Easter Mysteries

 

            “Easter Mysteries” is an Oratorio Musical utilizing veteran Broadway actors to depict the  crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus in a unque way:  by singing the story.  On a bare stage that only has moveable stairs and a couple of platforms for props.  And costuming that consists of full-length dresses for the women and long robes for the men, mostly in beige, greys and off-whites.  The musical accompaniment is basic, as well:  mostly piano, with some strategic strings.  All this minimalist staging leaves the viewer to concentrate on the dynamics among the characters themselves, which are considerable.

            Really, the primary character seems to be Peter (Keven Earley).  At the Supper, Jesus (Wallace Smith), predicts his betrayal, but that's handled in an interesting way.  The woman who sounds the alarm in the outer courtyard about Peter being a Galilean was previously revealed to be Peter's ex-fiancee, whom he abandoned on his sudden follow-Jesus-wherever-He-goes foray.  She would have been willing to just pick up the engagement where he left off, but he still feels he's now where he belongs.  (Well, that puts an interesting twist on the mystery of Peter being married, because of the Gospel's mention of his mother-in-law: what if he didn't really abandon a wife and family, he just broke it off with his betrothed?) 

            There's certainly a minium of violence associated with the crucifixion; Jesus expires with hardly a whimper, and no bloodshed, including the beating, the nailing, and the spear-thrusting (whereas movies like Mel Gibson's “The Passion of the Christ” supply every gruesome detail).  The resurrection scene wonderfully captures the inherent confusion of eyewitnesses seeing what they did not expect, and hearing something they'd never heard:  their accounts vary.  The details are practically irreconcilable, and so you just throw them all out there and let the hearers choose. 

            Peter, for his part, is depicted as disconsolate about Jesus' death, as well as his own denial, but also very skeptical about the women's testimonies.  He wonders aloud why Jesus appeared to them and not to him.  (The rest of us have often wondered the same thing.)  The post-resurrection story about Jesus asking Peter three times if he loves Him is handled in such a way that Jesus stands behind Peter, telling him not to turn around, so Peter still doesn't get to see the Risen Christ for himself, as the others do, but then, that leaves him room to develop greater faith, which he does, but only after he's been forgiven, and also forgiven himself.

            The Broadway actors not only have magnificent voices, they know how to emote on a bare stage.  The camera work leaves something to be desired; they seem intent on filming as if we're sitting in the audience, rather than providing us with close-ups that would have given us better views of the characters' facial expressions.  And it is filmed before a live audience, though, judging from the applause, it was not a huge crowd, but more like the number you would expect in a smallish repertory theater.

            Oh, and Jesus is black.  Whereas most of the rest of the characters are white---with the exception of one other disciple, and Cleopas' companion on the road to Emmaus.  This perhaps reflects a cultural diversity probably represented in first-century Palestine, but it's not often that it's depicted on film in quite this way.  The men sport modern haircuts, and the women wear make-up (and Mary is a blonde), so they're not even trying to be first-century authentic.  But the viewer is invited to see and hear the interaction of the characters as the powerful dynamic that transcends the time and space differential.  And that is the real Easter Mystery.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association