When explaining why she agreed to take a part in the Christmas play being performed by members of New Harvest Christian Fellowship on Dec. 15, Jessica Alvarez kept using the word joy.
In the play, “A Broken Christmas,” Alvarez plays a young Christian who is excited about her new found faith. Alvarez, who has never been in a play before, said she can identify with her character and hopes the audience will as well.
“I too, want others to have the joy that I have found in the Lord,” Alvarez said. “We found a joy that can never be replaced by anything this world can offer, and that’s the joy in Christ.”
Nora Ramirez, who said she gave her life to Christ following a New Harvest Play in 1996, said the motivations that moved Alvarez to the stage are at the core of New Harvest’s identity.
“This is the heartbeat of New Harvest; going out to the streets and just talking with people about the love of God and how he’s changed our lives,” Ramirez said.
In the production Ramirez plays a church member doing outreach projects on Christmas Eve.
Pastor Edwin Melendez, who first wrote the play in 1996, said it’s about an average family dealing with everyday problems. The father, played by Melendez, is embarrassed by his mentally challenged son who has not lived up to the father’s expectations. The mother, who is more understanding, tries to convince her husband to work with the situation, but the father refuses.
The climax comes at a party in the family’s home. One by one, each guest at the party reveals their issues with addiction, gossiping, gambling and isolation. The father has locked his son in his bedroom, but while the father is out of the house on a beer run, the son escapes from his confinement and begins mingling with the guests.
When the father returns, he flies into a rage and leaves the house. He then meets a co-worker who gently witnesses to him about God’s love. Feeling like he’s hit bottom, the father gives his life to Christ while the co-worker prays with him, and together they go to share the good news with the family.
Melendez hopes that two things will happen as the audience watches the play. First, that people will identify with at least one of the characters and their issues.
Rachel Lemus, who plays the frustrated mother, said she knows from experience something of what her character is feeling.
“I can relate to my character, because I’m a single mother raising a normal son who faces rejection from his father,” Lemus said. “I want, through my performance, to reach those who are going through a similar or difficult situation in their lives.”
Melendez also would like his audience to feel inspired and give their lives to Christ that very night. Immediately following the play, he will ask people to raise their hands if they want to “respond to the call of salvation.” He will then invite them to come forward to the altar where a member of the church will pray with them.
The members of the cast are on the same page as their pastor. Eric Melendez, the pastor’s son, said, “I play the character of Freddy, the mentally challenged son, who is 17 years old but with the mind of a 7 year old. He loves his father, but knows how his father feels about him. I hope that by viewing this play the audience will realize the seriousness of what really goes on in the homes of many people.”
Saul Ponce, whose character in the production is a gambler, agreed.
“The play is an opportunity to show a type of reality that happens during Christmas time,” Ponce said. “I think that sometimes we become so consumed with our own personal interests that we tend to miss out on the blessings around us.”
Ponce said the cast wants their characters to reveal what is difficult and discouraging in real life so that the true meaning of the holiday is brought out.
“I would like for the audience to recognize the importance of having a more personal relationship with Christ,” Ponce said. “I hope that the audience can see the true message in their hearts and apply it to their daily lives.”
Rev. Melendez, who has written eight Christian plays in his ministry, first experienced the power of drama when he was a high school student at Kelly High School in the late 1980s. He co-wrote and produced the play “To be or Not to be,” about a teenage boy with a pregnant girlfriend in the throes of a very important decision. The play got rave reviews and earned him a summer scholarship at an acting workshop at the University of Illinois. When he saw that New Harvest-located at that time on the west side of Chicago-was producing plays and skits, he immediately got involved.
Melendez said his congregation is going to do everything it can to make visitors feel welcomed and cared for. There is no admission charge. Three violinists will be playing Christmas music before the play. Gifts will be given to all children in attendance, and there will be pumpkin pie, cookies and refreshments served afterward.
“It’s our way of showing people that we are here to give and to share with the community,” Melendez said. “To show them what the spirit of giving is all about, because that’s what Christ is all about.”
The curtain will rise on “A Broken Christmas” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday Dec. 15, in the church building at the corner of Hannah and Adams streets.
Two other congregations are also staging religious dramas this month. St. John Lutheran Church put on the “Boar’s Head Festival” Dec. 8 and 9, and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church will be the host for a one woman dramatic presentation of “Mary” on the same day as the New Harvest production.