By BEN R. WILLIAMS
I’d like to begin with a brief warning: the following Easter story could be interpreted as mildly, you know, sacrilegious. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, I won’t be hurt if you skip this one. If, on the other hand, my warning has made you excited to see what comes next, then please, read on!
Years ago, a good friend of mine who is a grizzled veteran of the theatre world told me a story. This friend heard the story from one of his friends, who heard it from a guy named Chuck, who allegedly witnessed these events himself. Normally when I hear that a story came from a friend of a friend of a friend, I suspect it’s some kind of urban legend. I can’t promise that this story isn’t apocryphal, but it’s so good that I choose to believe it.
Our story, as I heard it, takes place in Pennsylvania. A church was holding a very elaborate Passion Play with a pretty big budget.
If you’re not familiar, a Passion Play, also known as an Easter pageant, is a dramatic presentation of the Passion of Jesus Christ.
Now in this particular production, the actor playing Jesus was a pretty big guy. He weighed in at about 300 pounds. However, he was a fantastic actor, and after the initial surprise wore off, the audience rolled with it.
When intermission arrived, the actor retired backstage. Unfortunately, it was too dark to see the 2×4 sticking off of the set, positioned right at head-level. He bashed his head on the wooden beam and collapsed, unconscious. The crew quickly found him and brought him around, but it was clear he needed medical attention to make sure he didn’t have a concussion. There was no way he could play Jesus again in the second act.
Fortunately, this was a pretty big production and they had planned for the worst. They had an understudy Jesus, and it was his time to shine.
The second act started and understudy Jesus took the stage. Again, the audience had to adjust their expectations; this new Jesus was half the size of the previous one, weighing in at around 150 pounds. Fortunately, he was also a terrific actor, so once the initial shock wore off, the audience quickly settled into a groove and enjoyed the performance.
The play slowly drew toward the big finale, the cast and crew having coped pretty well with the earlier calamity that could have easily derailed the production. All that was left was the conclusion to the play: Jesus ascending to Heaven, leaving the people with comforting words while rising into the sky.
Understudy Jesus stood on the stage, his rigging harness hidden beneath his flowing robes, a thin, ultra-strong wire attached to it and rising almost invisibly to the theater’s ceiling. Backstage, the crew prepared the counterweight that would allow him to slowly rise to Heaven.
There was just one problem that no one thought to consider. The counterweight was set for a 300 pound man. The actor it was presently attached to weighed half of that.
Understudy Jesus began to speak his closing lines, the final lines of the play, which were the cue to activate the counterweight and send him floating beatifically into the sky.
“I leave you in AHHHHHHHHH!” Understudy Jesus said as the counterweight activated and he was sent shooting into the sky like a bottle rocket, robes flapping, his terrified screams drowning out the peaceful music on the soundtrack.
After soaring out of view of the audience, there was a loud THUD as he hit the ceiling. The screams stopped.
The remaining actors on stage stared up at the ceiling in open-mouthed horror.
With perfect comic timing, a lone sandal fell to the stage, and the crew closed the curtains.
Happy Easter, everybody!