Folks at the University of South Dakota have found another solution. I just watched their production of Angels and Demons, a show bringing together several pageants from the York and Wakefield cycles of medieval mystery plays. The show was performed live, but made available streaming through the theatre department's website. Though the actors didn't have masks, they did all wear face shields to protect them from one another, and audience members like me watched safely from our homes.
Is it the same as live theatre? Decidedly, the answer is no, but it did give me the chance to see some great medieval drama adapted from the Middle English original by the show's director, Casey Paradies. Unfortunately, we didn't get much of a sense of the poetry of the original, but the adaptation was able to give us a taste of some of the less well known plays from the cycles. We missed the much lauded Second Shepherd's Play, but got to see The Fall of the Angels, The Temptation, and The Harrowing of Hell, among other scenes.
At the beginning of the play, we see God (Chloe Sand) create the world. After she leaves her throne vacant, though, Lucifer (Tyler Peters) declares that he should be master now. In the original play from the York cycle, Lucifer declares:
To ressayve my reverence thorowe righte o renowne.
I sall be lyke unto hym that es hyeste on heghte —
Owe, what I am derworth and defte.
Owe, Dewes, all goes downe!
My mighte and my mayne es all marrande.
Helpe, felawes, in faythe I am fallande.
Notice how as soon as Lucifer places himself on the highest height, his pride sends him crashing down to Hell. Paradies' production shows Lucifer and his fellow angels then transformed into demons, with hideous horns and makeup.
The Harrowing of Hell is usually fascinating to modern audiences, in part because it is an event that does not appear in the Bible, other than a brief reference in the Apostle's Creed. Adam and Eve, trapped in Hell, see a great light, which indicates the coming of Christ. This event was prophesied by Isaiah, as well as by John the Baptist and Moses, all three of whom are still in Hell because the Son has yet to redeem humanity.
We missed The Resurrection and fast forwarded to The Last Judgment, where the online audience got to hear a chant of "Build That Wall!" Are we living in the Endtimes? Perhaps. The good are taken up to heaven, but the demons Beelzebub (Thomas Honeywell) and Ribald (Emmy Hewitt) exult in all the wicked they will be able to now torment eternally, both in body and in soul.
Jesus then addresses the blessed, reminding them that when He was hungry, they gave Him food, and when thirsty, they gave Him drink. This they did whenever they provided anything for the poor and downtrodden. The damned, however, are reminded of how they never had pity on the unfortunate. When Jesus turns to humanity and reprimands them for their failure to act, it's a moving moment. Here's what it says in the original York play: