Damien, the dramatic and heart-warming true story of Father Damien de Veuster, the Belgian missionary priest who cared for lepers on the isolated island of Molokai from 1873 to his death in 1889, will be performed today through Sunday at Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School.
Playwright Aldyth Morris' award-winning one-man play features Sarasota actor Alvin Jenkins, who has earned accolades as a serious actor in productions at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, the Gorilla Theatre and Asolo Repertory Theatre, among others.
The play begins and ends as Father Damien's disinterred body is carried through Honolulu in 1936 on its way to Belgium for ceremonial burial. Ms. Morris based her play on letters, newspaper stories and books written during Father Damien's life.
As his coffin makes its journey, Father Damien recalls his early life in Flanders, his decision to become a priest and his days in service on more pleasant Hawaiian islands, where his parishioners loved him.
It was during an otherwise uneventful boat ride from Maui to Honolulu that Damien saw the lepers sent to live out their lives in misery quarantined on what he described as "a sour tongue of land." He resolved to live on the island and care for those wretched people and to fight for better living conditions and medical care for them.
But as Father Damien's battle for these forgotten people became known and admired throughout the world, the priest endured his own internal battle with his fear that he had succumbed to the sin of pride. Damien is as much about the priest's struggle as it is about the lepers he nurtured and helped.
The play was performed first in Hawaii in 1976 and went on to become a public television production that won the George Peabody Award "for distinguished and meritorious public service by radio and television" and the Christopher Award that "affirm(s) the highest value of the human spirit."
The play has been translated into several languages and performed in the United States and Canada.
Father Damien was beatified by the Vatican in 1995 and is scheduled to be canonized on Oct. 11.
Future shows by EDPAC Stage Co. at the theater are: William Shakespeare's The Tempest (Aug. 14-23); Anne Nelson's The Guys (Sept. 11-13); the musical Macabaret (Oct. 23-31); Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol (Dec. 18-20); The Fantasticks (Jan. 22-31); Steve Mountan's comedy The Infinite Typing Pool (Feb. 26-March 7); and the return of the comedy Nobody Don't Like Yogi (April 9-18). Ticket prices vary by show.