Article by Luis Vazquez
Photo by Joan Marcus

“This is true. We are all beggars before God.”

These last words of the late reformer Martin Luther in life served as the destinctive frame around a darker picture. In “Martin Luther King On Trial” that tortured aspect of his life is the weak link that the Devil is looking to use to “judge” Luther. The image is a courtroom with double doors in the center and a log stack of books written by the accused, Martin Luther, in the afterlife, symbolizing the labor of love he pursued.

Martin, whose defense attorney would be his wife, Katie Von Bora (Kersti Bryan) along with St. Peter as the judge serve as the opposition. The purpose of this trial is that the Devil, played brilliantly by Paul Schoeffer, is looking to prove that Luther committed the one unforgivable sin. Bora, who would leave her life as a nun to ultimately marry Luther is his biggest supporter as she defends heroically to the end. “She became the moral center of Luther and consequently the moral center of our play. She deserves a play of her own,” co-writer and Artistic Director as well as founder of FPA Max McClean said.

Lucifer is clever using a variety of world figures running the gambit from hot to cold such as Adolf Hitler, Sigmund Freud and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving him different looks to show in each that Martin’s actions caused more harm than good historically. While this is happening we get flashback scenes of Luther’s life playing out at intervals.

This was the view here that Max McLean wanted to portray ever since he first saw the PBS special on Luther. “I saw the Shakespearan side of his personality and the moment itself was so explosive. I knew there was a play. 2017 was the 500th anniversary of protestant reformation and we knew that and we wanted to be ahead of the curve but we also didn’t want to tell a history play,” McClean said “Ideas have consequences. We wanted to look at his legacy from the 21st century looking back. What did Luther bring about, what had Luther wrought. That was the idea of putting it a supernatural or afterlife setting, bringing in the witnesses so we could examine it from different stops.”

Lucifer is at his best as he actually uses his writings to show how he inspired men like Hitler. Hitler spoke about reading his books as a youth inspiring him and uses Freud to attack from a psychological angle. “Freud, pinned Luther’s nervous breakdown on not meeting his father’ expectations and transferred that into not satisfying God’s expectations. Its why Freud was inserted in the play to provide a little bit of psychological exclamation of Luther’s behavior,” McLean said.

Back and Forth, witness by witness they go through exhaustively. This culminates in the arrival of the only living figure in the story, Pope Francis. Lucifer tries to goad him into giving an opinion but he stays pretty pretty much politically correct which aggravates Satan. The quotes in this play were pulled from actual sources to keep it foundationally possible. “It’a a little bit risky to put words in the mouth of the living pope. So we were careful to use the dialogue that we used. It was from his book, the “Joy of the Gospel.” Mein Kampf, the screwtape letters, these were the sources for the others.

We get a flashback conversation between Gabriel and Lucifer when they both were in the first estate with Lucifer trying to convince the angels that God is wrong and from that desire to break away and linking it to this court case Luther appears and when Lucifer brought face-to-face the question of whether he meant to reject God and thus the Holy Spirit which would be the unforgivable sin. He reminds Peter that he denied Christ and that Luther Kng Jr.was guilty of adultery. Instead of dismissing his supporters, it served the opposite end. Luther as well as all his wife, St. Peter, and the rest simply respond. “We are all beggars before God.”

Lucifer is enraged and returns back to hell furious. The special effects were intimidating giving a feeling of relief and fear of this final judgement. In the end God forgives all to the bare minimum. Luther appears to have finally come to grips with this. At least on this stage.

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