Four years ago, Georgia actor Brad Sherrill took time off from his job as a professional actor in Atlanta and set about learning all 20,000 words of the fourth Gospel - the Gospel of John.
He had a copy of the New International Version Bible, a gift from his mother. And after 412 months of three-hour study sessions, the complete story was in his short-term memory.
An actor since 1983, Sherrill presented the story as a one-man, two-hour, 20-minute monologue at his home church, Chamblee United Methodist in Atlanta. He played all the characters and wore modern dress.
"It really took eight months after that of really great repetition to learn it," Sherrill said. "This was certainly the most challenging thing I ever tried to learn. After four years, it's there. But I wouldn't want to take a long break from it."
Sherrill has since presented the Gospel in more than 250 churches and playhouses across the country. He has been selected to appear at the Washington National Cathedral in 2005 and will open a run in Toronto in the same year. He tours with the play for most of the year, pausing for 20 weeks in the summer to act in Shakespeare festivals.
Gospel of John
First show: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at St. Paul's Catholic Church
Second show: 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17, at Northern Light United Church
Tickets: $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, students and military
He will present the play twice in Juneau during his Alaska tour, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at St. Paul's Catholic Church, and 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17, at Northern Light United Church. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, students and military.
All proceeds will go to international children's relief organizations.
"It's the most challenging and fulfilling work of my life so far," Sherrill said. "Of the four Gospels it's a very evangelical Gospel, but I'm not trying to convert anybody. I've had believers come and nonbelievers come and watch it as theater. I'm just trying to tell this ancient story in a very fresh way."
Sherrill chose John because he wanted to present an entire Gospel without cutting any text. Matthew and Luke are longer. Mark is shorter, but done often.
"This is a favorite of mine, specifically for what happens in chapters 14-16, which is right before Christ is arrested," Sherrill said. "To me, out of all the material in the Gospel, this is really inspiring for the love that's coming from Christ. It's about forgiveness, and I feel that 2,000 years later, we still haven't figured out how to really get along and be merciful of one another.
"Also, John lends itself to being dramatized, because it's really set up as a trial in a sense," he said. "Christ says some very outrageous things. He says, 'I'm the son of God, and I am God.' The authorities at the time don't believe him. So it's them against him, and I think that's highly dramatic. It's riveting and there's that escalation of conflict, and interspersed among the conflict is the message."
Sherrill plays all the characters and uses limited props. He doesn't use fake voices or costumes. He said that his background in Shakespeare helps him.
"They're both language plays, and after all those years you learn which verbs to hit, and the end of lines tend to become more important," he said. "You try to stay out of the way of Shakespeare, too. The prose and the verse do a lot of the work for you."
Korry Keeker can be reached at email@example.com.