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FTT senior writes historical play exploring sexuality and faith

| Thursday, April 23, 2020

During a 2017 visit to Switzerland, senior Joseph Larson, took a day trip to Munich, Germany, where he learned about King Ludwig II of Bavaria — the man who would eventually become the subject of his original play three years later. 

Entitled “Compassion Cries the Moon King,” Larson crafted the 82-page play for his film, television and theatre senior thesis project. Larson, who has a supplemental major in theology, chose Ludwig as the main character because of the King’s complicated relationship with his sexuality and faith.  

d.adCourtesy of Joseph Larson

The cast joins for a live reading of “Compassion Cries the Moon King” on Zoom. The 82-page play based on the life of King Ludwig II of Bavaria is the work of senior film, television and theatre major Joseph Larson.

“I’ll never forget, we were walking down from the palace and my hosts were explaining to me how he supposedly had an affair with the composer Richard Wagner,” Larson said. “Of course, I learned through my research that that’s not true, but he did have several romantic relationships with other men, and he was Catholic so immediately I was like, ‘Wow, that’s so interesting, and that’s so relevant.’”

Larson’s final product had been in the works long before he decided to pursue a senior thesis.

“[Ludwig II as a person] just caught my interest, so I wrote some scenes for a playwriting class I took at Notre Dame and you can still see some of that writing that still exists in the play, as it is now.”

To cast for his 12-person production, Larson garnered the help of members of the Not-So-Royal-Shakespeare Company. 

Senior Nicholas Taylor, who read the stage directions, said he wanted to be a part of the production due to its unique representation of sexuality.

“I had actually gotten a chance to read parts of his play before auditions, and within the first ten pages of the script, I knew that it was something special that I wanted to be part of,” Taylor said in an email. “LGBTQ+ representation is important in theater and it’s something that isn’t always handled well on this campus.”

Freshman Christina Randazzo played the role of Princess Ludovica, who attempted to orchestrate a marriage between her daughter and Ludwig II. Randazzo described Larson’s work as “the most historically accurate play” she’s been cast in.

“Joseph did incredible research into the lives and letters of each historical character in order to bring them back to life,” Randazzo said in an email.

Freshman Vincenzo Torsiello played the role of Richard Hornig — Ludwig’s chief equerry and main love interest. Torsiello said he thought the strongest part of the story was when Ludwig gives a monologue talking to God while Richard is fast asleep beside him. 

“[Ludwig’s] profound pleas in searching for guidance and acceptance during that scene were pivotal in defining not only his persona but also the work’s thematic whole,” Torsiello said in an email.

Originally scheduled as a live staged reading, Larson was forced to move his production online. The performance took place April 17 over Zoom. 

Taylor said the move online made his role more essential for the tone of the play. 

“Reading the stage directions was a fun challenge because I had to set the stage for everyone,” he said. “In a typical performance, you can have a set, costumes, lights, music, etc. set the scene for you. But when doing this as a staged reading on Zoom, the stage directions really helps to sell the story.”

Larson said that while having the performance virtually was not ideal, he did not have to change a whole lot and the cast adapted well to make the most of the situation.

“I was very impressed with everyone turning the screen off and on depending on what scenes they were in,” Larson said. “That was a decision I made pretty early on, just to distinguish who’s in what scene, so we don’t have to look at people’s faces while they’re not reading.”

Even though the play had to be performed away from campus, Torsiello said the experience had a profound impact on him.

“I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to be an instrument in his telling of this incredible story,” Torsiello said. “I feel even more compelled to take part in productions here at Notre Dame because of it.”

For Larson, the entire experience of researching, writing and producing the play has reaffirmed his long-term career goals. 

“I’ve always been a writer and I’ve really found kind of my real love in playwriting and so I want to do that long term,” Larson said. “This whole experience has really helped cement this idea that that is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

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About Alysa Guffey

Alysa is a sophomore pursuing a major in history with a minor in journalism, ethics and democracy. While she calls Breen-Phillips her home on campus, she is originally from Indianapolis. She currently serves as an associate news editor.

Contact Alysa