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Waging Waugh.

It was one of those unforgettable artistic moments, like seeing an almost finished oil painting or walking through a nearly completed architectural gem. This moment was a studio reading of "Waging Waugh," a one-person play capturing the personality of the late British novelist Evelyn Waugh. The performance, a project of the Playwrights Center at Loyola University Chicago, was produced in association with the university's Department of Theater this past summer.

Evelyn Waugh enjoys renewed popularity today in part because of the successful made-for-television miniseries of his most celebrated novel, Brideshead Revisited. When Waugh published Brideshead in the 1940s, it helped the Catholic novel move from second-rate proselytizing literature to first-rate literary achievement. Waugh, a convert to Catholicism, was among a handful of novelists who produced Catholic novels written in English that were acclaimed by Catholic and non-Catholic readers and critics.

In "Waging Waugh," the audience meets a pompous yet intriguing Englishman, a master of words, firmly loyal to his own understanding of Catholic theology, thought, and tradition. He is astonishingly aristocratic and decidedly pre-Vatican II. Yet this two-act play is also ironically American. In the first act, we see Waugh preparing to embark on a visit to the United States. In the second act, he triumphantly returns from his visit to regale the audience with his humorous, acrimonious, and at times prophetic impressions and interpretations of the American way of life.

The author of this little jewel of a play, Joseph Roccasalvo, is also a novelist. And his novel, Portrait of a Woman (Ignatius Press, 1995), is also a Catholic novel, which, like Brideshead Revisited, is now being scripted for the screen. But unlike Waugh's novel, Portrait of a Woman is decidedly post-Vatican II.

Through the years many personalities have been portrayed on the American stage through one-person plays, among them: Harry Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jack Kerouac, Mark Twain, Dorothy Day, Black Elk, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allan Poe. Even Jesus Christ has appeared on stage through one-person performances like those of Michael Reardon, who dramatically recites each of the four gospels word for word.

For sure, Evelyn Waugh is one of the myriad of colorful characters on Catholicism's roster. Joseph Roccasalvo recreates this unique personality on stage. "Waging Waugh" deserves to be in the company of other notable one-person plays that have graced the theater.
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Title Annotation:Chicago, Illinois
Author:Gilmour, Peter
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Theater Review
Date:Oct 1, 1997
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