Sunday, November 18, 2007

Blasphemy Act One


A Play in Three Acts

By Warren Boroson


Narrator: Dressed in comfortable modern clothes—older man or woman, confident but winning.

Thomas Aikenhead, played by a young man or woman—good-looking, magnetic, a little arrogant.

Justice: Overworked woman employed in purgatory.

Sir James Stewart, Lord Advocate of Scotland.

Students, men and women.

Act One

A dark, grim tavern in Edinburgh, 1696. Three young men sit around an old wooden table on which sits an oil lamp and several tankards. One man is gazing out a widow to the left.

Mungo Craig: [gazes out window, then returns to seat] Our friend, clever Thomas, talks as if he sits on the right hand of God. So all-knowing, so arrogant.
Student one: He actually sits on the right hand…of Satan.
Mungo: That’s good, that’s good.
Student one: He’s going to get into deep trouble one of these days, with his foolish and frightening remarks about the church and Jesus. I’ve warned him, but it does no good.
Mungo: We’ve all warned him. Time and again. But he’s so proud of how clever he is, how [sarcastically] courageous, how much attention he gets—from not just men but from the young ladies. He dotes on attention, he insists that everyone know just how clever he is. But the English bible says that pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit--
Student Two: [Teasingly] But I thought you were a good friend of his.
Mungo: [glares at the student, but says nothing]
Student one: Did you know that a law was just passed, making blasphemy punishable by death?
Mungo: Of course I knew! And it has me scared, I don’t mind telling you.
Student Two: Unless the blasphemer was not in his right mind.
Mungo: Aikenhead is in his right mind, all right. Very clever fellow. He will go far.
Student one: Maybe as far as the gallows. He’s going to get into deep, deep trouble—mark my words.
Mungo: And I am a friend of his—when he isn’t making those insane comments. I remember--
Narrator: [walking onto the front of the stage]
Excuse me, excuse me! I’m sorry to interrupt, but this is important. I’m with the Hackensack fire department, and I’m afraid we have to close down this theater – right now-- because of serious fire hazards. This place is a fire trap. So I want all of you in the audience to leave, this row first. Everybody please stand up…
Hey, I’m just kidding! I’m actually the narrator of this play. [The actors stare at him impassively as he speaks.] I was having my little joke, sorry if I frightened anyone. There are no fire hazards, honestly. But I would like to explain a few things to you about this play, which you otherwise might not understand…
Now, the author and I had bitter arguments about whether this play should have a narrator or not. Hard as it may be for you to believe, the author of this… primitive play once took a course in playwriting, at the New School in New York City, and he was told that plays with narrators are written by amateurs. Clumsy, clumsy, clumsy. He and I argued this back and forth. What about “Our Town”? I asked. Name another good play with a narrator, he scoffed. And while he may have won the argument… well, here I am.
Is he in the theater? [looks around] I don’t blame him for not showing his face. He’s probably in the FBI witness protection program. [laughs]
This is a true story, the one you are seeing. The year is 1696. Scotland. Edinburgh. These are students at the university. The clever student, whom the others are talking about, is named Thomas Aikenhead, and he is 18. Very bright, gifted with language, but a trifle…too much.
Now, isn’t this better than having one of the characters say, “Isn’t the summer of 1696 unusually cold, and how are you, today, Thomas Aikenhead, age 18?... Are you still studying theology?”
It’s approaching the 17th century, the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason. But back in 1696, the church was powerful, resentful, suspicious, and … It was an inauspicious time to be mouthing off against the church and against Christianity. Here he comes… [He hurries off stage as Aikenhead and other students come in.]
Aikenhead: Brrrr! It’s so cold that I wish right now we were in the place called hell, to warm myself there.
The students around him laugh and nod their heads—but look uncomfortable, too.
Mungo: Thomas, you’re as always the cleverest among us, a veritable Scottish Shakespeare. We all agree that you will go far. [He looks at the other students knowingly.]
Aikenhead: [beams] Thank you, Mungo, thank you so much.
Mungo: [to Aikenhead and to the gathered students] What was the most memorable thing Thomas has ever said? That Jesus was an impostor? That he was a magician, but that Moses was a far better magician? That the raising of Lazarus was a cheap trick? That the Apostles were witless fishermen? That the Bible is full of Aesop’s romances and is not the literal word of God? That Christ’s resurrection was a myth? That the founder of Islam, Mohammed, was superior to both Moses and Jesus? That God, nature, and the world are one?
You see, Thomas, I remember almost everything you’ve told us! [claps Aikenhead on the back]
My favorite saying of yours is that Christianity will be “utterly extirpated” by the year 1800.
[The other students are a little dazed by these shocking statements and look at one another.]
Thomas, you are a wonder! You are amazing!
[Aikenhead smiles, savoring the praise.]

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