The Good Thief's tale of redemption

By 
  • June 22, 2009
{mosimage}When Jesus welcomes the good thief into paradise, St. Dismas has clearly had no opportunity to make amends for his deeds, reform his way of life or even say he is sorry to his victims.

When Australian actor Allan Girod presents the Canadian premier of Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s The Good Thief at Toronto’s Fringe Festival , audiences will have an opportunity to ask themselves whether they could follow Jesus’ example and welcome a dangerous, violent man into their society.

Girod performed the one-act, one-man show in Australia in 2007 and 2008. Though the unnamed good thief he plays is violent, alcoholic and thoroughly no good, audiences stick with the character and find themselves thinking about him weeks after the performance, Girod told The Catholic Register by phone from Australia.

“The best reactions I’ve had are people who’ve said ‘I couldn’t stop thinking about it,’ ” said Girod.

The play was first produced in Dublin in 1994 as The Light of Jesus. It became The Good Thief when audiences were sidestepping the play for fear of preachy dullness.

Though there’s no explicit reference to the church or Christianity in the text of the play, Girod doesn’t think an audience has to dig too deeply to see the religious theme in McPherson’s play.

“The character is seeking some sort of redemption and resolution to things and sort of questioning himself,” said Girod. “I just think that’s where the church is coming from.”

The nameless character Girod plays is not strictly speaking a thief. He’s a paid thug who inflicts pain and fear on people who have in some way frustrated the designs of his criminal boss — the same man who stole his girlfriend. His job is to be violent and unreasonable on behalf of someone else.

While there may be some blarney woven into the drunken Irish tale he tells, there’s not much doubt that the man sees himself quite clearly.

“Sometimes I ask myself what kind of person I am. But not for long,” he says. “I’m no good.”

Of course it was that sort of dedication to truth which redeemed St. Dismas.

“We indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong,” the good thief says as he hangs on his cross next to Jesus (Luke 23:41).

In a world where religion is often used to define the limits of respectable society, McPherson’s play presents Christianity as a religion that exists for a violent loser who sometimes has trouble distinguishing what’s real from his imaginings, but who remains very human.

“That’s why the audience is so intrigued, why they couldn’t stop thinking about it,” said the 40-year-old former school teacher turned actor Girod. “Because they thought they had this guy pegged. Towards the end he totally switches it around and does show a lot of humanity.”

The play runs seven shows from July 3 to 11 at the University of Toronto’s Glen Morris Theatre, 4 Glen Morris St. Tickets are $10 and available from the Toronto Fringe Festival at (416) 966-1062 or with festival passes available at www.fringetoronto.com . The Good Thief is foul mouthed and violent. It’s not a show for children.

Following Toronto, Girod takes The Good Thief to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival July 15 to 26.

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