EXTRAS
AUDIENCE RAVES
Check out audience raves after the premiere production of Matthew Passion! Heartfelt, provocative, and gracious--the audience response is at the center of Matthew Passion's success.
“I’m writing here with pjs, a shirt, sweater, socks and robe on. I should have my windows open at this time of the year enjoying the welcome spring breeze but no. Instead, I’m freezing because it’s still freezing outside and I feel as if my heat isn’t working. It’s bad enough that I didn’t even have hot water yesterday. It’s even worse that I feel sick and have to warm myself with aspirin and coffee. Tim is still in bed, still asleep and bundled up in my blanket and comforter. (I luv how he infuses all my sheets with his man scent.) It’s Easter Sunday morning and he, my ex-Southern Baptist bf, agreed to go to Catholic Church with me today. (He even brought nice clothes to wear for the event—which means I have to do my usual attire of jeans and shirt up a notch. I guess an Easter service and him going to church—a Catholic one too—are each events in themselves. But I don’t feel like going anymore. More than my flu that’s weighing me down, it’s my lack of desire to go to church, or go back to it that’s keeping me in. I’ve already had my Easter fix last night when I went to culminate the Triduum in the Easter Vigil at Xavier. Even better, also unexpectedly, I already had my satisfying Easter message in watching the matinee yesterday afternoon of Matthew Passion, the new play by Phil Hall at the Chernuchin Theater.

The Vigil was a full 3-hours long filled with pompous prayer and pageantry. I have always loved spectacle, and delivering it meaningfully (against its normal bent which is hollow showmanship) is quite satisfying. There were the lighting of candles, the blessing of water, the anointing with chrism, the holding of hands and greetings of peace; even the breaking of the bread was cast in fresh, radiant glow. There was this buff man at the altar, littered with yellow and orange tulips and cascading white trim, dancing to the story of Moses’ liberation through the water and lithe women moving to the song of Ruth’s faithfulness to her sister. The choir and orchestra climaxed in a powerful rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus as the congregation was blessed with incense. The cantor invoked the saints (which included Gandhi and Oscar Romero this year; Matthew Shepard was mentioned a few years ago) to bless everyone including the newly elect who were washed at the basin—a shell full of water, very wet clothes and a church full of people—to welcome them into their new faith. (Sometimes, I wonder how my life would’ve turned out, what [religious] choices I would’ve made, if I was not baptized as a baby and raised Catholic.) Even the congregants, old couples in spring colors, families in Easter outfits, even the gays decked out in suits (some of whom I recognized from my gym’s steam room and some from Manhunt) and the lesbians still in denim, were swept away in sharing song and prayer. Fr, Joe, the Jesuit priest, spoke of the image of the tomb in his homily. But I was only half-listening. I was still consumed by the message of Matthew Passion, the play I saw a few hours before.

Tim had mentioned the play to me before but I must have dismissed it as some outlandish idea. But the NYT (decent) review on Thursday prompted me to go see it before it closed (today). Matthew Passion follows the play-within-a-play format wherein 9 actors play multiple roles (not to mention also double as stagehands) as they tell the parallel stories of Jesus, Matthew Shepard and Jim, an HIV-positive actor under the guise of developing and rehearsing the play of the same name. (So watching Matthew Passion is basically watching the actors rehearse for a play also called Matthew Passion.) The theater is rundown and the transitions are clunky and the stories widely-arced yet seemingly loosely tied (but this, as Tim reminds me, is simply an Equity showcase which means the actors are basically given $4 for commute fare and a stipend if lucky and so all is forgiven.) But the acting is earnest (Jay Sulllivan notably anchors the dramatic arc of the show) and the singing is endearingly good (Andy Redeker, Chad McCallon and Jeff Applegate restore the good and the gay to the Greek chorus.) But who cares! Next to Naked Boys Singing, this is a damn hot cast of actors (and they have their clothes on!) and watching them on stage is already a (visually) satisfying treat. James Royce Edwards, playing Jesus, clad in a V-cut tunic that shows off his perfect pecs and sculpted 8-pack and later on in a loincloth on a cross showing off his bulging biceps and quads must be the hottest Jesus guy I’ve ever seen. (Damn, I’d be going to church every Sunday if I knew…..) But, seriously, it is the message (in the words more than the music) that still gets to me most.
I was watching it and was asking myself, what tormented homosexual Catholic mind can write something like this? Then, I realized it was something, if I had the talent for writing a play with music, I would have totally done. Tim corrected my Catholic centrism by saying that Phil Hall doesn’t have to be Catholic. His questions were profound (what would Jesus do if he wandered into a gay club?) and his theology was astute (the tumbling of the walls of Jericho to Joshua’s horn was paralleled with the ripping of the temple screen to Christ’s last breath.) His telling was heartrending. Jesus Christ and Matthew Shepard are deemed parallel stories. Both died senseless deaths. Christ died slung on the cross because he was an innocent defenseless Jew; Matthew died tied to a wooden fence because he was an innocent defenseless homosexual. (Tim had a problem with this deification of Matthew Shepard because he was, allegedly, a crystal meth addict who bought the drugs from his murderers. He feels that this linear parallelism would have been better served by a fleshier, more human enactment of Matthew’s passions.) This show reminded me of what I had forgotten about the cross; it was a historic hate crime, yet another statistic of a senseless killing.
I also learned 2 new things from the play. First, that Matthew Shepard was HIV positive. Second, that the news of the Resurrection was first given to Mary Magdalene, the prostitute. The cornerstone of Christianity was laid in the heart of a woman who sells her skin for sex. If the message of Christmas was born by the Virgin Mother of Immaculate Conception; the message of Easter was born by someone who is the opposite of immaculate; whose virginity has been defiled many times over. Here is the crux of her story; the hurt and the hollowness is never the finality, there is healing and there is fullness. There lies heaven, not even in the afterlife, but already in the struggle for sense.

The cross was about hate and senselessness; the empty tomb was about love and meaning. As told in Phil Hall’s play (and as written in news many times over), Matthew Shepard’s dad talked about pardoning the killers during their sentencing and Judy Shepard, his mom, established the Matthew Shepard Foundation and is now an outspoken activist against hate crimes and for human rights. They have ennobled their son’s senseless death with renewed purpose. Unknowingly, they have rewritten the Easter story in a context that is more contemporary and hits easier to home.

I am hopeful of continuing to write my own this Easter morn, inking word for word a slice of heaven.”
-- West under Happy, from blog entry “Easter Sunday”
“Thank you for Matthew Passion. I saw the show – though ‘show’ doesn't seem quite appropriate – during the preview. It was how I observed Palm Sunday.

I remember when Matthew Shepherd was murdered. I remember how deeply affected I was, and how the image of that split rail fence reminded me of the cross. Marrying the passion of Jesus with the passions of Matthew Shepherd and those who live with HIV is a message that would not be told in many churches. The fact that many churches do not see the parallel is a tragedy in itself.

Participating in the event of Matthew Passion was, for me, a religious experience, one that I carried with me throughout Holy Week. I returned to Matthew Passion on Saturday evening...and the experience contributed to the best Easter celebration of my life. I can’t say at this time what meaning it has for me, what specifically spoke so profoundly, so personally to me. Perhaps you will get another email when things falling into place.
I realize that for many involved in this production, the only feedback you get in via reviews and audience applause. So, please be so kind to extend these sentiments to the cast, crew and musicians. Extend my deepest appreciation for creating something that was more than a show, something that has touched me (and, I quite sure, many others) in ways that are beyond words.”
-- Michael Hassler
“Attended last night's performance. Enjoyed it very much. Hope you continue to have a packed house. I almost didn't have to go to church this morning after seeing Matthew Passion. Actually, the play gave the Passion this morning a clearer and more vivid meaning.”
-- Mel from Deer Park, NY
“...Jimmi Kilduff portrays Matthew Shepard with sweet sincerity. Edwards has a few funny moments as Jesus in a gay bar. Mandala has an engaging presence in multiple roles, including Henderson and the first thief on the cross. The songs are pleasant in a generic way, and the three men who serve as the chorus—[Andy] Redeker, Chad McCallon, and Jeff Applegate—harmonize nicely. The final number, ‘An Angel On Your Shoulder,’ is the most memorable.”
-- Dan Bacalzon, from his review on TheatreMania.com
“I came home after seeing Matthew Passion, and I cried and cried.

You see, my mother used to drive us from Oregon to Montana for the summers. That was a time to hear all about Montana, its people, and the state in which my mother was born and now buried.

The ranching style in Montana and Wyoming are very similar. Cattle ranchers didn't like to use barbed wire fences as the animals could brush up against the sharp barbs and get entangled or wounded. The wound might become infected and the animals might die before the ranchers knew, or could get to them to help.
You must understand we are talking ranches of 22,000 acres and more! So ranchers may not see their herd until spring, when the snow melted and it was calving season. There were miles of those wormwood fences in Montana, such as the one Matthew Shepard was tied to and left to die. Wormwood fences were used by the ranchers as woodworms, like termites, would inhabit trees and lumber and chew it up. As a result the damaged lumber was too weak to use for housing or barns, so the cattle ranchers used it for fences. When I saw that wood wormwood fence rolled out and Matthew Shepard tied to it, I just lost it! To think a young man died on a fence that is a symbol of caring and concern—intended to protect something very precious—cattle! To think that cattle were more precious, valuable and more protected than this helpless, innocent boy in Wyoming! Sorry, I must close. This just breaks my heart!”
-- Linda Lane Smith, New York City
“Wow! I mean really! What a wonderful theatrical experience. I was so full of emotion when I left. I knew the music would be terrific, but the book scenes! The writing was brilliant! I told one of the actors after the show that I expected, after the first scene, that we were going into a world of “gay” experience. I thought the play would be about other people. But, instead, I found the struggles of the characters so immediate, so personal, so pertinent to my life now. That’s a brilliant play when audience members take something up there on the stage and walk away fully provoked into scrutiny of their own lives. I wish you all the best with this. I can’t imagine a more intelligent production of it. Terrifically staged and acted.”
-- Marilyn Caskey, New York City
“I was so glad that I got to see Matthew Passion. There were pearls of wisdom dropping everywhere, and that final scene is divinely inspired. You understand spiritual principles so beautifully, and you articulate them so accurately. I was so excited to see Tim Mandala up there, doing such a great job. Jay Sullivan is a truly gifted actor. I went up to him after the show and told him I had a crush on him after seeing him in the show. His sense of stillness and realness is beautiful. The “greek chorus” boys sounded gorgeous, and their music was truly beautiful. All of it was.”
-- Jarrod Cafaro, New York City
“I think it’s a show that really has its heart in the right place. Yes, the promotional material looks like porn, but I was genuinely taken by the cast of extremely good-looking men who are also extremely talented singers. If the creators see a parallel between the murder of Jesus and Matthew Shepard, that’s their prerogative. I thought the score was attractive, the lyrics less so, and everyone tried to do their best work. It’s a full production of a first-draft script, far too early in its development to have critics attending.”
-- DOTD, Talkin’ Broadway, 04.02.07
“I’ve never seen such a swarm of replies to an ‘Official Press Release’ post of an Off-Off-Broadway Play.”
-- BigNewsNYC, Talkin’ Broadway, 04.02.07
“My favorite part of the website is: featuring the hit club sing ‘You Need A Bitch Slap!’ I may have to go see this just to find out who it is that needs one!”
-- Jmi, Talkin’ Broadway, 04.02.07
“...There is some good acting (especially from [Jay] Sullivan and an actor actually named Matthew Shepard, as well as from Jimmi Kilduff, the actor who plays Matthew Shepard in the play...and there are some terrific singing voices in the cast (Andy Redeker, Chad McCallon, and Jeff Applegate), as well as some extremely hot bodies (Craig Ramsay and Timothy John Mandala, who, among other things, dance a pas de deux).”
-- Njgxatty, Talkin’ Broadway, 04.02.07
“I haven’t seen this, nor am I involved. However, if you read the author’s story (click on ‘passion’ on the website), it clearly comes from a good place with good intentions. Truth is, often skin sells, and if it gets people to notice (as we have in this thread) and in the door, maybe they’ll be surprised what they come away with. Or maybe people will think it is crap. Just something to consider.”
-- EvFoDr, Talkin’ Broadway, 04.02.07
“A cast of superb aesthetic eye candy, especially the boy from ‘Naked Boys Singing.’ If porn star attributes turn you off, continue to spend your time pontificating with the likes of krebsman, scottsimms, Bruce Memblatt, et al.”
-- BMSE, Talkin’ Broadway, 04.02.07
“I saw this show yesterday Off-Broadway and was incredibly moved. I thought it was a brilliant play with incredible acting and moving themes—not to mention I was sobbing like a baby at the end.  I highly encourage people to go see it.  I went on a whim and I am so glad that I did.  Congratulations to the cast/crew/creators.  It is a truly special piece.”
-- Timmetzner, Broadwayworld.com, 4/2/07
“The promotion may do nothing to advance our standing in the hetero community, but as a gay NONRELIGIOUS man...the promotion has grabbed my attention.”
-- Baddadnpa, Broadwayworld.com, 4/2/07
“I'm so confused...all at once offended and extremely turned on by the photos!!”
-- ErikInTheCity, Broadwayworld.com, 4/3/07

“The music is really pretty on the show's website.  Craig Ramsay is a really cool dude!”
-- Phantom2, Broadwayworld.com, 4/3/07
“I really enjoyed the show. It's a showcase—not under any pretense of being a full production.  It's still "in the works," as I understand. Most of the cast—very talented and entertaining, most especially Craig Ramsay (who, I might add, is GORGEOUS.  Does he model?).”
-- Fontybell, Broadwayworld.com, 4/4/07
“OK, so I had the opportunity to see the homoerotic adventure called Matthew Passion.  It moved me, really it did.  Standouts were Jay Sullivan, Jimmi Kilduff and Craig "Go-Go Boy" Ramsay.  The Greek Chorus dudes were also great.  I wish there were more songs. I liked What Do I Do With The Love? and An Angel On Your Shoulder. Craig Ramsay is a disco inferno.  I need a bitch slap! Haha.”
-- Phantom2, Broadwayworld.com, 4/7/07
“I saw Matthew Passion over the weekend and I have to ask who is this Craig Ramsay? Why haven't I heard or seen of him before?  He played Matthew Shepard’s murderer, Aaron McKinney in this production among other smaller parts and was fantastic! Not only was his acting great as this character, but in other scenes he played a go-go dancer and kicked his leg higher than anyone I've seen on Broadway.  There was also this short ballet number with Craig Ramsay and Timothy Mandala (who was also very good in the show).  The audience was shocked at how beautiful it was to see these two muscled guys dance so well—just didn't expect to see that.  Craig Ramsay should totally be on this year’s poster for Broadway Bares!  Although, with all his muscles and hair, I don't know if Broadway is ready to break the stereotype of a smooth, tiny chorus boy.  Anyway, the production was extremely well-done for a showcase.  I would love to see this picked up, fixed here and there, and put in a permanent Off-Broadway house.  But please keep this cast—esp. Craig Ramsay, Timothy John Mandala and Jay Sullivan— who gave great performances and were the glue keeping this story together.  By the way, the story is very touching and moving.  Even with the play’s flaws, I still had tears by the end of the show.  Keep the cast and keep the show!”
-- ACatamy, Broadwayworld.com, 4/11/07

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