The eighth-graders at St. Nicholas School study the life of Jesus, his trials and tribulations, as part of their curriculum.
STRUTHERS — Paulette Petrosky, director of “Journey of Jesus,” encourages her pupil cast at St. Nicholas School to “put their hearts into it.”
They do so without hesitation.
Though mime presentations may be associated more with comedy than drama, this Passion of Jesus through mime tackles a solemn subject. The young cast members take it seriously. In mime-style makeup, they wear hearts on their faces and their performance is heartfelt.
The cast did a quick run-through Thursday morning and then presented the journey for St. Nicholas pupils, parents and others in early afternoon.
Michael Kunzer, who portrays Jesus, said it’s an honor to be picked for the title role. “Mrs. Petrosky picked me and the class also wanted me,” he said. “It means a lot to me to be chosen.”
Michael is carrying on family tradition by being in the production: Seven others in his family — sisters and cousins — have participated. He and his classmates are following in the footsteps of many other pupils, who in the eighth grade have studied the life of Jesus.
“They study the trials and tribulations that Jesus went through,” Petrosky said. “Modern-day situations also are used and how Jesus might have handled them.”
“Even after Jesus was condemned to death, he still loved everyone and forgave them,” Michael said. “If he did that, we should too.”
As Jesus, Michael wears a white shirt with a large “S” on it — reminiscent of the Superman “S.” On his sleeves are the words King of the Jews.
Michael explained that the mime makeup includes three features: a cross, which represents Jesus; a tear, which represents those who cried for Jesus; and a heart, which represents love.
The soldiers in the cast wear red and black face paint.
Ellie Bodnar, as Mary the mother of Jesus, also said the play director takes suggestions from the class on who should play what role. As for her participation, Ellie said it “helps you picture being there” when Jesus met with his disciples at the Last Supper, in the Garden of Gethsemane, being condemned to death and the Crucifixion.
Joanne Bartos, as Mary Magdalene, said, “She helped Jesus and never turned her back on him,” though his apostles abandoned and denied knowing him. “I like learning about Jesus’ life, especially when he was younger ... when he was in the temple.”
As Pontius Pilate, Ashley Price made the observation, “He knew Jesus was innocent but didn’t want to go against what other people thought.” She said that taught the class not to be like Pilate, but to think for themselves. “I try to do that,” she said.
“Every role is special in its own way,” Ashley said. “The most important thing is understanding what Jesus did for us and he went through all that pain for us.”
Kiersten Lanzo, in the role of Judas, offered insight about the apostle who betrayed Jesus. “He knew he did something wrong and in the end, he was sorry about it,” she said. “We all make mistakes and we can learn from them.”
She voiced something that has been shared by the many pupils who have graduated from St. Nicholas and participated in the “Journey of Jesus.” “Since kindergarten, I’ve wanted to be in this. It’s nice to be doing it for the school,” she said.
“This is a very special class,” said Kathleen Keevey, eighth-grade teacher who has been at St. Nicholas some 30 years. “They all get along very well and care about each other.”
Keevey also noted, “It’s wonderful to see the kids grow spiritually.”
What’s telling about what this mime presentation means is evidenced by the number of high school and college students and young adults who attend. “Many of the kids who played Jesus return every year to see it,” Petrosky said.
This “Journey of Jesus” through mime is narrated by Petrosky, who began the project 23 years ago. She credited the late Rev. Hank Lilas with the idea. The production also uses some musical excerpts from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which makes it a bit different from mime programs usually done in silence.
The journey chronicles the Passion, death and burial of Jesus. Petrosky begins the program with some comments: “We begin in silence and in the quietness, he [Jesus] talks to us,” she said.
“Let us be the change in the world we wish to see,” she said, following the example of Jesus, who changed the world through his life, death and Resurrection.