Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Belmont Abbey College offers different take on Thomas More

On stage and screen, he's known less by his name than by this moniker: A man for all seasons.

But Belmont Abbey College is about to offer a different take on Sir Thomas More -- the 16th century British lawyer who was beheaded for his refusal to back King Henry VIII in the rotund royal's battle with the Roman Catholic Church.

"More," a one-man play written and performed by Simon Donoghue, will debut Thursday night at the college's Haid Theatre. You can also see it Friday and Saturday. All three performances will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets: $10.

Donoghue, director of theater at Belmont Abbey College for 37 years, offers high praise for "A Man for All Seasons," the Robert Bolt play about More that was made into an Oscar-winning 1966 film starring Paul Scofield.

In fact, he's staged it twice over the years at Belmont Abbey.

But O'Donoghue says he has a different view than Bolt, who portrays More as strictly a man of conscience.

The real reason for More's refusal to back the king was more religious, O'Donoghue says.

Even though More worked for Henry VIII -- running his government as Lord Chancellor -- he considered the king's actions "an attack on God and the church," says O'Donoghue.

As you may recall, Henry wanted the Catholic Church to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could wed Anne Boleyn. And amid signs that then-Pope Clement VII would not go along, the king bolted from the Roman church and got a compliant Parliament to dub him Supreme Head of the Church of England.

More felt that what the king was doing was "flying in the face of 1,500 years of what (More) calls tradition," Donoghue says.

In fact -- and you won't get this in "A Man for All Seasons" -- More was so committed to the church's official line that, ironically, he had some so-called heretics burned at the stake for fear they would poison the faith of others.

Donoghue says the play opens in the wee hours of the morning on the day More is to be executed at the Tower of London. As the play continues, he reflects back on his life and how he got to this place.

More, who was later canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, was said to have remarked before the axe fell: "Let me arrange my beard so it doesn't get cut. It didn't commit treason."

He also reportedly said this in his final minutes: "I die the King's good servant, but God's first."

Thomas More was 57 -- Donoghue's current age -- when he faced his end in 1535.

By the way: This is the second one-man play Donoghue has performed at Belmont Abbey College in recent years. In 2009, he was "Damien," the Catholic priest and saint who pastored lepers on the Hawaiian island 0f Molokai.