99-046 (‘Passion Play’)

Distributed October 29, 1999
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Glenn Hare



‘Passion Play’ to première at the Leeds Theatre Nov. 11
Passion Play, a new work by Sarah Ruhl of Brown’s Creative Writing Program, will receive its première in Leeds Theatre of the Catherine Bryan Dill Center for the Performing Arts, with performances Nov. 11-21, 1999. The play takes a provocative look at the offstage lives of actors who are cast in a play about the crucifixion of Christ.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A new play that takes a provocative look at the offstage lives of actors who are cast in a play about the crucifixion of Christ will receive its première in November in Leeds Theatre of the Catherine Bryan Dill Center for the Performing Arts.

Passion Play examines the personal lives of the people acting the roles of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, Pontius Pilate and Mary Magdalen among others.

The production is the work of Sarah Ruhl, a graduate student in Brown’s Creative Writing Program, who began writing it as a senior thesis project under the direction of Paula Vogel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. It will be directed by John Emigh, a faculty member in the theater department.

Passion Play runs Nov. 11-14 and Nov. 18-20 at 8 p.m., and at 3 p.m. Nov. 21.

The complex drama was inspired, in part, by one of Ruhl’s favorite children’s books, Betsy and the Great World, by Maud Hart Lovelace. “In Lovelace’s account, the villagers in Oberammergau were so holy as to become the living embodiment of their Biblical role,” said Ruhl. “I began to wonder what would happen if that weren’t the case.”

In her play, the actress performing the role of the Virgin Mary is, in reality, a lusty wench. Mary Magdalen, the whore, is never interested in bedding men at all, but is in love with the actress playing the Virgin Mary. Pontius Pilate, who is suffering from professional jealousy, longs to play Jesus. “The characters have a confused idea of the relationship between art and life,” said Ruhl about the first act. The only actor that comes close to resembling his onstage character is John the Fisherman, who portrays Jesus.

The first act is set in Northern England in 1575 and explores the conflicts between identity and performance. In the second act, the play jumps to 1934, amid the politics of Nazi Germany. Set in the German village of Oberammergau, the actors are dealing with Hitler, who has endorsed the dramatization of the death of Christ as way to promote his anti-Semitic agenda, said Ruhl.

Passion Play has received staged readings at Trinity Repertory Company, the New Voices Festival in Chicago and the Pure Pop theater group in New York City.

Ruhl’s other work includes Orlando, an adaptation of the Virginia Woolf novel, commissioned and produced the Piven Theatre Workshop in Chicago. Dog Play, a 10-minute play, was presented by Chicago Dramatists. She also has a chapbook of poetry published by Thorntree Press.

Tickets to Passion Play are $13 for the general public, $9 for senior citizens and Brown employees, and $5 for students. The Performing Arts Center is located at 77 Waterman St. For additional information or reservations, call the box office at (401) 863-2838.

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