Nicaea—An Historical Tale Reviewed

Hollywood Fringe Festival 2017By Ernest Kearney — Now as a history junkie and one concerned and committed to addressing issues of spirituality – as anyone attending my Fringe offering this year, Ingersoll Speaks! could tell you – I must admit my admiration for Tricia Aurand’s undertaking in Nicaea.  Not only does she present an historical tale, but one on a most singular topic; the First Council of Nicaea called by Constantine I in 325 AD.

The intention behind the Council was to settle divisive issues within the early Christian Church and to that end Constantine, who despite the propaganda of the naissance Church, remained a pagan until upon a rather dubious death bed conversion, called together 1800 bishops from throughout the Roman Empire to gather in the City of Nicaea (present day Iznik, Turkey).

How many actually attended is debated, as is what was actually discussed.  Surviving accounts are few.

The major topic confronting the learned men at the Council was the tricky issue of Christological.

And here, as always with religion, put two true believers in a room together and you open a big can of worms.  Put 316 (the generally accepted number of attendees at the council) and you open a gargantuan can of worms that will propel crusades and fuel auto-de-fés for centuries.

Concepts were fiercely argued at the Council that, to modern ears, are all but meaningless: the Trinitarian Doctrine, the ontology of Christ, verbum substantivum, the Homoousion Heresy.

Today, except for the religionists, these questions have as much relevance as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and the great Omphalos debate (don’t ask.)

But at the time, the question of the nature of Jesus and his relation to “the Father” was a pressing one, and the Council gave us that mindboggling Church doctrine of the Trinity, aka the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, aka “Big Daddy, Junior and the Spook.”

Aurand’s play takes up the great debate of the Trinity, and even touches on syneisaktism, another of the pressing topics settled by the Council, and presents the great fathers of the Church and their adversaries.

Those with a passion for history or the Church will find this all heady stuff, but Aurand loses the larger part of the audience who are, for the most part, indifferent to either.

As the saying goes, all politics are personal; and so are all religions.

playwright Tricia Aurand

Nicaea writer/director Tricia Aurand

Aurand has done her homework and it shows, but she throws her focus on the debate, rather than the debaters and that’s where modern audiences have their interest.

In The Lion in Winter James Goldman doesn’t go into the arbitration panel of Berry, the Treaty of Falaise or the Great Revolt; he just pushes Henry and Eleanor into the ring and sees that they come out swinging.

Aurand, who also directs, has gathered a solid cast but they are smothered over by the doctrinal arguments of the piece.  She does try to shove the historical personalities to the forefront, but she doesn’t shove quite hard enough.  Azeen Khanmalek comes off well, but he plays a mad man.  And Anna Chazelle stands out, but she is unfettered by any weighty dogma in need of articulating.

Still, Nicaea is both a well-crafted and well-staged piece displaying that rare duo — intelligence and ambition, which is always deserving of respect.

And for that a GOLD MEDAL.

♦    ♦    ♦

Nicaea Cast:

Mikie Beatty, Brandan Haley, Anna Chazelle,
Morry Schorr, Dontrail Brinson,
Anthony Backman, Azeen Khanmalek, Kelton Lin

Written and Directed by Tricia Aurand

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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at and Follow him on Facebook.

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