“Fire On Earth” and at the Stake

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Photo by Rebecca Bradshaw, with James Fay, Bob Mussett and Omar Robinson

Photo by Rebecca Bradshaw, with James Fay, Bob Mussett and Omar Robinson

Presented by Fresh Ink Theatre

Written by Patrick Gabridge
Directed by Rebecca Bradshaw

The Factory Theatre
Boston, MA
February 1-16, 2013
Fresh Ink Theatre Facebook Page

Review by Gillian Daniels

WARNING: Scenes of torture.

(Boston) I’ve always been skeptical of the “martyr” concept but enjoy it when it’s depicted well.  A martyr trades one life for an immortal one, living beyond death through the ideas he championed in life.  He’s not always a hero and he doesn’t always come from a selfless place, but he sacrifices himself all the same.

In Patrick Gabridge’s Fire On Earth, William Tyndale (Bob Mussett) works to translate the Bible into English.  It’s 1524, King Henry VIII is contemplating divorce from his first wife, and the Catholic Church has a stranglehold on the Latin Bible.  The Church decides when it’s read, who’s able to understand it, and what it means to the largely illiterate English masses.  Religion isn’t personal, it’s a business.  Mussett’s Tyndale, with a blissful naïveté in his face, opts to preach with his new translation.  Sir Thomas More and the bishops are not pleased.Tyndale’s allies are student John Frith (James Fay) and the show stealing Omar Robinson as the tradesman, John Tewkesbury.  Tewkesbury sees a golden opportunity to profit from the demand for English bibles.  Frith, a pious young man, is more ardent in his belief while Tyndale only thinks he’s doing God’s work.

Whatever jokes may be flung around in the first act, the show is a bare bones historical drama.  Gabridge and Fresh Ink Theatre may be gently earnest in their message of religious freedom, but the story barely sweetens the fates of those involved with the translation.  It’s hard to tell how dark the show will go and the suspense is ratcheted up brilliantly.

Bishop John Stokesley (Brett Milanowski) is a purring, clucking villain, bent on keeping the bible controlled by the Church and out of the hands of the English.  He is cold and zealous in his pursuit of bringing Tyndale to justice.  If history wasn’t there to back up the play, with the bloodthirsty Thomas More and the death penalty for heresy, Stokesley would be more caricature than man.

Much more complex and dynamic is Tewkesbury.  Robinson’s character is a business man but never a ruthless one.  He appears to have more of a passion for making money than making history.  Still, even he is touched by Tyndale’s goals and Frith’s selflessness.  He shares in their frustrations and looks toward a better England and its future.

It’s an enjoyable show if bleak and very intelligent work.  Fire On Earth has a backbone of facts and an idealistic heart.  Its depiction of religious persecution, and what one does for his or her beliefs, is gritty and believable. Director Rebecca Bradshaw executes the show with power, creating a world where the best one can hope for is not to avoid death but to die with conviction.
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