Low expectations can self-dampen an experience. My trying Catholic-Christian self was skeptical walking into the volunteer run, stage production The Story of Jesus. With many emotion-churning movies and books on Jesus’s life, how could a stage production with its one visual angle, sound, and acting limits possibly top them? In Wauchula, FL of all places? Who drives this far to watch a non-Tony nominated play?
Even the 250 feet wide stage featuring multiple backdrops wouldn’t impress me (yet). Early in I caught a Jerusalem royal with a Southern accent and downright stiff and scary angels scrolling along a rig (“Like Halloween Horror Nights,” Sis Melk whispered.) Apart from the expected claps at a scene’s end, the audience appeared to have been plucked from a Revival church. It seemed every time Jesus preached a Bible verse, the audience would explode in cheers and support. “I say no one can get to the Father except through me.”or “Blessed are you for having faith…” Billy Graham himself wouldn’t have gotten more responses.
But slowly the Story grew on me. We caught glimpses of Jesus’s earth life but lingered on familiar moments; his miracles of allowing a cripple to walk and the blind to see. To a group of children Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan while the parable played out on the side. A boat, fog, and flashing lights brought a storm at sea to the stage which Jesus calmed.
Sure enough by the 2nd act neither audience commentary, awry accents, nor questionable acting could interrupt my attention. From the Last Supper the Story of Jesus grew in the same intensity and grip as if I’d been watching The Passion of Christ. Even acting, there was no way the Jesus on stage was spared pain. The jeering crowd, the sound of a hammer hitting nails… and suddenly a flash back to Mary and Joseph caring for Jesus as a baby to adulthood. Sis Melk said she cried.
The whole production moved me. Seeing my Christ’s love and death play out made me feel like a witness to the history. The soundtrack—all original sounds and songs—intensified all emotions. It’s even more impressive when you learn this production has been around for 20+ years and everyone involved is a volunteer. Every year since January 225 actors and 150 animals dedicate time because they believe in that story.
My biggest criticism was the ending. Following a very powerful crucifixion scene was the too-long segment of dancing and krumping demons (I joke not) getting defeated by angels. The Story of Jesus should have ended after the Resurrection scene with the voice telling the disciples to preach and make believers of all. The end! Instead we’re taken to heaven with joyous angels (not bad), the creepy flying ones (dolls have come alive), and Jesus the King sparkling like a glimmering Edward riding a white horse (sigh).
Still– after movies and books of Jesus it was refreshing to see the story live. That one visual angle made it more shocking and real. I was a witness. I was there. And next year when the Story makes its limited run around Easter time… you should be there too. I strongly encourage you to put aside any skepticism and watch this show. My own skepticism had faded.
Have you watched the Story of Jesus? Share the experience in the comments below.
The Story of Jesus
at the Cattleman’s Arena
April 24, 2015