The theatrics of religion

One of Malta’s leading authors, Mario Azzopardi talks to Vida Magazine about his latest publication, a collection of essays of essays exposing how religion is linked with dramatic practice.  

For the past 40 odd years author and theatre director Mario Azzopardi has been a leading personality in the construction of Malta’s new wave literature and theatre. He was never far from controversy and a few years back his collection of short stories for adolescents was banned from schools. Luckily, common sense prevailed and his works are now back on the senior Matsec syllabus. “ It was not easy to establish a modern idiom in contemporary literature and drama” said Azzopardi.

Azzopardi, who until April 2014 was still heading the Malta Drama Centre, was forced to resign when he suffered a stroke. While still in hospital after the calamity, he was determined to finish his most recent publication, a collection of essays dealing with religion and theatricality through the ages. He wrote his last two chapters of the book at the neurological ward at Mater Dei Hospital.

This publication might come as a surprise to all those who always assumed that the author was anti-religious, given his criticism of Catholic hypocrisy. “That has always been a very wrong assumption”, he declared, “as my stand has always been against bigotry not against spirituality.”  And his latest book, “Vergni Sagri, Xjaten u Boloh ghal Alla” (Horizons), proves it.

This is a collection that for the first time in Malta not only analyses the signs of theatricality in religious ritual and practice but goes into the semitics of what the works of authors such as Milton, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and John of the Cross indicate. The book is full of cross referencing and delves into sociology, anthropology, theology  and ecclesiastical history. The provocative stint is always present but Azzopardi assures his readers that he mean no irreverence and no sensationalism.

Moreover, always given to literature and drama, the author creates  a vey original “appendix” in the form of a docudrama about a case of seduction which had scandalized 18th century France when a Jesuit priest was accused of seducing his virgin penitent, Marie- Catherine.

Another intriguing aspect of the book analyses the case of another Jesuit, this time a Sicilian novice who, when in Malta, sustained a series of blood letting insigna on his hands and cardiac region.  Azzopardi gives details of “images” he discovered, at the Jesuit Archives in Naxxar with the assistance of Professor Stanley Fiorini.