Review: Fire in the Temple by Luigi Morelli

Review: Fire in the Temple by Luigi Morelli

Review: Fire in the Temple 

Fire in the Temple has been both a demanding experience and a rewarding one for me. Demanding because it packs a lot of history in a stage production of less than three hours, and because at this point it is put on stage by two actors, Glen Williamson and Laurie Portocarrero, impersonating twelve characters. The emotions that were raised in me were intense and made me wish for little breathers. But it was most of all rewarding because the play offers a redemption of a difficult history and important events for all of us anthroposophists, and does so with equanimity, empathy, plus touches of poignant humor, especially in the portrayal of Rudolf Steiner. It does so in a way that only art can, when it is allied to a deeper understanding of the spirit, and set on stage and enacted by two as experienced and accomplished as Glen and Laurie.

The play’s title indicates the point of origin of the plot, the fire that consumed the First Goetheanum, and ends with the death of Rudolf Steiner. In between these time markers we witness all the momentous decisions that the spiritual teacher had to take, which led to the re-founding of the General Anthroposophical Society at the Christmas Meeting of 1923-24 and the spiritual revelations that followed. I can’t help but think that Glen has reached this difficult exploration with detachment and equanimity because in precedence he has explored a tragic, but oh so important biography, also fraught with controversy, that of Kaspar Hauser. The historical parallel may be that of events which point to an external tragedy. And yet Kaspar Hauser’s unassuming sacrifice, almost a century before that of Rudolf Steiner, opened new doors for the working of the spiritual world in earthly affairs. This is also what we are left with in contemplating Steiner’s last years on Earth.

As it is to be expected the play is a Mystery Drama, the one that Rudolf Steiner’s life wrote on the stage of world history. Thus we are offered karmic ‘flashbacks’ of the lives of the three main protagonists, Rudolf Steiner, Marie Steiner/von Sivers and Ita Wegman. We can sense in particular what efforts were required from both women in recognizing their karmic connections, and what were the difficulties that arose between them as a consequence.

The delicate friendship between Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman may be a first of a kind of stage, one for which there may not be a correct terminology: a friendship/ love that covers millennia, but nothing further away from the popular idea of soul mates. It is a complicity in the unfolding of world events; it places Ita Wegman in the unique position of truly knowing the man and not just the master we all admire. We are shown how in the course of time the spiritual teacher needs a trusted companion to provide to all his needs and shine in his mission. But not just that, in each incarnation the pupil asks of the teacher the critical questions that allow his task to unfold. And so it was in Ita Wegman’s incarnation.

The other individuals in the drama are practically all the members of the first Vorstand—Guenther Wachsmuth, Albert Steffen, Elizabeth Vreede. To these are added Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, Edith Maryon and Anna Samweber. And as in a true Mystery Drama the background reveals spiritual beings and their part in the deeds of masters in spiritual brotherhoods. The play doesn’t eschew to show the work of the adverse brotherhoods, but also how the adversaries played among anthroposophists and pulled at each one of them.

Little cameos of given individuals, Samweber and Maryon, come to mind immediately; they are gems of portrayals that bring to life an instant recognition and movement of affection from those of us who may know them; no doubt the effect can be similar regardless. And the portrayal of the most momentous decisions in Rudolf Steiner’s life are rendered less solemn by anecdotal references to the continued sense of humor and empathy of the master. The acceptance of Anna Samweber’s cat to membership in the Society is a little gem of comic relief. Others I won’t give away.

Likewise, humor is present even in the portrayal of the machinations against Steiner’s mission on the part of the secret brotherhoods. It is rendered both effective and enjoyable through something similar to a Screwtape / Wormwood dialogue. It reminds us that “oft evil will shall evil mar.” Here we are also coming to the most delicate recognition at the heart of the play, that Steiner did not die because of these machinations alone, but also because of the lack of goodwill and unity within his own circles. This sobering reminder is rendered cathartic in the old use of the term , which after all referred to the first dramas. It can have a cleansing and purifying effect on all anthroposophists who want to recognize the importance of their own history.

A last thought emerged thus immediately after the showing. The play is a sort of Truth and Reconciliation in art; a dispassionate look at our history. Apart from the larger than life Rudolf Steiner, and for good reason, no one comes out magnified or vilified. Rather, a sober assessment is presented in which empathy and understanding are never missing. Accepting everything, even the bitter lessons—especially the bitter lessons—renders us capable of saying: “I may have done the same or worse, but reaping the lessons of the past I may now allow positive movement to happen.” May this mood of soul continue outside of the stage and bring us further healing.



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