Jim Krag

Jim Krag will perform “According to Mark” on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 3 p.m., at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 9401 S. Oakley Ave. For more information, call the church office at (773) 445-7558.

Beverly resident, Broadway, film and television actor Jim Krag will perform his one-man play, “According to Mark,” on Sunday, Jan. 28, at 3 p.m., at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 9401 S. Oakley Ave.

The idea for this original play, a dramatization of the Gospel According to Mark, was born at the back of Krag’s mind in high school, when he read a review in Time magazine of a British actor’s performance of “The Gospel of Mark” in New York.

“I was already planning to study acting and I thought, what a great idea. Actors are at heart storytellers, and what better story is there than The Greatest Story Ever Told?”

Directly after high school, Krag studied at the Goodman School of Drama and admits he was very lucky to start working immediately and landed several roles in industrial films, commercials and as understudies. This paid the rent and kept the professional life busy, but it was the classes he took at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre 25 years ago that changed his life. There he was cast as Romeo in a summer stock production and met his current director, Jeff Christian, who shared Krag’s passion for Shakespeare.

“Because of our Shakespearean backgrounds, we decided to use the King James Authorized Version of the Gospel for ‘According to Mark.’ The King James was being translated at the same time Shakespeare was writing his greatest plays, and we were well trained in that language, so it seemed like a natural fit.”

Krag admits he is not a theologian or preacher, “just an actor.” But the idea of Mark had been tugging at him for a long time.

“Mark is considered by scholars to be the earliest of the four gospels; it is believed Matthew and Luke had a copy of Mark on their desks while writing their versions. I decided to put aside all my parochial school training and approach the production as if I never heard of the story before and Mark was the only gospel in existence. I studied it as I would a play script, finding story arcs, digging into the characters’ motivations, their joys, their fears and frustrations. It has a charismatic leader, humorous sidekicks, villains, intrigue and great tragedy. I discovered a Jesus I had never known, one who is very human and complex, who reveals His struggles as He grows from a simple carpenter into the King of Kings.”

When asked what excites him the most about performing “According to Mark” Krag said, “It is wonderful to see the audience’s reactions when they hear things they’ve never heard before in a story they know so well. Mark is Jesus Unplugged. There is no Nativity in Mark, no Sermon on the Mount, no Wedding Feast at Cana, no Raising of Lazarus. Mark starts with a bang. Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, the heavens open, He receives His mission and is on His way. Jesus performs miracles; fences with His opponents, and tries to teach his confused disciples, always with the shadow of the cross looming over him. It is deeply moving and potentially life changing.”

Krag hopes “everyone feels welcome, secular and non-secular. ‘According to Mark’ is not ‘church,’ it is a theatrical performance. I hope it will help people understand better the humanity of Jesus. Mark’s Jesus is not ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild.’ He is a dynamic, courageous rebel, a compassionate, light-hearted teacher and a loving, lonely leader who changed the world.”

And why should people leave a warm house on a cold January day to see this? “Well, for one thing, Bethlehem is a beautiful open space, warm and welcoming with nice cushioned pews. Also, the performance is a few weeks before the beginning of Lent. I think to gather as a community, as Christianity’s earliest followers did, and experience ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ as if for the first time, is wonderful preparation for the Easter season.”

Krag’s background is varied, impressive and weighty. His first break was some rare understudy work at Steppenwolf Theater. One of the shows he understudied starred John Malkovich and Joan Allen and that show ended up on Broadway. Krag moved to New York with the production and was able to go on Broadway for three weeks while the actor he was understudying took a break.

He has done many commercials and some small roles in films and TV, including a scene with Sandra Bullock in “While You Were Sleeping” and another with Bruce Willis in “Mercury Rising.” He’s appeared in scenes on “Ellen” and “Chicago PD.” He has worked at many of the big theaters in Chicago, including Goodman, Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, Court, Victory Gardens and Drury Lane.

Admission is free to “According to Mark.”

For more information, call the church office at (773) 445-7558.