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West Orange Times & Observer Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020 1 month ago

‘Ben Hur’ to hit the Garden Theatre stage

The epic comedy will run Feb. 28 to March 15 at the Garden Theatre in Winter Garden.
by: Eric Gutierrez Staff Writer

The Garden Theatre’s latest show mixes plenty of laughs with an epic story.

“Ben Hur,” an epic comedy, follows the story of four misfit, amateur actors as they attempt to tell the grand tale of the fictional Jewish prince and merchant, Judah Ben-Hur, while operating on a shoestring budget.

The original story — a novel by the name of “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” by Lew Wallace — recounts the adventures of a man who was falsely accused of an attempted assassination and enslaved by the Romans before he became a charioteer and Christian. The novel runs in parallel to the unfolding of the story of Jesus Christ.

The Garden Theatre’s upcoming production takes a light-hearted, comedic approach to that epic tale. As the actors rehearse the timeless story of the Jewish prince and merchant, offstage struggles and romance get in the way of their onstage sea battles and chariot races.

“I think part of the humor of the show is there cannot be a brief synopsis of ‘Ben-Hur,’” said Kristin Shirilla, who is one of the four actors in the production. “‘Ben-Hur itself, the source material, is based on a 900-page novel, so the joke of the show is we’re doing it onstage — all 900 pages — condensed into one production.”

“Ben Hur” actors — Adam Graham, TJ Washburn, Kristin Shirilla and Mason Criswell — are thrilled to re-imagine the adventures of Judah Ben-Hur. Photo by Steven Miller.

“It’s sort of a play within a play, so that’s where some of the humor comes into play,” said Mason Criswell, another one of the four actors in the show. 

Shirilla will be playing the role of Crystal, and Criswell will be taking on the role of Omar. Since the show is a play within a play, Shirilla and Criswell each will be taking on multiple roles as their characters try and take on the challenge of adapting the story of Ben Hur to a theatrical, stage production.

“The characters that our characters play — Crystal and Omar play — have parallels to the cast relationships a little bit,” Shirilla said. “There’s a little bit of a love triangle going on behind the scenes during the show within a show. … It can get a little awkward for the characters as they’re doing the show.”

There’s a bit of a romance between the initial roles Shirilla and Criswell play, but offstage, the two share a real-life romance. Shirilla and Criswell are married and they actually met through theater during an internship at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater about nine years ago.

Criswell and Shirilla have been in the Orlando area since that internship, working different acting and entertainment jobs at the theme parks. “Ben Hur” is not only their first Garden Theatre production, it’s also the first production where the two will be on stage together in nine years.       

“It’s fun,” Shirilla said. “We’re still fairly early in the rehearsal process, so there’s definitely room for us to find more opportunities to kind of bring that subtle flirtation to the surface.”

“This is our first show together as a married couple, so we’re excited for that,” Criswell said. “We tend to be a little silly, and this show is definitely very silly.”


Eric Gutierrez is a staff writer with the West Orange Times & Observer and the West Orange Observer. He graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2015 with a double major in Journalism and Political Science. Contact Eric at...

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