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Saint Mark's Gospel: An After-Dinner Entertainment
St. Mark's Episcopal Church
Teaneck, NJ
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Saint Mark's Gospel: An After-Dinner Entertainment
Audiences in New York and New England "sat enthralled" as performance-artist Christopher Johnson gave his one-man performance of the Gospel According to St. Mark -- one of the first since Alec McCowen's legendary Broadway production nearly twenty years ago -- and called it...

"Really incredible--what a wonderful actor! I encourage anyone of any faith to go see this excellent performance."

"Brilliant.  This Jesus is so human and authentic--we don't get much of that these days and, man, do we ever need it!--and Gethsemane was heart-wrenching.  I was left with a profound sense of inspiration at Johnson's ability to take this on (in all its dimensions) and not only do it so well but also clearly enjoy the doing.  Bravo!--and thanks."

"A great performance, really remarkable."

"A truly great show. The King James language felt utterly current, like a conversation one could easily have oneself, or overhear on the street.  A revelatory evening."

"Illuminating and profound."

"The power of this evening moves me still. It made the words fly from the page and brought the sacred to earthy life."

"Hosannas!  What a wonderful evening!"

Now this unique production comes to northern New Jersey for a special performance in honor of Mark's feast-day, in one of his namesake churches.  Presented as an after-dinner entertainment, the form in which it was most likely "published" in first-century Rome, the earliest gospel stands forth in all its blazing theatricality, as the urgent "good news" it was meant to be: a thundering yarn, with unforgettable characters, lightning dialogue, quips, zingers, sarcasm, barnyard humor, unendurable pain, and a hero who may be God but is most assuredly man.


While nothing about the four canonic gospels is certain, internal evidence suggests that they all were composed or compiled between about 65 and 100 C.E., and that Mark preceded the rest.  Mark himself is unknown to us (the anonymous gospel-writers were assigned names sometime in the second century, for reasons that remain unclear), but his book is palpably the work of a single writer with a powerful narrative style and a real gift for dialogue.

Whoever Mark was, he was plainly not from Palestine--his geography is impossible, and he makes statements about local practices that contradict all known evidence--and he seems to have been writing for an audience composed largely of Gentiles, to whom his frequent asides translating Hebrew terms and explaining Jewish rituals and customs are obviously directed.  All this, together with a prevalence of anecdotes and dialogue that must have come ultimately from the apostle Peter, suggests an association with Rome at a time when the essential task of Christians was still to "get out the story."  And Mark certainly knew how to spin a tale, plunging headlong into the heart of the matter and never letting up--no songs, no poetry, no sermons, little theology, not even a confirmed Resurrection--ending, as abruptly as he began, on a note of terror and doubt.

By the end of the second century, several other writers had tried to round out Mark's story and to give it some kind of "happy ending," like those in Luke and Matthew.  Some of these interventions are better than others, but none has Mark's drive and clarity, and the standard ending (16:9-20) is brutally at odds with Jesus's teachings in the rest of the book.  This production omits the standard ending and replaces it with Luke 24, which more nearly agrees with Mark in style and content.  It is a measure of Mark's powers as a writer, and of the skills of his seventeenth-century translators (the production uses the King James Version of 1611), that fewer than two-dozen words have had to be added--generally in order to clarify shifts from narration to direct speech, and to indicate embedded quotes--for the work to become instantly comprehensible to a modern audience.


Christopher Johnson trained as an actor at Boston University, and appeared in a wide variety of classical and modern plays at Harvard University's Loeb Drama Center, Center Stage (Baltimore), and the Playwrights' Laboratory at Tanglewood.  He received musical training at the Manhattan School of Music, Queens College, and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and has played, conducted, and led workshops and reading-sessions throughout the United States and in Britain.  A committed reader-aloud, he credits his children with inadvertently leading him to St. Mark, and to the performance-project of his life.


An Oral Performance of the Gospel According to St. Mark, as It Might Have Been Given in a Private Home in First-Century Rome
by Christopher Johnson
Text of the Authorized King James Version (1611)
Music by Gerald Cohen
Decorations by Timothy Wells
Clothing by Joseph Redman, Joseph's, Portland, Maine
Styling by Angelo's of Park Slope


St. Mark's Episcopal Church (View)
118 Chadwick Road
Teaneck, NJ 07666
United States


Arts > Performance
Arts > Theatre
Other > Spiritual

Minimum Age: 12
Kid Friendly: Yes!
Dog Friendly: No
Non-Smoking: Yes!
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes!


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