Daniel Miller
Daniel Miller
SAINT BENEDICT, Ore. —Picture this: The Shakespearian comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in 1964, the king and queen morphed into a priest and nun set to leave their religious vows to be married, and the four young lovers played by two black and two white actors. Add in ripples from the Second Vatican Council and the Civil Rights Movement, all onstage amid the poetic musings of history’s most renowned playwright.

These directorial choices aroused varying responses among the 17 seminarians from Mount Angel Seminary who attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in late September.

“That was jarring,” said seminarian Paul Grandi of the Diocese of Tucson. “It added a layer to the play beyond what Shakespeare intended. It took me out of his world.”

The seminarians journeyed almost five hours to Ashland, Ore., to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear. The Ashland trip is an annual staple for those double-majoring in literature and philosophy, along with other interested students.

“I like it when the students get excited about something, whether they are critical or not,” said literature Professor Creighton Lindsay. “It’s a joy to share my appreciation of things, when students give themselves over to the pleasure of theatre.”

King Lear similarly evoked varied reactions. In a climactic scene of the cognitively declining king enduring a tremendous storm, two of the main characters were stripped of their positions and seeming dignity. They were also stripped of all but their underwear. Some liked the symbolism. Others thought it went too far.

“They do that just to get a reaction out of us,” said John Hesla, a seminarian from the Archdiocese of Portland.

Grandi appreciated the scene. “They captured some moments beautifully, like Lear in the storm and his descent into madness,” he said.

In addition to the plays, seminarians received a backstage tour. They experienced sleeping over at the Southern Oregon University Newman Center, a game of bocce ball in the park, dinners at Standing Stone Brewing Company and Pasta Piatti, and time away from campus.

“Studying literature in general and Shakespeare in particular is a wonderful way for seminarians to challenge themselves,” Lindsay said. “Students tell me literature is good training for becoming a priest, because in literature you get to explore a variety of the types of people you might see in your diocese or parish.”

The writer is in his second year of pre-theology at Mount Angel Seminary. He currently coaches soccer at the seminary, has worked in a youth ministry in Seattle, and has an undergraduate degree in journalism. Miller is from the Diocese of Boise.