First Presbyterian presents dramatization of The Last Supper
By Susan Shinn For The Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS — Twelve men sit at the table, on either side of the man in the center. In each of their minds is the same question, “Is it I, Lord?”
Since 1961, “The Last Supper” has been presented some 17 times over the years at First Presbyterian Church in Downtown Kannapolis. The 18th presentation of this meaningful drama takes place at 8 p.m. tomorrow night in the sanctuary of the church, 201 Vance St. Pre-service music begins at 7:40 p.m., and the production lasts about an hour. For decades, this worship service has been a labor of love for the congregation. The performance is free and the community is invited.
This year’s production is no different. Cast and crew have been gathering on Sunday afternoons since Feb. 22. This past Sunday saw the men polishing their lines and co-directors Jane Jacobs and Jennifer Lynn working to make sure the scene changes and cast poses are just right. “The Last Supper” is a living tableau of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting, with little changes in an original script written by Ernest K. Emurian in 1954.
If you’ve never seen the performance, you might be surprised to find da Vinci himself introduce the painting. This year, Brian Landis portrays the great artist. One by one, the men in the painting come to life, introducing themselves and asking that fateful question. We meet, from left to right on stage, Nathaniel (Mark Goodnight), James the lesser (Richard Little), Andrew (Doug Goodnight), Simon Peter (Mike Freeman), Judas Iscariot (Sam McAllister), John (Phil McLain), James (Mike Bayne), Thomas (Bob Faust), Philip (Jason Burris), Matthew (Andrew Baker), Thaddeus (Bill Stricker), and Simon the Zealot (Lee Efird).
Jesus, portrayed by Lynn Sechler Jr., says nothing.
Mark has played Nathaniel and James three times a piece, with most of the other men playing the same role several times. Jane has worked with 13 productions; so has Lee.
The women of the church started the production.
“It is a worship service,” explains coordinator Judy Goodnight. “We consider it a ministry to the community.”
The women pull portraits from the walls from previous production, and Jane keeps a print of daVinci’s painting close at hand. All of the men will wear costumes women of the church have made over the years. Some will wear beards; some are growing their own.
During rehearsal, Jane urges the men to speak loudly.
“Make it work,” Jane says. “No one in the audience will have the script.”
It’s OK if you momentarily forget a line, Jennifer says. “Try not to look desperate. Look thoughtful. It’s OK if you have to pause for a moment.”
But as rehearsal starts, the men deliver their lines with confidence. This is not about reinventing the wheel.
“Do it the way you’ve always done it,” Jane says.
Lee is a lifelong member of the church. His father, Don, appeared in the original production, and his mother, Iris, helped for years.
“When I came home from school and settled here, I was asked to be in the production, and I said yes every time,” Lee says. “You get into the role. I am the last person to speak. You really feel like you’re a part of it, like you’re actually there.”
Each role, Lee says, is like a mini-sermon. “Each one has a message. I enjoy doing it.”
“People are mesmerized by it,” Mark says. “I feel like it’s a ministry I can do. The older I’ve gotten, the more it means to me. You’re really trying to be that person for a brief period. I’m not an actor, but I try to put myself in Nathaniel’s position.”
Jane, also a lifelong member, has been a drama director at A.L. Brown High School, and has helped with many church productions over the years. She and Lee came aboard the same year, in 1980.
“This is my home church,” Jane says. “It has been in my heart and part of my life forever. I just loved the theater, and the biggest blessing has been working with the men of my church.”
Many of them have been her mentors, she says. “Just to have the privilege to work with them was a joy to me. It’s always been a blessing.”
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.
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