Review: ‘Sorin, A Notre Dame Story’ — The Man Behind the Fighting Irish
By Megan Wrappe, Contributing Writer, March 19, 2018
Growing up in central North Carolina, we lived and breathed ACC sports. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC State, and Duke were hour and a half away, and Wake Forest University was within walking distance of my house. But in our home we didn’t root for any ACC school in football, instead, we were Notre Dame fans. This is a rarity in the South where many are Southern Baptist or Presbyterian, and Notre Dame is a Catholic university. But since my father’s side of the family has been attending Notre Dame since 1869, I wasn’t really given a choice.
If someone hears the name Notre Dame who isn’t familiar with the school, they almost always know the football legacy. But Notre Dame is so much more than football, which is why Sorin, A Notre Dame Story, directed by Patrick Vassel and starring Matthew Goodrich, was a must-see for me. The show is the story of Notre Dame’s founding father, Rev. Edward Frederick Sorin, C.S.C. But instead of seeing Fr. Sorin as an old man with a long beard, as he is often portrayed in pictures and statues, the show is told from his perspective as a young man in his twenties who has just entered the priesthood.
Having entered the priesthood in France, he remains there for several years before receiving a new assignment to go to America. With a young country ripe for spreading the word of God, Fr. Sorin sets out with two brothers and lands in New York City. They are briefly housed by a member of the Catholic church and celebrate mass at St. Peter’s Church on September 14, 1841.
From here, the brothers by ferry, cart, and foot get to Indiana. Upon arrival Fr. Sorin sees the importance for a university that will be the center of Catholic education in America, but the problem is he will have to move locations to do so. Approaching the archdiocese of Indiana to build the school, he is initially told “no” by the bishop, but being a persistent man he doesn’t give up and is eventually given a plot of land the church has recently acquired. The catch is that Fr. Sorin is given just two years to establish a school on the land where there is no building except a log chapel.
Not only does Fr. Sorin make his deadline, but a few years down the road he and his brothers have made significant strides in establishing Notre Dame, offering classes to elementary school students in addition to those enrolled in the college. Where there was only a log chapel are now dorms, several school buildings, and an administration building with a fine looking white dome on top of it topped with a statue of Mary, even though Fr. Sorin fights the building committee for a gold one. Notre Dame is in its infancy and Fr. Sorin knows it. Being the inventive and brave man he is, he is the perfect person to lead Notre Dame through the troubles it will later face, such as a cholera outbreak, a devastating fire, land issues, and various changes to the university. But throughout it all, his name is still revered by all past and current students as the man who made Notre Dame what it is today.
What has to be appreciated about Matthew Goodrich’s performance is how humanizing it is. Presenting a one-man show for more than 90 minutes takes a certain level of energy, but to do it with passion, emotion, and conviction is another thing altogether. Goodrich brings life to Fr. Sorin in a way no one else but a Notre Dame graduate could. Instead of portraying him as reverent priest, Goodrich’s Sorin is humorous, witty, and humble. When he has done something wrong he doesn’t shy away from it, but instead owns up to his mistakes and vows to learn from them. At the same time he doesn’t back down from situations, even the tough ones.
Sorin is a historical play, it doesn’t come off as an educational piece, but rather is a heartwarming human story in the end. The final scene is Fr. Sorin standing on the stage in his priestly regalia as pictures of Notre Dame from over the years flash in sequential order up through present day. As the pictures flow by, Fr. Sorin is having a conversation with God asking him “Did I do okay?” At the end of the slideshow, he answers his own question with “yes.” The production, as guided by Patrick Vassel (who also serves as supervising director of the mega-hit Hamilton), doesn’t attempt to show Fr. Sorin as perfect. Instead, his own mistakes are included in his story, as well as his significant triumphs.
Sorin, A Notre Dame Story, presented by Notre Dame University at Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, Symphony Space, on March 15, 2018. Written by Christina Telesca Gorman. Directed by Patrick Vassel; projection design by Ryan Belock; producer and lighting design by Kevin Dryer; set design by Marcus Stephens; costume design by Richard E. Donnelly; original music composed by Alex Mansour; sound design by Maddison Staff; research by Elizabeth Hogan, Rev. Thomas Blantz, C.S.C, Rev. Ralph Haag, C.S.C.; creative consultant: Mary Beth O’Connor; stage manger: Debra Anne Gasper. Cast: Matthew Goodrch.
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Cover: Matthew Goodrich in ‘Sorin: A Notre Dame Story;’ photo: Matt Cashore / University of Notre Dame.