Framework

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The arrest of Jesus: Temple guards escort Jesus, portrayed by the Rev. John Boettcher, in the 31st annual presentation of the Lake County Passion Play.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

The outdoor set of the Lake County Passion Play.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Roman soldiers hold Jesus before his crucifixion.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

The Sorrowful Way: Jesus, portrayed by the Rev. John Boettcher, struggles to carry the cross to his crucifixion.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

A crowd scene from the 31st annual presentation of the Lake County Passion Play.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Jesus is crucified in a climactic scene from the 31st annual presentation of the Lake County Passion Play.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Liturgical dancers express their love of Christ through movement as part of the Passion play.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

A resurrected Jesus is greeted by his followers in the 31st annual presentation of Lake County Passion Play.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

The Rev. Philip J. Ryan, founder of the Passion play, talks to audience and cast members after the 31st annual presentation.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

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Passion play offers a welcome diversion

The Lake County Passion Play was founded among picturesque, isolated hills by the Rev. Philip Ryan 31 years ago.

This year, with the county struggling with foreclosures, bankruptcies and one of the highest unemployment rates in California, staging the spectacle of Christ’s final days has been especially difficult, Ryan said.

The 150-member cast of sinners and saviors, virgins and vagrants is all volunteer. High gasoline prices and unemployment forced some to quit and stay home. Others skipped out on rehearsals or moved to places with better job prospects.

Ryan himself has retired from his responsibilities with the Roman Catholic Church to work on the play full time. He tends the sheep and horses that live on the property, maintains the set and even lives in the home of the woman who has played Mary for 30 years and her husband.

Still, for some people struggling in a tough economy, the Passion play offers a welcome diversion.

“Nothing is more satisfactory,” said Steve Cervi, who plays one of Herod’s guards. Cervi lost his job in 2009 and has found support in the  camaraderie of his fellow cast members. “You become bonded with these people, which is what God wants us to do.”

Kelly Thorn, 66, was recently laid off from her job at a title insurance company.

“It’s very inspirational,” said Thorn, who volunteers to sell programs for the play. “People are seeking something different — when the economy is bad, you seek help.”

That may be why Ryan knew in the end that he’d have both performers and an audience despite the year’s economic turmoil and uncertainty.

“People might have all sorts of problems,” Ryan said. “But they think more of God when times are bad.”

Read Alana Semuels story

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