It’s not every day that a play based on a biblical story is written and produced.
But four years ago, Tom Anastasi was reading the story of Lazarus in church and was inspired to write and direct a play about it.
“I thought this could be a really good play, and I intended for it to be a one-act,” said Anastasi, who is an author and award-winning playwright. “I thought that ‘Lazarus’ would be the first act, and the story of the Prodigal Son would be the second act. But as I investigated [the story], it turned into a full-length play.”
Nashua’s StageCoach Productions will present the world premiere of Anastasi’s Lazarus Friday, March 23, through Sunday, March 25, at Daniel Webster College in Nashua.
The first act of the play explores the Gospel of John story of Lazarus, in which Jesus restores Lazarus to life after his death. The second act delves into Lazarus’ friendship with Jesus, including a discussion of what it was like for them to be resurrected, Anastasi says.
“We know that in the Bible, Lazarus was called Jesus’ friend,” Anastasi said. “He is the only person mentioned as [being] his friend. … Jesus lived at Lazarus’ house when he was not traveling around. The play explores questions we all have, [such as] how does Jesus talk to friends? How does anybody really talk to a friend after a tough day? Lazarus gets to ask Jesus all of the questions we would love to ask him if he was living in our house.” Anastasi laughs. “There are light and serious parts. It’s about their relationship.”
Anastasi says that his cast — Eric Eastman as Lazarus, Dan Merriman as Jesus, Matt Kasnetz as Peter, Marc Murai as Judas, and Michele Bossie and Christa Zuber as Martha and Mary — embraced the challenge of remaining true to the biblical story while also bringing Anastasi’s artistic vision to life. Direct quotes from the scripture are woven into the play alongside Anastasi’s written dialogue.
“The other challenge was thinking about how people acted 2,000 years ago,” said Anastasi, who teaches at Daniel Webster College. “We have made [the language] modern but with respect to the scripture.”
To make sure the Bible story was represented as accurately as possible, Anastasi held several read-throughs with pastors, Bible scholars and regular church-goers.
“People think that seeing the play is going to be like going to church, but it’s not an ‘eat your broccoli’ play, [meaning] ‘Watch this because it will be good for you.’ It’s entertaining and funny. The light parts are light and the serious parts are serious.”
Eastman, who has known and worked with Anastasi for about a decade and who plays Lazarus, said he was drawn to the production because of his trust in Anastasi’s storytelling ability.
“His spirit always comes across in his scripts,” said Eastman, who spent a few years as a Christian missionary in the 1980s. “He is an optimist, and his scripts cause anyone who’s paying attention to rethink his [or her] own cynicism.
“He has a sense of enthusiasm about the subject matter itself,” Eastman added. “It’s very infrequently that you find biblical themes dramatized without it coming across as an infomercial for religion.”
Eastman, like Anastasi, says that at its heart, the play is about relationships and the humanity of Jesus.
“Whatever it is we know about these people from the Bible, the fact is that they were people,” said Eastman, who is close friends with Merriman and has acted with him in the past. “They give each other hugs, they drink juice, they have dreams and disappointments, all that stuff. That’s the thread that weaves the whole thing together.”
Anastasi says he hopes to continue producing the play past its StageCoach run. There are not a lot of Easter plays, and “this amazing Gospel story” is one “that needs to be told,” he said.