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Sometimes persistence DOES pay off.
Just ask 20-year-old Ofelia Torres who, for the past several years, has been pestering Matrix Theatre’s Shaun S. Nethercott and the troupe’s various directors to remount its popular production of “Jesus in the Hood.”
“You need to do this play,” Torres begged. “It HAS to come back. This is the time we really NEED it.”
Whether it was God working in a mysterious way or the Nethercotts – Shaun and her husband Wes – finally giving in, Torres’ dream will come true March 23 when Matrix opens “Jesus in the Hood” at the nearby Odd Fellows Hall.
And Torres, who plays multiple characters in the production including Judas, couldn’t be happier! “It’s pretty cool – I got the bad part,” she laughed.
Originally written in 1996 by Matrix and the youth group at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Southwest Detroit, the production re-tells the Gospel of St. Luke – but as a “hip, funny, contemporary, yet profoundly religious and respectful” tale that examines what Jesus’ life and ministry would be like if he was born today in an American inner city neighborhood.
The script, Torres explained, was created at a time when the neighborhood was experiencing problems with local gangs – a situation that continues today. “People are coming from Mexico and California, and some of these kids don’t find their place. They think that the church, that being Catholic or that Jesus is for old people, and they don’t want nothing to do with it. So they’re involved in this gang-related activity.”
It’s a subject Torres knows all-too well. “In this neighborhood, coming from our Latin culture, being young and Catholic is a lot harder than some people think. When I was younger, I was involved with the gangs, and we did a lot of bad stuff.”
It was a personal wake-up call that gave Torres the strength to abandon the gangs for Jesus. “After a few bad incidents, God smacked me,” she said. And she’s hoping the play will have that same affect on others. “I think it will hit home because it shows that Jesus was young like us, and there’s nothing wrong with doing what he says.”
For 26-year-old Rafael Velasquez, playing the role of Jesus offers him another way to minister to the neighborhood’s young people. “Every day God gives me a new mission to carry out. And that’s what this is all about. When Ofelia invited me to do this play, I knew that God was asking me to be in it – to spread the word and to challenge these kids to turn their lives around.”
A native Detroiter and one-time seminarian, Velasquez teaches catechism at area churches. “Where God needs me, I’m there.”
While that’s generally true, Velasquez almost didn’t accept the role after reading the script. “I’m a very, very serious guy and I’m really into my faith. So I felt a little offended by it.”
But after seeing how much fun the other actors were having – and realizing that the show’s humor will help deliver the message to those who need it most – Velasquez signed on. “This experience has been great for me. It’s taught me to have fun and not take everything so serious.”
‘Jesus in the Hood’
Matrix Theatre at Odd Fellows Hall, 7752 W. Vernor Hwy. in Southwest Detroit. Fri.-Sun., March 23-April 1. Tickets: $15. For information: 313-967-0599 or http://www.matrixtheatre.org