Reckamp begins with the triumph of Palm Sunday as the cast enters the theatre building singing the praises of the Messiah, and the audience joins them in the lobby, waving palm leaves. The story continues inside the small black box theatre of the Skip Viragh Center at Chaminade College Preparatory School, where the action continues to be close to the audience, sometimes circulating through the aisles.
The simple set features a high narrow platform from which the high priests can taunt Jesus and where the Last Supper takes place – a meal with proper Jewish rituals, I was happy to see. A large video screen flashes biblical quotations from Psalms, the Gospels, and the prophets as the events of the last days unfold.
Reckamp has enriched her version with music from a variety of sources and words from the Gospels and other writings – all, I believe, biblical. Jesus manages to deliver many of his teachings in the time it takes him to wash the feet of his disciples at the Supper. Others have their individual moments. Judas, in an impassioned performance by Rachel Fenton – the casting is gender-blind -- delivers a lengthy lamentation after he betrays Jesus. Zachary Stefaniak shows Pilate squirming to get out of having to hand Jesus over to the executioners. Michele Burdette Elmore creates a moving Pieta as the mother of Jesus cradles his dead body. And Blane Pressler makes Jesus a clear and attractive speaker and a convincing victim. Everyone in the cast plays with conviction. They sing well, too, led by music director Greg Schweizer, and they wear comfortably the costumes of the time of the Roman Empire by Jane Sullivan and Becky Fortner, with lighting by John Taylor.
Still, this is more a pageant than a play. We know what is going to happen, and there are no surprises. When Fenton cries out Judas's anguish, she can only emote; she has no dramatic action to play. Each character goes through the motions established for his or her part in the passion of the Christ, motions that have been repeated many times before. And as I watched, I wondered what these events were like the first time, when they were real, and not scenes in a pageant.
I do think that those seeking a renewal of their faith in this season can find it in Reckamp's respectful presentation of these events in Spotlight Theatre's "Passion". For more information: 314-412-6848.