Bringing the Gospels to Life

 

 

Ashley Lazevnick

October 10 at The Edge, a crowd of students and professors sat entranced by the performance of Nina Theil, a smiling woman dressed in a simple shirt and jeans who was conversing with the audience. As she described her experience as a campus minister and her encounter with biblical theater, she seamlessly transitioned into the narrative of the birth of Jesus. And thus began Theil’s performance, Always the Women, her easy-going, conversational tone pervaded throughout her interpretation of 24 biblical stories. “I want to make you feel like it was me talking,” said Theil.

Indeed, the audience perceived her enthusiasm and energy through her characters. In particular, she infused the women with emotion, and therefore brought to life these common stories. Her portrayal of Jesus and Mary was especially poignant. Through her expressions and body language, she was able to convey a special mother-son relationship that sometimes seems lost. Theil’s Mary shows confusion at the conception, distress when Jesus is missing and sorrow at his death. Theil portrays Jesus uniquely as well. While some may say that her Jesus is sarcastic, Theil assumes that Jesus must have been astounded by the way humans treat each other. Jesus’ defiance of corrupted social norms emphasizes his distinctiveness.

The program booklet for the evening quoted the Talmud, a Palestinian book of the first century, “A hundred women are no better then two men.” According to Theil, next to this patriarchial attitude, “Jesus appears all the more radical.” Indeed, Theil expresses Jesus’ impact on woman throughout her performance. All of the passages included a female figure that was touched by Jesus. “Jesus has a larger mission and doesn’t hesitate to make women major players in it,” she said.

Theil, who acted and danced at the University of the Pacific, returned to acting six years ago. Since then, she has performed in several productions at local theaters in addition to her solo performance of Always the Women. The script for this play consists of an edited version of the four gospels, although Theil used Luke most frequently because it includes the most female interaction. Theil performs this play throughout the country in local theaters, but particularly at colleges like Colgate. She enjoys performing for young audiences because she was a campus minister for 24 years at the University of the Pacific. She believes that younger people have less preconceived ideas about faith and are more apt to respond emotionally to the performance. Colgate’s audience was no exception. After the show, a question and answer session followed in which the audience expressed an overwhelmingly positive reaction.

Always the Women, in conjunction with the brown bag lunch “Jesus, the First Feminist?” was sponsored by Colgate’s Christian Fellowship. The lunch, which was well attended, also featured Nina Theil. Together, these events questioned Jesus’ treatment of women. As a woman herself, Theil feels especially privileged. “I feel so empowered as a woman when I perform,” she said. Undeniably, her empowerment was expressed in her performance, and the audience was also moved by viewing her interactions with characters. In all, Theil’s intensive study of the Bible, her years of practice as an actress, and her religious conviction have helped her to achieve a performance that is powerful, accessible, and stimulating.