in a little village in Germany, Oberammergau, dating back to the year 1634, the townspeople have been performing the story of Christ’s last days, his trials, crucifixion and resurrection.  The tradition began when the whole community, fearing the bubonic plague that was killing thousands in neighboring towns, pledged to tell this sacred story to the world every ten years if only God would spare them.
    This dramatic narrative, told in three different forms and in three different times in  history, is the subject of Sarah Ruhl’s involving and complex tapestry “Passion Play”: igniting the stage of Yale Rep’s University Theatre in New Haven until Saturday, October 11.
    Ms. Ruhl has developed her conception of the play over the last dozen years, after a trip to England where she first learned of this religious theatrical experience.  In Oberammergau, it is an honor to be part of the cast but you must be a native or married to a native for at least ten years to participate.  Ruhl wondered what might happen if “a guy who is playing the role of Pontius Pilate but really wants the role of Christ, played by his cousin” might do to achieve his goal.
    Her play is set in a trio of distinct moments in time:  a village in Northern England in 1575 when Queen Elizabeth (Kathleen Chalfant) appears in all her majesty to stop the production; to the original site of the play in Bavaria in 1934, three hundred years later, when Hitler (Kathleen Chalfant) arrives to encourage his Nazi sympathizers and soldiers in their production; and, in Spearfish, South Dakota, in 1969 to the present, when Ronald Reagan (Kathleen Chalfant) makes the play a campaign stop in his bid for re-election.
    “Passion Play” is a layered spectacle, an ambitious undertaking with religious and political overtones, that tells a multitude of stories that intersect and overlap.  Red skies, schools of silver fish and fleets of ships are carried in the wind as people, all too human, cope with jealousy, infidelity, pregnancy and the  enigmas of life. The fine cast includes Joaquin Torres as John the Fisherman, Felix Solis as Pontius the Fish-gutter, Susan Pourfar and Nicole Wiesner as Mary 1 and 2 and an engaging Polly Noonan as the village idiot and Violet.  Mark Wing-Davey directs this three and a half hour epic.
    For tickets (35-65), call 203-432-1234 or online at ; Performances are Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m.  The University Theatre is located at 222 York Street, New Haven.
    Sit back and let Sarah Ruhl take you on a fascinating historical journey as she hopscotches through time with her “Passion Play” as the train’s theatrical conductor.

This will appear in the Middletown Press on October 9.

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