As the calendar turns to spring and the Easter season, you can find any number of passion plays being performed at area churches. Kingdom Undone, a new work from Jeremiah and Vanessa Gamble of Theater for the Thirsty, takes a new look at the last days of Jesus -- especially the political side of those moments.
As originally conceived, Kingdom Undone was to be a full-on musical. That changed when working on a workshop through Nautilus Music-Theatre. "When working with the music, there was a point of crisis in the script. It was like dating the wrong girl," Jeremiah Gamble explains.
"We thought it would be real big, with a choir or chorus, but after doing Rough Cuts, we could see that it wasn't working," Vanessa Gamble adds.
They took a radical turn with the script, removing all of the music and rebuilding it just as a drama. That approach did the trick, and the natural emotional flow of the story returned. Eventually, music was added to that version of the script, creating an organic merging of story and song, Jeremiah Gamble says.
The work is "a culmination of a few different ideas. I wondered about doing a story about Jesus. There are a lot of different periods of his life," Jeremiah Gamble says. "There is a history of doing passion plays, but I thought about telling that story in a theater to a theater audience. I started digging, and felt compelled by the dramatic content of the characters and the story."
Tackling the subject was also a change for the couple, whose work normally consists of original pieces with just them as performers. In this case, the production required a company of actors, musicians, and a director, Jeffrey S. Miller.
Even with that scale, the idea was to remove their telling from a traditional passion play. "That is so much about the pageantry and scale; it's a wide-angle view. We wanted an intimate view," Jeremiah Gamble says. "We wanted to remember that they are people. The language will be accessible and contemporary. Humor has always been a huge part of our theater. This probably will be the funniest passion play audiences will see."
A key character in the story is Judas. "He's such a complex and fascinating character," Jeremiah Gable says. "Of the disciples, he is maybe the most qualified to lead. He is the most charismatic, charming, and ambitious. He believes strongly that the Jewish people need
to be liberated and that Rome is the oppressor, and he sees Jesus as that liberator."
The particular politics of the time are also part of the play, as the conflict between the Jews and the Romans in Jerusalem swells during Passover. "That adds to the overall drama of the piece," he says.
The company includes 16 cast members and four musicians, along with additional percussion added by members of the cast. "Everyone is there for different reasons, but I've really been encouraged by the actors' responses to the script and their investment in it. They have provided a lot of insights and have discovered a lot about the script," Jeremiah Gamble says.
All of the workshops have been good for the play's development. "We've done our due diligence. The play has been through the wine press," he says.
IF YOU GO:
The Southern Theater 1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
Through April 8
For tickets and information, call 612.340.0155 or visit online