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Passion Play takes on drama of the minute

| Thursday, March 24, 2005

Donna Perkins has once again reached into her repertoire of events that changed the world and produced a contemporary interpretation of the Passion Play, which depicts Jesus Christ's last days.

The original Passion Play was first performed in 1633 in Oberammergau, Germany.

Perkins -- a playwright, actress and drama teacher -- dedicated this year's production to her cousin, John Hickly, who died in September of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease).

Perkins' version of the Passion Play, performed Wednesday evening at the Gateway Towers, Downtown, centered on one of the most perplexing problems facing the country today: Who makes the decision of when and how a person lives or dies?

Perkins teaches drama at the Community College of Allegheny County and is a member of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters.

One of her most versatile actors, retired industrialist John H. Follansbee Jr., had a leading part in her current production of the Passion Play, which she titled, "A Kiss is Still a Kiss -- Or a 21st-Century Judas Performing at the Gateway Towers and Not for the Tate Modern in London."

In his role as Innocent Bystander -- who parks in the wrong neighborhood, finds himself in the midst of an opium den and must resist the wiles of Mary Magdalene -- Follansbee showed his ability to handle a difficult and demanding role.

The audience was made aware of the complexity of the ills of the world that brought about the death of the Solitary Figure in an opening monologue by Demetrius Grosse, when he recited a passage from the morality play "Tambourines to Glory" by Langston Hughes, in which the multifaceted nature of the devil is described.

"He can be found in Hitler, Stalin, Mack the Knife, Gyp the Blood, Henry the Eighth, Khrushchev and Catherine the Great," said Grosse.

In the scenes leading up to the death of the Solitary Figure, the plot follows his success in redeeming Mary Magdalene from her opium den to a hospital dining area where the Solitary Figure and his followers participate in the Last Supper, partaking of medicinal drugs and organic carrot juice.

In the hospital garden, the Solitary Figure prays for relief from his ultimate destination of death, but he accepts the fact that his time on Earth is limited. Moments later, Nurse Ratchet (Judas) summons a Roman soldier Candy Striper who takes the Solitary Figure to the hospital administrators, Dr. Pontius Pilate and K. Herod, Esq., who will decide his fate.

When it is decided that the Solitary Figure should be put to death, Nurse Ratchet, upon realizing what she has done, is restrained in a straightjacket, yet finds a way to commit suicide by hanging.

In the scene prior to his death by injection, the Solitary Figure is scourged by having 33 injections with a hypodermic needle. Then the Solitary Figure, attached to a life-support machine, begins his metaphorical climb to Calvary, surrounded by his mother, St. John of Technology and his devoted followers.

And although he falls out of bed three times, he is confronted by a Telephone Angel who comforts him and says goodbye.

Upon his death, he is cremated and his ashes are released as described in musician Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" -- a place that is beyond human comprehension.

During the resurrection scene, we find John Fantin as Pontius Pilate playing "Beer Barrel Polka" on his accordion and the CAPA Archangels performing "Amazing Grace" on the keyboard and saxophone.

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