A bold portrayal

UF grad's daring play about Jesus' disciples opens tonight at UF


Published: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 12:16 a.m.

Professor David Young, ever on the prowl for edgy plays, says "Hendeka" practically fell into his lap last year as he pondered the Constans Theatre season.

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Jon Popiel plays Kepha and Laura Rohner plays Miriam in "Hendeka," a story about the remaining disciples after Christ's death.

LARA NEEL/The Gainesville Sun

Facts

`Hendeka'

  • What: New play, written by UF graduate Christopher Matsos, about Jesus' 11 disciples - a portrayal very different from what we learn in Sunday school.

  • When: Tonight through Feb. 1. Showtimes: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays

  • Where: Constans Theatre, UF campus next to Reitz Union

  • Tickets: $8-$12, available at the University Box Office (392-1653)

  • Ralf Remshardt, associate theater professor, was mentoring graduate student Christopher Matsos during an independent study. Matsos was studying acting but wanted to write a play.

    In the end, he turned in a script on the 11 remaining disciples of Christ after the crucifixion - a bold work, Remshardt recalls, one that merged vast biblical study with a daring premise.

    Here, the 11 are rogues and bandits who - it would appear - are not exactly in mourning; it was a well-written notion that prompted Remshardt to bring the play to Young, who told his colleague: "I think you should definitely give him an A-plus."

    Remshardt concurred, but the two saw "Hendeka" as much more than a good grade. So tonight, the very first play written by Matsos - an actor, you'll recall - will greet an audience backed by a full cast and crew from UF's Department of Theatre and Dance.

    The play runs through Feb 1.

    "It's bold, unusual and very exciting," said Remshardt, noting the play has potential for controversy but is simply designed to make people think. "He has a very unusual mind, Chris."

    Matsos, meanwhile, is elated.

    Since graduating with his MFA in acting in May, he moved to New York. He arrived back in Gainesville earlier this month, where he plans to stay for the run of the show.

    The man who recently played six roles in a touring production of "Charlotte's Web" (including the farmer and the sheep) steeped himself in research while pondering the lives of the disciples after their teacher is killed.

    "Once I had the research down, the writing took care of itself," he said last week.

    His goal was historical authenticity, noting the names are pronounced as they were in biblical times. The title, for example, is the Greek word for "eleven" and pronounced "en-dekka."

    The story takes place shortly after Christ's body is removed from the cross. We meet the remaining disciples (following the exit of Judas - or Iuda) in hiding. They are thirsty, anxious, paranoid and quite stir crazy.

    These are not the disciples we know from Sunday school; these are grimy, violent men who have more use for wine and women than the teachings of their slain leader.

    Matsos shaped the notion after reading scholar theories that contend the disciples were not the wise men in flowing robes many tend to envision. Matsos portrays them with a very human eye, one that clearly marks the difference between sin and savior.

    As the aftermath of the crucifixion mounts outside, the tension brews among them. These are men on the edge.

    But why? The answer, perhaps, arrives with a mighty storm in the play's final moment.

    "I mostly wanted to get people to think," said Matsos, a Christian with a keen interest in religious history. "It's a definite departure from the story people are used to."

    "It also has a very spiritual quality to it," said Young, who is directing the play. "It reinforces my thoughts that everyone has to have something to believe in."

    Dave Schlenker can be reached at 374-5045 or scene@gvillesun.com.

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