Moss Point church re-creates the painting as a living Last Supper

Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper is being re-created as a living play by the Dantzler Memorial United Methodist Church in Moss Point on Thursday.
Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper is being re-created as a living play by the Dantzler Memorial United Methodist Church in Moss Point on Thursday. Sun Herald

MOSS POINT -- A small group of men at Methodist and Baptist churches in Jackson County have been growing facial hair for months and memorizing lines, preparing for roles as disciples in a living recreation of da Vinci's painting The Last Supper.

It's an Easter tribute that Dantzler Memorial United Methodist Church has done every other year for 16 years. It's free to the community.

Showtime this year will be 6:30 p.m. Thursday (doors open at 6 p.m.) in the fellowship hall of the historic church at 4912 Weems Street, across from the high school.

Betty Neal has run the show for eight performances, though the group of men changes somewhat each year.

It's more than 13 men striking a pose to look like the 15th century mural by Leonardo da Vinci. This re-enactment has soul, and it's done in connection with a painting that has evoked mystery, admiration and wonder for centuries.

In the painting, which is actually a 15-by-29-foot mural on the wall of a convent in Milan, the artist depicts what he believes would have been the reaction of the 12 disciples when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him.

The expressions on the faces of the men in the painting inspire the dialogue for the play.

It's simple. The stage is set and the men are spotlighted one at a time in groups of three. When the light hits them, they come alive to tell their Christian journey. It's a heart-felt soliloquy that expresses the characteristics of the man being portrayed and the fear or confusion about the pronouncement from his beloved leader.

In between groups of three disciples, there is music -- a special string arrangement by Natalie and Lydia Newton, Bobby Lewis and Gabby Bowden; a solo by Kristi Canfield and a song by the congregation. The program lasts about an hour and is followed by communion and a benediction by the Rev. David Newton.

The audience is asked to leave in silence.

This week was one of the final rehearsals, and the men were getting into their roles amid lighting and sound checks. Most are well-known in their communities -- Charles Burk, Dobbs Dennis, Ford Kinsey, David Brown, Richard Perkins, Benny Goff, Mike Smith, Laurin Avara, Mike Ezell, Vernon Smith, Dennis Gandy, Robert Beatty, Garrett Pittman. The narrator is Richard Durr.

Dennis plays James the Lesser, also called James the Short, and he explained that in the era they are portraying, unless you were rich, you remained unshaven. He was sporting a salt-and-pepper growth. The rich had their beards plucked, he said, and he wasn't going to go that far.

Beatty is Judas, what would seem an unpopular role at Easter.

"I've been Judas half a dozen times," he said. "Once you learn a part ,you tend to stick with it.

"I get a lot of joking," he said. "But it's a role that I take very seriously."