Theatre — Reviving his passion

Reviving his passion


By Michelle Saturley

Pastor brings back Jesus and the City

Last year, on Good Friday, the First Congregational Church presented an all-original passion play, Jesus and the City. The show was a runaway hit, receiving critical acclaim from Hippo’s own Jeff Rapsis, along with community members of all faiths.

“Last year, we had people of all religious affiliations come out to see the show,” said Pastor Christopher Emerson, who wrote the script for Jesus and the City. “The fact that our Jewish friends came out on Good Friday, a day when many Jewish people are afraid to leave their homes for fear of persecution, and came to a Christian place of worship to see a passion play, was a big deal for me.”

Emerson and the church’s music minister, Kenneth Grinnell, wrote the play two years ago.

“I approached Kenneth after Good Friday two years ago and said, ‘Let’s do a passion play.’ But the challenge was, I wanted it to be really good — something that transcended just our church or our beliefs, and just told a really good story that moved people,” Emerson said.

After last year’s unexpected success, Emerson and Grinnell spent the past year fine-tuning the show. The stage inside the church has been given a makeover, raised an additional eight inches so the audience has better visibility. The crew also upgraded the sound system. Emerson said he and Grinnell made several subtle changes to the script, as well as a few not-so-subtle additions, including extended singing solos for Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

“Last year, the scene with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane was literally lifted from the scriptures. People commented later that it lacked dramatic tension. I added more dialog to that scene,” Emerson said. “As for the song with Mary Magdalene, it was such a beautiful piece of music, and the woman we have playing the role  is such a fantastic singer, it just made sense.”

About two-thirds of the original cast will return for the encore, including Dan Wells, who will once again play Christ.

“We couldn’t do the show without him,” Emerson said. “When you see him on stage, you will know why.”

Though the play isn’t totally based on the scriptures, Emerson says that he wanted to steep the show in historical accuracy. Two major points are threaded throughout the show that he felt were essential.

“In so many passion plays, there’s a certain unconscious element of anti-Semitism that I wanted to eliminate,” he said. “There are scenes in this play that make it clear that the Jewish priests weren’t out to kill Jesus because he was Jewish. They were really in an impossible situation, stuck between the Romans, their oppressors, and the Jewish people.”

Emerson also wanted the role of women in the church to play more of a part.

“During Jesus’ time, women were an essential part of the church,” he said. “They played an important role in spreading Christ’s teachings. It wasn’t until later, say, 50 A.D., that women were downplayed in the church.”

The show will open on Palm Sunday, March 20 at 6 p.m., and then run again on Tuesday, March 22 at 7 p.m. and on Good Friday, March 25 at 8 p.m. Emerson says there will be no charge for admission.

“We didn’t want to charge anything for tickets to see the show, because there’s too much money wrapped up in religion already,” Emerson said. “However, if people want to make donations to cover the cost of producing the show, we won’t turn them away.”

For more information, call the First Congregational Church, located at the corner of Union and Hanover streets, at 625-5093.

-Michelle Saturley

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH