The Last Confession – An Anatomy of Ego and Power

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By Zina Markevicius
For The Lookout

June 25, 2014 -- Egotism and lust for power are not limited to Wall Street. Roger Crane’s thought-provoking play, The Last Confession, demonstrates how politics and personal ambition pervade the Vatican as well.

Based on historical events, the play running at the Ahmenson Theater through July 6, centers on the Catholic church’s most influential leaders, as they navigate the election, sudden death and the replacement of Pope John Paul I in 1978.

Photo. Program Cover. The Last Confession -  An Anatomy of Ego and Power LA Ahmenson Theater

Manipulative and power-hungry, these cardinals and other top officials play politics to push their own agendas and careers. They make an unsympathetic bunch.

Among the key players is Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, portrayed by Briton David Suchet, best known for his role as Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Unlike the lovable detective, the scheming cardinal seems ruthless in his pursuit of power, until the death of his friend, John Paul I, after just 33 days as pope.

“I made him pope, and I abandoned him,” confesses Benelli, who pushed his fellow cardinals into selecting the fellow Italian.

The suspicious circumstances surrounding the death lead Benelli and others to investigate the possibility that the pope was murdered. The cardinals are torn between pursuing the truth and avoiding a public relations nightmare. Their differing views on the Second Vatican Council, contraception and more church policies further exacerbate the rifts among them.

Suchet successfully softens the character of Benelli, as he suffers guilt from pursuing his personal ambitions rather than supporting his friend. Guilt turns to doubt and a crisis of faith, and Suchet is convincing as a man facing these questions perhaps for the first time.

But it is the cheerful Cardinal Albino Luciani, played by Richard O’Callaghan, who wins over the audience. As the first act cuts among dozens of short scenes to set up the story and the church administrators are arrogant and self-centered, Luciani’s character serves as the sole sympathetic figure. Funny and well meaning, the cardinal who becomes Pope John Paul I brings hope that they are not all bad.

Yet his reign is too short for history or the audience to determine if he was naïve or clever. The viewer is left to consider the strange events following his death: no autopsy, a false press release, no official investigation. While Benelli was apparently affected by the death, his fellow cardinals seem to continue as normal, strategizing and negotiating to get to the top.

Is it possible to run a global church otherwise? That was the talk for the drive home.

The Last Confession is playing at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles through July 6. Tickets start at $35.

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