Dramatic enactment of the Gospel of Mark by actor Max McLean

A YouTube search easily yields a number of dramatic readings of the Gospel of Mark, including an excellent one by actor David Suchet. But the dramatic enactment of the Gospel of Mark by actor Max McLean is in a class of its own. McLean dramatizes dialogue, of course. He also uses the stage and all of the actor’s ‘bag of tricks’ to keep the audience interested and engaged. His performance is a tour de force. He exemplifies the actor’s craft.

I noted that in his performance, McLean has to handle undramatic passages in the received text (passages that I have proposed were sites of editing). Here are two examples. First, there is an awkward transition from a narrative starring Jesus to the flashback Herod banquet (no Jesus) (Chapter 6). McLean handles it, but he has to move through undramatic territory until the banquet scene actually gets underway. Second, when McLean performs the Olivet Discourse (Chapter 13), he presents the text up to and including 13:20 straightforwardly and with a level voice. This is despite the inherently dramatic subject: warning of apocalypse! Obviously, McLean recognizes that this part of the text doesn’t accumulate drama–it isn’t going anywhere. He begins to adopt a dramatic demeanor at 13:21. His treatment of the material is consistent with my analysis of the Olivet Discourse in the book. (I propose that most of the material before 13:22 was added by an editor, and only at 13:22 does the dramatic momentum start to accrue.)

If I were in McLean’s place, I would make a few different dramatic choices, but that is because I have a theory about what was the original text (behind the current edited version), and he takes the received text at face value. In any case, everything he does is worth watching. Interestingly, he ends the performance with Mark 9-20. I am sure he recognized that the empty-tomb scene was not a fitting ending for a 90-minute dramatic performance!

On another note, I know the text, and I was still entirely engaged in watching the actor. (And there were no distractions: other actors, the set, music, costumes, etc.) Even assuming that the original performance was slower-paced (to give the audience time to take in these other theatrical elements) I cannot imagine that the audience recognized more than a few references to Scripture, even if they already knew the scenarios from their religious study. And they certainly did not have time to think about any theological implications or ideas shown in earlier scenes. The audience, like me, was engaged by the actors and the action onstage! To reveal his sources, Mark had to create a text for readers. It showed readers (and past audience members) that he really had built the Gospel play out of scenarios from Scripture.

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