The American Passion Play, one of Bloomington’s most enduring traditions, will take the stage at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts (BCPA) this Spring for its 100th—and final—year. The scope of the American Passion Play is unique in that it includes not only the Passion, but all of the major events in the adult life of Jesus of Nazareth, from the beginning of his ministry to His Ascension into Heaven, dramatizing the Gospel According to St. Matthew almost in its entirety. The American Passion Play, written and staged by Illinois Wesleyan University professor and Shakespearean scholar Delmar Duane Darrah, opened in the Spring of 1924 at the Scottish Rite Temple (now the BCPA) on what was, at the time, the largest stage west of New York City, essential for this colossal undertaking. Except for the 2006 season, when the Play was moved to Illinois Wesleyan’s Presser Hall during the BCPA’s renovation, and the 2020 and 2021 seasons when it was cancelled due to COVID-19, the production has appeared on that stage ever since.
The American Passion Play is among the oldest continuously performed Passion plays in the United States. Its staying power is owed to the timeless subject matter, the genius of its author, and the contributions of literally thousands of dedicated people over its century-long run.
Darrah penned his masterpiece—and the Play is still performed—in the language of the King James Bible to heighten its authenticity. This “labor of love” is presented by a company of 120 volunteers and enjoys the spontaneity of amateur actors donning the colorful tribal garb of 30 AD Judea and Galilee.
This “greatest story ever told,” as those involved in the production call it, is presented on the grand scale and in the detail it deserves. 50 scenes—dressed with massive, hand-painted backdrops expertly moved and lit by a crew of 25—are needed to relate the most important three years in Christendom. Little detail is spared in the re-telling of Jesus’ parables, miracles, trials, and tribulations. Playwright Darrah saw the importance of creating scenes true to Biblical accounts and thoroughly researched events such as “The Wedding at Cana,” at which Jesus turns water to wine. “Jesus Walking Upon the Water,” on which real rain falls as Jesus calms the seas, and “The Ascension,” in which Jesus is elevated Heavenward in the company of a dozen angels, provide impressive visual and sound effects.
The audience is regaled by a live 17-voice choir singing traditional, as well as original, music; the incidental music of woodwind and stringed instruments; and the ever-present organ. All in all, the American Passion Play promises a meaningful experience for audiences of all ages.
Performances are slated for Saturday, March 11; Saturday, March 18; Saturday, March 25; and Saturday, April 1. The curtain will go up at 1pm for all performances. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the door on performance days, or in advance by calling (309) 829-3903. Cash or major credit cards are accepted.
For additional informative and inspirational articles, visit 50 Plus News and Views Bloomington/Normal online edition today.