Professors create slap-stick cinema to bring Chesterton to life

RACHEL MILLER
ASSISTANT EDITOR

“They had all these breakaway props, and this giant Braveheart sword, and I got to break things and tear them apart, and, you know, act like a lunatic. It was just really fun,” said John Walker, in reference to his G.K. Chesterton portrayal in an episode of EWTN’s “Saints vs. Scoundrels.”

Walker, Franciscan University of Steubenville theatre professor, went to Alabama last October to play Chesterton in two episodes of “Saints vs. Scoundrels,” which pitted Chesterton, the great Christian convert and apologist, against Thomas Hobbes, the anti-Christian materialist.

“I love the fact that it’s not just two really intellectual people arguing and debating. It gets really crazy and fun in debate as well, as Chesterton would have it,” said Walker.

This was Walker’s debut Chesterton performance, but he has been preparing for this role for over 10 years. Walker began studying Chesterton in preparation for a one-man play he was writing, and his folder of research “turned into a phonebook.”

Walker’s Chesterton research led him to the Rev. Terence Henry, TOR, Chesterton expert and former president of Franciscan University. Henry encouraged Walker to learn the man behind the words.

According to Walker, Henry told him, “‘You can stand there and say his famous quotes all you want to, but that’s not all he is. You need to show people who he is as a person, his pain, his sorrow … and his exuberant joy.’”

Walker put so much effort into learning about Chesterton because, as he explained, “Chesterton is so well-beloved that you just want to get it right. And he’s really vivacious, he’s bigger-than-life kind of personality, he’s a lot of joking, and laughing and childlike amusement.”

But Walker’s “phonebook” of research remained just that until a fateful encounter with Benjamin Wiker, who holds a doctorate in theological ethics. “He’s coming out of the Port, and I’m coming out of Mass, and God’s like ‘ha ha ha,’” said Walker.

“We talked a lot about the state of entertainment in our country and how Catholics are kind of dropping the ball when we have a long tradition of visual art,” Walker said. The following spring, Wiker asked Walker to play the role of Chesterton in “Saints vs. Scoundrels,” and, said Walker, “he just threw the bone my way, and I grabbed it.”

Wiker is the writer and host of the “Saints vs. Scoundrels” series, which he began about five years ago. The series depicts debates between famous Catholic apologists and notorious anti-Christians.

“Doug Keck at EWTN wanted me to do something based upon my book, ‘Architects of the Culture of Death,’” said Wiker. “But I didn’t want to just focus on the bad guys, so I suggested that we do saints as well. But then I also didn’t want to stand in front of a podium at the studio and lecture about these figures, so I came up with the idea of presenting conflicts between the great saints and great scoundrels of history in a dramatic format.”

Wiker has been researching for and creating “Saints vs. Scoundrels” episodes for years now, but this Chesterton vs. Hobbes two-parter was the first comedic encounter.

“I wrote it something like crossing Chesterton with Groucho Marx and the Three Stooges,” said Wiker. “Professor Walker and Rick Corbo (who played Thomas Hobbes) were the perfect actors for the parts – as you’ll see when you watch the episodes.”

Indeed, the trio of Walker, Wiker and Corbo were well matched and had much fun, whether while running around stage with a sword or singing the monkey song from the Jungle Book offstage.

While the filming process was a fun one, it was also a long one. Three hundred hours went into the making of this hour and fifteen-minute film, all for the sake of depicting “the nature and problems with modern materialism, and … a good dose of the wit and wisdom of G. K. Chesterton – all of it wrapped up in a rather slapstick package,” said Wiker.

Wiker and Walker hope that viewers will take away more from the episodes than just a good a laugh and information about Chesterton’s and Hobbes’ views.

“Life is a gift, and that means we owe gratitude to somebody for that gift,” said Walker. “That’s the message of the piece: that it’s not all materialist atoms floating around. Life is a gift from God, and we really need to be grateful for it. I hope that message gets across despite any of my weak acting moments.”

“Chesterton vs. Hobbes,” Part 1 and Part 2, was screened at Franciscan University on Friday, Oct. 26, sponsored by the Fine Arts Department.

Part 1 will first air on EWTN on Nov. 11 at 5:30 p.m., and Part 2 will air on Nov. 18 at 5:30 p.m. To learn more about Saints vs. Scoundrels, visit www.ewtn.com/series/shows/saints-vs-scoundrels/index.asp.

To learn more about G.K. Chesterton, students are welcome to join the newly-formed Franciscan University Chesterton Society by contacting Walker at Jhwalker@franciscan.edu or visiting the “FUS Chesterton Society” Facebook page.

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