BY JANET MANDELSTAM
Producing Artistic Director Audrey Heller was looking for a play with a light theme for the Jewish Theatre of Bloomington this season. Once she read the script of Visions of Right, “I scrapped that idea,” she says. The play opens May 18 in the Rose Firebay at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center.
Visions of Right, by Marcia Cebulska, is the story of a photographer who moves to Topeka, Kansas, and encounters a fictional church modeled after the real Westboro Baptist Church and its anti-gay, anti-Jewish, anti-art ministry.
Cebulska lived in Bloomington for more than 25 years before decamping to Topeka, headquarters of Westboro. “Friends of mine had suffered from their campaigns,” she says. “My response was to write a play.”
But first Cebulska went undercover and attended services at Westboro. Like the protagonist in her play, she experienced both anger and pity. “I saw that people in the church exhibit love for each other despite the hateful rhetoric,” she says. “Visions of Right tells the story of a woman’s increasing resistance to a minister who preaches hate, until she discovers her own darker side.”
Written a decade ago, the play received its first fully staged performance in Topeka in 2015. Westboro Baptist Church picketed the theater.
The play, Heller says, fits the Jewish Theatre’s mission to present shows with a Jewish experience and a theme that will attract a diverse audience. It’s also very timely. “When we selected it, we had no idea what the political climate would be in the country,” Heller says.
Cebulska agrees. “The climate of hatred is so much in our news now,” she says, “that at a recent reading [in Topeka], audience members asked me if I rewrote the play since the election.”
Cebulska arrived in Bloomington in 1971 as a graduate student at Indiana University. During her years here, she founded the Paper Moon Theater Company and was later affiliated with the Bloomington Playwrights Project.
Visions of Right will run May 18–27. Martha Jacobs will direct a cast that includes local actor Gerard Pauwels as the minister. Cebulska will be on hand for a post-performance “talk back” the first weekend.