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Westmoreland

A divine role: portraying Jesus Christ a challenge during Holy Week

Stephen Huba
| Thursday, April 13, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Cast members re-enact biblical stories during a presentation of 'The Passion of Our Lord' at Word of Life Church in Hempfield on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Cast members re-enact biblical stories during a presentation of 'The Passion of Our Lord' at Word of Life Church in Hempfield on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
Cast members re-enact biblical stories during a presentation of 'The Passion of Our Lord' at Word of Life Church in Hempfield on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Cast members re-enact biblical stories during a presentation of 'The Passion of Our Lord' at Word of Life Church in Hempfield on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
Cast members re-enact biblical stories during a presentation of 'The Passion of Our Lord' at Word of Life Church in Hempfield on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Cast members re-enact biblical stories during a presentation of 'The Passion of Our Lord' at Word of Life Church in Hempfield on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
Cast members re-enact biblical stories during a presentation of 'The Passion of Our Lord' at Word of Life Church in Hempfield on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Cast members re-enact biblical stories during a presentation of 'The Passion of Our Lord' at Word of Life Church in Hempfield on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
Cast members re-enact biblical stories during a presentation of 'The Passion of Our Lord' at Word of Life Church in Hempfield on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Cast members re-enact biblical stories during a presentation of 'The Passion of Our Lord' at Word of Life Church in Hempfield on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
Vic Baronie portrays Jesus on the cross at a previous year's production of 'Were You There,' an outdoor crucifixion re-enactment at County Line Church of the Brethren in Champion. The Roman guards are played by Josh Laymon (left) and Greg Barnhart. (Submitted photo)
Vic Baronie portrays Jesus on the cross at a previous year's production of 'Were You There,' an outdoor crucifixion re-enactment at County Line Church of the Brethren in Champion. The Roman guards are played by Josh Laymon (left) and Greg Barnhart. (Submitted photo)

Portraying Jesus in a Holy Week passion play doesn't require memorizing many lines — but that also may be the hardest thing about the role.

Rick Zabrosky said playing Jesus in the Greensburg Ministerium's “Way of the Cross” drama year after year has not made it any easier.

“It's a pretty humbling role,” he said, “to think what he went through. It's like a form of prayer to me.”

Zabrosky, 51, of Greensburg said the pathos of Jesus' suffering comes through more in his acting than in his words.

“I try to show his fatigue and his drive to keep on going,” he said. “It's something that I try to do the best that I can.”

Unlike other Good Friday dramas in the region, the Greensburg “Way of the Cross” event does not include a depiction of the Crucifixion. It starts at 11:30 a.m. at the Westmoreland County Courthouse and continues down seven city blocks, ending at a member church of the Greensburg Ministerium.

This year, the drama will conclude at First Reformed United Church of Christ, 312 S. Maple Ave., where the public is invited to a worship service at noon.

Although the “Way of the Cross” has a cast of about 30 in full costume, it attracts more people as it moves from the courthouse to the church. The drama covers everything from Jesus' trial before Pontius Pilate to his crucifixion. The Roman guards keep the crowd at bay, so that the Crucifixion is only heard through the pounding of nails and the cries of Jesus, Zabrosky said.

“You'll see more and more people follow along,” he said. “I've had a lot of people come up, crying. You don't realize what actually happened (in the Bible) until you see it.”

County Line Church of the Brethren's “Were You There” crucifixion re-enactment is more bloody. The outdoor drama at the corner of Route 711 and County Line Road in Champion features an actor covered in fake blood who has to scale a 9-foot wooden cross.

Nathan Pletcher, 14, of Champion, who plays Jesus for the first time this year, will put his hands through the ropes on the crossbeam and hold onto the nails. An eighth-grader at Mt. Pleasant Junior High School, he said he'll have to mentally prepare for wearing a crown of thorns.

“I'm going to think about it — all the stories they told in Sunday school,” he said. “There's a couple of lines I have to study.”

The crucifixion re-enactment usually attracts a crowd, mostly from passing motorists on Route 711, said the Rev. Barry Conn, County Line senior pastor. The Good Friday drama on the church lawn starts at 3:30 p.m.

“It's amazing to see the people stop at the four-way stop sign — just the expressions on their faces,” he said. “It's made an impact.”

The church started the re-enactment six years ago, following the suggestion of a spiritual renewal committee. “During the time of Lent, everybody is thinking about Christ's journey to the cross, so this gets people to actually think about what Christ has done for them,” Conn said. “It becomes more real to the people participating.”

At Word of Life Church in Hempfield, the traditional passion play takes on the character of a professional multimedia production — complete with lighting, cameras, stage and tech crews, and a cast of 100. “The Passion of Our Lord” is being held nightly at 7 through Good Friday.

Drama director Lynn Reinsmith said the production aims for a high level of realism, so much so that a medical team is on standby to offer assistance.

“It's not something you would want to bring a young child to,” she said. “We've had people walk out because they couldn't take it. It was too real for them.”

“The Passion of Our Lord,” a feature at Word of Life for six years, begins with the early life of Jesus and concludes with his death and resurrection, Reinsmith said.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280 or shuba@tribweb.com.

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