Leonardo Defillippis, director and founder of St. Luke Productions, has done something with his newest play that Shakespeare cannot — offer God’s mercy.
Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy is based on the life of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish sister of Our Lady of Mercy in the 1930s, whose personal encounters with Jesus inspired a devotion to the Divine Mercy.
“It’s a very fascinating and extraordinary story of how she’s called to help others and have mercy on others and how she calls out for mercy for others who are having huge troubles,” said Defilippis of the play that will tour Ontario, starting in Cornwall Sept. 24.
Defillipis describes the play as a “wake-up call of reality” for audiences. He said it reminds us all that God desires each and every one of us to return to Him, but just like Faustina, we have a responsibility to pray for their souls and help them get back on the right track towards Heaven.
Defilippis sees St. Faustina as a great role model for young people facing the pressures in society. He recalled a letter from a young women who got out of a toxic relationship after seeing the play because her heart was so moved.
“She is watching this play while going in the wrong direction in a bad relationship and she sees the play and it awakens in her heart that she does not need to be with the man,” he said. “I think it gives real great hope, to say we are going to be a new people, a young people that are going to help transform the world. That is what Faustina does, that is what the saints do, especially young saints.”
The play is a unique meditation on St. Faustina’s diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, partnered with a series of modern subplots portrayed on a multimedia screen.
The majority of the play is around one player on stage. Defilippis looked high and low for the perfect actress to play the part. Chosen from a group of 85 women who auditioned for the role of Faustina, lead actress Maria Vargo was chosen not only for her great talent, but also for her great faith.
The 38-year-old native of St. Louis resisted the faith while growing up in a Catholic home. In 2008, while in Lourdes, Vargo realized her life was not going in the direction she wanted and decided it was time to take control.
“When I was there, it was an opportunity to resubmit myself to the Lord,” Vargo said. “It affected the work that I was then going to do as an actress… It enlightened my heart and mind to see that not only living a certain way, but inside your soul starts to change.”
As part of Vargo’s training for the role, Defilippis sent her to the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Although fearful at first and unsure of what she would do for a week with the nuns, Vargo found the experience incredibly worthwhile. She had the opportunity to go through their daily duties, read the constitution of the order, reflect on obedience and learn more about what Faustina’s experience would have been like in the convent.
“At the end, I was sad to leave,” she said. “It was a really beautiful experience that helped me, especially because in the role she’s in the convent, I’m living her kind of life.”
Being the only actress on stage interacting with a screen as part of the multimedia presentation, Vargo admits the experience was foreign to her. After learning the timing, she realized how beautiful the play is to allow audiences to feel as though Jesus is to talking to them and not just Faustina.
“Don’t miss an opportunity to see good theatre and really an opportunity for your heart and mind to be moved in a deeper way,” Vargo said.