Me and Francis | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Me and Francis



Me and Francis, Rogue Theater Company, at the Playground Theater. It's hard to be a saint, but it's even harder to love one. That's the simple message playwright-director Nate White puts forth in his earnest but awkward contemporary version of the story of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Unlike Franco Zeffirelli in the 1973 film Brother Sun, Sister Moon, which captured the essence of 60s antimaterialism while keeping Francis's story in its 13th-century context, White puts the saint in the unforgiving environs of contemporary Uptown. He also focuses not on Francis himself but on the impact his devotion to poverty and chastity has on those around him: girlfriend Claire, whom he abandons in order to pursue his mission with the poor; friend Bernice (the historical Bernardo), who joins him in his quest; and Elias, a latecomer to the cause who ends up turning the Friars Minor into just another nonprofit, complete with tax exemptions and a PR machine.

White obviously has done his research--it's fun to discover the parallels between his Francis and the historical figure. But the play's structure is clunky: inert interviews with Claire, Elias, and Bernice looking back on Francis's life are interspersed with scenes tracing the saint's trajectory from scion of a wealthy merchant to self-made martyr. Ryan Young as Francis has a raffish, goofy charisma that carries the character over some of White's more melodramatic moments.

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