Your reaction to “The Glory of the World,” Charles Mee’s unhinged, unapologetically puzzling tribute to the Catholic monk, mystic, pacifist and author Thomas Merton, will probably depend on how you would react to any piece of performance art or experimental theater that is built around a single visual metaphor.
The play originated in Louisville, Kentucky, where Merton resided. According to news reports, its current limited run at Brooklyn Academy of Music has been financed by a former monk who won the Powerball lottery.
It begins with several minutes of total silence, in which a solitary man (played by director Les Waters) is depicted in deep meditation in the dark. His random observations (“Door slam to the left … Car driving away”) are represented via supertitles.
Afterwards, a loud and motley group of 17 men materialize for a wild party celebrating Merton’s 100th birthday. They ponder Merton’s legacy, make toasts, quote philosophers and pop stars and engage in countless activities including lip-synching, slow dancing and muscle flexing. A giant rhinoceros puppet even emerges.
Eventually, the stage is engulfed in total chaos, interrupted only by the arrival of a pizza delivery man. The group then exits and the guy from the beginning returns for another long period of silence.
It seems as if Mee wants to emphasize the virtues of meditation by contrasting frenzied physical activity with its complete absence. But who wants to sit through 90 minutes of repeated nonsense juxtaposed against stillness?
Others may find more meaning to it, or they may simply enjoy all the silly humor, but I personally found the Wikipedia entry on Merton more enlightening.