All around the world, gay men and women continue to fight for equality. Progress has been made, yet many still face persecution. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has been riddled with scandal, accused of protecting abusive priests. Amén explores the contradictions within – and conflicts between – different groups in society, asking us to reconsider the traditional power structures that allow criminals to be protected, while other people are persecuted for their sexual behaviour.
The year is 2005 in the United States. The Catholic Church is bombarded with accusations of child abuse. Two priests talk about the toll the scandals are taking on themselves and on their congregations. One of the priests, Robert, has been asked to look out for signs of homosexual behaviour among his students in the seminary. He is exasperated by the way the Church is handling the situation, turning its priests into spies and persecuting any hint of homosexuality. The other priest, Arthur, is more worried about the Church’s damaged reputation. For Arthur, rebuilding the Church’s image takes precedence over uncovering past crimes committed by priests.
The action moves from the United States to Iran. Two young men, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, have been hanged for raping a 13-year-old boy. Some gay rights groups, however, believe that they were put to death because they were homosexual. On an internet forum, two contributors debate the case. One of them defends the Iranian government’s actions, choosing to believe that the young men did indeed rape a boy. In this contributor’s mind, homosexuality is an abomination. The other contributor denounces what he considers to be a blatant abuse of human rights by a barbaric regime. As they talk, a third voice joins in, talking about the rape of an eight-year-old boy in Spain. This voice might be the inner of thoughts of one – or perhaps both – of the internet contributors, remembering a traumatic crime committed in their own supposedly more liberal country. The action then moves on to focus on Spain and its changing attitudes towards homosexuality. We are still in 2005, the year when same-sex marriages became legal in the country. A demonstration protests against the legislation, with members of the public claiming that gay marriage heralds the collapse of family life. The law may recognise such partnerships, but many people remain staunchly opposed to them.
After this protest, the play moves gradually back in time. In 1996, a man buys a rent boy for the evening. Back in 1990, we hear information about how homosexuals are treated in different countries. Many are sentenced to death, others are beaten or humiliated publicly. We learn that 1990 was the year when the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders. After this brief overview of global attitudes to gay rights, we are taken back to an August night in Spain, 1936. Federico García Lorca has been arrested, supposedly because of expressing dissenting political views in his writing. One of his captors, however, makes sure that Lorca knows why he was really arrested – because he is gay. Lorca is given a choice: he can either face a firing squad that night, or live and die from AIDS years in the future. Federico chooses to live. His decision is ignored, and he is shot.
The action returns to the United States in 2005. The two priests Robert and Arthur continue to discuss the state of the Catholic Church. Robert accuses Arthur of being guilty of the very abuses that have dragged the Church into disrepute. At first, he says he will not protect Arthur from any recriminations. He then changes his mind. Robert decides to collude with Arthur in covering up any accusations, thus protecting the Church from yet another scandal. In the end, Robert asks Arthur a question that he regularly asks himself. He asks Arthur whether or not he believes in God.
The play refers to a number of actual incidents, most notably in scenes 2 and 6. In scene 2 internet commentators debate the case of two young Iranian men – Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni – who were hanged in 2005, accused of raping a 13-year-old boy. A number of gay rights groups and campaigners disputed the rape allegation, claiming that the young men were executed for being homosexual.
Scene 6 dramatises the execution of the playwright Federico García Lorca in August 1936 at the hands of Nationalist forces. The authorities claimed that Lorca was executed for political reasons. Many, however, believe that he was put to death because of his sexuality.
The play is preceded by a personal statement by the playwright in which he writes about his own apostasy and expresses his disgust at the way the Catholic Church has handled allegations of sexual abuse within its orders.
Be, Carlos. 2006. ‘Amén’. In Matrimonios, Colección Laboratorio de Escritura Teatral, no. 1. Alicante, Muestra de Teatro Español de Autores Contemporáneos. Available online at http://carlosbe.blogspot.com/2009/12/amen.html [accessed November 2011] (Online Publication)
Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 30 November 2011.