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Minnesota church breathes life into da Vinci's 'The Last Supper'

Posted: Friday, March 29, 2002

BRAINERD, Minn. -- By day, Baretta Barker-Peterson works as a technician at a casino. Tony Gage works for the state highway maintenance department.

Both left such worldly pursuits aside Wednesday night, stepping into one of the town's more striking Easter events: a living portrayal of Leonardo da Vinci's painting ''The Last Supper.''

Barker-Peterson grew a beard to play Jesus, while Gage dyed his hair black to tackle Judas -- two of the 13 area men who agreed to reproduce the image at a school auditorium.

The annual human tableau reproduces da Vinci's image down to hair length, expression and gesture. Even the stripes on the tablecloth match the painting.

''It looks just like the picture except it's in 3-D,'' said Barbara Woese, who drove from nearby Mayfield and was in the crowd of 500. ''I'm just awestruck.''

The performers, portraying Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples eating before his crucifixion, hold the pose for two 90-second periods separated by a minute break.

''The first year I cried,'' said Gage, who has played Judas for eight years. ''You're in such a trance when you're up there. You don't hear anything.''

On Wednesday night, the audience cheered during the break but went silent again as the blue curtain reopened. When it was over, they applauded, and some hollered, and then they left for a reception with coffee and dessert.

The volunteer cast is recruited each year by Church of the Nazarene pastors Michael Lynch and Ruth Adams, who once followed a man into a lumberyard because she thought he had the right face to play Jesus.

Lynch thought many men in Brainerd resembled disciples in da Vinci's painting when he was new to this central Minnesota town 20 years ago. His decision to gather some for a living portrayal began a tradition here for Christian Holy Week.

But Lynch is leaving the church later this year and no one is sure whether a new minister will want to continue the event. A decision won't be made until the new minister arrives.

''It would be so disappointing if it ended,'' said Mary Cooley, who watched the annual tableau Wednesday night. ''It's so incredible.''

David Eades, a retired teacher who is the only person to perform in the tableau since the start, said no one on stage has ever coughed, sniffled or broken the pose. He said he maintains his pose by focusing on the beard of the man across the table from him.

The church spends about $2,000 a year on the living portrayal, chiefly to rent the auditorium and costume the men. It doesn't charge admission.

''It was just so wonderful, so meaningful,'' said Vicki Hunnicutt, who drove 30 miles from Cross Lake for the event Wednesday night.

Adams said she thinks people are drawn to the event by both the mens' work and by the moment they portray. ''Anyone in the audience can relate to that moment when they've betrayed Christ,'' she said.



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