by MICHAEL OTTO
Rain may have wet a few heads and seats but it didn’t dampen the occasion at the performance
of a passion play in the stunning setting of Villa Maria winery in Mangere.
An estimated 1600 people witnessed the play titled Passion Play 2015: They Crucified Him.
Set inside the natural amphitheatre of an extinct 20,000 year old volcanic crater, the event had
the air of a pilgrimage and a picnic at the same time.
The evening on March 28 started with the weather determined not to play its part.
As the crowd was settling in and finding the best spots from which to view the multi-level
stage, the clouds drew in and a soft and soaking rain began to fall.
The lead actor portraying Jesus in the play, Andrew Malele, made his triumphal entry into the “Jerusalem” of Villa Maria from the south over the crater rim.
Waving palm fronds and hosannas accompanied “Jesus” as he wended his damp way on foot through crowds of umbrellas and picnic hampers.
Pacific singers braved the rain to entertain the crowd.
Following a picnic time, during which some of Villa Maria’s finest was quaffed by many, the main
event began, thankfully under clear skies.
Performed on a multi-level stage, with actors climbing up and down scaffolding, the performance
recalled some elements of the 1973 film Jesus Christ Superstar.
During the first part of the play, the great drama developed on a lower level of the stage, overseen by a Last Supper scene on a higher level.
Some in the crowd likened the positions assumed by “Jesus and the Twelve” in the Last Supper
scene to Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting in Milan.
The actors, who came from St Peter Chanel parish in Clover Park and St John the Evangelist parish in Otara, played their roles with energy and emotion.
When the play reached its climax, the weather decided it would more than play its part.
As “Jesus” was crucified, clouds covered a bright half moon that had been shining above.
All the lights illuminating the stage were dimmed as the figure on the cross was backlit in blood red.
But, as if to suggest the Resurrection, the moon reappeared, seemingly brighter than ever.
The depth and duration of the applause at the play’s conclusion showed the emotion that had been
Bishop Patrick Dunn, who had a close-up view of the play from the front row of seats, said everyone he spoke with after the play was “absolutely elated”.
He said the acting was superb and the overall production was brilliant.
The bishop visited the cast in their marquee after the play and thanked them for their hard work.
Bishop Dunn added that the script for the play, by producer and co-director Ross Jennings, was
“inspired” and that “the touches of humour were very successful”.
The bishop said that the play was “technically stunning, spiritually uplifting and utterly memorable”.
He said it was great way to start Holy Week.
Dame Lyndsay Freer said the passion play was a “wonderful production”.
This was especially so, since the cast were “all inexperienced, they hadn’t acted before and they did it with tremendous sincerity and conviction and dedication”, Dame Lyndsay said.
“It was all very dramatic.”
Mr Jennings told NZ Catholic that work on the play started two years ago, but “we had hiccups
along the way, so we really have been doing it for about four months”.
There had probably been about two months of “solid rehearsal”, he said.
Mr Jennings was pleased with the way the play turned out.
“We are thrilled. It had an effect. “I think it was emotional and successful.
“I think it has made people think.
“It has caused a bit of emotion, which I think is just lovely. That is what the story is.”
Asked about his plans for the future, Mr Jennings laughed and said “a bit of sleep”.
He said there are plans to stage an Auckland passion play every two years.
“But I will be too old,” he said. “So we will pass it on to someone younger.”