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Famed Passion Play town becomes impatient

July 15, 2011 - GERMANY

Every year, starting in 2011, the Passion Play town of Oberammergau will perform a shorter version of its famed re-enactment of the last days of Christ's life. The full 7-hour Passion Play, in which thousands of villagers perform for some half million visitors from around the world, will be reserved for every 10th year. The villagers, honoring a vow, have staged the drama every decade since 1634. They decided in 2010 that they were tired of having to wait 10 years for their chance to act.

The first of the annual Passion plays, "Joseph and his Brothers," is based on a Thomas Mann novel. To be eligible for the Passion Play, which is staged in a purpose-built 5,000-seat auditorium, the players must have been born in Oberammergau or have lived there for 20 years or married to a villager. Some one year before the play date, the villagers are instructed to let hair and beards grow so they more nearly resemble the first-century Jews they portray; no makeup, wigs or artificial lighting are used. Rehearsals last for eight months. Interviewed by the German news agency DPA, Christian Stückl, director and producer, said on Dec 17 the German townsfolk were fed up with waiting 10 years at a stretch for their next chance to act. "We have to break out of this 10-year idea. The young people have got a real urge to do this." The commercial enterprise he leads has obtained an initial three-year concession from the town to stage plays and will recruit 300 Oberammergau residents to perform a show beginning Jul 15. Desperate villagers of the town vowed during a plague in the early 17th Century that if those still alive were spared, they would peform a Passion play in perpetuity. The full version Passion Play, which includes a re-enactment of the Crucifixion and is based on narratives from the Christian Bible, is controversial. Lines in the play from a passage by St. Matthew -- "His blood be on us and our children" -- have irked Jews for 19 centuries. Some changes have been made to the play, but calls for deeper changes are likely to continue as Jewish leaders still regard much of the play as antisemitic. In 1930, at a regular decennial performance, and in 1934, at a special performance marking its 300th anniversary, the play's most celebrated audience member was Adolf Hitler.

Oberammergau Bends 10-Year Vow, Will Stage Religious Plays Annually (DPA 21 Dec 2010)

Passion Play 2010

Make Sure Oberammergau&rsquos Passion Won&rsquot Inflame (Opinion: Jewish Daily-Forward 2 Dec 2009)

Updating (and retouching) an old Passion play (NYT 12 May 2000)

Date written/update: 2011-07-15