When Easton Lee’s epic The Rope And The Cross premiered in 1979, its Jamaican spin on Christ’s crucifixion raised eyebrows. Forty years later, the play still goes against the grain.
Now a new production is launching on April 21 at The New Vibe Lounge in Long Island. The cast feature a gender-bending twist, featuring British actress Joanna Pickering and Jamaican Marsha-Ann Hay as King Herod and Pontius Pilate respectively. Pickering, a 10-year theater veteran, described preparation for the tyrannical Herod as “incredibly challenging and interesting.”
“I’m not just playing a male role,” says Pickering. “I’m playing the most elitist, powerful, male role you can play. Assigning power, money and sex as my main priorities, is completely alien to me. So to summon that corrupt power as my own was daunting at first, but also exciting.”
Jamaican David Heron is director for The Rope And The Cross’ 40th anniversary renewal. He wanted a contemporary feel to Lee’s piece, one that reflected the rise of women post #Metoo movement.
“I just felt that the role and status of women has changed so much since the Biblical era. Since the play was first done 40 years ago, that it would be interesting to see these strong, powerful women determining the fate of this man,” Heron said.
Pickering, who is from Northumberland in north-east England, has been acting for 12 years. Her credits include a number of independent films and stage productions like The Vagina Monologues and Lady Macbeth.
She remembers attending a strict Catholic girls school and observing Easter as a child. But when Herod approached her to appear in The Rope And The Cross, it was the first time she heard of the play which is written by Lee, a Jamaican literary giant.
“I had to start looking at myself not as a female artist up against the odds regarding my gender, but to consider my privilege. As a white female I recognize it also comes with certain privileges,” she explained. “I’m a white person in a strongly diverse cast, which for me as the actress and one who pioneers diversity, is an awesome and absolutely right feeling.”
Heron’s The Rope And The Cross cast is completed by Nixon Cesar (Jesus), Emilio Evans (Judas), Candice McKoy (Mother of Judas), Fleurette Harris (Mary, Mother of Jesus), Lincoln Brown (Narrator/Shepherd), Kevin Elden (High Priest Annas), Fulton Hodges (The Blind One), Hector Lincoln (High Priest Caiphas), Fitgi Saint-Louis (Sarah) and Osondu Thambo (John the Disciple).