 13 at 7:00pm. Admission is $10, and tickets will be available for purchase at the door.