Fisherman Out of Water: A New Take on the Story of Peter

Fish Tale

Actor John Maxwell performing in the Founders Chapel, Feb. 6, 2014. (Photo by William Biersack)

by William Biersack

In recent campus events, Prof. James Phillips of the Dept. of Arts and Letters collaborated with Campus Ministry, the Catholic and Dominican Institute, and Student Activities to deliver a more theatrical religious experience to the community of Mount Saint Mary College.

On the evening of Feb. 6, 2014 in the Founders Chapel, the Mount hosted the event “Fish Tale: The Story of Peter,” featuring John Maxwell of Jackson, MS.  Maxwell, who has been acting and writing his own material for almost 50 years, performed in a one-man show retelling the story of St. Peter the Apostle. Numerous members of the Mount community and the general public gathered to take part in this event.

At the beginning of the performance, Mr. Maxwell strode up the center aisle of the chapel already in character. Given only a chair, a performing space, and an audience, he retold the story of Peter in a fashion that is not commonly seen in a church service.

Maxwell took Peter out of the Sea of Galilee and characterized him as if he had been a fisherman from Mississippi. The facts and details that originated from the Bible remained the same in the performance, but his fresh take on the character of St. Peter gave a more human and modernized understanding of the apostle. Over the hour-long performance, Maxwell used this character to weave together the biblical events that led up to Peter’s trip to Jerusalem, the last supper in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Peter’s gut-wrenching denial of Jesus Christ.

A clip of John Maxwell performing “Fish Tale: The Story of Peter.” (Video courtesy of Fish Tale Group Theatre)

In the talkback following the performance, Mr. Maxwell revealed where his inspiration for this show came from:

I lived in Seattle, Washington for three years. And when I was up there, I got this phone call from the…episcopal church and they said, ‘We’re about to get to the point in the liturgy where we’re going to be talking about John the Baptist and we’d like for a homeless person to come from the back, interrupt the service, and talk to us as if he thinks he’s John the Baptist’…the next day the preacher calls me and says, ‘We had five times the money in the offering. You scared the holy hell out of ‘em.’ I felt so invigorated when I was at that church. This is what I want to do…this is what God’s calling me to do.

When speaking of the event, Prof. Phillips noted a sense of accomplishment in that several groups on campus, such as Campus Ministry, Arts and Letters, etc., were able to collaborate to make this performance possible.

Following this event, perhaps students can expect more co-sponsorships on campus providing fresh opportunities in campus life.