Former soap opera actor to perform Christmas play

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Frank Runyeon now focuses on biblical stories 

John Franko
Staff Writer

From an early age, Frank Runyeon was interested in stories. After all, he noted, we are surrounded by them.

But as he grew older, he became part of a bigger story. It was one that saw him embrace the bright lights of Hollywood.

"Like going to heaven," he said.

Runyeon rose to stardom as Steve Andropoulos on "As the World Turns." His role, opposite Meg Ryan, drew some of the highest ratings in the history of daytime television.

He went on to play Father Michael Donnelly on "Santa Barbara" and Simon Romero on "General Hospital." Other roles included Jovan Dmytryk on "Falcon Crest" and Father Tom on "Melrose Place."

But while he enjoyed the bright lights, Runyeon noted, he began to ponder the stories that interested him as a child. They included many from the Bible.

He began to see some of the shallow aspects that come from being part of the Hollywood scene. He also saw his college roommate commit suicide at the age of 30.

"As a performer, I realized I had to tell more nourishing stories," he said.

So for the past 20 years, Runyeon has traveled the country and been acclaimed for his work as a translator and performer of biblical works.

He will present his production of "The 3 1/2 Stories of Christmas" on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 3 p.m. at Epiphany Church in Pittsburgh's Uptown neighborhood.

His interactive presentation will tie all the parts of the Christmas story together -- from the light of creation, to the manger in Bethlehem. From the story of St. Nicholas, to the secret of the Christmas angel.

"It will be very entertaining," he said.

Runyeon graduated from Princeton University with a degree in religion. After acting in Los Angeles and New York, he attended Fuller Seminary to prepare for his first one-man play. He also studied at Yale Divinity School and General Theological Seminary.

His first productions were crafted in cooperation with faculty of Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., and the University of Dayton.

Runyeon said faith stories are often difficult to understand because we are fed a daily diet of pop culture. We are taught what is "normal" and wonderful and how everything has to "be like us."

His interest in performing biblical stories, he said, began to take shape when he sat at the dining room table and talked about religion with his three children.

"The kids would say things like 'If there isn't a Santa Claus, does that mean there isn't a God either?'" he said.

He used stories to explain about God. His children responded by telling him that he should use his stories so their friends at school could understand God in the way that he explained it.

Runyeon Productions offers plays that are appropriate for all ages. They include "Sermon on the Mount," "Signs: The Gospel of John," "Afraid: The Gospel of Mark" and "What Are You Doing?: The Letter of James."

Other presentations include "Hollywood vs. Faith: The struggle to live faithfully in the media age" and "St. Paul's 'Letter to the Americans.'" He also offers lector workshops. In addition, there are a number of presentations and workshops geared toward schools.

"We have to get away from the glitz, and to the truth," Runyeon said. "We must be prophets."

Tickets for "The 3 1/2 Stories of Christmas" are $8 for adults; children 12 and under are free. There will be a $20 meet, greet and eat with Runyeon after the show, for which reservations are due by Nov. 14. For tickets, or more information, call 412-471-0257 or 412-261-0110.

For more information on Runyeon Productions, visit www.frankrunyeon.com.

A second area show will feature Runyeon performing "Signs" on Saturday, Nov. 17, at 6:30 p.m. at St. Joseph Parish in Cabot. More information is available by calling 724-352-9303 or 724-352-2149.