The biographical drama, featuring local actor Tim VanBruggen in the lead role, opens April 14.
"The messages and themes that emote from this play are still relevant today," noted director Bob Karel.
Bonhoeffer, an early spokesman against Nazism during the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany, was eventually sentenced to death for his part in a plot to assassinate the German dictator.
Karel says the play's first act covers 15 years of Bonhoeffer's life as he speaks out against Hitler's fascism, travels abroad and return to Germany where he was eventually arrested.
"It's almost like a murder-mystery suspense – snippets of history showing the impetus that moved him to decide to give up so much to become involved in an assassination plot," added the director of the two dozen scenes in the whirlwind first act.
Act Two is more reflective, depicting the great theologian pondering his purpose, actions and circumstances.
UNDER THE SURFACE
Author of the classic works "Life Together" and "Cost of Discipleship," Bonhoeffer also cared deeply for the church. He strained against Hitler's attempt to "Nazi-ize" German protestant churches, forming the "Confessing Church" which remained steadfast against government meddling and restrictions.
For several years he pastored German-speaking Lutheran churches in England, rallying support for the newly-formed church body.
"You think of Bonhoeffer as an intellectual, but he was moved by his heart over and over again," noted Karel. "I think a key scene in the first act is when his sister comes looking for her papers and passport. She has to leave Germany because she is married to a Jewish man. That reality weighed heavily on him so much and was part of his decision to become a spy and participate in an assassination."
In 1930 Bonhoeffer studied theology in New York City at Union Theological Seminary. He was introduced to several black churches and admired the passion and power in their preaching and music. Karel adds this to the stage play, incorporating several Negro Spirituals into the script.
STAGING THE STORY
The production features many in the 10-member cast taking on multiple roles. Angela Swartz portrays Bonhoeffer's sister and later his girlfriend. Walt Reigler has the role of Nazi leader Hermann Goering, but also plays Hans (Dietrich's brother-in-law) and an American correspondent.
"(This play) may be a little more 'tech-heavy' than some of Master Arts productions. There are lots of sound cues and some lighting effects that are brought to bear," Karel said.
The origin of the play's curious title ("The Beams Are Creaking") is also revealed.
Multiple scene locations – ranging from a family den to an airfield in Berlin – are scattered around a stage with audiences on three sides, close to the action.
The director said there is no violence depicted, and the action is suitable for middle school age and older audiences.
THE DIRECTOR'S APPROACH
Karel is also lead pastor at Orchard Hill Church in Walker. He has a master's degree in Children's Theatre and has acted in several summer children's productions at Grand Rapids' Circle Theatre. Although appearing in several earlier Master Arts productions, it's Karel's first time at the director's helm for the faith-based community group.
"I love history and - being a pastor - this show was a good match. And how to handle the content was a good challenge for me," he said.
The director said that it's the determination and commitment of Bonheoffer that emerges through the script written by Douglas Anderson.
"He was a very real and multi-layered person and everyone loved him – even the prison guards," Karel noted. There are several touching scenes and even some levity which helps to counter the more weighty issues.
Tragically, Bonhoeffer was just 39 years old at the date of his death in April, 1945. Ironically, the camp where he was held was liberated by Allied forces just two weeks later.
"All the action is played out so you get a real understanding of who he was," Karel added.
"The Beams Are Creaking" – drama produced by Master Arts Theatre, directed by Bob Karel
-Thursdays through Saturdays, April 14 – May 7; 7:30 p.m. each evening, plus 2 p.m. Saturday matinees.
-at Master Arts Theatre, 75 77th St SW Byron Township
-Tickets $16 adults, $14 seniors and students. (WWII veterans admitted free). (several performances are already sold out).