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‘Sorin: A Notre Dame Story’ Review

| Monday, November 20, 2017

Joseph Han | The Observer

Though it sounds like a module first-year students will watch at high speed for Moreau, “Sorin: A Notre Dame Story” offers a poignant performance and impressive production — paired with some inescapable Notre Dame indulgence.

Starring Matthew Goodrich as the play’s namesake, this one-man show sponsored by the University portrays the storied life of Fr. Edward Sorin, from his precarious journey to America to found Our Lady’s University, until his fight for the University to reach its boldest aspirations. To each member of the Notre Dame family, this story is well known — to say the least. Yet the incorporation of lesser-known Sorin sagas (such as his semi-illegal destruction of a neighboring dam to end a devastating cholera outbreak) and the infusion of deep emotion and strong personality into Sorin’s character create a fresh, affecting re-telling of the story every Domer thought they knew by heart. When the show culminated with the weak and aged Sorin’s vision of the future Notre Dame, there were many a misty eye in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center — the play’s home since its Aug. 30 premiere.

Goodrich’s inspired performance brings the play’s emotional power to fruition. By evoking Fr. Sorin’s pain, boldness, dedication, humor and passion, the story told by tour guides and during Fr. Jenkins’ video board addresses alike gains a facet of deep humanity. Goodrich’s efforts to portray a man’s struggles with divine providence and human fragility are a success.

Dialogue written by Christina Telesca Gorman finds an effective blend of exposition — achieved through addresses to God — and inter-character exchanges — managed through a mix of Goodrich’s impressions of other characters and through his response to their imagined dialogue and actions. The dialogue is witty, engaging and manages to incorporate audience-pleasing inside jokes. For instance, Sorin’s exclamation that he likes “the turrets on this new dormitory — I wonder what it will

This writing is bolstered by brilliant direction and stage design. Director Patrick Vassel (of “Hamilton” renown) capitalizes upon the talents of an outstanding creative team to keep a 90-minute one-man show captivating.

Incorporating a minimalist stage set-up — a reflection of Sorin’s vow of poverty and life of simplicity, expressed as motifs throughout the play — alongside a three-screen projection display, the set design allows for fluid transition between time periods, off-stage characters and locations. All the while, the minimalist display of Sorin’s quarters maintains continuity. The beautiful three-screen projection display is a particular triumph of the production. It is especially prevalent in the stirring ending, broadcasting footage of Notre Dame’s progress and prominence as a global force for good. The finale is moving, as intended.

One of the most interesting aspects of the show is that it is completely self-aware of its intentions. The play is intended for an audience of Notre Dame alumni in an attempt to garner donations through a love for the “home under the Dome.” Its cast and principal production team consist of Fighting Irish alumni. Its upcoming tour travels along 17 stops with active donor and alumni populations. Each of the half-dozen ads in the show’s program are for donations, the final of which reads “You’ve met the man. You’ve heard his story …” before requesting funds for the Sorin Founders Society. Fundraising aside, the play is effective in evoking and strengthening a sense of pride in Notre Dame and in human devotion alike.

“Sorin: A Notre Dame Story” is a phenomenally performed, produced and written show which is certainly worth experiencing. Whether wishing to feel greater Fighting Irish pride, witness ceaseless human devotion or feel more confident about signing a donation check, this play will not disappoint.

Though Friday’s performance marked the play’s final show on campus until 2018, its nationwide tour dates can be found at sorinplay.nd.edu.

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