I started Katrina Kittle’s first novel, Traveling Light on Friday and stayed up to finish it on Saturday evening. Katrina Kittle is a Dayton native who continues to live in the region, working on her fourth novel and recently acting in several local theatre productions. I ran across her books while surfing Amazon for a good read, not even realizing she is a local author. I went to the library with the intention of borrowing Two Truths and a Lie but it was not on the shelf and thus I picked up Traveling Light. It felt as though I was supposed to be reading that book this weekend.
On Saturday night we went to the Dayton Playhouse to see Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi, a controversial passion play that depicts Jesus and the apostles as gay men. There were several parallels between the two works and it was an amazing opportunity to experience them intertwined. Both the book and the play are significantly about the prejudices that exist against homosexuals and the concept that love can be pure in any form. Both works explore issues of acceptance and have heroes that teach of unconditional love. There are even parallel scenes in the book and play where passages from the bible are used to both condemn and defend homosexuality, highlighting the propensity to pick and choose bible verses to support a point of view.
As we walked toward the theatre on Saturday evening, we were greeted warmly by two members of the Dayton Playhouse. Just behind the greeters stood several protestors… who really were not protesting as much as holding signs that quoted the bible. It was actually very peaceful and the chair of the Dayton Playhouse summed it up well by saying that the protestors had as much right to be there as they did in putting on the play. It made me very proud of my city that the cast and crew had the courage to put on such a controversial play… and that the protestors were not hateful or cruel in their demonstrations.
Tolerance is generally the first step of the journey that leads to acceptance and respect. In Kittle’s novel, that theme is told through several characters. One young character is full of hate but has a life changing experience that teaches him tolerance. The matriarchal figure loved her gay grandson but barely tolerated his lifestyle and partner; in the end she came to respect and accept them as a couple, recognizing the persecution of gays as being as tragic as the persecution of Jews during WWII. Last night at the show, there was tolerance between the protestors and the theatre. The play itself was a testament depicting the journey of persecution, tolerance, love and acceptance.
The parallels that could be made between the main characters of the play and the hero in the novel are amazing. Joshua (Jesus) in the play is teaching unconditional love, while Todd and Jacob epitomize unconditional love in the book. Both Joshua and Todd see the beauty in their persecutors and suffer immensely at death, while never losing their faith in humanity. Todd is revered by his family as virtually without fault, as is Joshua by the disciples.
Some of the novel’s critics saw Todd’s character as a caricature and attributed the sparse character development to the fact that is was Kittle’s first novel. I wonder if perhaps Todd and Jacob are intended to represent characters we all know well within our culture and that is why further development wasn’t necessary. I am also curious if Kittle was at all influenced by Terrance McNally’s script or if the similarities are merely a result of my interpretation. Regardless, I look forward to reading more work from this very compelling author, and possibly seeking her out at the Word’s Worth Writing Center where she is currently teaching seminars.