An oratorical exploration through resurrection of Colonel Ingersoll

What is oratory? What is religion? These have become two questions of growing concern for many minds today as we continue to see a decline in the art of public speaking in the face of religion’s inescapable influence on politics.

The Orator: The Involuntary Resurrection of Col. Ingersoll is a new full-length stage play by Munroe Scott (in collaboration with Col. Robert G. Ingersoll, 1833-1899). It seeks to address those two questions of oratory and religion with an oratorical exploration through the resurrection of Col. Ingersoll. Col. Robert Green “Bob” Ingersoll was a lawyer, civil war veteran, political leader, and orator of the United Sates during the Golden Age of Free Thought. He was known across the continent as “The Great Agnostic,” but also as “The Great Orator.”

The one-act play, with a timeframe that embraces both the 19th and 21st centuries running concurrently, introduces Ingersoll, who died in 1899. Ingersoll is perturbed to find himself involuntarily resurrected by an attractive Trent University Political Science professor. Ingersoll is dramatically brought back to the public eye to entertain on the Art of Oratory through his illustrations on religious bigotry and on how theism is but a mere superstition.

“Apart from moral conduct, all that man thinks himself able to do, in order to become acceptable to God, is mere superstition and religious folly,” says Ingersoll. He goes on to compare the pulpit and the stage, stating, “There is this difference: The stage, the honesty of pretense. The pulpit, the pretense of honesty.”

However, in doing so, Ingersoll encounters opposition from both the professor and the IT expert who accidentally summoned him. Scott, the playwright who gave the Colonel voice and form, explained the idea behind the play, claiming, “We think we are so advanced that we forget there was a period of free thinking.”

There were people who were more broadminded than we are now. He wanted to reincarnate Ingersoll through the magic of stage and through his words to make the audience more free-thinking and to reflect upon whether Ingersoll’s statement that theism is mere superstition is correct.

“I have come to my own conclusion about religion and I happen to be in tune with Ingersoll – he speaks to me,” says Scott, who himself has had a long-standing history working with religion.
Scott addresses the Colonel as “was” and “is” because to him, Ingersoll is immortalized through his words, the epitome of his thoughts. It places an utmost importance on how thoughts, put forth in words, are surely the essence of a human.

“My opinion of immortality is this,” Ingersoll introduces in the play. “First: I live, or did live, and that of itself is, was, infinitely wonderful. Second: there was a time when I was not, and after I was not, I was. [To the professor:] Madam, this verbal straddling of a real past and a hypothetical present creates a sizeable linguistic exercise. Anyway,” he says, cutting himself off and turning to the audience once again, “Third: now that I am, or was, I may be again; and it is no more wonderful that I may be again, if I have been, which I was, than that I am, which I’m not, having once been nothing.”

The actor who played the role of Ingersoll, Matt Gilbert, said there were a lot of things that made sense when asked about how he felt saying all he had to say. Talking about how “not any prayers have to be paid for” and “not one prayer having been answered” especially resonated with him more than others. Some of the others might be more pointed things, but to comment on those, Gilbert acknowledged that he would have to know a lot more about theology.

The actor who played the role of Harry the IT expert, Andrew Root, said it was odd for him since his character was portrayed as a true believer, but in reality he isn’t.

Actress Sarah McNeilly who played the political science professor, said, “It was an easy fit. I myself am an agnostic and was raised with [the belief that] the script of the religion is a personal matter. It really resonated with me that every religion has common beliefs.”

When Scott was asked about where he drew the line on the things he could or couldn’t bring in to the play because of controversy, he said that Ingersoll himself just about drew the line. He zeroed in on Christianity and he didn’t find anything where he teed off onto other religions. “He stuck to his own religion and as far as I’m concerned, that is the line I would draw too,” he explained.

The Orator, directed by Esther Vincent and Ray Henderson, was certainly not meant for those weak at heart. Its two-day premier on Feb. 14 and 15 at Showplace’s Nexicom Studio gathered many, but did it leave them with more answers or questions?

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