Pomona Theater Presents Medieval Mystery Plays with Modern Twist

Back in medieval England, peasants performed mystery plays—representations of biblical stories—out of traveling wagons. Half a millennium later, students from the 5Cs will also take on the challenge of portraying characters such as the Virgin Mary, Noah, and God. In the Pomona College theater department’s production of medieval mystery plays showing next week at Allen Theatre, the
early stories of the Bible become a spectacle, complete with drama, a dynamic
set, and original musical numbers composed by Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter duo Durwood.

Like the other Pomona theater production this year, In the Blood and
Tartuffe, the show examines the
trials and importance of faith. This show is itself based on a religious text—the English church often composed much of the script for pageant
plays in the mid-millenial era. 

“The Christian faith comes from
Judeo-Christian and Islamic faith,” Director Giovanni Ortega said. “That God is the same for all three
religions. Being interfaith myself, I really wanted to honor all kinds of
religions. But what we are trying to say in these stories is not only to
humanize them but that God is alive within us all.” 

The theater’s set-up—a catwalk around the circular stage—creates a multileveled space for actors to perform on and allows the audience to feel immersed in the show.

“The theater is arranged so you are in the middle of the audience, which adds
to the spectacle aspect of the show,” said Dina Aluzri SC ’17, who plays the Virgin Mary. “With the whole stage in a circle, it is
like you are professing it to everything around you.”

The ensemble cast is dynamic as well. Each actor fluidly switches from
character to character as they take on roles of famous biblical figures. 

“It has
been interesting working with a really religious text as a non-religious
person,” said Olivia Buntaine SC ’14, who plays both the angel Gabriel and Noah’s wife. “Trying to get into that zone has been difficult, but also rewarding.” 

Actress Fabrien Moten PO ’17 said that she entered the play with mixed feelings about its Christian focus. 

“I’m actually a
practicing Muslim,” Moten said. “At first, I was really scared that it would be something
really foreign to me because it is a Christian text. But then I realized that
it is not that religious because the stories are very human and we’re not
saying anything that displays the Christian religion too much.” 

“It’s these very
human stories of real people who just went through real conflicts,” she added. 

The show’s music helps to humanize the characters and adds a modern quality to the performances. The show opens with Latin incantations, but the music varies from electronic
rhythms to folksy ballads and choral numbers. 

“When I was given the
text, the first thing that came into my mind are these two ladies in a band
called Durwood,” Ortega said. “There’s a song they have written that I used throughout my
shows called ‘So I Pray.'” 

“We are going for a very ethereal
feel,” he added. “Think Sigur Rós, Bon Iver, James Blake.” 

Adam Faison PZ ’15, who is playing Cain, shows off his vocal talent and presents an incisive portrayal of the character’s inner
psyche in a song while he kills Abel. When looking at this scene, the songwriting Durwood duo examined the character’s experience in the murder, as well as different interpretations of the act.

“Everyone thinks [Abel] is the first murderer of the world, but
there is possibly another side to it,” Golda Inquito of Durwood said. “We thought, ‘What would that side be and
what would he have gone through?’ We definitely took a lot of creative license
there, but we are very compelled by the topic.”

King Edqux-Robinson PO ’15, playing Lucifer, beautifully incorporates himself
with the play’s music. Many of his scenes are paired with
electronic music that he dances to in a snake-like manner. 

Movement sequences and songs in which members of the cast themselves play instruments provide nice
transitional sequences in periods that could be choppy in the show.

While the production stays true to the original stories, lines or sections that may be offensive to other religions were cut from the script. 

“[Ortega] has cut out a
lot of the scripts due to religious conflict or things he didn’t want us to say on
stage,” said Yasmin Adams PO ’17, who plays Eve. “Things that may have been OK to say at the time but are not any longer, like things that are offensive to other religions. Some of the narratives are a
little shorter or choppier due to that, but the stories are so well known and

The show is running April 10-12 with showings at 8 p.m., and April 12-13 with showings at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for students, staff members, and seniors.
They can be bought at the Seaver Theatre Box office in person, or by calling

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