The Rope and The Cross celebrates 40 in New York on SundayFriday, April 19, 2019
KINGSTON, Jamaica — Even though he is a longstanding member of the Anglican Church, Easton Lee never let religion restrict his artistic leanings. In 1979 when he wrote The Rope and the Cross, a Jamaican-ised version of Christ's crucifixion, he thought the perfect place for its debut was St Barnabas Church in Siloah, St Elizabeth.
On Easter Sunday, the play celebrates its 40th anniversary, not in a religious rural setting but The New Vibe Lounge in Long Island, New York. The landmark production is directed by Jamaican David Heron.
Lee, 88, lives in South Florida. He last saw a version of The Rope and the Cross 18 months ago at the Anglican Church in Old Harbour. He is not surprised his most acclaimed work is still popular.
“This is a story about the greatest story, it has a life of its own,” he told OBSERVER ONLINE.
Heron's edition of The Rope and the Cross reflect the times. British actress Joanna Pickering and Jamaican Marsha-Ann Hay play the King Herod and Pontius Pilate, respectively, the first time women play these dominant male figures.
Lee, who has corresponded with Heron on the production, has no problem with this radical change given the global impact of movements like #Metoo.
“Not at all. This is something that happens in theatre all the time. All I'm asking is that they are good actors,” he said.
Forty years ago, Lee selected the cast for his initial show at St Barnabas Church where he is a member. It was an elite one that included Leonie Forbes as Judas' mother, Marguerite Newland as Mary, Jesus' mother and Rooney Chambers as Jesus.
Lee played the Blind Man in that ensemble which he considers the best to appear in The Rope and the Cross.
“Without a doubt, Leonie Forbes is one of the finest actors in the world. I remember one show we did in Falmouth, it was so moving a lady got into the spirit and fall down, the pastor had to take her up,” he recalled.
Lee, an ordained minister, wrote The Rope and the Cross as a fundraiser for St Barnabas. The play's Jamaican-ness won over the congregation and influenced his decision to mount it annually at different venues across the country.
Born in Trelawny, Lee is one of Jamaican culture's respected figures. His other productions include Once In A Manger and On The Third Day.
Also appearing in The Rope and The Cross Sunday are 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).
-- Howard Campbell