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The Bavarian town of Oberammergau remounts its singular Passion Play

August 14, 2010 | 12:00 pm

JC

With its picturesque houses painted with Gospel scenes and its imposing Alpine vistas, Oberammergau has atmosphere galore -- but the rain was coming down so hard when I arrived a few weeks ago that my feet were soaked by the time I ran to the theater and took my seat for the first part of the town's Passion Play. It is famously performed every decade as a promise to God, in an outdoor theater large enough to hold 4,700 -- almost the size of the entire population of the small German village

I don't speak German, but I'd been e-mailed a translation of the current text by PR representative Frederik Mayet -- who also plays Jesus. And I'd also read the 1900 version (widely available in paperback) plus the revision used after Vatican II.

So I was ready, but I didn't expect the extreme fluidity of the staging -- the way hundreds of people would suddenly surge into view, forming dynamic panoramas and just as suddenly disappear backstage. These people may not be performers nine years out of 10, but this play is their birthright and they leave nothing to chance.  But this was not the version that Hitler once approved of.

To read my full article on Oberammergau and how the play has confronted its history, click here.

-- Lewis Segal

Photo: Jesus prays on the Mount of Olives during the Passion Play. Credit: Passion Play Oberammergau 2010

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