Dotting the dramatic landscape are plays about politicians (“The Best Man,” “Young Mr. Lincoln”), potentates (“King Lear,” “Henry V”) and pontiffs (“Hadrian VII,” “The Deputy”).
Now, along comes a play about a parish priest – one from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, no less.
“The Life and Times of Fr. Mark Brandl,” scheduled to be staged in spring at Fr. Brandl’s parish, St. Agnes in Butler, is being billed by its author as “a lighthearted jukebox musical.”
By way of further explanation, St. Agnes parishioner-playwright Jim Santilli told your Catholic Herald, “This means the show consists of a retelling of Mark’s story using skits and musical numbers from groups such as the Beatles, Journey and Broadway shows. It is a linear story of Mark’s life from birth to his arrival at St. Agnes, using actors to represent family members and (others) involved in Mark’s journey.”
In light of recent Catholic Herald articles about the acting efforts of two archdiocesan priests, Frs. Joe Juknialis and Chuck Hanel, Fr. Brandl was asked whether he might take a role – perhaps even play himself – in “The Life and Times.”
More informationWould-be cast members are invited to attend a 7 p.m. meeting Monday, Jan. 21 in Kemp Hall at St. Agnes, 12801 W. Fairmount Ave., Butler.
“The Life and Times of Fr. Mark Brandl” will be presented at 7 p.m. March 21 and 22, also in Kemp Hall. “The presentation will be as if you are at a live TV production,” according to Santilli, who noted that, in lieu of ticket sales, donations are accepted for parish theatrical
“No, I have no desire to get on stage,” he told your Catholic Herald. “But I have been in skits in college (UW-River Falls), for homecoming and winter carnival, as a fraternity member.”
Related story"Theater arts is ministry at St. Agnes"
Having previously tackled well-known shows as “Godspell” and “Willy Wonka,” why is the St. Agnes Drama Company about to mount an original musical about St. Agnes’ parish priest?
Fr. Brandl was assigned to the Butler parish this past June and the musical will serve, according to Santilli, as “a great way for the St. Agnes community to get to know Fr. Mark and for him to get to know us.”
Moreover, the production is seen as a means of conveying “an inspirational and, hopefully, evangelical, as well as vocational, message” by depicting its subject’s “unique journey” to the priesthood.
Santilli, who interviewed Fr. Brandl, his relatives and others en route to composing “The Life and Times” script, discovered that Fr. Brandl’s “unique journey” began in earnest when he became a seminarian at the comparatively advanced age of 43.
This was after he “had left the (Catholic) faith for a time” and experienced “various careers” – which the priest identified as dairy farming, pest control, restaurant management and fruit production plant shift management and development.
At 49, in 2009, Fr. Brandl became the first priestly vocation ever in the half-century history of Good Shepherd Parish in Menomonee Falls. He then spent three years as associate pastor at St. Alphonsus Parish, Greendale before moving to St. Agnes as administrator.
In a message written for “The Life and Times” program, Santilli describes his musical as “the story of a … man’s journey to find his destiny” and “the tale of a wandering soul whose apparent random life experiences led him to the seminary and priesthood.”
The Santilli synopsis also notes that, while the production “has fun elements,” its “essence is an account of how a man returns to the faith by learning and studying about God. He does this by developing a more personal relationship to God. In his pursuit of God, God becomes more real and visible.”
“I guess my first reaction was, ‘This is a joke, right?’” Fr. Brandl reflected. “When Jim (Santilli) came in and presented his idea to me, I, more or less, told him, ‘Good luck,’ and wondered how he was going to keep people interested in my life. I am not a creative guy, nor do I have the gift of an artistic mind, but I am mindful that others do have the gift, so I put my trust in him.”
Santilli will direct the musical. Production assistants include Robin Corozza, Karyn Leitner, Jo Hutchinson and St. Agnes director of liturgy and music Mark Mauer, who supervises the lighting.