We don’t have many clergyman-playwrights these days. But Calderon took vows, and Hroswitha and Hildegard were medieval nuns. A young Polish theologian named Karol Wojtyla set out on the same double path in the 1940s and ’50s, but as with many fledgling playwrights, his day job eventually took over—in his case, becoming Pope John Paul II.
The Storm Theatre’s current festival of the late pontiff’s old scripts includes The Jeweler’s Shop (1960), which delivers exactly what its subtitle promises: “A Meditation on the Sacrament of Matrimony, Passing on Occasion Into a Drama.” In what laymen might call a “monologue play,” the ups and downs of two marriages (one happy, one not) are recounted by the players themselves. Without mentioning scripture or deities explicitly, Wojtyla expresses complex theology through the everyday speech of his common people, as they discover spiritual fulfillment through conjugal love. When one wife suffers from neglect, she edges toward becoming (in an almost racy scene) a “casual woman,” but discovers that true happiness lies in faithfulness, not romance. Hovering over the proceedings, the offstage jeweler of the title-—with an otherworldly power—dispenses wedding rings, providing some allegorical heft that suggests a guiding holy spirit, if not a Twilight Zone episode.
Dignified restraint characterizes the production, less overtly religious than overly reverent. An attractive and earnest ensemble communicates the sermonic text with clarity, but doesn’t transcend the feeling of a staged recitation. Without a bolder approach, the play remains just a curiosity, most interesting for its hints of Wojtyla’s early sensitivity to questions of sex, divorce, and the equality of men and women. Too bad His Holiness proved less open-minded on those issues when it really counted.