This was originally posted in rec.arts.tv.soaps in 1992
The night was to consist of a covered dish dinner in Trinity Lutheran Church, then the "show" and "meet Frank Runyeon" in Christ Episcopal Church down the road.
The covered dish was uneventful (except for the obvious pleasures of a PA Dutch area Church's covered dish dinner - MMMmmmmmmm!). No Frank yet. Just a mostly "older" crowd. Older than me. Indeed somewhat elderly. Older than John S.! (Sorry, John! 8-) )
Then we walked across the street in a drizzle to Christ Episcopal. That's when the excitement of expectation began to build. The dinner was not well attended. The Church was pretty full! We dropped our contribution into the plate, which was pretty well contributed to I might add, and were taken out of line by a fellow Trinity member and asked to sit up front. Real in front. Facing the audience. As disciples. (I was Andrew. Renee was Phillip.)
The lights dimmed. The room grew hushed. The Pastor (I'm afraid I was raised Baptist - Do Episcopalians have Pastors?) then did his ObIntro (Obligitory Hello folks, thanks for coming. Frank was baptized in Trinity and confirmed in Christ Episcopal...) and we watched the front expectantly.
Christ Episcopal is a real old church. The pews have obviously held the Sunday Best of 100 - 200 years of Reading-ites. The ceilings are high and arched. The area in front of the pews where the Pastor stands is a large platform, a size of small room, accessible via three steps. We disciples were seated around these steps, six on a side. From a side door hidden in the panels of this small room stepped Father Donnelly.
His black hair and that boyish smile were extremely familiar. By Golly if he didn't look EXACTLY like he did on T.V. He had a broad grin, and was wearing a white, shiny pullover shirt with baggy arms, and black pants. The spotlight reflected from the shirt.
He said hello. Thanks for coming. His friendly manner quickly put us at ease. Then he started the show.
It was a synopsis of the Gospel of Mark. We were quickly put into the world of poChrist Christianity with a vivid description of the Church as a catacomb where Christians met to worship. This is where Mark told his story for the first time. It was Frank Runyeon's wish to portray the story as close to Mark's narrative as possible.
Frank Runyeon was suddenly striding quickly to one side then to the other as he went from a sick girl's house to the seaside to a mountain, and back. He was all the characters (we were just props - no lines!), the Scribes and Pharisees, the sick, Jesus, King Herald and his wife (and daughter), John the Baptist, and a host of others. He was funny, and he was mesmerizing. He portrayed the Jewish scribes as old New Yorkers. He portrayed King Herald as a foolish, pompous .. errrr.. ass. He had tears running down his cheeks as Jesus prayed to God in the Garden. He groaned agonizingly as Jesus dismissed his soul on the cross.
Just like the book (which reads like an Indy 500 compared to Matthew), he ended as quickly as he started. Suddenly Mark had finished his story to the congregation in the catacombs. Frank came back out to thunderous applause (of course in those old churches, three old ladies make thunderous applause) and a standing ovation for three bows.
We found our way down stairs to punch and pretzels (and cookies). Soon Frank Runyeon walked in and started chatting individually with everyone. Eventually they set up a table and a chair for him. A line formed. Renee and I were at the back. When we finally met him, I shook his hand, told him I was a fan from Santa Barbara. He said "Ah yes, Michael!" I said I had to admit to watching as much to see Flame as to see Michael. He laughed and let on that she was as idiosyncratic in real life as her character. "You never knew what she was going to do." We complimented him on his show. (I used "mesmerizing" (although I said it better than I spell it) and he said I knew just the right things to say to an actor. He thanked us for being Disciples. He autographed our program.
What a nice guy! And what a great show!