The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 17, 2000 Issue
Local News

Soap star to bring Jesus to diocesan parishes

Frank Runyeon to perform in three locations a one-man play on Mark's Gospel


By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor

Many actors couldn't imagine a better role than playing opposite of Meg Ryan. But Frank Runyeon thinks he's found one--as Jesus in a one-man play he'll perform in the Green Bay Diocese.

Runyeon is best known for his acting roles on television. He starred opposite of Ryan as Steve Andropolous on the daytime drama As the World Turns; portrayed Simon Romero on General Hospital; and played Fr. Michael Donnelly on Santa Barbara. Other credits include L.A. Law, Falcon Crest, Melrose Place, and such feature films as Sudden Death and Bolero. Runyeon has no regrets about his television and film career, but these days he would much rather perform to a church audience than 20 million television viewers.

Runyeon will do just that in "AFRAID!" The Gospel of Mark, a one-man, three-act play at St. John the Baptist Church, Howard, at 2 and 8 p.m., March 26; St. Mary Parish, Greenville, at 7 p.m., April 3; and St. John Nepomucene, Little Chute, at 7 p.m., April 4.

"I had been doing TV nonstop for ten years," he said. "The scripts get a little thin after awhile. Dealing with the egos, power, glamour and money also loses its appeal. It's a bad scene. I wanted to find something nourishing."

Runyeon, a Princeton graduate with a degree in theology, found what he was looking for on retreat at a Benedictine monastery in Vermont. While browsing through the monastery bookstore, he came across the Gospel of Mark. He found himself drawn to it.

"It has an artistic brilliance and its spiritually is very powerful," said Runyeon. "I wanted to tell the story, so it became an artistic project. As I became involved with it, I found it a journey in faith and was even more amazed by its spiritual power."

To prepare for the writing and performing of AFRAID!, Runyeon studied at Fuller Seminary and Yale Divinity School before receiving his masters, with honors, from General Theological Seminary in New York City in 1994. He translated the text into contemporary American speech. Runyeon grew up an Episcopalian. His wife is Catholic.

As Runyeon moves around the church, he addresses audience members individually The audience is healed, asked for a coin, or given bread and challenged to go out to tell the story to others, if they're not afraid.

"When you speak it, it demands interaction, so that led me to bouncing it off people during the performance," Runyeon explained. "People seem to love the interaction. They don't find it uncomfortable or intimidating. It makes them a part of it."

Humor is also a part of Runyeon's dramatic presentation.

"I was nervous about using humor at first, but the more I've done it, the more I believe that Jesus had a great sense of humor," he said. "It keeps the audience honest and makes it fun."

Runyeon has performed AFRAID! more than 400 times throughout the United States. He draws no comparisons to presenting Biblical text and acting on television or the big screen.

"There is more than entertainment with the Gospel," he explained. "People come with their own baggage clearing a path between them and God. The text is so deep. People may consider Shakespeare deep, but God doesn't speak in it. The text is reality."

While his performance is designed to enhance the audience spiritually, Runyeon is most thankful for the rewards he receives in presenting the Gospel of Mark.

"It feeds me spiritually in a way like no other artistic project," he said. "The response to it has been very positive. I especially love to see the grade school kids who are so jazzed by it. Most Americans are spiritually hungry, so they are open to my translation."

Seeing the play

What: "AFRAID!" The Gospel of Mark, a one-man, three-act play.

Who: Presented by television and film actor Frank Runyeon.

Where: --St. John the Baptist Church, Howard, performances at 2 and 8 p.m. on March 26. Tickets are available for $5. For tickets, call (920)434-2417 or (920)434-2145.

--St. Mary Church, Greenville, performance at 7 p.m. on April 3. Tickets are available for $5 for adults and $3 for children under ten. For tickets, call (920)757-6555.

--St. John Nepomucene Parish, Little Chute, performance at 7 p.m. on April 4. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for youth ages seven-18, or $12 for a family ticket (two adults and four youth). For tickets, call (920)788-9061.



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