Passion Play

Outside The March, Covergence Theatre and Sheep No Wool give rise to a heavenly theatre experience


Presented by Outside The March, Convergence Theatre and Sheep No Wool
Brought to Toronto’s east end by Crow’s Theatre
Directed by Alan Dilworth, Aaron Willis and Mitchell Cushman
Written by Sarah Ruhl

Andrew Kushnir with Julie Tepperman, Mayko Nguyen and members of the ensemble in Passion Play. Photo by Keith Barker.

An audience of Toronto arts enthusiasts assembled in an east end church last night to witness the epic Canadian premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play. The three-part saga has been resurrected by three of the city’s most ambitious independent theatre companies, Outside The March, Convergence Theatre and Sheep No Wool, in a three-and-a-half-hour, holy rolling production that moves from Withrow Park to Eastminster United Church (310 Danforth Avenue). All three parts were performed indoors yesterday due to the rain, but the weather failed to dampen the spirits of the united congregation.

Passion Play follows a company of amateur actors staging a traditional passion play at three different historical moments: Elizabethan England, where such religious plays were forbidden, Nazi Germany and Reagan-Era America. In each of the three parts the characters change, but carry with them echoes of the past and hints of the future.

An impressive undertaking, the show features 11 talented core performers and eight “passion players” (Kasey Dunn, Jesse Watts, Aviva Philip-Muller, Cheyenne Scott, Howard Davis, Kathryn Davis, Bilal Baig and Harsharan Sidhuacting) acting as both the chorus and crew.

The ever-amusing Jordan Pettle plays the director in all three parts; Richard Binsley a visiting Friar, an English writer and a doctor; Katherine Cullen and Thrasso Petras are carpenters in each era; Sam Kalilieh is a machinist, a German officer and a young director; while the remarkable Amy Keating is caught in the middle as the Village Idiot in Part One, a Jewish girl named Violet in Part Two and the daughter of troubled parents (also named Violet) in Part Three.

Andrew Kushnir’s character plays the Christ in all three parts, transforming from saintly amateur actor to unlikely soldier, to television star. Cyrus Lane is Pontius Pilate in the first part, a German soldier in the second and a disturbed Vietnam War vet in the third (his is the conscience of the play), while Mayko Nguyen plays the not-so-virtuous Virgin Mary, caught in a love triangle with the two male leads, and Julie Tepperman plays Mary 2 (Magdalene), a righteous (hardly whore-like) character in all three parts.

And in every period the performers are visited by a powerful political figure—Queen Elizabeth, Hitler and Ronald Reagan (all portrayed convincingly by the brilliant Maev Beaty).

The action of the play becomes increasingly intimate as the production unfolds: Part One (which is normally performed outdoors) is set in 1575 in England, and takes place on stage, then the action moves to the floor with the audience seated in the round for Part Two (Oberammergau, Germany in 1934), and finally, the front row is invited to sit closer to the actors on colourful cushions for Part Three, set in the 1960s in Spearfish, South Dakota. The ensemble makes great use of the space throughout, with the chorus singing from on high in the balcony.

Set and props designer Jung-Hye Kim nails the look and feel of the cross and natural imagery, while Michelle Bailey’s costumes are spot on in every era (the white-faced, jewel adorned Queen Elizabeth is especially dazzling). Miraculously, this production does not feel as long as it sounds—a testament to co-directors Alan Dilworth, Aaron Willis and Mitchell Cushman, whose even-handed direction makes each play in the cycle a joy to watch.

Rich with symbolism, Ruhl's script touches on a number of interesting themes, including the role of theatre in the community. Poetic, political and passionately human, this is the show to see this month. Catch it while you can!

Passion Play runs until June 30. Visit for more information and to buy tickets.


Show Dates: 
Thu, 2013-06-06 - Sun, 2013-06-30
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