Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

“america,” Catholic Weekly, Finds Passion Paly Inoffensive

May 12, 1929
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Freiburg Passion Play as produced at the New York Hippodrome is inoffensive to Catholics who should see the production, says Adrian Peyton in “America,” Catholic weekly published in New York. If any fault is to be found it is with the audience, says the writer who describes his impressions of the first night and comments on the Jewish opposition to its sponsorship by Morris Gest and David Belasco.

Declaring that Morris Gest and David Belasco, “it must be said plainly seem to have made a sincere effort to retain the sacred character of the play.” the “America” says:

“Unfortunately, despite their high spiritual endeavors, they could not evoke the effect for which the play was intended. They could not move the hearts of a Broadway audience as their ancestors did for a Bavarian audience long ago, or as they themselves might in their own Freiburg town. The witnesses to the great spectacle of the ages left the Hippodrome as cold and as worldly as they were when they jammed the entrances four hours earlier. They were, the majority of them, no nearer to the Christ. What they had seen and heard was something scenic, something distant or purely objective or exotic. They were not chastened in spirit, nor inspired by Divine love, nor even meditative. A Passion Play that does not produce a spiritual effect is a failure.

“The audience was at fault. The setting of the play in a commercial theater helped the audience to be at fault. And the aims of the producers to utilize a (Continued on Page 4)

“Worldliness and commerciality are the worst enemies of religion. They creep, subtly and insidiously, past the barriers into the Church itself. They could not be banned from a Passion Play in the Hippodrome. Especially is this true when the audience was composed of Jew and Gentile, of Chirstian and Catholic, of the unbeliever and the devout. Before a purely Catholic audience, the Freiburg players might deliver their message effectively, even in the Hippodrome. But they cannot do so under the present auspices, despite the valiant efforts of Morris Gest to preserve the sacred character of the play the while he made it a commercial success.

“Enough of the sacredness of the drama, nevertheless, has been preserved to justify Catholics in attending the Hippodrome performances. It is my considered opinion that every Catholic in the city should see this Freiburg Passion Play. When all is said that may be said against the production, there remains this thought: it is something to have the Divine story graphically and reverently enacted before the eyes of the mixed populace of New York.

“In bringing this play to New York, Morris Gest has had to face strong opposition. There is, first of all, the possibility of lawsuits, because of alleged prior claims on the actors, and again because of the laws forbidding the living representation of the Deity on the stage. But beyond that, his own people have practically disowned the producer as a traitor to his race. He has been most severely criticized in the ‘Jewish Daily Bulletin’ and has been caricatured and berated in other papers. Writing in the New York ‘Evening Post,’ Rabbi Silverman declared: ‘If I were a Christian I would hiss this debasement of the Christian religion from the stage. As a Jew, I denounce it as an infamous libel against the Jews of the time of Jesus.’ Later, he states that the play is an attempt ‘to revive old prejudices that the modern world is trying to live down.’

“Prejudices and bigotry, certainly, are reprehensible. But the events that transpired on the last two days of the human existence of Jesus are historic facts and religious dogmas. They cannot be changed, they cannot be compromised even in our modern world.”

Recommended from JTA