Northampton Press

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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Wayne Turney, above, CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Wayne Turney, above, "The Gospel According to Saint Mark," 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10, Christ Lutheran Church of Lower Saucon

DeSales professor one-man 'Gospel' to benefit water safety, Saucon funds

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 by PAUL WILLISTEIN Focus Editor in Focus

You probably have read the Bible.

And you've probably had the Bible, or passages of the Bible, read to you.

You probably have not experienced an entire book of the Bible performed as a one-man show.

Wayne Turney, a professor of theater in his eighth year in DeSales University's Performing and Fine Arts Department, presents "The Gospel According to Saint Mark," 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10, Christ Lutheran Church of Lower Saucon, 2190 S. Easton Road, Lower Saucon Township.

Proceeds benefit the Hellertown Area Ministerium Crisis Fund, a food bank and fund supported by area churches, and the 100 Well Challenge, a initiative of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to provide clean water to the needy in the United States and internationally.

Turney also presents "The Gospel According to Saint, Mark," 8 p.m. Nov. 17 and 2 p.m. Nov. 18, Good Shepherd Church, 1634 Hilltown Pike, Hilltown, Bucks County, and, soon after, at a South Carolina venue.

Turney, with whom Lehigh Valley theater-goers are familiar for his hilarious scene-stealing performances at The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and for his directing of DeSales Act 1 shows (he's directing his adaptation of "A Tale of Two Cities" in February), has presented "The Gospel According to Saint Mark" for 25 years around the United States.

"It is what it says it is," Turney says of his one-man show. "It's the King James Version of the Gospel According to Saint Mark.

"A lot of times when we read the Bible, we'll read it in spurts, short snippets. We rarely read a whole book at a sitting. Mark is the shortest of the gospels. It only takes two hours to go through the whole thing."

Turney's one-man show is presented with an intermission.

"When you do, you start hearing the connections, the through-lines, the context of the whole story. It's a remarkable experience.

"This particular gospel is an oral document, which is to say it's not a beautiful literary thing like the Gospel of Luke, which is polished."

Turney first performed "The Gospel According to Saint Mark" 25 years ago in Ohio. His wife, The Rev. Harper Turney, pastor at Good Shepherd Church, directed the first performance.

"Theologically, she helped me understand it. She was particularly helpful in bringing the text alive."

That first performance was born of necessity, Turney recalls.

"I lost my job. My television show was cancelled."

Starting in 1982, for nine years, Turney wrote and starred in the children's show, "Hickory Hideout," for which he received an Emmy. The television show was produced in Cleveland by NBC Productions and televised nationally.

"I couldn't write the check I wanted to, so off we went," says of his first "Saint Mark" performance, a benefit for an Episcopal church in Ohio.

Turney most recently performed his one-man show in April at Connelly Chapel, DeSales University.

"It's really an ecumenical thing ... because we all believe in the gospel," he says of the show.

Turney was inspired to perform "Saint Mark" after seeing British actor Alec McCowen perform it in a touring production booked for one week at Cleveland Play House, where Turney was a member of the acting company.

"He [McCowen] did it in a British suit and was very reserved," Turney remembers and adds that his performance is "a somewhat more lively version." Turney performs in what he describes as early second century Biblical garb of robes and sandals.

"I thought, 'Well, I know the story. I'll learn the words.' It turned out to be a much bigger task. It took me 10 weeks of eight-hour days just to memorize it."

Turney talks about the contest of "The Gospel According to St. Mark":

"It's the nature of the way this gospel was created. The historical Mark was John Mark, a disciple of Peter. I have this image that after Peter's martyrdom, Mark was asked to tell Peter's story and so he did.

"But he didn't write it down. He told people. According to Eusebius [Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine circa 275 - 339], who wrote the first history of the English church, John Mark was urged to write down his gospel. He wrote down what he was saying. He wasn't learned. He gallops along.

"So, he's telling the story first-hand. That's what I think is most exciting about it. It's like an eyewitness account."

"I have yet to get every single word perfect," Turney chuckles. "So, if somebody comes and follows along, I've always missed something. But that's not the point.

"It's always remarkable," he marvels of performing the work. "The more I work with that text, the more I realize there is so much more there than can be had in one sitting.

"When you first hear about it, 'You think: What's that? This guy's doing the gospel?' It's difficult to describe.

"There's a lot of obvious passion. But there's a lot of humor in it. I think the incarnation is so clear the reality of the humanness of Jesus.

"Harper [Turney's wife] gave me some direction. 'Cause how do you play God as an actor? What do you do? Early in Chapter 3, Mark says that 'Jesus look about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.' I can do anger. I can do grief. Oh, Jesus became human."

Tickets: "The Gospel According to Saint Mark," Christ Lutheran Church of Lower Saucon, 484-898-0159, and Good Shepherd Church, 215-822-3930