This liturgy is not to be taken literally.
Medieval village idiots are forced to cobble together their own Christmas Mass following their beloved pastor’s death in Dzieci theatre group’s “Fool’s Mass” production coming to three Brooklyn venues in December. The play is part comedy and part worship, but it is completely immersive — the village idiots are illiterate and need the audience’s help getting through the service, the show’s director said.“There is no fourth wall,” said Matthew Mitler. “We seat people, give them sheets of music, and ask them to pray with us. But we’re village idiots — we can’t read — so the audience helps us with readings, filling out the nativity scene, and in the end, its something we’ve all done together.”
The play starts as soon as audience members walk in the door, where they will find a cast of physically and mentally handicapped peasants patiently waiting for their priest, who took them in and trained them as a choir, to start Mass, Mitler said. The choir finds out the plague has claimed the priest, but they refuse to go home, and instead decide to put together their own Mass — except no one can agree how to do it, he said.
Hijinks abound as the group quarrels over how to break bread for communion and what rituals happen when. The actors improvise much of the dialogue and action, making use of the altar and fixtures available wherever they are performing, Mitler said.
Each fool has his or her moment in the spotlight, whether that is telling a hastily thrown-together story of Jesus’s birth or, in some cases, sabotaging the rest of the group over disagreements. But singing the hymns their late pastor taught them unifies the group, and with help from the audience, they eventually get through the Mass.
Mitler and his Dzieci colleagues wrote “Fool’s Mass” in 1998 to explore the meaning behind the rituals of worship.“We asked ‘What is a Catholic Mass? What is it on a deep level?’ ” he said. “We thought the best way to approach that was to do it from the perspective of complete innocence, without much of a goal in mind, sort of as a child.”“Fool’s Mass” is fiction, but after writing the play, Mitler discovered that some European medieval villages held yearly festivals to mock the local bishop and the Catholic Church as a way of easing frustrations with the powerful religious authorities that dominated Europe at the time. Mitler incorporated one of the songs people sang at those festivals into the play, but said “Fool’s Mass” is anything but a mockery.
“It’s not about making fun of anything,” he said. “It’s trying to explore and find the deepest levels of human nature.”
Dzieci has performed the play at churches, religious conferences, and homes for both mentally and physically handicapped people. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, even if some folks were skeptical at the outset, Mitler said.
“People have all kinds of ideas,” he said. “We’ve had people angry at the beginning of the play, but by the end, they’re hugging us.”“Fool’s Mass” at St. Johns-St. Mathew-Emanuel Lutheran Church (283 Prospect Ave. between Fifth and Sixth avenues in Park Slope). Dec. 13 at 7 pm; at Seeds Brooklyn (617 Vanderbilt Ave. between St. Marks Avenue and Bergen Street in Prospect Heights). Dec. 18 at 7 pm and 9 pm; at Sure We Can (219 McKibbin St. between Bushwick Avenue and McKibbin Court in Bushwick). Dec. 19 at 7 pm. www.dziec