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ROCKS OF AGES EASTER PASSION PLAY IS A NATURAL FIT.

Byline: Carol Rock Staff Writer

AGUA DULCE - As Joel Sheridan picked up his whip, the children gathered around him begged him to crack it ``just once.''

Raising the whip over his head, the college student dressed as a Roman centurion brought it down with a loud snap that echoed in the natural amphitheater at the Vasquez Rocks Natural Park Area.

The children and adults - all dressed in sackcloth and long cottom garments - jumped and then went on about their business, getting ready for the annual Easter sunrise celebration at the county park.

They've been rehearsing for the past two months and are ready for their day in the (early morning) sun.

Sheridan is one in a cast of nearly 50 people who will re-enact the life of Jesus of Nazareth at dawn Easter morning. This Sunday, they are expecting approximately 2,000 of the faithful and the curious to gather for the free 5 a.m. musical service, which participants say packs an inspirational punch.

``People are usually so moved, they are sobbing,'' said Laura DiPaola, whose children play various roles. ``It's such a perfect setting and it's so amazing, the sun comes out at just the right time.''

The re-enactment will begin with a brief message, after which scenes of Jesus' birth, judgment to death, crucifixion and resurrection are presented.

The Rev. Mike Sheridan of the Family Community Church of Agua Dulce is one of four church leaders involved in putting on the annual passion play.

Others are the Revs. Warren Arey of Agua Dulce Christian Church, Gene Stabe of Agua Dulce Four Square Church and Wayne Wilson of Acton Faith Bible Church.

The pastors divide up responsibilities: Sheridan handles advertising and is assistant director; Stabe handles the drama itself; Wilson helps direct and handles the sound; and Arey coordinates sets and logistics.

Vasquez Rocks is a natural setting for the religious services and the site of some sort of early morning observance for the past 50 years.

For 30 years, the Newhall Saugus Kiwanis Club handled the event, turning it over to the churches eight years ago.

The churches added the musical portrayals to the simple services and attendance grew from 300 to 2,000.

Having church members involved also meant bringing in some of the film industry faithful. Special effects are part of the production and Paramount Studios donated the large tomb from which a stone door is rolled away in the final scene to reveal that Jesus has risen.

There are no professional actors among the main players.Several are college students. Josh Seibert, 23, who plays Jesus, is a history student at California State University, Northridge. Armando Ribera, who wore the leather tunic and shield of a Roman guard, is a pipe man for an environmental company.

Marie Clark, 24, who plays Mary Magdalene, wrote the song she performs during the crucifixion scene.

``It's called 'Lamb of God' and it's about how the baby Jesus would grow up to pay for our sins,'' she explained before taking her place on the rocks.

The script for the play was the result of a collaboration among ministers from the churches involved and uses Bible verse as dialogue.

Caleb DiPaola, who does community theater with the Canyon Theatre Guild and has moved up from crowd member to Roman soldier in the past five years, said he does it mostly for the ministry the setting offers.

``It gives me a chance to use something I am good at doing to present the message of the gospel,'' he said.

Cars will begin lining up on both sides of the highway and along Agua Dulce Canyon Road around 4 a.m. as people make sure they get a space in the park, said Laura DiPaola, who lives just outside the park gates.

``You wouldn't believe the people who come from all over for this,'' she said. ``There are people in campers, people on horseback. It's all very spiritual and uplifting. I cry every year.''

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2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Helmeted Armando Ribera, left, Caleb DiPaola and Joel Sheridan check their costumes Wednesday for the Easter play.

(2 -- color) Jan Sheridan, left, helps Leah DiPaola, 14, with her costume Wednesday for a re-enactment of the crucifixion of Christ.

David R. Crane/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 17, 2003
Words:713
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