Newspaper Archive of
Arkansas Catholic
Little Rock, Arkansas
July 15, 1990     Arkansas Catholic
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July 15, 1990

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G 1 ARKANSAS CATHOLIC JULY 15, 1990 : Earlier, Robertson had assured me that "a lot of coloreds" come to see the play, although the "Sacred Projects" are Widely known for their overwhelmingly white patronage. I stood at the exit as the play came to an end and saw no blacks leaving the amphitheater. Robertson also pledged, before a .dozen people, to send me a copy of the script "within a few days." That was June 12, and a month of phone calls to the 'Smith Foundation leadership has failed to produce a script. Tangled roots Although the play is currently under criticism for its insensitivity to Jews, the play also is the child of a long-dead parent of anti-Catholicism. In 1976, Robertson inherited the foundation upon the death of its founder, Gerald L. K. Smith, a notori- ous anti-Catholic, anti-black, anti-Sem- Ite and Hitler sympathiser whose tracts Were once handed out at the entry gate to . ' ~ . ,. the Great Passion Play. It was m Kobertson's name that Smith masked his purchase of the Eureka Springs property back in the mid-1960s and to work on his "Sacred Projects." e foundation which would build the OZark empire was for Smith's named tlare, Elna. Smith had made a fortune N rugh his California-based Christian ationalist Crusade - enough to main- rain SUmptuous homes in Los Angeles, GRHAT PASSION PLAY IPiEATEFI ENTRANCE V4 MILE $OUIH PNO~IIE 501 '253-g200 With unusual punctuation, this sign in Eureka Springs says - Severest critics & most intelligent observers say, Superior to all presentations since Christ." Tulsa and Eureka Springs. By them- selves, his pamphlets and books railing against the "Jew-nited Nations" and "Black savages running our cities" Though viewers of the Ar- kansas play don't see Jews with horns, what they do see is much more subtle, and ecumenical groups continue to be concerned. pulled in a tidy $325,000 in 1967, long after he had reached his peak of power. Through a series of articles the Ar- kansas Gazette exposed the millionaire's campaign of hate, but nothing could stop the snowballing economy of the "New Holy Land," as Smith's mountaintop moneymaker would soon be promoted. The descen- dant of four generations of fundamen- talist preachers, the self-ordained Dis- ciples of Christ minister would rise far above the rural pulpits of his forebears, so much higher in fact that he mailed out weekly pleas for money from his faithful flock in order to keep afloat. Today, the proceeds of all the foundation's activities - the play, a gift shop, a woodcarving gallery, New Holy Land, Noah's Petting Zoo among oth- ers - go back into the tax-exempt or- ganization. Echoing his daughter's exact words in an earlier, separate interview, Robertson claimed that Smith's "poli- tics and his religion were two separate things, and it's a hard.job" to continue to keep them separate. Indeed. A casual glance at just a few of Smith's politial and/or religious beliefs (see sidebar) would bear out Robertson's comment. For now, at least, the Eureka Springs Passion Play, employer of 275 persons generating a conservative-estimate in- come of $4 million per season, will keep Jesus at arm's length from his Jewish family and friends on stage, and will continue to emphasize the one line in the entire Christian Scripture used throughout the centuries to persecute a race of people. l'he play isn't complete without it," the 75-year-old Robertson said. A number of recurring themes tend to in passion plays, according Bogard, an area director of the r Jewish Committee who in 1984 epofted that the Eureka Springs play was prime example of malicious anti-semi- That report, and others like it, led the Arkansas play, but prob- still plague the production. play in Eureka Springs has ently been criticized for the following: shown in brilliant white garb the play, while his peers, are alike in multi-colored robes. The dressed in garish clothing and clownish. Herod is less terri- than he is comical, presented as an g bully who is never with- Although Jesus is never shown a Jew, Herod's throne sports a giant of David, the only Jewish symbol in play. , too, is differentiated from the other Jews speak in or degenerative speech patterns, Speaks in a clear, well-modulated (In the garden scene, the voice to Sound strangely like a southern play, Jews are shown and conniving, constantly figur- ays to trap Jesus. The play suggests Sense of camaraderie among Jesus and and no sense of faith, values g the Jewish priests, who religion of legalism and vindictive- not depicted as an observant or even as the product of a Jewish family, but as the object of the hatred of thick-voiced, bloodthirsty Jews. The only major theme seems to be Je- sus' rejection of the Jews and their rejec- tion of him. * The Sanhedrin leadership is uncom- fortably present in scene after scene. Espe- cially unsettling is a member of the Sanhedrin at the foot of the cross. Women, on the other hand, make up a miniscule part of the play - except for a prominent role for Salome. * The choice of Scripture quotes and their juxtaposition is the result of consid- erable poetic license. Further, several scenes are clearly nowhere found in Scrip- ture. For instance, one scene shows Jewish leaders tricking Judas into turning Jesus over for "questioning." An ensuing con- versation between Judas and the leaders shows Judas as a confused man Who has suffered his fate solely because of Jewish trickery. Another scene features voices, including that of Jesus, speaking from beyond the, grave during Jesus' descent into Hell. Smoke arises from the tomb, which is encased in an eerie red light, along with the sound of grotesque laughter, reminis- cent of Herod's laughter. Viewers who lack a thorough knowledge of Scripture will have a tough time deter- mining what is ~criptural" and what isn't, and an even tougher time untangling the historical and sociological realities fi'om the emotional appeals to conventional bias made on the stage. DKH Catholic parish offers oldest passion play in the country Union City, NJ (CNS) - Every year since 1915, Holy Family parish here has presented a Passion Play, the oldest continuous version in the U.S. Unlike the original in Oberammer- gau, West Germany, the Union City Passion Play has been praised by Jewish groups for its sensitive portrayal of Christ's passion and death. The Oberammergau production, generally produced every ten years for the last three-and-a-half centuries, has been criticized by the same Jewish groups that approve of the Union City production. The 1990 script of the Bavarian village's play has been accepted by leading Jewish critics except for the scene in which the poeple at Christ's trial call for the blood of Jesus to be upon their heads and on those of their progeny - the so-called =blood curse." The Union City play has not always been praised. Like Obe mergau, the parish's version had angered Jews by failing to portray clearly that Jesus and His disciples were Jewish. The script was changed in the last seven years and included suggestions from the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League in New York. Before he took over as pastor in 1982, said Fr. Kevin Ashe, the play was like a bad sermon. You couldn't argue about the story, but the way it was presented was more like Lenten penance than Lenten inspiration." Fr. Ashe set himself to revising the play by working with the cast and oth- ers connected with the production. As expected, some did not cooperate. But Newark Archbishop Peter L. Gerety, now retired, backed him. About a quarter of the participants left in pro- test. After the 1984 season, Fr. Ashe had the script rewritten. "We based our play on the old one," he said, "on all the things that were positive. We reworked the dialogue, kept the framework and added music." The apostles were not at Christ's trial, he said, "and the Scriptural text is really an outline of what happened. Once you begin to put this outline onto the stage and begin to dramatize it, you're forced to add things - dialogue and the whole scene." Ft. Ashe said the play reminds people that everyone, by virtue of his or her separation from God through sin, is responsible for the death of Christ.