‘A very prayerful experience’
Last Supper on stage
Peter, James and John were the disciples who seemed to have a close relationship with Jesus when he walked the Earth. Yet, they, as well as the other men who Jesus selected to be his close followers during his three-year ministry, question their devotion to the Master during the presentation, “A Living Picture of The Last Supper.”
The drama, set in the scene of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, is presented annually on Holy Monday at either a Protestant or Catholic church. This year, the free one-night showing will be held for the second time at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Hollidaysburg where it begins at 8 p.m. March 26.
“It is a very prayerful experience,” said Monsignor Stanley Carson, pastor of the church. He added that it is almost like a spiritual experience for the men playing the disciples who really get into their roles.
Most of the actors have maintained their same parts since the production was first staged locally about 18 years ago.
During that time period, there only have been two times when the play that considers the 12 men celebrating the Passover with Jesus in an upper room in Jerusalem was not staged. The drama opens with Jesus’ words recorded in the four Gospels: “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me here will betray me.”
The Scriptures record that the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spoke.
It is the apostles’ doubts about their own motives that are the basis for the play. In the script, they get up from the table one by one and share about their relationship with Jesus.
John, played by Dr. Randy Patterson, talks about how he is called the beloved disciple.
James, played by Jim Yeager, talks about how he and John desired to sit on each side of Jesus’ throne in his kingdom.
Peter, played by Dr. Gregory Sweeney, talks about being how he left everything to follow Jesus.
Yet, despite their affirmations to be close to Jesus, each wonders if he is the traitor. They and the other nine disciples end their soliloquies with “Is it I?”
The question may be one that the audience is asking themselves as well.
“The audience is not just watching a play. I think it resonates with our lives,” Sweeney said.
For the performers, who are of the Catholic faith, the play is a way to share the gospel and the significance of Christ’s final days on Earth.
“It is really a spiritual renewal. It prepares me for Holy Week,” Patterson said. “And it helps us to evangelize to others as well.”
“It brings us closer together,” Yeager said. “It’s like being part of a discipleship — just like when Christ chose people to follow him.”
“It’s kind of neat,” said Sweeney, who called the men getting together a little retreat. He added that even though the men see each other at Mass, working together on the drama gives them time to catch up — to share how they are doing in their personal and spiritual lives.
Yeager pointed out that because of their professional careers, time together is rare. Among them are a medical doctor, an oral surgeon, attorneys, a judge, accountant, a coach and engineers like himself. Two of the men are retirees.
Yet, each of them makes the commitment to pause once a year and do the play. It is a role they take seriously.
Patterson said he begins going over his lines in his head when Lent begins. For him and the others, the words come to them even if it has been a year since they uttered them.
“It becomes second nature,” Yeager said. “It just flows.”
For those few minutes when they give their soliloquies, each man seems to become a disciple.
“You can actually feel and hear the emotions in us as each person talks,” Yeager said. “Every person represents the person he is portraying.”
“Peter resonates with me,” Sweeney said. “He is impetuous, and I can be impetuous. He is a man of faults and strengths. I have faults and strengths.”
He added that Peter was also humble. He pointed out that when Peter recognized who Christ was, Peter also acknowledged that he was a sinful man.
“He was a man of faith, prayer,” Sweeney said.
Playing Peter, he said, makes him aware of his weaknesses and how he can improve in those areas of his life.
But studying the disciples and putting forth their efforts to portray them is only part of the picture.
None of the disciples move except when it is their turn to talk. Each remains still for the hour to reflect his pose in da Vinci’s painting.
“It’s physically hard to stand still for that period of time,” said Patterson, who is the third from the last to speak. “You breathe a sigh of relief when you give your speech. Until then, you are pretty tense.”
But it is an experience he and the others anticipate.
“It’s very spiritually rewarding for me. It puts me in the right spiritual frame of mind for Holy Week,” Patterson said.
“Each year I look forward to it,” Yeager said. “It’s something you are doing to promote why we celebrate the Easter season.”
“It’s a great experience. I am very grateful for it,” Sweeney said.