BRATTLEBORO -- What can a man and a devil in the desert in ancient times teach us about our lives today?
That question lies at the heart of the latest offering from Winged Productions, a mystery play based on the gospel stories of the temptations of Christ in the wilderness.
Titled "Three in the Wilderness," the production derives its inspiration from the mystery plays professional guilds staged in the Middle Ages. Telling scripture stories in dramatic and creative fashion, mystery plays proved very popular -- so popular they were eventually banned by the Protestant Church.
The idea of mystery plays became the jumping off point for "Three in the Wilderness," a production for adults and children and people of all faiths and beliefs that combines puppets designed and built by Finn Campman, original music by Paul Dedell and traditional songs performed by Tony Barrand, Zara Bode, Stefan Amidon, Kathy Andrew, Dedell.
"Three in the Wilderness" will be presented on Thursday and Friday, April 10 and 11, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, April 13, at 3 and 7 p.m., at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church at the corner of Putney Road and Bradley Avenue.
In the gospel temptation stories, Jesus gets baptized by John the Baptist and then immediately finds himself alone in the wilderness for 40 days, where he faces three temptations from the devil. His responses, delivered with such surety, calmly reject the devil’s sly suggestions that Jesus turn the stones into bread to feed himself, that he fall from the pinnacle of the temple and allow angels to catch him and that he climb to the top of a mountain where all he can will be his kingdom.
For Dedell and Campman, the stories, which are told matter-of-factly, are intriguing as much for what is left unsaid in them as for what is said.
"What I like about it, from a theatrical standpoint, is there’s very little that happens and very little that’s said, and yet the place -- the wilderness -- is very important," said Campman. "What the wilderness is is open to interpretation. There was a lot of creative room in that."
"It has the most fabulous visual images. It has this inherent drama to it," said Dedell. "All these stories speak so eloquently to who we are."
Which is why Winged Productions dove into them.
Formed this year by Susan and Paul Dedell, Winged Productions aims to present creative events that explore the sacred. Retelling and examining the temptation stories was a perfect fit.
"What are the three temptations? What are the temptations saying to us? We wanted to be able to imagine the humanness of these temptations," Dedell said. "The temptations offer us a chance of thinking about human choice."
"The reason for making the piece is sometimes it feels like it’s easier and easier to live life on autopilot, without making choices," Campman said.
In essence, while the temptations stories represent a significant dance between Christ and the Devil, they offer a chance for us to ruminate on our own, individual dances with darkness.
To tell the story, Campman created tabletop puppets representing Christ and Lucifer and added a third character -- a Fool who finds himself both uncertain and inspired as he witnesses the supernatural exchanges between Christ and the Tempter.
"He acts as the pragmatist and acts as the dreamer and finally has the chance to act as the wise fool," said Campman.
To complement the story told with puppets, "Three in the Wilderness" adds music. Some of it is instrumental music composed by Dedell for the temptation sequences and performed by Kathy Andrew on violin, Dedell on guitar, Stefan Amidon on drums and Zara Bode on other instruments.
Other music includes traditional English and Americana songs that deal with issues of temptation, choice and weakness.
"That provides a really human look at the daily engagement of making choices," said Campman.
Those songs will be performed by Barrand, Bode, Amidon and Dedell. Puppet performers include Campman, Kirk Murphy and Helen Schmidt.
The decision to present "Three in the Wilderness" in at St, Michael’s Episcopal Church during Lent was a deliberate one. "The Lenten season is certainly one of reflection," said Dedell. "It does speak of the hope of rebirth.
However, "Three in the Wilderness" is suitable for people of all faiths and no faith, anyone who wants to enjoy and be engaged by a creative exploration of this notion of human choice.
Admission is by suggested donation of $8-10. For more information, visit stmichaelsvermont.org/winged-productions.