'Godspell': Joy in midst of solemn Christian season

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Tue., Mar. 19, 2013
(L to r) Sage King, Adam Greczkowski and Elizabeth Silvia epitomize the joy of 'Godspell.' Photos by D. Coffey.
(L to r) Sage King, Adam Greczkowski and Elizabeth Silvia epitomize the joy of 'Godspell.' Photos by D. Coffey.

Director Beth Silvia watched as her husband, Michael, climbed a ladder to adjust the lights for a rehearsal of “Godspell” at the Complex Performing Arts Center in Putnam. She was anxious to get to work on a production that has played a huge role in her life.

She and Michael met 20 years ago in a Rhode Island production of the play. “It took on a life of its own,” she said. “We planned to do it for a couple of weekends, but people kept asking us to bring it to their group or church. It went on for six years. We probably did 150 shows. It was an amazing experience.”

She hopes to share that experience with Putnam theater-goers beginning March 22. The play is based on a series of parables taken from the gospel of Matthew. What the parables show is that when people come together in community and love one another, they can turn things around, said Silvia.

John-Michael Tebelak wrote the play as a master's thesis project in 1970. “He felt that people were missing the main point of the parables,” said Silvia. “People are supposed to be loving each other, not pointing fingers and judging and arguing.”

The show opens with some of the world's most famous philosophers arguing with each other. They are interrupted by John the Baptist, proclaiming the coming of Jesus Christ. “It's like the Tower of Babel,” said cast member Rev. Meaghan Kelly. For her, the focus of the show is on stories and relationships. “You get to see the relationships between Jesus and his followers, and for me, it makes the stories come alive,” she said.

The play has particular relevance for Kelly, who is an Episcopal priest. The stories seem simple until you put them into present day contexts, she said. The good Samaritan made famous by the parable might be a convicted felon or an illegal immigrant today. “It helps me remember how much we need to hear the stories over and over,” she said.

There is no resurrection scene in the play. Christ is crucified and is carried offstage by his followers who sing, “Long Live God.” But Kelly thinks it can enhance the Easter experience for Christians for that reason alone. “It's almost perfect for Good Friday and Holy Saturday,” she said.

For Jim Weigel, who plays the comedian Herb in the show, “Godspell” is a call for Christians to be joyful. “It's a joyous musical about people who have religion, who practice it, who are kind and compassionate and who do what Jesus would do,” he said.

The production is more than a show, more than just entertainment for Silvia. And the message is for the Christian and non-Christian alike. “I wanted to convey a message,” she said. “I wanted to focus on moments that are really constructed to soften the hearts of the audience.”

“Godspell” will be performed on March 22, 23, 29, 30 at 8 p.m. and March 24, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students.

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