A cell phone image of the moment Blacktip Island’s Nativity play violence spilled into the audience at the Our Lady of Blacktip church Thursday night. (Photo courtesy of Barb Schaft)
Blacktip Island’s reef-themed Nativity play at Our Lady of Blacktip cathedral was cut short Thursday evening when an altercation broke out among the play’s participants.
“Lee Helm’s been carrying a flame for Alison Diesel for years,” play director Doris Blenny said. “He was none too happy when we picked her to play Mary, and him to play Second Shepherd.
“Apparently, Lee downed all the Communion wine backstage pre-play,” Blenny said. “Then when Gage Hoase, as Joseph, put his arm around Alison, well, Lee let his emotions get the better of him.”
An onstage scuffle spilled into the audience, sending playgoers scurrying for exits.
“The Angelfish had just started singing ‘Paradise City,’ when a shepherd in a wetsuit jumped across the crib and grabbed Joseph’s throat,” spectator Wendy Beaufort said. “The wise men tried to help Joseph, but the other shepherds had their boy’s back. It’s crazy the damage a bamboo shepherd’s crook can do.
“The fight tumbled off the stage and into us,” Beaufort said. “I t was mayhem. Joseph bashed the shepherd with Baby Jesus right in front of me. People were stomping on each other to get to the doors. I crawled under pews and hopped out a window.”
Authorities say seven participants and 13 audience members were taken to the island medical clinic.
“Most of the injuries occurred in the stampede to exit the building,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “The most serious injuries were sustained by players onstage.
“We have six actors, including Mr. Helm, in custody on multiple charges,” Marquette said. “The most serious charge is assault with a sea fan palm tree. And battery with a mock infant.”
Event organizers say the incident is Blacktip Island’s worst theater-related violence since 2011’s ‘Cats’ debacle.
“We’re still trying to finding Baby Jesus, two of the Wise Men’s dogs and any of the shepherd’s land crabs,” Blenny said. “Antonio Fletcher just announced he’s having a holiday crab boil at his place, but I don’t think that’s related.”
Blacktip Island’s religious community condemned the violence.
“It’s heartbreaking to see this kind of behavior in a church, especially during the holidays,” said the former-Reverend Jerrod Ephesians, head of the Blacktip Island Ecumenical Council. “This was a Nativity play. No one was supposed to take it seriously.
“I mean, it’s Blacktip Island,” Ephesians said. “There’s never been a virgin on this little rock. And good luck finding one wise man here, much less three.”