Jesus Comes to Georgetown

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Christian Stoeckl, director of the world famous and centuries-old "Passion Play" in Oberammergau, Germany, was on a travel promotion with actor Frederik Mayet, who played Jesus Christ in the 2010 production. Photo by Patrick G. Ryan.

Jesus came to Georgetown — to 1789 Restaurant, on Feb. 1, to be exact.

He stood in the Middleburg Room, a handsome young man with longish light hair and warm brown eyes. He spoke English with a noticeable but soft German accent. He told The Georgetowner he was homesick for his wife and young son (it was the first time he ever had been separated from them).

On the fourth day of a weeklong trip, he was also very tired. Before coming to Washington, D.C., he had traveled to Los Angeles. He was heading to New York City the next morning and the day after that to Toronto.

That’s because he was the star spokesperson for Travel Destination Germany. In the summer of 2010, he, Frederik Mayet, had played the lead role of Jesus Christ in the once-every-decade passion play in the Bavarian Alps town of Oberammergau.

Like the other actors in what is probably the most famous passion play in the world, Mayet had grown up in Oberammergau. He took part in a historic obligation going back to the 1600s, when in the midst of the horrible suffering of the Thirty Years’ War in Germany — followed by a deadly plague that wiped out almost a third of the German population — the Oberammergau villagers swore an oath that, should their village survive, they would perform a passion play every 10 years.

At Pentecost 1634, the villagers performed the first “Play of the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Mayet and the longtime modern director of the play, Christian Stoeckl, were in Georgetown to talk about the 42nd production in 2020. Bookings start in the spring. Casting begins next year. The actors, singers, extras and walk-ons must come from the village — by law. Anyone who was born and raised in Oberammergau or who has lived there for more than 20 years and wants to be in the play must be accommodated. About a year before, the residents begin to let their hair grow. Men, young and old, cultivate full beards.

During the 19 weeks of performances, from May 16 to Oct. 4, the village will swell from a few thousand inhabitants to more than 7,500 (the open-air theater seats nearly 5,000). “Almost every home and dwelling becomes a small hotel and dining area during the year of the play,” Stoeckl said.

To play Jesus is a life-changing experience, Mayet said. He was at first overwhelmed when Stoeckl tapped him for the role. While being on the cross was an uncomfortable and sobering experience, it was inspiring to focus his interpretation of Jesus on his statements, which are relevant to this day, he said.

Stoeckl does not yet know who he will choose to play Jesus in the 2020 production. In the meantime, there were more publicity trips to do. At this dinner, a drawing for opening-night tickets was held and — to the utter delight and surprise of The Georgetowner staffers covering the event — Editor-in-Chief Robert Devaney won them. He will be reporting the opening night of the passion play as a guest of Oberammergau in 2020.

 

 

 

 

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