MORRIS – Seeing your son “nailed” to a cross would be difficult for many parents.
Ray Mitchell of Morris portrays the man who carried Jesus’ cross for him in the play “The Last Words” by Ronald D. Vaughan. On that cross, hangs his son, Zac Mitchell, portraying Jesus.
The First Presbyterian Church of Morris will be performing the play Maundy Thursday, as it has in some previous years.
The church hopes to have the same overwhelming response it had last time it was performed two years ago.
As 18-year-old Zac hangs on the cross, other actors portray people from the Bible who had interactions with Jesus throughout his life, such as his mother, Mary, Joseph of Arimathea, the Samaritan woman from the well and a centurion.
Each character enters the darkened room, puts out a candle and then they testify about Jesus Christ as he hangs dying on the cross.
“This man is alone as a man has ever been,” said Ray’s character, Simon of Cyrene. “No one should die alone.”
As Ray performs the part, he said he has to look anywhere but at the cross.
“It’s extremely emotional,” Ray said. “I can’t look at him, I have to look over him.”
Ray said he enjoys spreading the word in a different way, and seeing the effect it has on those who are watching, but the effect it has on him is a personal one.
Zac, who doesn’t have one speaking part, is the main character who portrays the anguish of Jesus, as he hangs on the cross, then dies, completely by facial expression and movements of his head.
When Zac was first approached to play the part of Jesus, he said he didn’t think he was cut out to play the role of the son of God.
But after performing, he wants to do it again and again because of the impact it has on people who watch.
“I’ve had struggles and hard times to draw from for the sadder emotions,” he said. “I think about those times and imagine where I’d be without my parents.”
He said the most difficult aspect of the part, besides standing on the cross the entire time, is that everyone’s eyes in the room are on him.
“It’s feels ominous like, being stared at,” he said. “It’s not a bad feeling, but it’s weird and I can’t describe it.”
Chris Foster, who plays Mary, mother of Jesus, has a son who is 34 years old, about the age Jesus was when he died on the cross. This brings up emotions for her as well.
Foster feels the complexity in her character is not knowing how Mary would have reacted as her son died on the cross.
“I’m not sure what her true feelings would be, grieving, yes, but would she grieve with dignity or be more hysterical? I’ve decided to play her quieter,” Foster said.
The play is brought to life by the dramatic lighting that dims and brightens as each person enters and starts to speak.
The lighting on Zac, as he hangs on the cross, gives a glowing, unearthly feel as the play comes to an end and the light turns to red.
“The emotion comes off of Zac,” Ray said. “But the lighting of everything is what makes the play.”
After the lights dim for the last time, three men take Jesus from the cross and carry him down the center aisle to his grave.
If You Go
What: The play, “The Last Words”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: First Presbyterian Church of Morris, 200 E. Jackson St.