For Pat Malak, putting on a drama that tells the story of Jesus' death and resurrection is not just a performance.
"We call it a 'prayerformance,' " said Ms. Malak, who is helping stage the Passion Play called Tetelestai today and tomorrow at St. Rose Catholic Church in Perrysburg.
"Some people come up and say, 'Good job,' or, 'Nice job.' But we're looking at it from a totally different perspective. We use it as an evangelical tool to spread the Gospel and God's love," she said.
Tetelestai is the Greek word meaning "It is finished" - Jesus' last words on the cross - and the Cleveland Performing Arts Ministries has been putting on the drama every spring for 28 years, with 24 performances during the Lenten season. The play was written by Russ and Joel Nagy of Columbus, and was first produced in 1977.
This weekend's production at St. Rose Church in Perrysburg will feature a cast of 103 people, Ms. Malak said.
The role of Jesus rotated among three men.
"The role is so extremely exhausting," she said. "A couple of years ago we had someone who did all 24 performances and he was totally exhausted. It's too hard - physically, emotionally, and mentally, the whole ball of wax. We decided we would give three gentlemen a chance to do that role."
None of the actors are professionals and they come from a broad spectrum of Christian denominations, Ms. Malak said.
The play is staged in all sorts of venues, including auditoriums, gymnasiums, and churches, within a 500-mile radius of Cleveland.
"We have a 28-foot truck that carries the stage lights and sound, but there's no scenery," she said. "The faces of the cast is the scenery. The conviction of those people's faces is what people are looking for. I had one gentleman tell me that he followed me from beginning to end and said, 'You really were convinced of your position.' "
The amateur actors are there to proclaim the Gospel, not to boost their egos by being in the spotlight, Ms. Malak said. They spend eight weeks in rehearsals before beginning the 24 "prayerformances" each year.
"We have to do a lot of soul-searching and researching the Scriptures," she said. "The character building and the community building make it a believable presentation. So yes, the play is scripted for the main characters. But everything else that comes out of the cast is ad-libbed."
Unlike Mel Gibon's movie, The Passion of The Christ, which followed only the last 12 hours of Jesus' life, Tetelestai covers prophets predicting Jesus' birth, Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, his crucifixion and resurrection, and his appearance in the Upper Room.
"We do have a bloody Jesus at the crucifixion, but that's not the focal point. The resurrection is the focal point," she said.
"Tetelestai" will be presented at 8 p.m. today and 2 p.m. tomorrow at St. Rose Church, 217 East Front St., Perrysburg. Admission is free and an offering will be taken. Information: 419-874-4559.
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