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Actress brings Dorothy Day to life in a one-woman performance

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- The final event in the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) Peace Lecture Series for 2004-05 isn’t even a lecture. It’s a one-woman play called "Fool for Christ: The Dorothy Day Story," performed by New Jersey based actress Sarah Melici.

Not only that, but in giving the play at Bethel College, Melici will portray one of Bethel’s Peace Series speakers from 1973--Dorothy Day herself.

Melici will present "Fool for Christ" on Tues., March 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in the Fine Arts Center on the Bethel College campus. The performance is free and open to the public.

Among Melici’s performances: Vaclav Havel’s "Temptation" at the New York Shakespeare Festival, appearances in TV’s "Law & Order" and "The Golden Girls," a part in Woody Allen’s movie "Stardust Memories" and numerous credits from regional theaters in everything from "Agnes of God" to "Steel Magnolias."

However, since 1998, Melici has chosen to perform exclusively in "Fool for Christ."

A life-size statue of Dorothy Day, a gift from a departing pastor, Father William Bausch, sits in front of the church Melici attends, St. Mary’s in Colts Neck, N.J. One day in 1997, Melici says, she found herself standing and looking at the statue--"and something clicked. I started reading about Day--biographies and autobiographies--and I came to love her. I realized her story had great potential for theater, that this was a woman I could and should do. "I felt the need to share her vision of active nonviolence and peace, as well as her work to promote social, economic and political justice," Melici says. "As an actress, a dramatization is a fitting way for me to share my feelings--thus, ‘Fool for Christ.’"

Melici got Donald Yonker, a New York playwright, to collaborate on the script. The premier performance of "Fool for Christ" was January 16, 1998, at Mary House on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, one of the Catholic Worker hospitality houses where Day lived and worked, and where she died in 1980 at age 83.

Since then, Melici has performed "Fool for Christ" in real and makeshift theaters in churches, retreat centers, conferences, colleges and universities across the country.

"‘Fool for Christ’ brings to the stage the story of a woman whose folly immeasurably surpassed the wisdom of this world," says Daniel Berrigan, S.J., a well known peace activist. "Dorothy Day was one of the guiding lights of my lifetime, [and now we] need not mourn her death: In this monologue, passionate, funny and heartfelt, Dorothy lives. Sarah Melici has graced us with a splendid evening. ‘Fool for Christ’ is worthy of the original Dorothy."

After a bohemian youth, Dorothy Day experienced a powerful religious conversion. She became Catholic, and devoted the rest of her life to the pursuit of social justice, peace and civil rights, especially for workers and the poor.

In 1933, Day and Peter Maurin founded the Catholic Worker movement. Today, more than 185 Catholic Worker communities remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer and hospitality. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism and violence in all forms.

"Fool for Christ" opens with the 75-year-old Day in jail for picketing with Cesar Chavez and the California grape-growers. In the hour-long play, Melici moves between Day at various ages and others coming into her story, focusing on Day’s loves, spirituality and politics.

The Bethel College performance of "Fool for Christ" is made possible in part by support from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Wichita. For more information," call KIPCOR at (316) 284-5217.

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