‘Cotton Patch Gospel’ opens Thursday in W.D. Powell Theater

By Jake Fain
Staff Writer

On Thursday, David Burke, professor and director of the theater department, is bringing “The Cotton Patch Gospel” to the stage.

The play is at 7:30 p.m. March 14 and will continue through March 19 in W.D. Powell Theater. Cost is $3 for students, $7 for others.

“The Cotton Patch Gospel” is a detailed depiction of the life of Christ from beginning to end, but it isn’t your average passion play.

The story, set in 1950s America, was originally told in the form of biblical “Canterbury Tales,” taken from a book written by author Clarence Jordan.

“It’s being told as a parable for those who don’t already have a true connection with the Gospel,” Burke said.

The play begins with the birth of Christ in a tiny trailer in Valdosta, Ga. The visitors of the East Coast will bestow upon Christ the gift of a gold American Express card and two bottles of perfume.

Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem is represented by the Christ character riding into Atlanta in a VW convertible rather than on the back of a donkey.

This modern outlook on the gifts and death of Christ is what likely will speak to audience members unfamiliar with Jesus’ life.

The play takes a new interpretation of his martyrdom, so viewers should be prepared for violence onstage.

The audience will note a comedic nature but also that the story takes deep dramatic dives at the climatic turning points of Christ’s life.

The cast includes five men, six women and a surprise cameo appearance by a male alumnus, who also is the assistant director of the play.

The performance also includes a blend of choral and solo performances. Accompanying the actors’ songs and choreography will be a bluegrass band.

Michael Penny, professor of music, will direct.

The six-piece orchestra, known as the Jackson Area Plectral Society, has performed the string orchestra music required for the production both times Burke directed it in the past.

For Burke, this is a nostalgic occasion — he directed the play 15 years ago in the then new sanctuary of Englewood Baptist Church.

“The Cotton Grove Gospel” was the first theatrical performance to take place in the sanctuary as a dinner theater event.

“There is a fair amount of satire in this particular portrayal but it is still a timeless production that has deep meaning,” Burke said.