by Steve Ritea
- The son of a South Philadelphia carpenter, Bill Monaghan, a kind, gentle
25-year-old with long, brown hair and a beard, is spreading The Word
at area churches and schools.
kind of like Jerry Garcia on a bad day," said one of his friends, Tom Feledick.
Monaghanwill bring The Word, a musical he wrote, directed and produced,
to Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Southampton. Starring as Christ,
he and about 25 teenage cast members sing and perform the stories of the
Gospel with some contemporary rythms. In Monaghan's world, sinners
are berated to the blues, Christ is baptized to a reggae refrain, and the
Final Judgement becomes a country-western hoedown.
spoke against adhering blindly to tradition and not considering the needs
of the present," he said. "I think you can do anything [with the
Bible] - so long as it's in good taste."
can get boring," said Lee Ann Coakley, 19, an actress in the play.
"This give it a new twist. It makes it more interesting."
atop a rainbow striped box during a recent Tuesday-night rehearsal, cast
members clothed head to toe in orange, hot pink or mint gathered around
Monaghan in preparation for Christ's baptism by John the Baptist.
As a three-piece band broke into a Bob Marley riff on the floor of the
church's school gymnasium, hands on the stage began to sway back and forth
in jubilation as Monaghan lifted his head and burst into song.
though the music is his, Monaghan said he didn't play with any of the words
in the Bible - those belong to God.
popular culture with the sacred isn't always smiled upon in some of the
more orhtodox circles within organized religion. Although Monaghan
says no one has ever attacked his approach to the Gospel, "I'm waiting"
project, Monaghan said, is a version of the Catholic Mass using modern
rock melodies borrowed from bands such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana.
going to be a little harder to get performed," he said.
wrote The Word over eight months starting in 1994, partly inspired
by the religious musical Godspell. A former English major
at the University of Scranton, Monaghan wrote his first play, Brunswick
2057, about a haunted New York City theater, while still a student.
Catholic, Monaghan said he avoided college keg parties and has always tried
to follow Christ's teachings - even in theater.
you direct in a Christian way," said his friend Feledick, who has directed
several plays, including previous productions of The Word.
Where directors have the tendency to blow up in front of the cast when
they become frustrated during rehearsals, he said, Monaghan always remains
calm and patient, leading everyone in prayer before each performance.
also teaches music and theater to students at Our Lady of Good Counsel
school. He and the cast also recorded a soundtrack of The Word in the basement
of his mother's Ivyland home, where Monaghan also lives, putting socks
over cheap microphones to filter out noise. Tapes are available at
|"People always ask
me what it's like to play Jesus," Monaghan said, adding he's quite comfortable
in the role, considering he's played Christ in a half-dozen productions.
the long beard he grows before each performance, Monaghan said he
enjoyed going back to being just Bill after the cast finishes a production.
to shave it off afterwards," he said, "just to remember what I look like."