Rachel Stephens starts to imagine what times were like in first-century Jerusalem, where a man called Jesus began preaching throughout Galilee.
What were homes like? What did young women do while the men were working? Were Jesus’ female followers good friends. Did they trade recipes and knitting patterns?
“You wonder who would have been the good cook,” says Stephens, cast as Mary Magdalene in Theatre in the Country’s production of The Lower Room.
Written by Pat Wooley, this fascinating play retells the story of Jesus’ passion through the eyes of those who were the last of the followers at the cross, and the first at the tomb: women. It explores the often hidden world of the biblical woman, asking what were they doing, feeling, thinking while the men were gathered with Jesus in the Upper Room?
For Stephens, who grew up Christian, The Lower Room is a fresh insight into the Easter story, and all the implications it held for the next 2,000 years.
This year’s Easter won’t be just “another date on the calendar” for her.
“This made it a bit more real,” says Stephens.
“You see a whole different side of what’s going on – of the women feeling shut out while the men were upstairs. You get the impression of what it might have actually been like.”
In The Lower Room, Mary Magdalene is not presented as a prostitute, as the playwright noted there is no Scriptural evidence to support that notion.
Instead, she is a woman who was cured of a psychotic illness by Jesus.
Stephens’ Magdalene is driven by her emotions.
“She gets invested in things,” Stephens explains. “She is very much the centre of the female group and gets information for them. She likes to cut people off and get her hands dirty. It’s been fun to play in terms of letting loose and getting into people’s faces.”
Joining Stephens on stage in The Lower Room: Connie Tabak as Maria, the mother of John Mark; Emma Quan as Rhoda, a servant girl; Brodie Alexander as John Mark, the author of the second gospel; Amanda Bennet as Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza; Diane Tzingounakis as Salome, the wife of Zebedee and mother of James and John; Reta Dick as Mariamne (“the other Mary”), the wife of Alphaeus; John Tabak as Judas Iscariot; Elena Unraw as Martha of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus; Laura Thorton as Miriam (Mary) of Bethany, Martha’s sister; and Tammy Carruthers as Mary the mother of Jesus.
The Lower Room is directed by Hillary Frew and Laura Cramer.
The Lower Room plays Friday, April 18 to Sunday, April 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Theatre in The Country, 9975 272 Street in Maple Ridge. Tickets: 604-259-9737 or visit theatreinthecountry.com.
Cast Left to Right: Connie Tabak,Emma Quan, Diane Tzingounakis, Amanda Bennet, Tammy Carruthers, Laura Thorton, Reta Dick, Elena Unraw and Rachel Stephens.