Friday, September 26, 2008

From my Pen

Because I'm not feeling it today, after a week during which technical difficulties prevented me from posting much, I'm going to post the first two scenes fo a play I wrote a few years back. Any and all feedback is, of course, welcome.

We open on a spare stage, with unfinished, earthy, sticky even pine the dominant feature. A raised dais, hexagonal in shape, sits center stage, constructed entirely of this naked pine. The dais is about two feet high in the center, with a square platform of about 6 feet on a side on top. Two steps lead up to the dais on all sides. A large cross, also naked pine, dominates the rear wall of the stage. The Christ upon it should ideally be carved directly from the wood, that is the crucifix and Christ would all be one contiguous piece of wood. The Christ should be somewhat abstract, but still clearly Christ. The scent of incense should be faint on the air. The lights should be of muted purples and reds, as if all the stage lighting had been strained through stained glass. The wood that dominates the set should have a well-oiled look to it, strong and sturdy pine; the dais and the Christ should be constructed from thick and solid pieces of wood with a weight to them. As the curtain rises or as the lights dim we hear music in the background. The music should straddle the romantic and modern eras, retaining clear tonality but with definite experimental aspects to it – perhaps some Schoenberg or Barber. The music will continue throughout the entirety of this opening scene, always faint and never dominant. Perhaps there is a slight haze in the air. The feeling should be of an unadorned and stolid holiness, a strong sacred and holy feeling – the set and atmosphere should, as much as possible, evoke not just a church, but a church of ancient and unmoving strength and sacredness. At the front of the dais are two wooden chairs set side by side and facing the audience. A simple wire frame, much like a rolling hanger rack, sits between the chairs, perpendicular to the audience. Hung on this rack is a thick, black cloth.

Seated on the SR chair is FATHER CASTANELLA, an elderly priest. FATHER CASTENELLA is gray-haired and well-fed, if a bit gaunt in the face nonetheless. He wears wire-rimmed glasses and is a short man, perhaps 5 foot 4 or 5. His hair is wispy and thinning but still ample for a man of his age. Seated on the SL chair is FATHER OSTRAUSKAS. FATHER OSTRAUSKAS is a younger priest, in his later twenties. He has dark hair and the hint of stubble on his cheek. Taller, perhaps 5 foot 10 or 11, and wiry. FATHER OSTRAUSKAS looks nervous, agitated, and he fidgets in his chair. He is dressed in black dress pants and a black t-shirt, but wears no priestly collar. While it should be clear to the audience that FATHER CASTANELLA is a priest, it should not be clear at the outset that FATHER OSTRAUSKAS is one.

Scene One

Bless me Father, for I have sinned.

How long has it been since your last confession?

Six days, Father.

And what is your confession?

Pause. Then, more to us than to FATHER CASTANELLA. I walked through the park yesterday. It’s been my custom to walk through the park ever since I came to this city, every Sunday, whenever I’m able. This was a nice one. Sunny and bright, a beautiful spring day. There were children playing, squealing and shouting like excited convicts afforded their first glimpse of freedom in years, and each step I took felt right, felt pre-ordained and perfect. The air was as sweet as I’ve ever smelled it here, not a hint of smog or smoke or garbage, just clean, fresh spring air. I could feel the grass, feel each blade bend and give, even underneath the rubber soles of my sneakers, and it had a spring to it, an almost palpable sense of life as it bent underneath my weight. I looked up at the sky so many times I could not count, there was one single, solitary cloud hovering in the corner of the sky, like a bad child made to sit in a corner. The rest of the sky was a pure and sinless blue, clean and fresh. The sun was warm at my neck, and I could feel the pleasant sensation of moisture as the sweat seeped up through my pores at its touch. At one point I was walking past a group of children playing soccer and the ball came out of bounds to my side. Immediately, all the children started yelling for me to “Kick it! Kick it!,” and I smiled at them. I used to play soccer, back home, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you that. Grinning, I kicked the ball towards the children over their outstretched arms and into the opposite goal. They cheered, erupted almost, and I raised my arms in victory before walking on. It was that kind of a day, Father, do you know the kind of day I speak of?

I do, Kostas. Indeed, I do.

It was a perfect day, and after a bit I took a rest by the lake, sitting near the bank and watching the small boats crisscross in sharp geometric patterns underneath that frightfully blue sky. And, as is always my custom on these walks, I turned my thoughts to Jesus and prayed to him, to thank him for the gift of such a day, the gift of such a beautiful place to call home. Pause I was scared, Father, as I began to do this, to engage in this small and meaningless prayer – not even a prayer, just a quick word of thanks to our savior - fear filled my heart, Father. I hesitate to call it terror for fear of making you laugh, and yet it was perhaps that just the same. Do you know why I felt this fear, this almost-terror, Father?

No, my son. Why?

Throughout the following, FATHER OSTRAUSKAS becomes more emotional, but never hysterically so. Because I knew not what I might find. I was scared that there would be no one there to answer my prayer, I was scared that Jesus would not be there to answer, that I would be greeted by nothing but silence, that the connection I’ve always felt with God, that I’ve always been able to call upon in prayer and reflection, would be gone. This scared me, no, terrified me, Father, because, for the first time in my life, I am not sure that he IS there. Do you understand, Father? I am not sure I even believe in him anymore, I am not sure if I believe in the resurrection, the passion, I am not even sure if I believe in God at all!

Was he there to answer your prayer?

Pause, then, almost terrified

FATHER OSTRAUSKAS stands up and, slowly, reaches into his back pocket , pulls out his collar and puts it on. These motions should have a very ritualistic sense about them, and coincide with the music either increasing in volume or climaxing, whichever makes the most sense. Blackout.

Scene Two

Lights up on FATHER OSTRAUSKAS standing at the center dais, in front of a podium with a microphone atop it. He is now dressed in full priestly robes. Seated to his right is FATHER CASTANELLA, also dressed in full gear. Opened on the podium is a Bible. As the lights come up, FATHER OSTRAUSKAS reads from the Bible:

Steadily, but not with great passion, either. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” The Word of God

A chorus of voices responds, “The Word of God.” FATHER OSTRAUSKAS closes the Bible, takes the microphone from the stand and walks in front of the podium. Addressing the audience.

I have a computer. Perhaps many of you do as well, own a computer. I’ve had it for some years now; I wrote the first draft of tonight’s homily, in fact, on this very same computer. Yes! Priests use computers. It’s true. One of our deep, dark secrets – promise you won’t tell. I’ll let you in on another. I even have a (exaggerated stage whisper) TV! (Loud) Yes! And I’ve WATCHED it! But – back to my computer, or, computers in general, actually. I’d like you, those of you who own a computer, anyway, to think back to when you first got that computer, when you first opened that box, when you first plugged it in and turned it on. I remember that day. My brother Phil was over, he helped me to set it up. Actually, it didn’t take much to set up. He plugged it in, connected the mouse and the keyboard and the monitor, flipped it on. There was some activity to be done with a password, I remember that, and then . . . we were in. It was on. Working. I asked my brother-in-law, and this I remember very specifically, I asked him, “Where are the programs?” I had really gotten the computer primarily for word processing, it was the main reason I had gotten it, and I asked him, “How de we load the word processing program? Where’s the disc?” He laughed and, with a few clicks, up came a word processing program. It’s already in there, he said, it’s been hardwired. (Pause) HARDWIRED. Now – THIS was a concept I understood, my brothers and sisters, and I think you all understand it as well. HARDWIRED. We didn’t need to teach the computer word processing by feeding it a program, no!, it had been HARDWIRED. Word processing was one of the many things it had been given at birth, been created with. I ask you, my brothers and sisters, as I asked myself that day, are we HARDWIRED with anything? We’re HARDWIRED to eat, are we not? To drink? To sleep, to suckle, to cry? These are things we have been HARDWIRED with, no one teaches us to do any of these, we just . . . KNOW them. They’ve been - say it with me, congregation - HARDWIRED! And today’s readings tell us that something else has been HARDWIRED into us, don’t they? “ . . .Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit to HARDWIRE into us knowledge of him. Now – I hear your thoughts already my brothers and sisters, “then WHY AM I HERE!!!???” Why do we come to church together, why do we put our young through the endless Sundays and drills and sermons, if knowledge of God is already HARDWIRED? Well, brothers and sisters, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, the teachings of Christ are NOT HARDWIRED, the details of His story are not HARDWIRED, but the knowledge of God, the knowledge of his existence, of his goodness, of his love for us – THAT is HARDWIRED. And that is a glorious thing. We have knowledge of God at birth, from the moment we spark into existence like fireflies spontaneously generating into a cool summer night, we KNOW God. We may not yet know his name, or his story, or even precisely what he asks of us, but we know him and we hear him and we feel him. We are full of him.

FATHER OSTRAUSKAS pauses here. Almost as if hesitant about plunging forward. Soon enough, however, he does, almost nervously.

This is a glorious thing, is it not? A glorious thing. For imagine a world, imagine, my brothers and sisters, a world in which we were not HARDWIRED. Can you? What would that world be like? A world in which the identity of God was ours to discover, a world in which His presence was not ingrained into us, a world in which it was . . . open to question. Would we believe in a God in such a world?

As he progresses through the following, FATHER OSTRAUSKAS becomes more agitated and theatrical in tone and gesture, until at the end, he is fairly screaming, or, more precisely, over emoting

Looking at the world around us, at the evidence in front of us, hearing on the news of the child who’s killed by his Mother, of the war and violence man commits against man, hell, of great tragedies caused by the earth itself, earthquakes trembling and spitting us out like rotten teeth, hurricanes and tornadoes and ice storms and lightning and lava and locusts and plagues and disease and cancer, AIDS, heart attacks, epidemics, freak occurrences of nature that take life on a whim the fragility and capriciousness of human existence the very wispiness of our lives with no control or discernible order rhyme reason logic fairness system structure – NOTHING!!! (Bitter) In all of this NOTHINGNESS would we still believe in an almighty God if he had not seen fit to burn it into our brains with no more thought given to the branding of cattle? Would we? HARDWIRED, my brothers and sisters. HARDWIRED.

He drops the microphone to the ground and walks off.

Until Whenever

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