Judy Klass

After Tartuffe
Part Two

 

Cast of Characters 


GRANDMA: ORAL's mother. Sharp-tongued, quietly terrified of death; seventies. 


ORAL: A prosperous, wide-eyed, oblivious but ultimately well- meaning Southern businessman; forties through sixties. 


ALMA: ORAL's second wife, ten or twenty years younger than he is. Kind-hearted, stronger than he initially knows. 


DANIEL: ORAL's son and ALMA's stepson. Introspective, brave: a daydreamer with potential to be heroic. In love with TYLER; eighteen or nineteen. 


MARY-ANNE: ORAL's daughter and ALMA's stepdaughter. Sweet, pouty, timid around authority figures despite her visions of rock and roll rebellion. In love with VAUGHN; almost seventeen. 


TYLER: In love with DANIEL, in awe of his intellect, and the person who comes closest to sharing his interests; early twenties. 


VAUGHN: A serious, likeable young man, to the manor born, who has inherited a lot of money. In love with MARY-ANNE; late twenties. 


THE REVEREND CHADWICK PUSSER: A hypocrite. Often syrupy smooth and overly friendly on the outside; thirties through sixties. 


DOREEN: The maid in ORAL's household who tells it like it is. Not from a rich background. Her dress is a little low-cut but nothing shocking by today's standards; twenties through fifties. 


Doubling is possible if one actor plays both Vaughn and Pusser. 


NOTE: ALL THE WOMEN SHOULD WEAR FLOOR-LENGTH DRESSES AND HAVE KERCHIEFS ON THEIR HEADS AT ALL TIMES, UNLESS OTHERWISE INDICATED. 


Scene 


In ORAL's house during Act One; alternating between ORAL's house and VAUGHN and TYLER's house during Act Two. 


Time


A possible future that's less than one century away. 

                
SCENE ONE

(DOREEN is sweeping the room where the characters were in the first scene of the play. PUSSER ENTERS.)

PUSSER
Doreen, I couldn’t speak to you before                       
When you were saying something at my door,                   
‘Cause I was lost in prayer and meditation;                             
When God talks, it’s a private conversation.

DOREEN
I’ll bet. But I was just the messenger –                      
The missus hopes you’ll have a word with her.

PUSSER
With pleasure! I’ve been hoping for a chance                   
To counsel her at length, and to enhance                            
The qualities in her that suit her best.


DOREEN
I’m sure she’ll be thrilled by your interest.

PUSSER
(looks at her, then away)
Oh! Quickly, Doreen, take this handkerchief                    
So we two aren’t compromised – 

DOREEN
As if!

PUSSER
Cover your bosom, rising, round and bare                    
Before some Godly man is shipwrecked there                     
By wicked thoughts. A maid of your maturity                   
Should put more stock in modesty and purity.

DOREEN
The way you lecture me sounds almost fresh                   
It’s funny how you’re tempted by the flesh                      
So strongly, you want me to wear this rag.
(hands back handkerchief)
If I saw you butt-naked, I’d just gag,                            
So I guess I’m less lustful and less frail                        
Than guys like you: the average pious male.                    
To make sure not to tempt that kind of jerk, a                      
Girl would have to wrap up in a burqa.

PUSSER
If you remain so brazen and so rude,                         
I’ll have to leave.

DOREEN
No, I’m gone. Later, dude.

(SHE EXITS, as ALMA enters.)

ALMA
Reverend Pusser?

PUSSER
Ma’am! My prayers are answered, thank the Lord               
It’s good to see you looking so restored.                    
Your cheeks, that were so pale, are pink and flush;              
A man might get the feeling that you blush.

ALMA
Yes, I’m much better, thanks.


PUSSER
I’m glad.

ALMA
That’s sweet.                                                    
Let’s talk about a few things. Have a seat?

(They sit.)

ALMA (CONT’D)
There’s a strange circumstance in which we’ve landed –           
All of us here. I hope you will be candid                      
And tell me what you’re thinking, honestly –      

           

PUSSER
I’ve longed to do what you’re asking of me.                        
I’ve waited for us two to be alone,                         
To find a private, candid comfort zone.

ALMA
I know you fear for my eternal soul                           
And wish to teach me virtue and control,                          
And I will listen to your counsel, soon.                      
But let me speak a word, this afternoon,                        
For Mary-Anne, who’s forced to hold her tongue.                 
She’s scared, romantic, vulnerable and young,                    
Not quite a woman, on the brink, in between
(with a Sound of Music cadence)
She is sixteen going on seventeen – 

PUSSER
Who’s Mary-Anne? Her face, now, is a blur.                     
With you right here, how could I think of her?                 
The first time I saw you, hot passion blazed                  
Within my heart – 

(DANIEL ENTERS, and watches, unseen by both)

ALMA
But, Reverend, I’m amazed                                      
To hear a man of God say such a thing!
I can’t believe that you’re imagining                           
That I would ever welcome this advance –

PUSSER
I’m such a fool for you, I took a chance.                          
I prayed on it, I tried hard to resist                      
Those full, ripe lips that I have never kissed;                   
I shut erotic thoughts out, in God’s name                       
But your wild, luscious beauty is to blame.
(grabs her hand)
You’re all the Heaven His grace will allow                        
A mortal man on Earth –

ALMA
That hurts me! Ow!

PUSSER
Oh. Sorry.

ALMA
I’m sorry I let you get this far.                               
I ought to tell my husband what you are.

PUSSER
I trust you to be merciful and kind,                           
To know that men are weak, and love is blind.                     
And if you made my happiness complete                            
Then I would be both tender and discreet. 

 

ALMA
Well, I urge you to try to recollect                           
The faith you claim to uphold and protect.                      
I won’t tell Oral you felt the need to try                       
This crap, but take your hand off of my thigh!                
And swear you’ll stop the crisis you began                   
When you came between Vaughn and Mary-Anne.

PUSSER
You’re threatening me with blackmail?

ALMA
Possibly.

PUSSER
You’re too hot for your threats to bother me                  
I’m burning up here, in your atmosphere.

DANIEL
(stepping closer)
Well, don’t fear her, but hear me loud and clear.                 
I’ll tell my dad I witnessed this burlesque                       
You’re such a twisted liar, it’s grotesque!                    
He’ll see the crook who’s caused him to ignore                  
His sense – and us – is rotten to the core.

ORAL
(ENTERING)
What’s going on? Why are your voices raised?

DANIEL
And now I get to tell you. God be praised.                   
This guest of yours, this disbarred fallen shepherd               
Cannot change his spots; he’s the kind of leopard              
Who preys on those who kindly take him in                      
Then licks his chops, and lectures about sin.                  
He preys on gentle souls, then prays out loud                     
As if he held the precepts he’s avowed.                       
His claim to be your friend is an atrocity!                   
Just hear how he’s repaid your generosity:                      
A few moments ago, I heard and watched                              
Him coming on to Alma. This was scotched                        
By her firm “No,” which she had to repeat.                     
Now take this bum and throw him in the street! 

ORAL
I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know what to do.                       
Reverend, could the things he says be true?

PUSSER
It’s true – that I am nothing but a sinner.                   
And all my life I’ve wrestled with my inner                    
Demons – a Christian man could do no less.                     
So I am more than willing to confess,                        
Though I have never lusted in my heart                         
After your wife, I know that there’s a part                        
Of me that’s flawed, and mortal, and unfit                         
For God’s sweet grace – in fact, I will admit                    
To any vice you name – no, I won’t grumble.
(sinks to his knees)
A minister must stay abject, and humble.                          
Call me a horse thief, meth head, or the Devil                    
In some way, it may be true, on some level.

ORAL
Get up, please, friend. How could I ever doubt you?                
Or listen to such vicious lies about you?
(to DANIEL)
And you, do you hate righteousness so much,                        
And manly virtue, that you have to clutch                           
At vile, flimsy lies and accusations?


DANIEL
No, I am like his last few congregations                         
And see him as he is, not some mirage.
How can you not see through this camouflage?                     
How can you not believe I speak the truth?

PUSSER
Please, Oral, don’t be too hard on the youth.                
He’s just a boy, he knows not what he does.                     
I love him. I don’t hate his lies because                       
I take as gifts my times of pain and loss                       
As Christ did, at each station of the cross.

ORAL
You’re too good, and it burns me up inside                     
To see you so abused and vilified                                 
By my own son, who I should now disown –

ALMA
Oral, don’t, please, leave the boy alone.                        
I don’t want a big circus or a scandal                          
What happened was a thing that I could handle.                      
And if the Reverend puts right what’s amiss                       
Then never again will I speak of this.                             
But if he doesn’t – 

PUSSER
Listen, Brother.                                              
The boy came stumbling in and found me here                  
Confiding in your wife about my fear                              
That I would have to give you awful news                      
About your son’s decision to abuse                             
The sacred vessel given him by God.                           
Your wife was hoping you would spare the rod,                    
And Daniel, perhaps scared I’d say too much                       
Yelled out about adultery and such.                            
Poor Alma, wanting only to protect him,                                   
Enabling the vices that infect him,                                  
Now backs his tale. She’s lax, and I know why                                   She watches a film called The King and I                           
From pre-Plague times, and that’s her education;                      
It celebrates alien lands, and miscegenation,                        
As its bareheaded teacher heroine                                
Bosses a heathen king, then draws him in.                        
They dance a polka, stirring and obscene                         
Of course by Jews: Rodgers and Hammerstein                         
Their names are. With this filth inside your walls,                         
Why blame your wife when she stumbles and falls?                  
Why blame the boy? Real love is genuine.                         
We never hate the sinner, just the sin.                        
And now, let me go back to my room, please.                        
I feel a need to shower, and hit my knees,                          
Once cleansed, and talk to God. The way I see it                             If He should call me Home tonight, so be it!                  
It’s not for me to question or rebel;                            
He is my fortress and my citadel.                             
I’m His to teach, to chastise, bless or kill                      
Whatever comes, I celebrate His will.

(PUSSER EXITS.)

ORAL
You hear that? You’ve both made him feel unclean                  
And yet he stays forgiving, and serene.                        
He’ll go upstairs and wash away the taint                             
Of this, and bless your names. The man’s a saint.               
I only wish my goodness was as boundless,                         
Since I know his suspicions are not groundless                      
When he says, Daniel, that you’ve lost your way,                     
And stoop to – 

DANIEL
What?

ORAL
(looks away)
We’ll talk another day                                          
About those things. I guess I’m not so brave.                 
For now, since I still hope your soul to save:                    
I fear that you’ve grown far too ecumenical                      
With all your fancy theories – smug and cynical.                 
Do you admit you embrace atheism?

DANIEL
No. But I hate Biblical literalism.                             
The Patriarchs say they play by the Book;                      
That’s not true, when you take a closer look;                  
Then you become bewildered and perplexed                       
At how selectively they use that text.                                       
Our felons publicly are hanged and shot,                        
But Biblical chastisements those are not.                     
Too many harsh mandated acts are done                          
These days, and yet we don’t do every one.                     
We subjugate the poor but we don’t own them,                   
We jail non-virgin brides, but we don’t stone them,              
Fine those who work on Sundays, but that’s all –                 
There are no sins for which stones fly and fall                 
Though if they did, some zealots wouldn’t mind.                     
For now, we still do not forbid the blind                             
And nearsighted from sitting near a pulpit;                   
I guess we figure they have some exculpa-                            
Tory value, with their flaws, as people ...                                     
The Bible wants them banned from ‘neath a steeple.                
Leviticus and Deuteronomy                                    
Crave deaths. Yet churchmen claim autonomy                                
To speak out against being vain and selfish,                      

But not the vicious act of eating shellfish,                
Which we all know is an abomination!                            
It never seems to earn a peroration,                          
And many who find comfort in a psalter                        
Don’t leave burnt offerings on a holy altar.

ORAL
Sure, clever young men think it’s fun to mock                    
The shepherd along with his holy flock.                      
They and their jaded friends hunt through the Book                 
And twist things ‘round, until their faith is shook.           
But Christ brought change, Paul told us all that men                       
Can miss some old commandments – just not ten.  

          

DANIEL
And yet one of the Ten Commandments seems                          
To call for stoning any who blasphemes.                          
So far none has been so strongly chastised,                  
Though when that law comes, I won’t be surprised.            
It’s not law now, but I still haven’t mastered                
Why God tells us to persecute a bastard.                      
God is God – God the Father did not change                        
When He exults in war, I find it strange.                     
When Israelites fight Amalekites, or Og,                         
Why does it always seem the epilogue                           
Is smiting, raping, killing babes and sucklings,              
Mowing them down like rows of arcade ducklings?                 
Why does God wax wroth when any are spared?                    
I’d like to praise a moral God, who cared                     
For human life. Or, how do you contrive                        
To think God wrote Deuteronomy 25?                           
Wherein we read in language most majestical                  
That if men fight, and a wife grab the testical                
Of her husband, to shield him, then that hand                       
Of hers must be chopped off. Please, understand,                 
Dad, I don’t sneer. I want your certainty.                    
But – when I read those things, they baffle me.

ORAL
Why should Alma hear such foul obscenity?

DANIEL
And yet it’s from a Book full of serenity.

ORAL
You ought to talk to our guest, and repent;                    
He’ll tell you what those Bible stories meant.

DANIEL
Dad, I can’t really talk to Reverend Pusser                      
He’s more a lecturer than a discusser                           
And though you don’t believe what my eyes saw                   
I do. His shamelessness sticks in my craw.

ORAL
Your Godlessness plain stabs me through the heart!           
There’s such a thing as too schooled, and too smart.           
You argue like a Philadelphia lawyer                           
And I don’t let those slick types past my foyer.
As for burnt offerings, boy, though I don’t leave them                 
I read the Holy words, and I believe them!                       
And someday soon, faced with a grave offense,
(looks away from DANIEL)
I – might sacrifice for God’s law, in a sense.

DANIEL
(missing his meaning, happy)
In a sense, yes, take it symbolically!                        
That Biblical approach makes sense to me.
A book that old, composed by many men                             
Demands we use our minds, and think again,                        
Read scripture as a metaphor, or poem – 

ORAL
As long as you are living in this home                         
You'll fear the Lord, respect his living Word,           
Ignoring lies that, no doubt, you have heard
From some smooth, sly, insinuating demon
If you think I'll put up with that, you're dreamin'!                
I’m not afraid to shake you, or to slap                           
Or, as with little children, use the strap                        
To save my son from worldliness and doubt –                      
But if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.                   
And if thy son offend thee ... Listen, son;                     
It’s true that Deuteronomy 21                                      
Calls for the stoning of a stubborn child                         
It won’t come to that – but if you stay wild                       
And willful, then I surely will disown you                        
And cut you dead – as if I’ve never known you.

(ORAL EXITS.)          

                

ALMA
That Pusser’s like a pustule on his brain                         
He isn’t quite himself – he’s not quite sane.
 
DANIEL
I’m not the son he wants; I’m part of why                       
He’s taken in by that smooth-talking guy.                       
I’m one more source of terror and confusion;                      
He soothes himself with Pusser’s Grand Illusion.

ALMA
Daniel, I only wish you really knew                           
How infinitely proud he is of you,                             
Of your intelligence, and all your promise!                          
He’s just scared you’ve become a doubting Thomas.                 
I’m sorry that I didn’t speak up more                            
And back your story in that scene, before.                      
I wanted Pusser to lay off your sister ...                        
We’ve got to lance him, like a fever blister                          
Somehow, before he ruins all our lives.    

DANIEL
You’re still the best of stepmoms and of wives.                  
How can you fight that bully when he rips                       
Into your love of classic movie clips?                         
It certainly would lighten all our loads                       
If our pustule/blister man explodes                            
And all his lies burst with him. While he festers                    
Dad won’t believe the people that he pesters                        
And all our conversations are distorted,                          
And love and truth and happiness – all thwarted.

ALMA
Well, Mary-Anne’s still here. We haven’t lost her.               
I sew with her, to put off that impostor                            
Twelve bridesmaid bonnets for the wedding feast –                  
That ought to take us two more weeks at least.

DANIEL
I’m scared there’s less time to expose that preacher;                  
Each day he makes Dad more and more his creature.

END OF SCENE ONE

 

SCENE TWO
      
(PUSSER KNEELS, his head bowed in prayer. HE is in the space that HE and ORAL were alone in before. ORAL enters, and watches reverentially.)

ORAL
Reverend?                                                  
Again, I only can apologize                                   
For all that, and for listening to their lies.

PUSSER
Disloyalty’s a very human vice                              
Peter loved Christ, and yet denied him thrice.

ORAL
Well, I am shamefaced for denying you.                      
Please tell me if there’s something I can do.

PUSSER
(gets up)
Just stay here, and we’ll sit and talk a spell.                 
I hope your soybean sales are going well?

ORAL
The foreman sent me word from the plantation;                 
The latest crops are nearing maturation.                      
The sales of my soy protein cakes are high –                     
In some ways, I’m a very lucky guy.

PUSSER
Except on this front. I don’t mean to probe                    
But you must feel as put upon as Job                          
When it comes to that loud housekeeper hellion,                         
And daughter, son and wife all in rebellion.                 
Remember, though, with everything you’re feeling,            
That Dr. Jesus offers instant healing.
(beat – they sit in chairs)
And I’m so glad your product’s really hot;                     
Be proud of that fine business head you’ve got.

ORAL
Well, I’m not sure that too much praise is merited.             
My land, my soybean crops – they’re all inherited.

PUSSER
You’re doing by the Lord the way you should                      
And that’s the reason why business is good.                       
He helps not one who’s arrogant, or cursed.                 
Their vats shall overflow, their barns shall burst                 
Who honor and obey the Prince of Peace                            
And give him the first fruits of their increase.
That’s what it clearly says in Proverbs 3.                   
It’s myth, that God hates wealth, it’s fantasy.
Cash is God’s way of telling you “well done.”                  
He blessed King David and King Solomon                       
With fortunes so vast, we can hardly grasp it!                
When He gifts you with treasure, you should clasp it.            
The Communists and Socialists and such                         
Think treasure is all stolen, it’s too much                      
To have a thousand times more than the poor –                    
Who always are with us, who will endure,                          
Who squander many gifts of charity;                            
We might as well see facts with clarity.                      
You worked hard to be where you are today.

ORAL
Well –

PUSSER
Your soy cakes help the poor in their own way.

ORAL
For cheapness and nutrition, you can’t beat ‘em,                  
Though I’ll admit, I wouldn’t want to eat ‘em!

PUSSER
Your marketing is strong, your land is arable ...                   
In Luke 19, Lord Jesus tells a parable:  
A noble gave his servants one pound each
To use for trade while he was out of reach.
When he returned, two men showed interest
That they had earned – but one did not invest;
His feeling about money was, why make it?
The nobleman might come home soon, and take it.
That servant’s assets quickly were passed on
To one now rich. A moral can be drawn:
To him that haveth, giveth even more
From him with little, take his meager store.                      
I think the poor sense God wants more from them;               
In my last church we had an ATM                                   
And I made sure that when we passed the plate                   
Folks forked cash over, at a good, high rate.                    
Some foreign fools think wealth needs an apology;                    
They practice a pinko “liberation theology”                                 
And say God calls the rich into account.                       
Those Commies love the Sermon on the Mount!                      
They say Christ walks with poor men, and the meek                   
And twist around some words they’ve heard Him speak.                   They’ll re-think that in hellfire, when they’re writhing.      
Now, Oral, are you keeping up with tithing?

ORAL
Yes, sir. Each year I take out ten percent                       
Of earnings, to send to the government.

PUSSER
Good for you! And we’ve just gone over facts                        
That show why poorer men pay higher tax.                           
It shouldn’t seem unfair, corrupt or odd;                          
They’re wanton, lazy and less close to God.             
High on the list of acts that are God-pleasers                 
Is: Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.                         
Of course today, the Church and State are one;                
When you pay Uncle Sam, you pay the Son                              
Of man at the same time. But have you thought                 
About how much more grace might could be bought                
If you gave of your riches even more                           
To the army, or the missionary corps?                        
Your heart is big, your pockets are quite deep,                  
And you know: as you sow, so shall ye reap.

ORAL
I’d be glad, if I knew how to invest                         
More in the Lord’s work. Reverend, you know best;             
I’d be so grateful if you’d take a look                        
At this year’s budget in my counting book.                        
My son’s computer program always planned it;                   
He tried to teach me – I don’t understand it.                 
So, I put figures down on a hard copy                               
To have two records, in case things get sloppy.                   
The biggest favor you could do for me                                  
Is: let me help you in your ministry.                         
Let me fund your pet projects and your dreams,                   
So my wealth my unworthiness redeems.

PUSSER
Well, I am moved. My friend, just let me say                    
The Reverend Chadwick Pusser’s seen a day                       
That he’s prayed for. Your old life’s in the dust.             
It warms my heart to see such simple trust                           
And faith, in one to whom much has been given.                  
I’ll tell you of a few pet dreams. I’m driven                  
To set up a small factory, to sell                              
The vials of holy water you know well.                             
Since, as I walked, the Holy Ghost touched me                   
By that stream flowing through your property,                       
I’ve sent this holy water to the sick --                                
It sells on-line, and people get well quick!                   
Your mother found no scientific answer                          
And yet, she says, this water cured her cancer;                  
Now she won’t die – an angel told her so!                          
It goes to show there’s not much doctors know.                  
One lady found it cured her rheumatism,                         
An old man, who had a brain aneurysm                                    
Is paralyzed, but almost comes to grips                       
When his wife puts this water on his lips,                    
She wrote. You know, I could go on and on.                       
My store of small glass vials is almost gone;                     
If I could pack the water, at a plant,                            
We could cure thousands! Who’s to say we can’t?                
And if I buy some ad time on TV              
America will get real used to me.                              
We’ll move a lot of product, friend, and I’m                       
Sure I can get my own show, on prime-time.

ORAL
A prime-time show’s the least that you deserve!                  
A chance to reach the people that you serve,                         
And minister to each lost, broken soul                            
As you have mine, and make them sound and whole.    

            

PUSSER
Now tell me – this program that your son uses:                      
Is it just on his hard drive?

ORAL
No, he chooses                                                 
To update everything on my hand-held.


PUSSER
So, you can move funds, should you feel compelled                  
To do so, without Daniel’s interference?

ORAL
The password’s mine, and no one else has clearance                 
To act for me in making a transaction.                           
I’ll give it to you, when it’s time for action.

(They stand.)

PUSSER
Well, Oral, you’ve sure cheered me up – and how!                 
You’ve shored up my faith in mankind just now,                       
And more than made up for that incident                          
Downstairs. You’ll know that your wealth is God-sent               
When you soon see it furthering God’s glory;                    
I’m here to help you spend it – end of story.

END OF SCENE TWO

 

SCENE THREE
                
(DANIEL, alone in his room, sits at his computer and talks to himself – and the computer.)

 

DANIEL
Spam, and more spam! My inbox filled to bursting               
With useless mail, and all the while I’m thirsting,             
Knowing the Oracle alone can quench                            
My need. I swear that I will master French                         
To translate that first draft when it arrives;                   
And once it’s true that manuscript survives –                     
Theocracy implodes! The universe will shift                     
And those of us now hopelessly adrift                        
Will find our strength and stride. After Tartuffe               
Returns, no longer will we fear reproof. 
(dreamy, spins in chair)
There once was a land where people could vote                     
Where students thought, and did not learn by rote             
Where women and men were honest, strong and free               
And spoke and wrote and lived life candidly ... 
(angry)
Until a crazy Christian group, desirous                          
Of total power, stole and spread a virus                         
And killed two thirds of our population                       
Rendering us a scared and backward nation.                     
Us Baptists took control, and we were hostile                   
To Quaker, Methodist and Pentecostal.                        
Most Plague deaths were in once-great urban centers                     And nowadays our rulers and tormentors                       
Cling to a backwoods mind-set, and suspend                       
The Bill of Rights that was our truest friend.                 
They moved the seat of power further South                      
And taught each citizen to watch his mouth                    
And back – and speak a holy platitude                        
Rather than risking giving latitude                             
To cogent, secret thoughts. The law of greed                   
Now reigns, and it has come to supersede                        
Consumer rights we once had, long ago                         
Which First World countries guard – like Mexico. 
‘Round these parts, those who rule in Alabama
Create a very different panorama
The hatred of science and real education                               
Cherished by Selma’s dull administration                           
Are why our products suck, and lack design                         
And quality control. We’re in decline.                          
To hide it, the Patriarchs hold big parades                   
And stadium prayer events, and launch Crusades               
Against our tiny neighbors. Some we plow,                     
And some can hold their own against us now.                    
At home, the church cops try to stop the rumbles               
Of misery, while the infrastructure crumbles.
A seething sea of those in poverty                          
Is dotted by us men of property.                              
The poor choke down the soy cakes my dad sells,               
And thank their pastors for their magic spells.             
He who rebels gets whisked away to prison;                    
The state absorbs all money that was his’n               
While, shouting songs of praise, the Holy Rollahs               
Are basically just like the Ayatollahs                        
Who once had total power in Iran,                           
Which now holds big film festivals, like Cannes                  
And shows the world democracy makes sense ...                   
While we all rot behind our border fence.                       
I can’t live in this nightmare! I suspect it                      
Is a cosmic lie, and I reject it!                               
I curse my life of hiding, compromising –                       
And wistful, Hamlet-y soliloquizing.                                 
Much good it does me – sitting here reduced                         
To waiting games, till one old play is loosed.

(HE uses his computer. PUSSER ENTERS.)


PUSSER
Daniel?

DANIEL
(spinning, surprised)
Reverend Pusser!

PUSSER
I wish that you would call me Reverend Chad                   
And see me almost as a friend or dad.                        
Your future will get easier, you’ll see                        
If you just trust and open up to me.

DANIEL
Sir, really, we have nothing to discuss                         
I know you use my dad, you spy on us,                         
You hit on Alma – you’re just worthless scum.                 
You can’t think I’d trust you; you’re not that dumb.

PUSSER
My wish for friendship’s not all that outrageous;                  
It could be mutually advantageous.                               
A young man needs the guidance of a rector                     
To be his comfort and his close protector.                       
I don’t hate you -- I think that you’re delicious                 
And I can help if your dad gets suspicious                  
About the “direction” in which you’re leaning –                       
I’m guessing that you’ll understand my meaning –                 
I can make sure that things don’t get unpleasant;              
I’m your best bet to handle him, at present.                  
And as an older man, I know a lot!                            
I’m more than glad to give you what I’ve got.

DANIEL
Now, wait a second. Things just got surreal.                 
This time it isn’t anger that I feel.
Just dizziness. I’m awestruck. Can it be                     
That you would really make a pass at me? 

PUSSER
I save souls when I can, but in your case                     
I’m sensing qualities I can’t erase.                           
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, that’s my motto,              
So, let’s drink Blood of Christ, until we’re blotto,             
And I’ll give you more than that Tyler can.

 

DANIEL
You eat our food. You’re taking Mary-Anne                      
Against her will, but you don’t give a crap.                     
You tried to catch my stepmom in your trap                          
And now you’re after me. I have to say                         
You’ve really taught me something here today                      
About the nature of a psychopath                                   
Who hides behind a big smile and God’s wrath.

PUSSER
Now, Daniel, since you’re growing up, you know                   
This world contains a lot of quid pro quo                       
And more and more, your daddy’s given me                        
A king-sized role, and the authority                               
To make things nice or nasty here for you,                        
So let’s just stop and think what we should do                       
Before we call names, or we judge or blame –                     
You scratch my back, I’ll more than do the same.

DANIEL
I read a lot of pre-Plague history                            
And there are pillars of hypocrisy                            
Who stand out – great showmen like Jimmy Swaggart:               
Jerry Lee’s cousin, a lecher and a braggart,                    
Or Marcus Lamb, another pious faker                                
Who chased ass, like Coy Privette and Jim Bakker.             
But the worst filth, secular and holy,                             
To my mind, were figures like Mark Foley                          
Or Senator Larry Craig, or Eddie Long                           
Men who called homosexuality wrong                                     
Denouncing it before a congregation                            
Or else in office, backing legislation                           
That took the rights of gay men, just like them.                
It makes some sense that you’re that kind of phlegm                 
In human form, I shouldn’t be so staggered;                
You’re a pathetic fucker like Ted Haggard                      
Paul Barnes or Lonnie Latham – pleasure seekers                  
Epitomized by that George Alan Rekers                             
Who took a rent-boy on a Europe spree                           
When his game was conversion therapy                          
And telling kids they weren’t born that way:                        
That they should try to “pray away the gay.”                     
Is it self-hatred that’s the common link                        
For men like you – does it cause double-think                   
From early on, and send you on a mission                         
Against self, as preacher or politician?                       
If only you were funny, you’d be jokes ...

PUSSER
Conversion treatment works for lots of folks.                  
I’ve helped to lead it; I’ve been quite inspired                 
When sissy-boys, with God’s help, get re-wired.                   
And if you seek it, someday you will find it –                     
There’s lots of darn good science facts behind it!               
But that’s not for you now, it’s manifest                         
So, why not let me make you my conquest                          
In love, if not in Christ? I tell you, son                         
Life’s short, and we could have a lot of fun.

DANIEL
Take one more step toward me and I’ll be sick.

ORAL (O.S.)
Daniel?

DANIEL
Is that you, Dad? Come here, quick.

(ORAL ENTERS)

DANIEL
I’ll tell you what just happened, though I fear                 
Again, you won’t allow yourself to hear                          
A word I say. This pious friend of yours,                   
Pillar of faith, one of its guarantors,                      
Just propositioned me, as with your wife;                  
That’s how he thanks you, now he runs your life
And your estate. I’m saying this to you                      
Because I value trust between us two –                         
Or valued it, when I felt it existed,                          
Before our home life turned so dark and twisted.                 
I’m still your son, and I will play that role                       
Whatever this creep’s doing to your soul.

PUSSER
Well, Oral, my poor friend, I might have known                     
He’d find some reason why we were alone                            
And change things ‘round, so my motives look bad
But still, I’m stunned. Son, this is really sad.
I understand you’re desperate, but to think                       
Your daddy would believe that I would sink                          
As low as you – that’s some deep criminology.                   
Is this what smart boys call reverse psychology?
(to ORAL)
What happened was I told it to him plain:                           
As much as I would hate to cause you pain                        
Or Daniel trouble, ‘cause he’s a nice kid                          

I had to tell you about things he did                            
With his corrupter Tyler – not quite rape;                       
My hidden camera caught it all on tape.

DANIEL
What tape? I’d like to see that. Show us both!                    
First, I would like my dad to swear an oath                         
That if no tape exists that shows this scene,                     
You’ll finally consider what I mean                              
When I say Reverend Pusser lies, and lies,                             
While any trace of love and honor dies.

PUSSER
The truth is, Oral, I had to erase                                
That hideous tape. I watched. You couldn’t face     
Such images – they’d sear and burn your eyes                    
Forever, when you’d sleep and when you’d rise.                    
I told Daniel as much, so it makes sense                         
He’s yelling now to see the evidence.                           
But if you glance at that chink in the wall
(points)
You’ll see the secret eye that saw it all.

DANIEL
So, that’s where you’ve got your spy set-up hidden.                  
I knew this place was bug and camera-ridden.                      
I have one more request. I’d like to see                       
The footage of us talking, you and me                              
Before my father heard me call, and entered.

PUSSER
Boy, why be so dishonest and self-centered?                    
You’re really set on brazening this out?
(to ORAL)
Yeah, that’s another thing we talked about.                        
I told him that the camera was shut down                    
While, privately, I asked him to leave town.                      
I said I’d keep his secret if he went;                          
This show-down’s what I wanted to prevent,                     
But if he stays, you need to be alerted                       
Their sex scene was disgusting and perverted.                    
This child that you love is now quite bent;                     
I fear the damage may be permanent.

 

ORAL
(to DANIEL, near tears)
There’s nothing you can say that will not sicken                  
Me now. You’ve got me gasping, heartbroke, stricken!               
No more lies, please, your voice fills me with shame.

DANIEL
(also near tears)
If I speak lies or truth, it’s all the same                    
To you now, but it’s truth that I prefer.                         
He went to Alma and came on to her,                               
And he came on to me, and fabricated                            
This story of a tape he’s just related.                         
The only truth in what he had to say                             
Is what you’ve known a long time now. I’m gay.                    
I’ve wanted to come out to you, for years;                      
I couldn’t get past either of our fears.                           
This wouldn’t be the moment that I’d choose                      
To tell you, but there’s nothing left to lose,                       
So why not? There, between us like a wall                       
Was that one lie – so why not let it fall?                        
I love you, Dad. And what is best in you                     
Could let me be myself, and love me, too.

ORAL
Enough. You’ve ground my dreams into the dust.                  
I close my heart to you, and your foul lust                     
And deeds. I have no son! Or, when this man                      
Becomes one with your sister Mary-Anne,                            
Then he will be my only son and heir.                         
For you, I do not even have a prayer                            
To spare. My heart is hardened, it won’t thaw,                       
If Reverend Pusser saw the thing he saw.

PUSSER
Friend Oral, I sure wish that I could fix                         
Boys called out by Romans 1:26.
What I saw was unspeakable, and graphic.

ORAL
(to DANIEL)
If you leave soon, then you can beat the traffic.               
I’ll tell Doreen to come and help you pack.

DANIEL
I’ll only take the shirt that’s on my back                       
And my computer. Can I take my car?

ORAL
Of course.  
(reaches into his wallet)
Here’s cash for gas – 

DANIEL
(shakes head)
I won’t go far.                                                
My friends are waiting, and when I get there                      
Tyler and Vaughn will lend me things to wear.

(HE picks up his computer.)

ORAL
(Yelling)
Confirmed! You’ll go to their house – ain’t that nice!           
Just run to Tyler, wallow in your vice!                              
Disgraced before the Lord, just like he said!  

        

(MARY-ANNE and ALMA have ENTERED)

DANIEL
Why should that matter to you now? I’m dead.                      
Remember? Please, Dad, just let me get by.
(Sees MARY-ANNE)
Oh. Hey there, little sister. Don’t you cry.                  
Goodbye, and may God bless your heart, so good.                 
I swear that I would save you, if I could.

(HE leaves.)

ORAL
It’s true. He’s dead to me. He has no right                     
To be my son, if he’s a sodomite.

ALMA
Oral, call the boy back while there’s time.                     
You’re breaking your own heart, and that’s a crime.

ORAL
My heart is closed to him, by God above!

(MARY-ANNE holds her hand up to ORAL, like a traffic cop – or a Supreme.)

MARY-ANNE
Stop it, Daddy, in the name of love!    
You’re always telling me to think of Mother;                        
She’d want us to be good to one another.                  
You say these days you’re feeling like a new man                 
But what you just did isn’t even human.
If being “saved” means acting like you’ve lost                    
Your decency, then that’s too high a cost.                        
I know you say a girl should just obey                         
And I have tried to live my life that way;                    
You were the one I looked up to, and trusted,                 
But now it’s like what’s good in you got busted.                       
There’s no one who loves Daniel more than you –                 
Why hurt him, for something you always knew                     
Deep down inside? Make peace with it, at last.

ORAL
Do you think I’ll just stand here and be sassed                 
By you, young miss? Well, least said, soonest mended.    
(with a nod at PUSSER)
It’s time you said your vows with your intended.

MARY-ANNE
(frightened glance at PUSSER)
No, Daddy, there’s too much I have to plan                    
I’m finishing it up, fast as I can.                             
Already I have something old, it’s true                            
And Alma’s helping me sew something blue,                       
I’ll buy new shoes, but I still have to borrow – 

ORAL
Quit stalling, girl! You’ll marry him tomorrow!
(to PUSSER)
As God is my redeemer, you’re my rock.                        
You shielded me, then helped me through this shock.              
In twenty ways, you’ve proved yourself my friend –              
The only one on whom I can depend.                              
Tomorrow we will change up the accounts;                      
Not only will I give you large amounts                         
Of cash for more commercials on TV                            
But as you’ll soon be in our family,                               
This house and all that’s in it should be yours.

PUSSER
I like to help you soldier through the wars                     
Against the Devil and his disguised minions                     
You know I always give you my opinions,                           
But I don’t want your warm heart over-reaching                    
In gifts to me, just ‘cause you like my preaching.

ORAL
You’ve earned more than each penny I can give;                    
You give me strength, you show me how to live.                     
Beside this house we’ll build your factory                      
For Holy Water.

PUSSER
Well, it seems to me                                           
If it’s a comfort just to have me by you –                      
I wouldn’t be a Christian to deny you.
                        
END OF SCENE THREE

tiffany jolowicz Monday on Michigan Island, Yesterday, the Day Before, Two Thousand Years

SCENE FOUR
          
(DANIEL lies on a couch or bed at TYLER and VAUGHN’s place, reading Elmer Gantry. TYLER ENTERS. It is the morning after DANIEL’s arrival. They are easy, open and loving with each other. TYLER moves to DANIEL, puts his arms around him and kisses him.)

TYLER
Did you sleep? It’s mostly rest you’re needing.

DANIEL
Not really. I’ve been thinking some. And reading.

TYLER
I hope you’re drinking in big gulps of freedom                  
We’ll get you things you don’t have if you need ‘em.                 
You might feel guilty with your father’s dough.

DANIEL
Well, soy cakes aren’t people – 

TYLER
Even so.
Are you still checking email every minute,                            
Hoping there’s something messianic in it?

DANIEL
Guess what? I got an update! Don’t forget                    
There’s reasons I trust oracle.net.                          
It’s not a battering ram, but it’s a splinter                   
Of hope – please don’t mind, I used your printer.

(Unfolds a square of paper.)


TYLER
What does it say?

DANIEL
(reads)
Dear Oddball Supplicant,                                       
We comprehend the work you would transplant                   
From its own time-line, to disrupt the next.                  
We’re weighing your desire for this text                       
With other matters, known to one who hears                       
The cosmic cries, the music of the spheres.                   
We’ll send you “yes” or “no” soon, but not neither.  
Be patient. Ciao, from this end of the ether.

TYLER
You really think that’s from some ancient god?                  
I have to say, I’m not so over-awed.                              
If that website sends email from Apollo ...                   
I’m thinking that the sound of it rings hollow.

DANIEL
I don’t know what it is, but I feel hope.                       
It’s calming me right now – it helps me cope.                       
I think they have the play, if they would give it;               
There is a better life, and we could live it.
I want that pdf, I need it bad!
Perhaps I love illusions, like my dad.

(DANIEL lies back, cradled by TYLER.)

TYLER
Ya think? It's sad, but also kind of sweet:
Rather than fight, or lie down in defeat,
You’re sure a play's the way out of this crisis.

DANIEL
In that way, I'm a bit like Dionysus 
In Aristophanes' comedy The Frogs; 
With Athens at war, going to the dogs 
That god, mostly concerned with wine and ladies 
To save the city traveled down to Hades 
To bring a tragic playwright they had lost 
Once more over the lake of death he'd crossed.
It was a snarled thread by which Athens dangled;
A wordsmith just might get it disentangled!

TYLER
You rage like a cultural Mad Max.

DANIEL
(reaches up, plays with TYLER’s hair)
Mmm. Brekekekéx-koáx-koáx.

TYLER
What?

DANIEL
Nothing.  
Just quoting one of our great cacophanies:                      
I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes.      
But you, you only love me for the Wi-Fi                       
I’ve brought, which means that you can watch old Sci-Fi.

TYLER
I love you for that, and many another reason
And I don't give a damn that love is treason.

DANIEL
You saved me from Charybdis and the Scylla.                        
I love you, too. Today, let’s watch Godzilla.                     
To maybe cheer him up, let’s invite Vaughn.

TYLER
He’s too upset your sister’s still a pawn –        
(feeling DANIEL pull away)
Like you, at times. But hearts can’t go on bleeding ...                       
Let’s change the subject – tell me what you’re reading.

DANIEL
A book from the black market, second-hand;                
There’s no work that’s more resolutely banned.                  
I didn’t search on-line – I was afraid                        
The name would trip a wire, and cause a raid.
I’m reading Elmer Gantry by Sinclair                               
Lewis. And once again, it wasn’t fair                             
The way that this work got reconstituted;                       
Like Moliere’s Tartuffe, it was diluted.                     
They made a film with the great Burt Lancaster                
Who played Gantry as a dishonest pastor                         
But in the movie, he’s an aberration.                            
To Lewis, he’s more of a demonstration                            
Of how a pious man must be a sham                                
And organized religion’s all a scam.                              
I don’t think Moliere would go that far,                       
Or me. I don’t believe all Christians are                        
Fakers and fools: slick swindlers, and their marks.                   
There’s more to it, beyond the Patriarchs,                          
The Church cops and the Pussers. All alone                        
Some people find the courage to atone                                   
For hurtful acts by reading in their Bible.                      
Some frightened souls find strength, and some are liable               
To feel such faith, they take on anything!                          
The distance between Martin Luther King                          
And Pusser shows the range of what’s conceivable                  
For men of God. The ideal is achievable,                            
If rare. And, as his story ran its course                          
Christ in the Bible triumphed over force                           
As it consumed him – that’s a stirring thought.                
We never teach the Bible as we ought,                           
But it sticks up for those most kicked around                     
And helps them lift their heads up off the ground.                   
I’ve even seen how Christian faith enlightened                   
My dad, once – he wasn’t bigoted or frightened.                          
It’s just – the showmen roll out the red carpet                   
And hype faith up, and limit it, and warp it.                       
They claim to speak for God, they claim to know                   
What’s meant by every word writ long ago,                      
Insinuate themselves, demand control                           
Over how each man struggles in his soul ...                   
They leave no room for quietly communing                          
Destroying sweet, soft music with false tuning.

TYLER
Your idealism sure leaves me perplexed                         
In such a moment, given the context.                            
The Church hurts you so much, how can you speak                     
Such words?

DANIEL
I guess I’ll turn the other cheek.  

              

TYLER
It’s odd you’re so forgiving, but it’s hot;                     
You’re noble in a way I guess I’m not.                      
Strangely, you tempt this cynic with the apple                  
Of Christian virtue. I think we should grapple,                          
And, as I get much closer, we can see                          
If some of your ideals rub off on me.

DANIEL
Again? For you, two times were not enough?

TYLER
You’re here. The novelty has not worn off.

DANIEL
I know. It’s bliss. All right then, let’s get cooking                      
I’m so glad now Big Brother isn’t looking.

(They embrace.)

END OF SCENE FOUR

 

SCENE FIVE
        
(DOREEN and MARY-ANNE quietly move through the room where PUSSER propositioned ALMA. They carry suitcases and they’re headed for the door. ORAL ENTERS, and blocks their way.)

ORAL
Well, look at this! I guess I might have known                   
In this house, discipline is overthrown,                        
And all that’s left is chaos and ingratitude.                  
Doreen, of course I know about your attitude,                     
But Mary-Anne, I never would have thought                         
That you’d forget the lessons you were taught                     
By your sweet mother, may she rest in peace.                   
By rights, I ought to call the Church police!                   
Just tell me, please, where do you think you’re going                  
Without a pass I sign – without my knowing?

DOREEN
Where do you think? You know perfectly well                      
She’s trying to escape out of this hell                              
You’ve made here. Blame me, I talked her into it.      

  

ORAL
I’ll bet. You’re just the hussy who could do it.

DOREEN
She lives by her real feelings, and you hate ‘em;                
I told her to reject your ultimatum –                        
Your view of love as something you can ration –                                                  
And stand up for romance, and honest passion!                    
She’s sweet and wholesome, like the Gilligan’s Island               
Mary-Anne always was, except on dry land –                     
She’s too much of a good sport, and a cringer;                       
I wish she was more wild and bold, like Ginger.                
Still – so hideous is what you’ve planned today                    
That she agreed to make her get-away.

ORAL
Well, she didn’t get too far – you’re plan’s a dud.                 
I’ll nip this brash rebellion in the bud.
(to MARY-ANNE)
But even if you got away, you’d fail;                           
The Church police would take you off to jail                       
And Vaughn -- if he was part of what you pulled.                     
If you got married, it would be annulled                     
Without a dad’s permission, so you see                             
It’s mighty good luck you ran into me.

MARY-ANNE
Daddy ...
(puts down bags, throws herself at ORAL’s feet)
Oh, Daddy, please, don’t carry out your threat                     
To make me marry Pusser. I’m young yet –                   
Please give me time, please, give him all my share,                   
All my inheritance, I just don’t care.                        
The sight of him makes me feel sick, and nervous                    
Let me go into missionary service                                    
Or help the poor, or do most anything                           
Except this horror you’re imagining.

(ALMA has ENTERED)

ORAL
(trying not to be moved)
This – isn’t like you, honey, all this drama                     
I thought that you were calmer, like your mama.                 
Doreen, I’m blaming you, and you alone.                    
Unpack her bags, and then go pack your own.

DOREEN
I’m glad to leave this house now. You amaze me.                 
I liked you, sir, till you went bat-shit crazy.

ORAL
You unnatural hell-cat –

ALMA
That’ll do.  
Oral, I have to say a thing or two.                             
I didn’t want to publicly discuss                             
The things I’ve sworn to you, when it’s just us,                 
But now I need for both of them to know:                       
Pusser came on to me, I’ve told you so                          
Time and again, it’s just as Daniel said;                     
You kept that snake and tossed your son instead.                  
If you’re so sure of Pusser’s explanation                      
Then why not let me try a demonstration                             
Of what you don’t believe? Or do you doubt him?                  
I guess, if you’re not really sure about him,                   
You’ll be afraid to put him to the test –                         
You’re chicken, so you’ll put off my request.

ORAL
I don’t doubt Reverend Pusser for a minute.

ALMA
Then take my bet, like you’re in it to win it.

ORAL
Your bet? I miss your meaning by a mile.

ALMA
Mary-Anne, go lie down and rest a while.

(MARY-ANNE goes.)

ALMA
I’ve issued you a challenge: either take it,                     
Or, Oral – as a couple we won’t make it.

ORAL
He’ll pass whatever trick or test you’ve got.

ALMA
We’ll find out if you’re sure of that, or not.                 
Doreen, please tell the Reverend I’m down here                  
And need him – 

ORAL
Alma, I’ve just made it clear                                 
Doreen’s no longer someone I employ – 

ALMA
Well, hold that thought, until your golden boy                  
Has passed my test.
(to DOREEN)
Could you please bring him, now?

DOREEN
I’ll go get Mr. Holier Than Thou.

(DOREEN EXITS. ALMA points to a table with a long table cloth.)


ALMA
Get under there, he won’t know you’re around                   
Be careful not to move or make a sound                         
But when you’re really sure what’s going on                      
Please break it up, ‘cause I’ll want that guy gone.

ORAL
You’re ordering me? Who are you talking to?                       
You scare me, Alma – what’s got into you?

ALMA
I’m trying to save this marriage, if I’m able.               
Now, keep your word! Get underneath that table.
(HE complies, and SHE talks as HE does so.)
Don’t be shocked if I’m talking like a ho                      
And using words you didn’t know I know.
I find your sleazy pastor most disgusting                     
But still, I’ve got to act as though I’m lusting                 
After him – I’ll say some crazy stuff.                     
Please, rescue me, soon as you’ve heard enough.

(DOREEN clears her throat at the door and announces:)

DOREEN
The Reverend Chadwick Pusser.

(PUSSER ENTERS. DOREEN EXITS. ALMA puts on a big smile.)

ALMA
Reverend!                                                      
My husband has just gone out for a walk;                        
I thought this was a good time for a talk.                    
As days have passed, I’ve fought not to reveal                   
The power of the way you make me feel.                     
Though I said I was one you couldn’t coax                              
You’ve lit a fire that smolders as it smokes.                        
I tried to act offended, shy and stern                       
When all the time, your touch made my blood burn.                   
I knew you were attractive long before                               
But now I find I want you even more                           
And I can’t hold it back.

PUSSER
Well, I’m surprised.                                          
You seemed so scared of being compromised,                        
And wouldn’t let me kiss you, and came very                     
Close to siding with that little fairy                        
When he came at me with those accusations ...                  
And now you say that we can have relations?

ALMA
When Daniel spoke to Oral, I felt guilt!                        
It was as if the truth had all been spilt,                     
Including feelings I was still denying.                            
I panicked, and of course I still was trying                     
To end your engagement. I was overzealous                     
Not for the girl’s sake – really, I was jealous.               
Your body spoke to mine; it wasn’t fair you                       
Soon would take her, and I’d have to share you.                      
Why would you choose that schoolgirl over me                       
When I’ll act out your every fantasy?                              
But still, you’re all I want, my heart affirms                       
And so I’ll take you now on any terms. 

PUSSER
It turns me on to hear your sweet confession.                 
I’m longing for a bit of decompression                          
Before the stress of marrying the kid –                         
I think I’d like to see, and raise, your bid,                       
And stoke you, so your smoldering fire flares –                    
Should we do it on the floor, or go upstairs?

ALMA
(coughs significantly)                                 
My goodness! You’re so quick and so direct!                    
Don’t you have any fears this might affect                        
The way things go down on your wedding night?       

PUSSER
Oh, I’ll be up for more fun then, all right!                  
But right now, honey, you look so bodacious,                   
Your body so enticingly curvacious                                
So many ripples that I want to smooth ...                               
And when you give it up to me, you’ll soothe                        
My last few fears you’re somehow double-dealing –                 
So, show you’re feeling what you say you’re feeling.                             

ALMA
(moves away from him, coughs, glances at table)
I’m hot for you, and yet the guilt remains.                       
I can’t help feeling once a woman stains                        
Her honor, she has lost a precious treasure.                   
You’re wise and holy -- how can we seek pleasure                    
So shamelessly, then turn to God in prayer?

PUSSER
Now, that’s a useless train of thought right there.             
Hon, there’s a simple trick the mind can do                       
You’ll learn it as I minister to you.                          
It has to do with sorting thoughts like shoes                      
You put the reds with reds and blues with blues;                 
You don’t confuse the God talk with the fun time                    
You’ll see, it’s easy; just give in this one time                  
And next time you won’t sweat the rights and wrongs.              
Let’s feast on love, like in the Song of Songs,                   
As Solomon told a wife or concubine:                            
Come, kiss my mouth, your love is better than wine.

(HE’s all over her; SHE’s coughing significantly, and trying to fend him off.)

PUSSER (CONT’D)
My beloved is like frankincense and myrrh                          
Her ointments are the perfume that is her                            
Behold, for she is comely with clothes off –                      
Are you still sick? That’s sure a nasty cough.

ALMA
I’m worried that this might be a relapse;                        
Perhaps we ought to let some time elapse.                         
I could have germs, and you don’t want to risk it –

PUSSER
Aw, baby, you’re my chicken and my biscuit                    
And if we have to do without the kissing                         
There’s stuff that can make up for what we’re missing.

ALMA
Is Oral back? Did that front door just slam?                    
Please check – I feel so jittery!

PUSSER
Yes, Ma’am.                                                    
If he’s back, we’ll just sneak up to my room                       
Make it a hothouse and let our love bloom.                        
Don’t worry, I’m the one he trusts the most;                      
He’s a sucker, bless his heart, dumb as a post.                         
I’ll look around for spies but, honey, soon                      
You’re gonna have to let me at that poon.

(HE EXITS. ALMA lifts the table-cloth and ORAL crawls out.)


ORAL
My ears ring with his words. I can’t believe it.                  
My mind cannot entirely conceive it.

ALMA
(furious)
Of course, I sympathize with your confusion! 
You wouldn’t want to jump to a conclusion.                  
Right at the start you couldn’t get the gist;                    
There might have been some subtle point you missed. 
You had to watch that whole performance, surely, 
To make sure not to judge him prematurely.
Why not wait longer, till he jumped on me
And knocked me up, or shared an STD?                          
Ten minutes I was pawed at by that skank,                         
And my own husband’s who I have to thank!

ORAL
The man’s a devil! I showed him my soul                        
And now he’s swallowed up my future – whole!

ALMA
He’s coming!

(ORAL hides behind the table now, not under it. PUSSER ENTERS.)

PUSSER
He isn’t in the house or driving up.                         
Now, come upstairs and fill my loving cup – 

(ORAL stands)

ORAL
Hold that thought. It’s just as I suspected                    
You figured you could play games undetected                   
With me around? Well, buster, you’re mistaken,                 
You daughter-marrying, wife-grabbing, Godforsaken –      

PUSSER
Brother Oral! I guess this looks funny ...

ORAL
Yeah, it sure does, but I’m not laughing, honey.                 
Now, pack your bags and git, I mean today.

PUSSER
You have no right to speak to me that way.                        
This is my house, and you’re a parasite                           
I’d keep around here, if you were polite.                      
But since you’re not, you all can just clear out;                  
I’ve got real threats and plans to think about                      
So, by tomorrow, I don’t want to see                               
A trace of you, or your damned family.

ORAL
I made you my heir – I can take it back.

PUSSER
Your money’s mine. Now hush up and go pack.

(PUSSER EXITS.)

ALMA
What did he mean by that?

ORAL
I don’t quite know.                                             
I wish he didn’t have my password, though,                     
Or my hand-held, or – 
(upset)
I showed him some files ...                                     
I sure feel freaked out by the way he smiles.      

 

END OF SCENE FIVE

 

SCENE SIX
             
(DANIEL and GRANDMA are now alone in that same room.)

GRANDMA
Daniel, I hear that you’re a fornicator.

DANIEL
It happens to us all, sooner or later.

GRANDMA
No, it does not. Some of us bless the bond                       
Of holy marriage, and never look beyond.

DANIEL
Marriage to Tyler would be a lovely option                         
And raising children, either through adoption                      
Or each of us could have one – I realize                          
You saw that civilized world, with your own eyes.

GRANDMA
When I was young, I had to contemplate                          
The world of sin that our Redemption State                           
Redeemed. God settled things on His own terms.

DANIEL
Not God. Just crazy Baptists with some germs.

(ORAL, ALMA, MARY-ANNE and DOREEN ENTER.)

MARY-ANNE
Daniel! You’re back! I knew that you’d come through!      

   

DANIEL
I’m here to say there’s nothing I can do.                       
I got in Dad’s accounts, though I was blocked;                    
I saw he’s cleaned out – now the whole site’s locked.             
Doreen asked for my help; I couldn’t refuse                      
But I wish I was bringing better news.

ORAL
Daniel – this is hard for me to say:                            
I guess you think that you were born this way ...                      
I’m so confused – I know you go with men ...

DANIEL
You’re trying to say that I’m your son again?                   
Or should I disappear now that you know                            
I can’t save you from this financial blow?

ORAL
I’m saying that I owe you an apology.                             
I got all twisted in that man’s theology                       
And now I think the whole thing is a crock:                        
God, and all faith – I’m reeling from the shock.

DANIEL
There’s more to faith than Pusser’s kind, by far.                     
I think your faith helps make you who you are.

ORAL
I don’t know who I am, or why I’m living                        
And I don’t see that I’m much worth forgiving.                    
Among the lost things I’d like to retrieve                             
Is my son – who I just would not believe ...

(They embrace.)

DANIEL
You got him. And that thief who’s made life squalid            
Can’t know how strong we are, now that we’re solid!

MARY-ANNE
(bad, happy attempt at Sister Sledge)
Yes! We are family                                           
I’ve got everybody and me ...

GRANDMA
Restrain yourself!

MARY-ANNE
(laughs)
I thought you said I act too shy.

GRANDMA
Now you seem almost giddy!

MARY-ANNE
Can you guess why?                                                
My head’s been lifted off the chopping block!                        
I’m gasping with relief, laughing from shock                        
To know my body won’t receive a mauling                            
From someone who sets all of my flesh crawling!                  
Woohoo!

ALMA
At least now Daniel’s back, and this girl’s free.

ORAL
I’m mighty proud of this here family.

GRANDMA
Oral, you appall me with this change                            
It’s like you’re now a stranger, you’re so strange.               
How can you doubt the Reverend Pusser’s love                          
When he’s been sent to us by God above?                             
I’m sorry you made him angry, but when you                      
Humble yourself, I’m sure he’ll soften too.


ORAL
Mama, don’t ask again – you’ve rubbed me raw.                  
The man’s a low-down fake; I heard and saw.
                     
GRANDMA
He wouldn’t try to seduce your wife, he’s good!                  
She set him up, and you misunderstood.                      
There was some lesson that he contemplated                         
Teaching Alma, so you should have waited                             
And if the fault was hers, we should have stoned her!

ORAL
You’re saying I should have waited till he’d boned her?              
I know what happened – you say it’s untrue!

DOREEN
(to ORAL)
Now you know what we had to take from you.                      
Looks like no truth is truly verifiable                             
When Reverend Pusser’s word is called reliable.

GRANDMA
You’re all wrong, and you’re all going to Hell!                  
His holy water cured me, and I’m well!

ORAL
Mama, don’t let’s argue more about it.                             
We had a good life – now we’ll do without it.

(PUSSER ENTERS)

PUSSER
You’re all still here? You’d best turn tail and run.                
I see you’ve welcomed back the prodigal son.

DOREEN
Yeah, he's home, and if you make one more pass
The bunch of us will kick your sorry ass.

DANIEL
(to PUSSER)
The government will never let you fleece                          
A good man like my dad. Just leave in peace.

PUSSER
This is my home, and all of you infest it.                        
The state hates sin; the Patriarchs detest it,                   
And those who harbor traitors reek of sin;                    
I’ll be commended as I turn you in.
(points at ORAL)
You, “Brother” Oral, helped a poor relation                    
Who made a most repulsive accusation                           
Against a Patriarch – he fled abroad,                         
And yet you have the nerve to call me fraud?                       
The file I saw, that otherwise you hide                               
Is now in Selma and marked “classified.”                          
You thought God would forgive your guiltiness                       
And turned to me to secretly confess,                           
But now you’ve turned on me, and come unhinged                        
Well, God protects His own. He’ll be avenged.

GRANDMA
Oh, Reverend, please, it’s a misunderstanding                   
Oral helped my brother Bo to a soft landing                        
In Mexico, I swear that he was cheated                             
By a Council member, and terribly mistreated.

PUSSER
(pointing at ORAL)
He broke the law! The laws of God and men.                          
If you think laws are playthings, think again.                   
He hid his deviant son – helped his immersion                    
In sin, instead of battling his perversion.

DANIEL
You’ve got your story down, we’re out of luck;                 
Hell hath no fury like slime I wouldn’t fuck.

ALMA
Me neither!

MARY-ANNE
That’s right!

DOREEN
They wouldn’t be your bitches.                                     
But tell me, won’t you drown in all your riches?                   
And stumble, as you’re striding ‘cross the floor                    
Of people who don’t live here anymore?                         
So, you’re “movin’ on up,” you’ve got the bucks                   
How can you claim this life that’s so deluxe?                               
This man gave you a place to lay your head;                     
You stab his back, and turn him out instead?                    
You’ll build your snake oil factory on his land                    
With his cash, and not even lend a hand                        
To a family whose future you’ve destroyed?                           
Do you believe in God? Or just a void?

PUSSER
My God is good. I know that I was sent                          
To be His servant and his instrument                            
And when the shrieking infidels attack me                       
I know that my avenging Lord will back me.                      
He knows the bed of temptress Jezebel                           
And those who follow her down into Hell                       
Who watch the way her body moves and sidles                      
Who let her teach, and eat food left for idols.
I understand His ways, in all Creation: 
The tribulation seen in Revelation; 
I know He watches all things from the skies: 
The Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes. 
I've looked into His face, bright and intense 
Amidst the prayers that rise with the incense. 
An ominous future He slowly reveals! 
Four beasts look on, as He opens the seals. 
I know that He is calm, serene and focused 
As He prepares each scorpion and locust. 
I've seen the sun of sackcloth, moon of blood –  
You'll face the pit, a worse fate than the Flood. 
I and the Saved will look down with cold sternness 
As you cry out and burn, deep in that furnace, 
Thus, you – who call me slime, and psychopath –  
Shall meet with justice from the Lamb of wrath.
That day will come, when you face that abyss;
For now, the Lord bequeaths me all of this.                         
God meant for all these riches to be mine                            

Things happen for a reason, by design;                           
God put words in my mouth, like Jeremiah,                      
And taught me how to speak for the Messiah.                     
Like Jeremiah, I root out and destroy                         
The forces that the Devil may deploy;                         
Like Jeremiah, I build up, and I plant                             
And do the things that lesser people can’t.                         
I’ll sell my soy cakes to the wretched masses                      
And blesséd holy water to all classes,                               
While eating, wearing, driving all the best                          
The world can give, and knowing I am blessed.                      
Then I will go to glory when I die – 


DOREEN
Smooth as a camel through a needle’s eye.                     
You think your God talk puts you far beyond some                     
Final reckoning – but you’re just pond scum.                  
You’ve twisted ministry until it’s hateful;                      
You turn on those who dare to be ungrateful,                      
And cherry-pick the Bible for what’s scary –                      
But empty threats are all that your words carry.                   
You think God hates the folks you’re out to slam?
And you control the nature of the Lamb?                   
There’s no monopoly on real religion;                         
The State is godless – you’re just its stool pigeon.
My faith is strong, and can’t be undermined,                 
Even by bogus Christians of your kind.                         
My God believes in humor, love and fun                        
And human bodies, bare, warmed by the sun.

(DOREEN rips her kerchief off her head. GRANDMA gasps.)

DOREEN (CONT’D)
So, make your threats, and rattle your old sabre;                  
My God’s always believed in “love thy neighbor.”
He won’t write off the ones who doubt, or cuss,                       
He’s never been about Them vs. Us,
He has no time for hypocrites and haters.                      
To Him, girls aren’t only incubators                            
Or chattels to buy, or sources of temptation;                    
My God’s not into rank discrimination,                    
But swords beat into plowshares! He gets no blame              
For those who march and murder in His name.        
You sneer at me and my words make you loathe me                  
But my God asked you: “Did you feed and clothe me?” 
It’s for the least among us He has risen,          
He said to soothe the sick, visit those in prison.
He’s with the poor, He cheers for women’s rights –                  
The God you’ve made in your own image bites,                      
And those with open hearts will look right past you               
And glimpse the God of love, who will outlast you.

PUSSER
One hour. Take a few more things apiece                       
From your rooms – then I’ll call the Church police.
   
(HE EXITS.)

DANIEL
Dad, right now things are looking pretty grim.                     
I’ll ask a few friends how to deal with him                     
And if there’s some appeal, approach or angle                
That we can use to get out of this tangle.

(HE EXITS in a different direction than did PUSSER.)

GRANDMA
Oh, Oral. Son, please catch me. I might fall.                 
Quite suddenly, I don’t feel well at all.

(HE helps her.)

END OF SCENE SIX



SCENE SEVEN
              
(TYLER anxiously checks messages on a hand-held. DANIEL ENTERS, looking grim.)

TYLER
You’re back!  
(beat – sees his face)
That bad? Is every good thing gone?
                
DANIEL
Not quite. Tonight, Mary-Anne will marry Vaughn.                   
My dad will give his blessing, we’ll be out                     
To all – so there’s some things to cheer about.

TYLER
That’s it?

DANIEL
That’s it. Pusser’s victory is complete                                
And we are left to scatter in defeat.
A comedy like Tartuffe is always tending 
To hand its audience a happy ending 
But our fate is sadder, more complex; 
In this case there will be no deus ex 
Machina to undo the disaster. 
The Patriarchs have made Pusser a pastor 
Once more. They'll restore him to his perch 
Before the faithful in his megachurch                          
He handed them some dirt on us he scored;                       
Getting re-sanctified is his reward                              
It gives him endless pleasure to convict us                      
He’s dead inside – that smile is a rictus
His TV ads have proved most opportune;
His prime-time worship show's debuting soon.
Tartuffe was thwarted by Louis Quatorze 
But Pusser's free to turn us out of doors. 
His lies and pretense will have no debunking; 
We're not ruled by a wise, discerning Sun King
But by fools with the same pious façade
As Pusser – who, like him, claim to speak for God.

TYLER
How can you be so calm, with your dreams broken?

DANIEL
One dream remains.  
(holds up his own hand-held)
The Oracle has spoken.

TYLER
You got the pdf?

DANIEL
No, not what Moliere wrote.                                       
All I got was another cryptic note:
(reads)
Dear Exposer of Dom Juan, Sweet Misanthrope                       
The gods find they cannot fulfill your hope.                      
You may be right your universe needs shifting                    
But you yourself must do the heavy lifting.                         
Moliere’s lost draft is lost; what’s done is done:                  
Go out and write a Tartuffe of your own.

TYLER
It’s just a hoax, it’s not a magic thing.

DANIEL
No doubt, but then, why am I tingling?

TYLER
They told you to get lost!

DANIEL
Either that, or                                              
They said to be the one I’m waiting for.                        
Don’t wait for the Messiah – that much I know.                 
Or Moliere, or Lefty, or Godot.                                 
I’ll help a world that needs to be befriended                     
And write the play that Moliere intended –                           
The play that I intend, as best I can                               
And fight hard, as a writer and a man.                       
I’ll try my best to reconstruct the banned scenes                 
Though I won’t write my play in Alexandrines.
As in that Dickian novel, instead of sniping                       
And waiting, I’ll be in my high castle, typing.

TYLER
Well, if you need a castle, or an ark                                
To shelter you, work here and make your mark.

DANIEL
I can’t stay here. At dawn I have to flee                      
To Mexico with my poor family.                                 
My father’s left no dowry for his daughter;                       
But Vaughn will smuggle us out onto the water                      
Where we will travel ‘round the border fence                        
And find a wider world, where things make sense.                           Dad’s been a first-class fool, and there’s no knowing                         Why – but even Doreen says she’s going                      
Because we’re so incompetent and clueless.                    
She says she’ll wear fun clothes at last, and do less.

TYLER
But you don’t have to go – your place is here!                 
The world is cruel to poor men who are queer,                    
Your father threw you out, you came to me;                      
He has no claim now on your loyalty.

DANIEL
And yet somehow he has it, just the same.                        
I’m still his son, I carry on his name                        
We’ll build a new life, burying the past                        
While he acknowledges who I am, at last.                       
It must be interesting to be hurled                            
From a backward land right into the First World.                                        
Perhaps I’ll fight to set our nation free                          
And put a Guy Fawkes mask on, as in V.                            
I’ll see some other forms of Christianity                     
And other faiths, and learn about humanity ...                    
For all the persecution and the lying                        
That Christians do, the killing and the trying                    
To impose what they think, believe and feel                     
On others with a missionary zeal,                                
I have a sense there’s something at the core                     
Of faith that I could love. I’ll find out more                
While I’m abroad.

TYLER
It’s just some wild quest?

                                 

DANIEL
My folks are lost, now, kicked out of the nest.
My dad is shell-shocked, counting on my scrappiness –                   And Mary-Anne and Vaughn deserve real happiness,                     Instead of persecution from the State                                
Because they shelter us from outside hate.                       
Our passion’s known; if Pusser blows the whistle                 
Trouble will find us like a heat-seeking missile.

TYLER
Why value only hetero romances?                                  
I love you. I’m prepared to take my chances.                    
Is Mary-Anne the only one who matters,                              
So it’s okay to leave, as my heart shatters?
She's not some fragile, helpless little waif!

DANIEL
I’m her big brother. I’ll make sure she’s safe.             
Vaughn says, indoors, she doesn’t have to wear                      
Her kerchief – and she has such pretty hair.                     
He’ll sign a travel pass, so Mary-Anne                            
Can live more like a person – like a man.                          
I love you, too – and, Tyler, this is hard                    
But there are things I just can’t disregard.

TYLER
I can’t let you be ripped from me again                       
And send my Daniel to the lion’s den.
I’ll come with you – 

DANIEL
You know you weren’t made                                      
To live life on the run, poor and afraid.                        
Nor was I. I’m a lover, not a fighter ...  
(HE kisses TYLER, then steps away)
The Oracle says I must be a writer.                              
There’s no sense living as a fugitive,                         
For years, unless your family has to live 
That way. Yours doesn’t, unless we bring you down;            
For now, at least, I’m heading out of town.                                 
I’ll write to you. And, breathing that free air                      
I’ll try to take a page from Moliere:                          
To call the world on all its contradictions,                  
Hold up a truthful mirror with my fictions:                        
Mischievous, honest, cynical and smart – 
I'll be a writer after his own heart.                             
If verses have the power to conquer hate                          
We may meet in a new world I create.                           
Be happy for our siblings, please – don’t cry                      
And say vaya con dios, when it’s time
To say goodbye.            


LIGHTS DOWN

 

END OF PLAY