Drama of love, forgiveness takes stage tonight

March 28, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

The drama of a Polish priest murdered in a Nazi concentration camp takes the stage tonight at St. John Catholic Church in Westminster.

The one-man drama promises the audience a story of forgiveness and love.

Leonardo T. Defilippis wrote, produced and acts in "Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz," a 90-minute story of St. Maximilian Kolbe.

"It is an epic play set in epic times," said Mr. Defilippis. "Maximilian lived in both Poland, which saw the worst destruction of the war in Europe, and in Nagasaki, Japan, which was hit with the atomic bomb."

The drama usually plays to full houses. Although the audience "gets hints of the culmination throughout the story," the author said he avoids the graphic aspects of the concentration camp.

"I wanted it to be accessible and delicate enough for children to see," said Mr. Defilippis.

Paul Gallagher, a seminarian at St. John's, said, "The contrast between the darkness of Holocaust and the life of Kolbe is phenomenal, moving and powerful."

Mr. Defilippis, 42, founded St. Luke Productions, a nonprofit theater company, in Beaverton, Ore., in 1982. A Shakespearean actor, he has developed eight dramas, which he stages nationwide.

For now, he is devoting his energies to the story of the Polish saint. He will leave Carroll County for shows in Chicago and Los Angeles.

"We only expected to tour for a year, but we are still booking into spring 1996," said Callie A. Molvar, production assistant. "A lot of people relate to the story, which is so pertinent to today."

Mr. Defilippis said his is the first play written in English about Maximilian Kolbe, who was born in Poland in 1894 and became a priest and missionary. Father Kolbe established monasteries in Poland and Japan. Canonized by the Catholic Church in 1982, his life is an example of the struggle between good and evil, said Mr. Defilippis.

"He established a monastery in Nagasaki which still thrives today," he said. "On his return to Poland, he published a daily religious newspaper and became a major influence in his community."

Father Kolbe's popularity and influence led to his arrest by the Gestapo and imprisonment at Auschwitz in the spring of 1941. He befriended other prisoners at the camp, gave his food away and helped Jewish prisoners. He volunteered to take the place of Francis Gajowniczek, a husband and father who had been sentenced to death. Mr. Gajowniczek died recently at the age of 94.

"Many survivors, who saw Maximilian in different circumstances, still live today," Mr. Defilippis said. "Prisoners who witnessed his last courageous act told his story."

Mr. Defilippis takes about 20 speaking parts in the play, which he wrote in 1992.

"The play has an almost maternal quality," he said. "Maximilian, who had a great devotion to the Mother of God, shows how a mother wants to heal the divisions among her children."

After the production, Mr. Defilippis greets the audience.

The single performance begins at 7:30 p.m. in the school gym at St. John's, 43 Monroe St. A few $4 tickets are still available.

Information: 876-2248.

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