The Bavarian village of Oberammergau has staged the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ nearly every decade since 1634. Each production of the Passion Play attracts hundreds of thousands, many drawn by the spiritual benefits it promises. Yet Hitler called it a convincing portrayal of the menace of Jewry, and in 1970 a group of international luminaries boycotted the play for its anti-Semitism. As the production for the year 2000 drew near, James Shapiro was there to document the newest wave of obstacles that faced the determined Bavarian villagers. Erudite and judicious, Oberammergau is a fascinating and important look at the unpredictable and sometimes tragic relationship between art and society, belief and tolerance, religion and politics.
The Oberammergau Passion Play is the longest running play ever; performances have been staged in this small Bavarian town approximately every ten years since 1634. The play is art, history, religion, and cultural mirror all at once. And although the world has rather passed it by, the play still generates controversy, especially as the community tries to adapt it to better reflect contemporary mores. This highly readable study begins with the efforts to produce a new, historically accurate, yet tolerant script for the 2000 series. Shapiro describes the origins and development of the tradition as well as the myths around it, including the village's piety, the vow that supposedly started the play's long run, and the local citizens' simplicity. In the central chapter, he focuses on the play's relationship to Nazi Germany: Hitler praised it as anti-Semitic. Shapiro, a historian of theater and comparative literature at Columbia University, is well qualified to study the phenomenon as a mirror of the bumpy road toward Christian and Jewish reconciliation since Vatican II. Recommended for academic and public theater collections.--Thomas E. Luddy, Salem State Coll., MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\