Spies for the Pope

By Douglas Lackey
Directed by Alexander Harrington
November 9 – November 26
NOV 9 - NOV 26; THU, FRI, SAT at 8 PM, SUN at 3 PM - WED, NOV 22 at 8 PM

Executive Director, Crystal Field


Spies for the Pope

Picaresque spy story of a free thinking philosopher (and his some time lover) recruited by the Vatican for an impossible mission: to prevent the Thirty Years War.

November 9 – November 26, 2023
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8:00 PM, Sunday at 3:00 PM
Added performance Wednesday, November 22 at 8:00 PM
No performance Thanksgiving, November 23rd
Critics are invited on or after November 10 (opening performance).
Photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/NKfw8LF3F7DjUKFh6

Tickets: $18 General, $15 Seniors and Students
Run Time: 2 hours including intermission

Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue (between 9th and 10th Street)

“Spies for the Pope” by Douglas Lackey is a sweeping historical drama that charts the tragic career of Giulio Caesare Vanini (1585-1619), an Italian philosopher recruited by the Vatican, in Lackey’s telling, for an impossible mission: stopping the Thirty Years War by reconciling through diplomacy the Catholic and Protestant antagonisms of key European countries. Theater for the New City (TNC), which has been Lackey’s theatrical home since 2003, will present the work’s premiere run November 9 to 26. Director is Alexander Harrington, who has collaborated with Lackey on four prior plays and shares his interest in historical drama. All of Lackey’s previous plays have been praised for their deft mixtures of philosophy, romance and politics.

Giulio Cesare Vanini, the Italian philosopher, scientist and “the prince of libertines,” was among the first Western scientists to view the world as entirely governed by natural laws. His attempts to remain loyal to both science and religion led to his execution in 1619 on a false charge of atheism. Admirers of Vanini in the 19th century placed a plaque on the site of his execution reading “to a martyr for freedom of thought.” In 2015 the plaque was spray-painted by an anonymous fanatic with the words “He got what he deserved.”  The audience is invited to reach its own verdict on this question.

The play is a continent-trotting, picaresque spy story. It unfolds with two Capuchin Friars, Vanini and his companion (and some time lover) Brother Markus, crusading for Catholicism across Europe.  Markus proves to be a dangerous acolyte who is progressively susceptible to the Protestant cause. Vanini himself falls under the spell of Elizabeth Stuart, the Protestant daughter of the England’s King James I, who was briefly the Queen of Bohemia.  Her husband’s ambitions are a precipitating factor of the coming war.

Vanini’s desperate pleas for peace in the capitals of Bohemia, England, The Netherlands and France only manage to reveal deeper and deeper contrasts between the worldviews of the opposing sides, a clash of ideologies against which reason cannot prevail.  When tenets of faith (like the reality of transubstantiation) become fighting words, the status of science becomes a political issue, and the philosopher Descartes (“I think therefore I am”) is dragged into the fight. Only music can provide respite for Vanini and Elizabeth and songs from Dowland and Monteverdi are woven into their scenes.

Eric Loscheider (R) plays Giulio Cesare Vanini and Jordan Stidham (L) plays Brother Markus in “Spies for the Pope” by Douglas Lackey, directed by Alexander Harrington, presented by Theater for the New City November 9-26, 2023. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Eric Loscheider* plays Giulio Cesare Vanini
Jordan Stidham* plays Brother Markus
Courtney Stennett* plays Princess Elizabeth
The ensemble includes:
Pat Dwyer*
Joseph J. Menino*
Brian Ott*
Daniel Yaiullo

Scenic Designer: Jennifer Varbalow
Lighting Designer: Corey Goulden-Naitove
Costume Designer: Anthony Paul-Cavaretta
Projection Designer: Daniel McKleinfeld
Animator: Gabriel Freire
Production Stage Manager: Roger Lipson*
Production Manager: Mitchell Strong
Press Representative: Jonathan Slaff

* Courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association

Playwright Douglas Lackey has two lives, as a playwright and a philosophy professor. He is a Professor of Philosophy at Baruch College, CUNY, where he has taught since 1972. He has an 18 year relationship with Theater for the New City, which has presented all his plays to-date. His first play, “Kaddish in East Jerusalem” (2003), dealt with issues of the Second Intifada. His “Daylight Precision” (2014) was a historical drama examining “just war” theories through an unsung hero of World War II, Gen. Haywood Hansell. In 2018, his “Arendt-Heidegger: A Love Story” dramatized the unlikely romance between Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt. His “Ludwig and Bertie” (2019) charted the forty-year love/hate relationship between Bertrand Russell and his most famous student, Ludwig Wittgenstein. His “The Wayward Daughter of Judah the Prince” (2021) was a sort of a philosopher’s “Thelma and Louise” in which the daughter of Judah the Prince (compiler of The Mishnah–the core section of The Talmud) runs off with her Christian slave girl lover to measure herself against the conflicting philosophies of the period. These plays have been critically praised as explosive dramas of ideas, romance and politics.

Lackey writes, “I am grateful to Crystal Field and Theater for the New City for encouraging me to present this story. TNC is willing to take on my ‘comedies of ideas’ and these are quite different from the contemporary obsession with plays of jumbled identities and failed relationships. Kudos to a theater that will buck the mainstream.”


Director Alexander Harrington staged the premieres of Douglas Lackey’s “The Wayward Daughter of Judah the Prince” (2021), “Ludwig and Bertie” (2019), “Arendt-Heidegger: A Love Story” (2018) and “Daylight Precision” (2014). He has directed in New York theaters at Metropolitan Playhouse, La MaMa, The Culture Project, Queens Theatre, and The Actors Studio and at regional theaters.  He founded The Eleventh Hour Theatre Company and in 2012 was artistic director of the student ensemble at HB Studio. He has directed his own adaptations of Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” Chekhov’s short story “The Kiss,” a chapter from Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio” titled “The Philosopher,” and his own translation of Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon.” He wrote “The Great Society,” a play about Lyndon Johnson [not to be confused with Robert Schenkkan’s play of the same name on the same subject], which premiered at the Harold Clurman Theater in 2013.  Harrington takes a special interest in classics and has directed numerous productions of Shakespeare and Greek tragedies. He has also developed and directed numerous contemporary plays and is a widely published essayist and critic. (http://alecharrington.wixsite.com/alexanderharrington)


COVID Protocol:
As of September 26th, 2022, we are no longer requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for our audience upon entry.
Wearing of masks is suggested in the lobby, restrooms and performance spaces at Theater for the New City, but they are not required.