News of the San Gabriel Valley since 1966.

‘Time Jockey’ The Mission Play

by Joe Castillo

by Joe Castillo

History Re-Told …. The Mission Play, the story of the Franciscan Fathers quest to convert Native Californians to Christianity, will be re-imaged after an absence of nearly 80 years. In celebration of the City of San Gabriel’s 100th birthday and Father Junipero Serra’s 300th birthday, the Mission Play will be restaged at the historic San Gabriel Mission Playhouse. Written by John Steven McGroarty, the play was first staged in 1911 in a wooden, framed house in the newly named Centennial Park adjacent to the Mission San Gabriel. As the play’s popularity grew, so too did the need for a larger venue. McGroarty, California poet laureate, journalist and Congressman, came up with the idea to build a large enough facility to house a huge crowd and be able to stage his Mission Play with its extended cast of performers. After 16 years of playing in the nearby park, the play was ready to spread its wings. Using his own money and funds from investors, McGroarty raised enough money to build the Mission Playhouse and in 1927, it opened its doors for the first time. The playhouse was built in McGroarty’s grand style displaying the romantic Spanish décor which would promote his play and enhance his investment. The interior of the playhouse was a vast array of seating, tapestries from the royal Spanish family, and ceiling art which depicted images of the local natives. It was the perfect location for McGroarty’s play and for nearly six years over 2.5 million people came to San Gabriel to watch the epic play. Starting this April, a new re-imaged version of the play will be performed for audiences. The new version takes place in the current year when a group of young friends are taken back in time to the late 1700’s. They arrive outside the Mission and witness first-hand the Franciscan Fathers attempt to convert the local natives, their struggle with the military and the perspective of the indigenous people in their fight to retain their way of life. The cast consists of relatives of the original play and descendants of the early pioneers of San Gabriel. Remnants of the famous play are still evident throughout the historic district of San Gabriel. Located in the heart of San Gabriel, the Mission Playhouse and Mission San Gabriel are all located within walking distance of each other. McGroarty Avenue is just down the street off Santa Anita Avenue and the San Gabriel Historical Museum is next to the Playhouse parking lot. The Museum proudly displays artifacts from the original Mission Play including costumes, playbills, programs and props. The Playhouse sits proudly next to Grapevine Park along Mission Drive. And around the corner is the 241-year old Mission San Gabriel with its historic gardens, original grounds and artifact filled museum. It’s the perfect setting for the play, just like it was nearly 80 years ago. The music, dance, colors and arrangement of this historical performance will once again light up the Mission Playhouse and the history of the nearby Mission San Gabriel will come alive again…..

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