After a year off, the local nondenominational theater troupe, Companions of Jesus of New Mexico, return to bring the Passion Play to life.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the troupe did not produce and perform the play for Good Friday.

Therese Hidalgo, the director of the play since 2002, said there were various factors last year that led the group to take a hiatus.

“We had some key people who were ill, who had passed away. Recruitment was low. We tried and tried but it just wasn’t coming together,” Hidalgo said.

Rather than force the performance to happen, Hidalgo and the troupe spent this last year focusing on recruiting.

“The cast we have multi-generational,” she said. “This year, we’ve had some people come back who have been gone 15 years, as well as new performers in their teens and young adults and couples. The play is new to them.”

This year, the Companions of Jesus of New Mexico will be presenting the traditional, “Death of the Messiah,” which depicts the three days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

This marks the 20th year of the troupe and the 19th performance, Hidalgo said.

“I guess I always think it will continue, hoping new people come in,” she said. “When we didn’t do it last year, I felt like we let people down.”

Mother Mary, portrayed by Maggie Montoya, offers a prayer before the last supper during this year’s production of “Death of the Messiah.”

While it was understandable that the troupe took a break, as illnesses, family needs, doctorate degree work and other bits and pieces of life seemed to conspire against the group, Hidalgo said it still didn’t sit right with her to just walk away.

“Last year, we met, and there were only five or six of us,” she said. “We were all disappointed to not do it. So to do it again, maybe I just don’t give up.”

Hidalgo said her husband, Miguel, has been extremely supportive in reviving the play, even taking on the role of Peter in the production.

Mary, mother of Jesus, weeps for her son after his crucifixion. In this year’s production of “Death of the Messiah,” Mary is played by Maggie Montoya and Jesus by Frank Costa.

“This play serves a purpose for a lot of people. One performer has special needs and this is her life. She was so let down,” she said. “This year off, it let us build some energy, let the community miss us a little. We started rehearsals and once we committed to the venues and performances, there’s no turning back. The cast was invested.”

The annual play was started in 1999 by a couple from Michigan, Pat and Joe Brown. Members of an acting group called Jesus Company, the couple and their fellow actors did passion plays across Michigan and wanted to bring the tradition to other communities, including Belen.

“The idea was to plant seeds in different communities,” Hidalgo said.

That first year, the Browns put on a Christmas play, which Hidalgo was part of.

The seed the Browns hoped for took hold and The Companions of Jesus of New Mexico was formed along with a board of directors.

King Herod, played by Robert Gallegos, demands Jesus perform a miracle for him to witness.

The board is a working one, Hidalgo said, whose members do a lot of work behind the scenes, building sets and holding fundraisers for materials for costumes and to buy props.

The story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is one Hidalgo feels very intensely, she said.

Pontius Pilate, portrayed by Manuel Reyes, listens to the demands of the crowd to have Jesus crucified.

“I want everyone else to feel what I feel. As a reminder of what He’s done for all of us,” she said. “The is about the faith of people to carry it, to keep it in our day to day lives in our hearts and minds, not down deep but up in the forefront.

“I think it does that for a lot of people.”

Being able to add artistic aspects to the story with music, Hidalgo said it helps with people with their own interpretation.

“This play speaks to your heart. A longtime cast member, John Shipe, would say the play really is anointed, and that’s really true,” she said. “Because when we get this group of people together, it’s a special group of people. I have faith in them and maybe they have faith in them.

“As we all get older, we might feel we have nothing left to give and this provides something for them. This is such a diverse group of people and they really bring to life the tolerance and acceptance that is the Christian faith.”

Hidalgo said the performers and board want to keep the play alive, see it continue long into the future.

“Part of our message this year is, despite the break, we need people of the community to value it enough to want to join and share the message,” she said. “We want to invite people to join and have the same experience we have.”

What’s your Reaction?

Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.