What will we learn about Pope Urban II from James Moran’s The Assassination of Pope Urban II? Not much, it turns out. “I think people will be disappointed,” Moran says of those who will attend his comedy show eager for some cold, hard facts. Moran’s Pope was born a runt, was thrown out the window, was left for dead in a graveyard, was raised by “friendly ghouls and dead bodies”, was plagued by a “wasting disease of the body and spirit,” was elected Pope in 1088, and was “abducted and murdered by visitors from a distant planet.” Fidelity to the historical record is around the corner from the point.
At face value, the choice of Pope Urban II as subject seems entirely a matter of whim and convenience. Moran liked the sound of the name (“I thought it had a good rhythm to it”) and, the show being performed in Ireland, found it interesting to use as a reference point “something we’re all so familiar with.” And yet another thing we’re all so familiar with are the actions of people in positions of power. Pope Urban II started the First Crusade in 1095, one of the principal goals of which was to liberate Eastern Christians from Muslim rule. “I was interested in violence,” Moran says. “I think the Crusades are a well-known account of violence.”
That such a seemingly almighty figure can be assassinated, the ridiculous way in which that comes about in Moran’s zany apocrypha notwithstanding, lays bare what is underneath those lavish robes: mortality. “I noticed that everything I wrote was sort of going in this sort of ghoulish direction, everybody getting cut-up into pieces,” Moran says. “There was a lot of gore—no, not gore—there was a lot of people getting sick.” Moran attributes this creeping fear of illness to the arthritis he has had since birth. But he is not interested in dwelling on this in his show. “No one really wants to hear about my disability. But maybe the emotions are more interesting.”
The powerful person’s vulnerability to threat extends also to the realms of politics and society. Intergalactic aliens are to Moran’s Pope Urban II what Seljuk Turks are to the real Pope Urban II: a mirror that disabuses him of any delusion of invincibility. Moran often orchestrates such a dynamic onstage by putting on the persona of the tragically un-self-reflexive, pompous, important person. When asked to describe his stand-up, Moran compares it to students laughing at a ‘strict teacher.’ (Coincidentally, the show will be performed at a venue called The Boys’ School.) The hyperinflated balloon that is his persona’s ego is met and pierced by laughter. Who is dominant and who is weak, the man who wields the microphone or his audience?
There will be live performance, script readings and a sermon by Pope Urban II himself in The Assassination of Pope Urban II. But please let there be no heckling. You don’t want a Crusade on your ass.
Words: Olen Bajarias
The Assassination of Pope Urban II takes place in the Boys School in Smock Alley Theatre. It previews on Tuesday September 19th at 6.45pm (€11) and runs from Wednesday 20th to Saturday 23rd at 6.45pm with a matinee show on Saturday at 2.15pm. €12/€14?>