By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – Catholics recently united with others, including those unaffiliated with any church, in what Bishop McManus called “an experiment in the new evangelization.”
The evangelization came through “Joseph’s Dream: A Vision of Choice,” a biblical play performed at The Hanover Theatre Feb. 17 and 18.
Alexander Diaz is the writer and director; Jamie Salisbury is the producer. They are members of St. Joseph Parish in Charlton, where the play was first performed last Lent by local volunteers with varying degrees of acting experience. Mr. Diaz said about half returned, helping make up this year’s cast of more than 50. Some actors said Hanover provided them with their biggest theatre or audience yet.
Mr. Diaz said AJ Productions, which he and Mr. Salisbury own, brought the play to Hanover with support from fellow-parishioner Michael P. Gillespie, director of the diocesan Office of Stewardship and Development. The office conducts the Partners in Charity Appeal, which is to get up to 10 percent of the proceeds.
More people are volunteering to help with the play, Mr. Diaz said, and he’s working on getting it to Boston and Providence. His dreams include Broadway, international performances and a movie.
The play imagines that what the angel revealed to Joseph in his dream (Mt 1:18-25) was Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and Resurrection. At first angry about Mary’s announcement of her pregnancy, Joseph awakes after the dream ready to help Mary raise “our” son. His embrace of her at the end of the Jan. 17 show drew applause from the audience, which gave actors a standing ovation.
“Joseph’s dilemma, I thought, was brought to the forefront, which is something I have not prayed with or thought about,” commented audience member Martha Tower, an adult faith formation teacher at St. Joseph’s. “I’m going through a change in my life, and I’m going to pray with St. Joseph.”
“This is not anymore a show – this is a mission” to express my love for God, said Mr. Diaz. He said he thought audience members realized that if he could put on this play, they too can bring Christ’s love to others.
He said the character he played symbolized a person with a terrible past who sided with evil. The character’s conversion began upon realizing Christ was dying for his sins.
“We’re following Pope Francis – we have to love everybody,” Mr. Diaz said. He said the cast includes atheists, believers and unbelievers.
Though not all cast members are Christian “they believe in the story” and the mission of telling it, said Scott Metras, a St. Joseph’s parishioner who played Joseph in this production and in the original show. If this leads one audience member to follow Jesus, the purpose will be fulfilled, he said.
After seeing the play, Bishop McManus spoke of it as evangelization, presented by laity and reaching thousands, many of whom may not have read the Gospel or been catechized in years.
“In some ways, it made a powerful catechetical impact,” he said. “The integrity of the biblical text was preserved. It engaged the senses very much with the lights, the sound. … I also think it was a great way for many people to start their Lent.”
Some said the angels’ costumes, reminiscent of 1920s follies, were “over the top,” and poetic license was taken, he said, but overall it was a powerful presentation. He expressed appreciation for the audience’s size and spirit and Mr. Diaz expressed appreciation for the bishop’s presence.
Luis “Tito” Aviles, of St. John Paul II Parish in Southbridge, who played Judas, said he didn’t think people had to be religious to attend.
Having people watch it “gives you hope that people will become good, and choose the right thing,” said Sydney Campbell, who played young Mary and does not affiliate herself with any church.
She said this was the best experience she’s had in her 15 years of life, the cast is a family, they love each other, and Mr. Diaz is the reason why.
Maria Klocek-Viveiros, who said she’s not part of a church, said Mr. Diaz saw her son Tyler Viveiros, now 16 months old, in another play and wanted him to play Baby Jesus.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “He gets into character” on stage.
Erin Simpson played Mary Magdalene and her daughter Abigayle Simpson, 9, played a little girl.
“This has been a great way for her to learn about Jesus’ journey,” said the mother, a catechist for her daughter’s first Communion class at North American Martyrs Parish in Auburn.
“I think it’s wonderful that Hanover works with the community” to produce community performances of “what the community wants to see,” said audience member Robert Latino.
Troy Siebels, Hanover’s president and CEO, said they bring in Broadway shows, and let locals rent the theatre for $2,700 per day if they seem likely to succeed and ticket-buyers are told the quality to expect.
Joseph’s Dream representatives “convinced us they were going to do the good job that they did,” he said. They had “2,400 people over two shows, which, for a local production, is phenomenal.” He said Hanover gave them a discount on the rental.
Mr. Diaz said Father Peter Joyce, St. John Paul II’s pastor, let them rehearse in the parish’s unused Sacred Heart of Jesus Church.
Katie Shea, a former St. Joseph’s parishioner who’s involved with the arts in New York City and has friends on Broadway, praised the play’s visual effects and costuming.
She said she didn’t know if it could make it to Broadway, because the story of Jesus has been told there and the focus there is on “shock value,” like people flying through the air.
But, she said, “Who are you without a dream? So it’s possible.”
– For more information, to share comments or offer support see www.josephsdream.net.