UAF theatre spreads the good word with 'The Messenger'

Lilly Necker / Sun Star Reporter
Oct. 18, 2011

“If God sent an Angel to Earth – would you listen to what he had to say?”

“The Messenger” is a story about life, death and faith. The film is slated to premiere at UAF in 2012.

The slogan to the movie “The Messenger” gives the idea that the latest production of UAF professor Kade Mendelowitz will turn out to be a special kind of film.

The female lead, Jessie, who was raised in a Catholic household, is the victim of rape in a parking lot. This traumatic experience plunges the host of the well-known talk show “The Jessie Show” into a monumental personal crisis were she no longer knows what to believe in. A man named Michael contacts her claiming he is an angel and wants to be a guest in her talk show. He appears on the show and opens a discussion about faith that seems to come in the exact right moment for Jessie. But who is the strange man without a last name? Actually a messenger of God? Or the declared dead Michael Arzdohoth who escaped years ago from a mental institution?

“I have to admit that I am really scared of death. So I thought what else could be more interesting then to take life and death, believing or not believing as the topic for my next movie?” Mendelowitz said. “People say you should not talk about politics, money and religion with a friend. But those hot topics are what life is about.”

It took him eight months to write the piece. Originally “The Messenger” wasn’t created to be only a movie. For the first time in his career as an author, the light-and-multimedia art designer wanted to write a piece that could be both a film and a play.

“I wrote the story in a way that the whole talk show part on its own was supposed to be performed on stage. In the movie this recorded live sequence should be cut into it,” Mendelowitz said.

The rehearsal for the play, which was supposed to have its premiere this week on campus, was almost done when the male lead who was going to play Michael needed to exit the production due to personal reasons.

“It’s a huge disappointment that the play isn’t happening now. Other than that, it’s going really well with the movie. Crew and faculty members have been really cooperative,” Mendelowitz said.

For the character Michael, there is a well-experienced replacement: Andrew Cassel. 

The 42-year-old theater senior has been steadily acting for 12 years.

“My heart is with the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre. I have traveled the world with that company and I love performing Shakespeare,” Cassel said. “But I also love working at UAF. There are always new people to work with and the faculty is wonderful.”

The whole idea of the movie was fascinating for him.

“Any time there is a chance to talk about morals and debate the place of evil in the world there is a chance to improve human understanding,” Cassel said.

To be the “last-minute hero” for the project was exciting and unexpected for Cassel, who is thrilled to have the chance to perform a role like this, he said.

“People treat you a little differently when you’re in angel mode. Like they are afraid about getting hit with wings. Although there are no angel wings in the film itself.” Cassel said.

With Carrie Baker, Mendelowitz got another well-experienced actress. The 37-year-old spent several years on stage in the New York Theater and took part in different TV productions before she and her husband moved to Fairbanks where she teaches several acting classes at UAF. For the mother of a young boy, the Theatre UAF production is a premiere of a special kind.

“I have never been pregnant acting before. My character Jessie is pregnant as well, not knowing if her husband is the father or the guy who raped her,” Baker said. “But because I am in the seventh month now we needed to shoot the rape scene at first.”

The first day of shooting of the approximately $3,000 film was Memorial Day this past summer. Mendelowitz hopes to finish shooting on Nov. 6. The professor gets support for the film shoot not only from the approximately 30 actors who take part in the movie, but also from the “Let’s Make a Movie” class and the approximately 16 students in the UAF film program established last year.

“It’s the most ambitious project I ever worked on and the biggest crew I ever worked with. And boy – it makes life so much easier,” Mendelowitz said.

“I love Fairbanks but it’s not that easy to make it look pretty,” Mendelowitz said.

The premiere of the film will be on campus in April or May of next year. 

“I have no doubt that some people will find the movie controversial,” Mendelowitz said.

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