By GUY D’ASTOLFO
After more than 20 years, Top Hat Productions is ending its annual performance of its original Passion play “The Earth Trembled.”
The play will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and again April 18 and 19, at Fairview Arts and Outreach Center, 4220 Youngstown-Poland Road. Admission is free.
Brian Palumbo, president of Top Hat, decided to shelf the play — which depicts the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ — after this year.
In an interview earlier this year, Palumbo — who plays Jesus in the production — said “The Earth Trembled” is the show that put Top Hat on the map, and the one to which it is most closely identified.
But after more than two decades, it’s time to take a break, he said, at least for the foreseeable future.
“It’s a major undertaking and it’s untouchable in that some of the cast would be hard to replace,” he said. “Everyone involved with it has said, ‘Let’s go out while we’re still on top.’”
The role of Jesus, said Palumbo, is physically demanding.
“I get hurt every year doing it,” he said. “You get whipped, spit on, thrown to the ground. It’s been like my life’s work, but it’s time to stop.”
The powerful production always draws a full house. Although tickets are not required, donations are accepted.
The play began in humble circumstances in 1992 in Conneaut, with a used spotlight purchased from an area high school and a borrowed sound system. Working with no budget, volunteers from the area solicited used linens from a nearby hotel and set about “dying” the white sheets to be used as toga-like garments. These became the first costumes.
At that time, Top Hat was a touring company and traveled throughout Ohio with a core group of actors. The company would fill out the cast with actors from the churches it visited to stage the play. Some productions saw as many as 85 cast members on stage at a time at venues in Hubbard, Mineral Ridge, Campbell, Canfield and Youngstown.
As volunteers increased, so did the donations, and Top Hat was able to vastly improve technical aspects of the production.
Top Hat today remains a non-profit Christian organization that is staffed completely by volunteers.