A Life of Gifts review – divine mystery explored

A new play based on Karin Slaughter’s The Waste Land explores the ritualistic interventions of religious belief in the contemporary West, writes Fábio Monteiro

It’s 1967, but it feels like 2001. A small congregation of devout believers, at home in their country’s rural landscape, can look away from the suffering around them, and look up and note the face of Jesus waiting in the heavens above. They watch God’s angels, stars, planets and starships flutter by across the sky in a queasy metaphor for salvation.

“It’s a beautiful blue night”, says Sister Irene to Beuys. “To work with these words is one of the greatest – and by the way, some of my best and most attractive ideas have come in such moments.”

What if There’s No Such Thing as Closure?: Divine Memoirs is a new play by Karin Slaughter, about the ritualistic interventions of religious belief in the contemporary West. It creates an unsettling, abstruse, and ultimately dark context in which we move from Bible to smartphones in search of meaning.

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Through their liturgical references to the Mysteries of St Paul and the Code of the Catholic Church, the play speaks to two cultures, Judaism and Christianity, whose religious foundations are being appropriated in the 21st century: faith is being co-opted by an emerging gentleness, loving words and a secular presence.

The innocent purity of Shepherd’s Tales can easily be transformed into satire, as a smartphone poet uses the scripture to wistfully address an ill poet friend. The abuse of sacred text starts to take place not only in the sincere story-telling of the sisters, but also through cyberspace – with potentially dire consequences for the generation of atheistic millennials and the advent of the gated communities, post-nurturing suburbs, where we, as a nation, fail to look after our spiritual well-being.

And yet … Slaughter’s play tries to be a satirical satire, and yet … perhaps there is no such thing as closure.

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