Libertyville hosts Living Bible reenactment
Katie Rosenson, 15, and Eric Boynton, 17, both of Libertyville, play Mary and Joseph in the Nativity Scene during Saturday evening's "The Living Bible" performance at the First Presbyterian Church of Libertyville. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 4, 2012 8:24AM
LIBERTYVILLE — Approximately 1,300 visitors attended an event over the Sept. 28-29 weekend that hasn’t been played out for a dozen years — The Living Bible, a reenactment of Bible stories at the First Presbyterian Church of Libertyville.
Several hundred church members volunteered countless hours to stage the production, from creating costumes and sets to playing Biblical characters. Live animals including sheep, goats and a donkey added to the spectacle.
In the past, the program featured Bible stories from both the Old and New Testaments. This year it focused on the latter, and went from the birth of Jesus to resurrection, showing Jesus at various ages.
Visitors walked around the church to hear the different vignettes, which included mostly actors pantomiming to the accompaniment of pre-recorded Scriptures and music. Some of the streets around the landmark church at 219 W. Maple Ave. were blocked off for the program.
Co-chairman Cal Gwynne said a changing of the guard was one of the reasons the event — which ran from 1985 to 2000 — went on hiatus. Having the program, which can take up to a year to produce, became increasingly difficult after the Rev. Charles “Doc” Dougherty retired, Gwynne said.
“We felt it was an awful big project for interim pastors to take on. Also, we kind of ran out of gas and the enthusiasm for it just wasn’t there anymore,” Gwynne said. “We felt (the program) had run its course and we should take a short break. That short break turned into a long break.”
Along with fellow church member Gary Holland of Libertyville, Gwynne, 85, who now lives in Antioch, was instrumental in bringing the program back.
“I talked to staff and others, and everyone agreed it was time we got this back on track. It always brought the entire church together,” said Gwynne, a former Libertyville resident, who in the past played parts including disciples and a builder of Noah’s Ark. His late wife, Pearl, also participated.
When The Living Bible re-debuted on Friday, Gwynne said he felt good knowing he had done his part, and went to the program to relax and enjoy the evening with his granddaughter Ashley and great-granddaughter Sarah in tow.
“Besides,” he quipped. “They didn’t have a character my age for me to play.”
Casting director Rosemary Monahan said former church pastor Dougherty, who flew in from South Carolina to direct the Last Supper, added to the excitement.
“It just filled our hearts with joy that the pastor emeritus did this,” Monahan said. “Although our current pastor Rev. Brian Paulson is pretty terrific, too,” she added. Plans were smooth-sailing, up until a sudden glitch in the casting.
“At the very last hour I had to get a new Jesus,” Monahan said. “The person who was going to play Jesus at the Last Supper had a family emergency and couldn’t do it. So I promoted Carl (Sokoloski) from an apostle, to Jesus.”
Sokoloski, 60, a graphic artist from Mundelein, conceded it was because of his looks. “Because of my beard, the casting director said I would be perfect for the part of Jesus,” he said.
It was his first time playing the part and Sokoloski said he was so honored and “humbled” that he cheerfully dyed his gray beard brown to look more the part. He also wore an auburn wig and donned a bright red tunic with blue sash, which stood out from the others at the table.
In the past, Sokoloski played Doubting Thomas, and on one occasion he was Judas.
“I guess I did a good job (as Jesus) because everybody seemed to like it,” he said after Friday night’s performance, which brought in more than 650 people and “some new faces.”
A sculptor who also paints with watercolors, Sokoloski created seven scenes for the program as art director this year. He had seven assistants to help paint, which took several hundred hours.
“I mixed all my own colors using outdoor paint and acrylics,” he said.
Sokoloski said he started creating the scenes on paper in January. Many of the backdrops were developed from his imagination, while “The Last Supper is a given,” he said of the Leonardo da Vinci impression which was placed in front of the main sanctuary.
Libertyville resident Monahan, a 20-year member of the church, said because of the good turnout, The Living Bible likely will take place again next year.