Audience will experience the agony, the ecstasy
Area Christians and people of all faiths will get a unique view into the timeless story of the Passion of Christ. The St. Xavier Church Christian performing group will bring the days leading up to Jesus’ death and his resurrection to life. “No Greater Love” will be performed on March 30 at The Church of St. Mary in Rutherford.
The professionally trained actors, singers and dancers perform original works focused on themes of faith and social justice.
“No Greater Love” written by Janeen Stevens has been performed for 32 years throughout the tri-state area during the Lenten Season. It is a musical drama that celebrates the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through music, dance and drama. The audience is taken through the stations of the cross by professional actors who play the roles of Jesus and Mary and Jesus’ followers.
Gerry Gerard DeMan, director of music at both the Xavier Company and Church of St. Mary said the performance conveys the feelings and the humanity of the Biblical characters.
“In reading or hearing the gospel, you miss this dimension. For example, after Jesus says from the cross, ‘Father forgiven them, They know not what they do’, a Roman soldier begins sharing his thoughts with the audience, by stating, ‘Forgive them? I would never forgive someone who was doing this to me. I would curse them. And how can he say we don’t know what we are doing. Of course, we know what we are doing.’ The soldier realizes that they are crucifying a man who is too good to be guilty of any crime and asks ‘Why are we killing an innocent man?’ The soldier experiences a transformation and then kneels at the cross. The audience cannot experience that depth of the story by reading the gospel or hearing it,” said DeMan.
The Xavier Company is a unique group of Christian performing artists in residence at St. Francis Xavier Church in New York City. The professionally trained actors, singers and dancers perform original works focused on themes of faith and social justice. Founded in 1982, The Xavier Company is celebrating its 32nd anniversary of performing arts ministry in the tri-state area. The Xavier Company is renowned for performances that display both spiritual content and artistic excellence.
“You will enter the passion in a deep and personal way. Feel the pain of Jesus, feel the suffering, but also experience the joy of the resurrection. We hope they grasp a message of hope and joy from this performance,” said Dr. Carol Ferrone, company director.
Nikki Casseri, who plays Mary, is a Long Island television personality featured in the show “Ask the Doctor.” She has also been featured on CBS’s show “Elementary” and HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” Brandon Schraml, who plays Peter, has been on four national tours including the first national tour of “Ring of Fire” and recently returned from playing Javert in “Les Miserables” in Colorado. Kara Vertucci, who plays Mary Magdalene, has played lead roles in Long Island’s CM Performing Arts center, which include Maria Ranier in “The Sound of Music” and Rapunzel in “Into the Woods.” Pasqualino Beltempo who plays Jesus recently moved to the city from Bari, Italy. In Italy he played important stage roles such as Hamlet in Shakespeare’s homonymous play and Barnaby in T. Wilder’s The Matchmaker. He took part in Italian short-films and TV-series, such as Il Vicolo di Mai by Letizia Lamartire, which was nominated for the David di Donatello (the equivalent for the Oscar). The principal liturgical dancer, Marian Lizzio, is wonderfully expressive in adding a classical ballet interpretation of the story that is unique and spiritual.
“One unique aspect of our play is that most of the actors all play a variety of roles — both good and evil, which provides a glimpse into both the negative and positive aspects of human nature,” Ferrone said.
Father John Kelly, whose church held “No Greater Love” last year, praised the performance for its multicultural cast and said it is a moving “rendition of the passion which qualifies as a hymn of reconciliation.
“It is traditional yet dramatic and touches the heart and the mind,” Kelly said.
The performance takes place on Sunday, March 30 at 3 p.m. at the Church of Saint Mary, 91 Home Ave., Rutherford. All are welcome, and there is no admission charge. A free will offering will be accepted.
“We hope to give the audience a deeper understanding of God’s great love for us. When Mary is cradling Jesus in her arms, while singing the spiritual “Carry Him Gently,” there is usually not a dry eye in the house,” said DeMan.