First-Nighters Find Passion in Brooklyn

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
28 May 2010

Give them a play — no matter where it is — and they will come. That seems to have been the rule of thumb for Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play, which sent a hearty group of celebrity first-nighters subbing and schlepping to faraway Brooklyn to a theatrically reconverted Sunday school classroom for its NYC premiere May 12.




Philip Seymour Hoffman was there, just on general principles, as were Daphne Rubin-Vega, Anita Carey and Charlie Semine. and Mia Barrow. Others had extenuating circumstances, like friends in the cast that needed that extra show of support.

David Pearce had Shakespeare in his corner (John Pankow from the recent Equivocation), and Dominic Fumusa had his own cheering section going via his wife (Ilana Levine, Lucy in the last Charlie Brown musical) and the co-star and playwright of his Fault Lines (Noah Emmerich and Stephen Belber). Blair Brown, who tended Ruhl’s The Clean House, was also in that number.

Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts took a break from the screenplay he’s writing for Natalie Portman and the new hush-hush play he’s writing so he could fly in from Chicago. His girlfriend Nicole Wiesner plays Mary 2 in Passion Play.



The title Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play is not an egotistical sign of ownership like the Tyler Perry movies, but rather a sign of differentiation. “I didn’t want people to think it was really a passion play,” Ruhl explained. “I wanted to say it was my version of a passion play.” The 36-year-old playwright, whose In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play is currently up for the Best Play Tony, has spent a third of her life writing this sprawling triptych about amateur religious pageants through the years. It tips the scales at three-and-a-half hours in running time, but bread and wine for the hopelessly devoted are dispensed freely at both of the intermissions.

The first hint of the wild ride ahead is that the roles of Queen Elizabeth, Adolf Hitler and Ronald Reagan are all played by T. Ryder Smith, who has a high old time of it.

Each act takes place during the eras that these three rule — plus, Liz and Adolf backslide into Reagan’s time-zone. Ruhl, as you might have gathered, isn’t much for rules.

That think-big acting troupe, Epic Theatre Ensemble, is presenting the piece at The Irondale Center in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The run has just been extended to June 4.

— Harry Haun