The Passion Play, the story of Christ’s last days on earth, has been performed in Union City since 1915 and is now in its 102th season. This musical theater production has appealed to generations of viewers both from the immediate area, and to East Coast tourists who visit every year from as far away as Virginia and Canada.
The Passion Play originated in Union City when a group of German and Swiss immigrants in this area decided to present a Passion Play as an offering to world peace. Lead by their pastor, Reverend Joseph Grieff, they modeled their play on the Passion Play performed in Oberammergau, Germany since 1634. While the Passion Play in Oberammergau is performed every ten years and is a tremendous tourist attraction, the play in Union City is performed every year and has become well known for its innovative and sensitive approach to religious and social issues.
In the 1980s, the script was adapted, with the help of the Bishop’s Conference for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, in response to criticism that passion plays carried a message of anti-Semitism. In the 1990s, the play featured an African American actor playing the role of Christ.
The Passion Play has always been staged by members of the local community and it is still produced as part of an important local tradition. Several members of the cast have been in this play for more than 30 years. Current productions include professional actors in some of the dramatic leading roles.