Priest pens Catholic-based comedy set to debut before Christmas in Houston

November 8, 2022

HOUSTON — Some of the most famous writers in the world were inspired by their life experiences to create their films, songs and other works of art. For Father Nicholas Divine, C.P., director of ministry at Holy Name Passionist Retreat Center, his play “Right Angles” is a snapshot of his childhood.

It is set to premiere on stage from Dec. 16 to 18 at the University of St. Thomas’ Jones Hall.

The family-friendly comedy is based on actual events and actual dialogue that he heard and treasured from childhood through young adulthood in the Polish American neighborhood in Holyoke, Massachusetts, “where the Mater Dolorosa Church was the center of our lives.”
“Life experiences are authentic and more interesting than fiction,” he said. “To say that the play is ‘semi-autobiographical’ is a tempered statement.”

Some of the names have been changed to help the playwright communicate well the 33 “hidden” or subtle catechetical teachings within this Christmas comedy play, such as the names of the three principal women characters who “travel” through the play and bear the same initials as the Three Kings.

While the lone novice near Sacramento, Father Divine’s novice master, Father James Strommer, C.P., took him to a local community theater to celebrate the halfway point of his novitiate year, which is 366 days. Though the actors tried their best, the plot was difficult to follow and unenjoyable. Half of the audience left by intermission. Father Strommer and Father Divine remained until the end of that play to show support for the unpaid but determined actors. On the drive back to the Passionist Monastery, Father Strommer told him, “Nicholas, even you could write a play as bad.”

“So, Father Strommer challenged me under holy obedience that since I was the lone novice that year, I should spend my daily 30-minute recreation time writing a play which I submitted for publication in the summer of 2018,” Father Divine said.

“Right Angles” depicts what can happen when one feels necessary or pressured by popular social trends or a need “to keep up with the Joneses” and the cost of compromising or abandoning ethnic and family traditions treasured for generations.

The strong matriarch of an eccentric immigrant family, who has the reputation for being and doing things “right,” second guesses herself as she hosts the annual “Wigilia,” the traditional meatless 13-course Polish Christmas Eve supper. Things go terribly “wrong” at one of the most reverent times of the year.

Though not a musical, the play includes original compositions and arrangements by Gonzalo Ramos, the play’s music director from All Saints Catholic Church in the Heights. Eric Domuret, the director of “Right Angles” and founder of a non-profit theater company devoted to the advancement of young people in the arts, Apprentice Productions, attends Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham. It was during Father Divine’s talk at Walsingham that he and Domuret connected, finding a lot in common with each other.

Domuret, who has directed numerous plays in the Houston area, said “Right Angles” is an authentic representation of Polish American Culture.

“I only know of one other playwright that has written about the Polish American experience,” he said. “My family is a Polish family from Chicago, so there is a lot of familiarity for me in this play that I do not usually find in other plays.”

Domuret said the play is unique in that the principal characters are strong married family women who love their husbands and are filled with gratitude for their family life, noting that too few plays are written where middle-aged women are the principal characters. The cast are all local professional actors in the Houston Area. The cast includes Rachel Brownhill, Jonathan Gonzalez, Seth Ramsey, Sofia Uribe, Adrianna Brasher and Ariana Warren.

“They get to be the first actors to bring this story and these characters to life,” he said. “Many of the actors I have worked with before, some I know simply by virtue of being in the Houston Theatre Industry. Others I am having the pleasure of working with for the first time.”

The faith-based play infuses the theology of human flourishing of Jacques Maritain, a French philosopher and theologian. A known agnostic who converted to Catholicism in 1906 serves as the basis for the moral message of the play.

Maritain, who authored over 60 books, was responsible for the Thomistic revival of the early 20th Century.

“While affirming the dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God, Maritain’s theology of human flourishing stresses the common good and understands that both joy and sorrow, humor and suffering are fundamental and unavoidable in our human lives,” Father Divine said.

The play is completely funded through a grassroots effort of generous donations and volunteer work from family, friends and parishioners from around the Archdiocese and retreatants of Holy Name Passionist Retreat Center. It is produced through Apprentice Productions, a non-profit theater company dedicated to the training and advancement of young people interested in acting and in all the facets of theater and show production.

Tickets are currently on sale at at $17 for general admission and $20 for premium. The shows are Dec. 16 at 7 p.m., Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Dec. 18 at 2 p.m.