Passion plays are a time-honored tradition during the Easter holiday, and Nativity B.V.M. Church of Tunkhannock recently put on one, performed by the children and young adults of the parish.
‘The Way,’ written and directed by Dan Simrell of Scranton, tells the story of Jesus as he is arrested, brought before Pilate, condemned to the cross, and later crucified.
The play’s message is powerfully conveyed through song and spoken word by the young cast members, as they performed the trials and tribulations experienced by Jesus and those around him as he fulfilled his destiny on earth.
Simrell wrote ‘The Way’ 19 years ago for The Parish of St. John Neuman, where he is a member.
“A friend of mine whose in the youth ministry suggested I do something for teenagers,” Simrell explained. “I liked the challenge, and this is what I came up with.”
Although he has no formal musical training, Simrell has worked with church music since he was a teenager.
“I composed about 90 percent of the music in about a-half-an-hour,” Simrell explained. “I felt like God was the one inspiring me. It just happened.”
‘The Way proved popular, and for 19 years, Simrell has put on a production. The event also became a family affair for Simrell.
“My sons have all been in it,” he explained.
Simrell’s son, Bailey, 19, played Pilate in the production, while another son, Christian, performed on the drums.
“My son Alex is 24, and now lives in California. He’s played just about every role,” Simrell explained.
For the past two years, Simrell has directed ‘The Way’ at Nativity.
“I’m best friends with Father Patrick Albert,” he explained. “When he came here, he asked me about the possibility of putting it on, and I said, let’s do it.”
The cast constantly changes, but each year Simrell is impressed with the enthusiasm and talent of his young cast members.
“When you work with teenagers, you don’t know what your going to get,” he explained. “But I’ve never been disappointed. They’ve always been great.”
Each year, the production keeps getting bigger, as more young people seek parts in the production. When he first came to Tunkhannock, Simrell said, he wondered how they could pull it off because Nativity is a smaller parish.
“But they came,” he said. “I don’t know where they came from, but they came. Every year we put it on, and every year it gets bigger,” he said.
One adult voice the production was local radio announcer Hoyt Kaiser, who served as the narrator. Performing as Jesus was Paul Binner, 16, of Tunkhannock.
“It was very exciting,” Binner said following the production. “It all felt very real with the music. It all came together with the cast members.”
Binner is no stranger to portraying Jesus, having performed the role “two or three times” in other productions.
“I thought it went very well,” he said about the performance. “The singing was really beautiful, and it brought the production to a good close.”
Madison Ostir, 16, of Tunkhannock, played Jesus’ mother, Mary.
“I performed last year as Veronica,” she said. I think its really amazing to do a production this big. It’s amazing how it all turned out.”
“Matthew Colavitti, 18, of Tunkhannock, performed as Peter.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I really like the fact that young people in the parish got involved in this. It’s a very meaningful thing to the parish.”