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‘Beneath the Upper Room’

Play at Grace Lutheran looks at Last Supper from women who prepared it

March 15, 2008
By SANDY MICKELSON, Messenger staff writer
Someone had to prepare The Last Supper.

Although little is actually known about that meal, which has become a Maundy Thursday celebration for Christians the world over, a play written by former Fort Dodger Kevin Reese allows fiction to help him interpret what he believes may have taken place ‘‘Beneath the Upper Room.’’

That play will be presented at 7 p.m. Thursday at Grace Lutheran Church, 211 S. Ninth St. It is open to the public, and communion will be offered as part of the play.

‘‘This is a play,’’ Reese wrote. ‘‘This is a work of fiction based upon events we, as Christians, through faith believe to be facts. I have endeavored to keep it biblically correct — but that was not my intent. My intention was to take the relatively well-known story of Christ’s last supper and present it in a new way, from a new angle, a new perspective. I wanted the audience to have to think while watching because I imagine, as was my case, it has been a long, long time since they’ve had to do that in regard to this story.’’

This play was first presented on Maundy Thursday 2006 at Trinity United Methodist Church, where Reese worked at the time. It was performed once, directed by Reese.

Joan Meyer, a member of Grace Lutheran, saw that production of ‘‘Beneath the Upper Room’’ and couldn’t get it out of her mind. Last year she offered the idea to the Rev. Matthew Martens at Grace, but it was too late to get everything done. She contacted Reese, however, and got permission to perform the play, gathered enough actors’ scripts and started thinking about who might be best for each role. When Lent rolled around this year, she was ready.

‘‘This begins the darkest moments in church history,’’ Meyer said. ‘‘It’s a time to prepare ourselves. When I saw this play over there, it was so moving.’’

Then she laughed, saying it wasn’t hard to do the play because ‘‘I didn’t have to memorize any lines.’’

Kim Whitmer plays Mary, mother of James the Younger.

‘‘This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this,’’ she said. ‘‘I thought I’d just take a chance at it. I think it’s more spiritual for me — the Last Supper and what Jesus did for me. It’s personal. I think there’s that perspective from the women of that time. It helps to make real what the women of that time were doing, getting ready for the Passover and waiting on the men.’’

Reese wrote that the play ‘‘is the result of my memories of countless Thanksgiving dinners, family reunions and summer picnics where the women were all in the kitchen — together — cooking, socializing and solving all the problems of the world.’’

While the play starts in motion the story of the Last Supper and what will happen to Jesus in the days to come, it sits entirely in what would be the kitchen area beneath the room where Jesus and his disciples ate the Passover meal. The women who followed Jesus prepared the meal, laughing and talking and remembering how they met him.

Salome, the mother of James and John, is played by Stacey Bochart. One of her lines sets the tone of the play: ‘‘You know, I’m not questioning God’s will, but I constantly find myself wondering why he chose to give so much favor to men.’’

Elizabeth — John the Baptist’s mother and Mary’s cousin — is played by Marie Bargsten. Her reply is: ‘‘God has ordained that the men be the guardian of the law, the spiritual leader of the family, the head of the household.’’

Then Mary, the widow, played by Helen Patterson, adds: ‘‘I think it was to even the playing field,’’ and everybody laughs.

‘‘Beneath the Upper Room’’ is a happy place.

As the women make their final preparations, they note that all is ready, except Judas has yet to arrive.

‘‘It’s not like Judas to be late,’’ says Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus, played by Ellyn Lemke. ‘‘I wonder what could be keeping him.’’

It’s a new look at the life of Jesus through this play. The women talk about his laughter, his happiness, how much they love him and why they follow him.

Rachel, Salome’s daughter, played by Katie Niesen, says: ‘‘I love Jesus. He’s so funny. He always gives me a big hug and he makes me laugh. He’s not afraid to be silly.’’

Mary, mother of Jesus, played by Ann Powers, feels something is about to happen. She says: ‘‘Things are changing. Everything’s changing.’’

The play itself is a change from traditional Maundy Thursday messages.

‘‘We’re putting a new take on it from a different perspective,’’ Lemke said. ‘‘And people will go away saying, ‘Oh, that’s what happened.’’’

Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or

Article Photos

-Messenger photos by Sandy Mickelson

Joan Meyer, left, is director of “Beneath the Upper Room,” a short play about the women who prepared The Last Supper for Jesus and his disciples. Grace Lutheran Church will present this play at 7 p.m. on Maundy Thursday at the church. Stacey Bochart, center, plays Salome, mother of James and John, and Martha McColley plays Mary Magdalene.



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