ARTS + ENTERTAINMENT

A unique recipe for healing: Bill Murray and a biblical text

Dec 6, 2020, 10:50 AM

A unique recipe for healing: Bill Murray and a biblical text...

In this November 12, 2020 image taken from video, actor Bill Murray takes part in a virtual production of "Poetry for the Pandemic." Murray is set to play Job in a biblical reading designed to spark meaningful conversations across spiritual and political divides. (Theater of War Productions via AP)

(Theater of War Productions via AP)

Against the backdrop of a pandemic’s blight and wounds from an acrimonious election, a group of acclaimed actors on Sunday will stage an online reading of a religious text with remarkable relevance to the current moment: the Book of Job.

Audience members may be drawn to the production by the casting of Bill Murray as Job, the righteous man tested by the loss of his health, home and children, but the real star is the format. Staged on Zoom, it’s aimed at Republican-leaning Knox County, Ohio, with participation from locals including people of faith, and designed to spark meaningful conversations across spiritual and political divides.

After the performance, a half-dozen people from the area will be asked to share their perspective on the ancient story in a virtual discussion. It’s then thrown open to others, and ultimately to some of the tens of thousands of people signed in, no matter their location.

The structure of a dramatic reading followed by open-ended dialogue is a fixture of Theater of War Productions, the company behind the event. Artistic director Bryan Doerries is an alumnus of Kenyon College in Knox County and chose the area to focus on bridging rifts opened by the election and sharing the pain of a pandemic that’s tied to more than 275,000 U.S. deaths.

By using Job’s story “as a vocabulary for a conversation, the hope is that we can actually engender connection, healing,” Doerries said. “People can hear each other’s truths even if they don’t agree with them.”
The performance is headlined by Murray and features other noted actors such as Frankie Faison and David Strathairn. The cast also includes Matthew Starr, mayor of the Knox County town of Mount Vernon, who will play Job’s accuser. He said the timing is perfect for the moment the country is going through, between the pandemic, the heated election and racial justice protests.

His hope is that the event and the dialogue afterward lead to less shouting and more listening. And a good story like that of Job can do so more effectively than a new law or a new directive, by changing people’s hearts, said Starr, a Republican and supporter of President Donald Trump who founded an independent film company before going into politics.

“God does not say that bad things aren’t going to happen, but He does tell us, when they do, we’re not alone,” Starr said. “That’s the hope for me, is that we get a chance to lean into our faith, we get a chance to lean into our neighbors, we get a chance to lean into each other, our family, a little bit more.”

Knox County, a largely rural community of about 62,000 residents including a medium-size Amish population, lies about an hour east of the state capital, Columbus. Despite its numerous farms, most people in the county work blue-collar manufacturing jobs at several local factories.

The county, which is 97% white, is a conservative stronghold that voted for Trump by a nearly 3-1 margin in November and also went overwhelmingly for him in 2016.

An exception is Kenyon College, a small liberal arts school perched on a hill a few miles outside Mount Vernon. Voters in the precincts comprising the college and the village of Gambier voted 8-1 for President-elect Joe Biden.

To help prompt more locals to engage in the post-reading conversation, Doerries worked with leaders from multiple faith traditions. Among them is Marc Bragin, Jewish chaplain at Kenyon, who said he hopes the experience can help people who share bigger values look beyond their differences.

Bragin, administrator of a project backed by the nonprofit Interfaith Youth Core that partners Kenyon students with counterparts at nearby Mount Vernon Nazarene University, said he’s hopeful they will attend the discussion and take away an important lesson: “Surround yourself with people who aren’t like you,” he said, “and you can have such a bigger impact on your community, your world.”

Pastor LJ Harry, who has also been recruiting people for the virtual conversation, does not believe Knox County is as divided as other places in the country. The police chaplain and pastor at the Apostolic Church of Christ in Mount Vernon said most in the area are united in their support for Trump and for law enforcement, with protests after the death of George Floyd spirited but peaceful.

Harry said the community’s biggest point of contention is over mask-wearing, with many resisting Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s statewide mandate. He likened Knox County’s need for healing to that of a hospital patient who has left intensive care but remains in a step-down unit, and said he hopes the performance will drive home God’s central role in Job’s story.

“That’s the message I’m hoping our church family, our community, hears,” Harry said. “God has this in control, even though it feels like it’s out of control.”

In the biblical tale, God allows for Job’s massive losses as a means to share broader truths about suffering. The story ends with the restoration of what was taken from him, plus more.

Theater of War held its first Job reading in Joplin, Missouri, a year after a tornado killed more than 160 people there in 2011. The company has performed more than 1,700 readings worldwide, harnessing Greek drama and other resonant texts to evoke deeper dialogues about an array of issues.

Doerries acknowledged that his company’s readings always have the potential to fall flat if a genuine back-and-forth doesn’t develop. Still, he’s betting that Sunday’s event will create space for people from different backgrounds, in Ohio and beyond, to engage with each other.

“Our hope is not that there’s going to be a group hug at the end of the thing, or that we’re going to resolve all our political differences, but that we can remind people of our basic humanity … what it requires to live up to basic values such as treating our neighbor as ourselves,” Doerries said.
___
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Arts + Entertainment

ksl movie show review host steve salles next to dune part two poster...

Steve Salles

KSL Movie Show review: ‘Dune: Part Two’ is a masterclass in cinematic world-building

In this KSL Movie Show review, we dive into the larger-than-life world of "Dune: Part Two," which picks up where the first part left off.

19 hours ago

McDonald's new temporary logo is a nod to Japanese graphic novels (manga) as well as anime. (Caitly...

Simone Seikaly

Here’s why the Mcdonald’s logo is upside down on your bag of fries

No, McDonald's has not shipped packaging to the U.S. from other countries by mistake. The upside down logo is legit. For now.

2 days ago

taylor swift performing eras tour concert, a new class at weber state focuses on swift...

SAM HERRERA, KSL NEWSRADIO AND MIKE ANDERSON, KSL TV

Weber State University to offer class on Taylor Swift this fall

The Weber State University Taylor Swift class was offered for the first time this spring and filled up quickly.

4 days ago

Salt Lake City’s downtown skyline on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. Jazz owner Ryan Smith continues to d...

Mariah Maynes

Utah Jazz owner hypes potential “sports-centered” downtown Salt Lake

Ryan Smith, the owner of the Utah Jazz, is hyping up the possibility of bringing more professional sports teams to Utah. 

4 days ago

Image of TV remote featuring Netflix button. Netflix may direct customers to stop paying for their ...

Samantha Delouya, CNN

You may lose access to your Netflix account if you’re paying through Apple

The update by Netflix comes after years of pushback from apps in Apples iOS App Store for taking a 30% cut of all in-app purchases.

4 days ago

Kenneth Mitchell, here in 2018, has died....

Megan Thomas, CNN

Kenneth Mitchell, ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Marvel’ actor, dead at 49

A native of Canada, Mitchell acquired more than 50 film and television credits over the course of his acting career. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2019.

6 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

A unique recipe for healing: Bill Murray and a biblical text