Peter and Jesus in a scene from the 2017 Passion Play. Photo by Venrick Azcueta

Passion Play casts characters in new light

  • March 23, 2018

If Mary Magdalene could retell the story of Jesus’ resurrection, what would she say?

That’s what scriptwriters at Christian Performing Arts asked themselves when writing their 2018 New Passion Play. 

For 27 years, the Church on the Queensway in Etobicoke has staged a passion play at Easter. Each year, director Arthur Wachnik tries to find new perspectives and points of view to approach the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

“Last year it was narrated from the Jewish perspective by Annas the High Priest. This year’s version has a very unique voice. It’s coming from the perspective of both Mary Magdalene and the thief on the cross,” said Wachnik, who first became involved in the Passion Play as an actor seven years ago. 

Mary Magdalene and the thief are described as “sassy and charming outcasts” whose lives are forever changed when they encounter a mysterious man from Galilee. 

“We wanted to tell this story through characters that the audience can identify with,” said Wachnik. “It can be difficult to identify with Jesus because, well, he’s Jesus! He is perfect and none of us come close to that. The audience tends to connect more with characters that they can relate to because they are also flawed but are open to change.” 

It also gives the actors some creative liberty, a luxury unavailable to an actor portraying Jesus.

“You can interpret a lot of your parts as an actor,” said Shiloh Tatar, who plays Jesus in this year’s play. “But when you are playing Jesus, that is a role straight from the Bible so your portrayal needs to be bang on.”

Tatar, who took drama in high school, works as a mortgage broker and an Uber driver. He and the other actors, most of whom attend the church, manage to fit practice three times a week into their schedules. 

“When Arthur approached me about playing Jesus, I really had to think and pray on it, but it has been such an honour. It is humbling,” said Tatar.

The New Passion Play has five performances from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.  About 15,000 people are expected to attend. 

“It’s a tradition for families,” said Wachnik. “Buses come in from all over southwestern Ontario to see our play. We always hear such positive feedback — people are really touched by it. That’s why we continue to do it.”

Tickets are available for $5 at the website

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