Wednesday, February 10, 2010

End of the world?

Not yet, not for me anyway, but that was the theme of my latest piece of writing. A left-of-center theater troupe in New York City called End Times Productions had a contest recently looking for short, one-act plays to be featured in its annual "Vignettes of the Apocalypse" production. That title alone should make it clear what kinds of things they're looking for, but if you need more of a hint, they just closed a run of Manson: The Musical.

Anyway, as I am wont to do these days, I took on the challenge of writing a play to submit for consideration. I was attracted to the subject of the end of the world because several years ago I co-wrote an episode of the WGBH/PRI radio series Sound & Spirit with host/novelist Ellen Kushner called "The End of the World." (Follow the show's link and scroll through the program titles; I also wrote "Mourning" and a program on prayer that for some reason isn't on the list.) I learned that virtually all religions and cultures have end-times stories and beliefs; in fact, the Biblical story of Noah and the flood appears in various forms in many ancient texts (including The Epic of Gilgamesh) and belief systems. The Hopi believe that the world has ended three times before, and that three future worlds still await.

For that program, I had to do a lot of research; not so for the one-act play, which I titled Revelation 9 (the title does not have anything to do with the ninth chapter of the Book of Revelation, but rather is a play on the Beatles' "Revolution 9", which came to me only near the end of the script, when I decided to make John Lennon a character.

Here's the plot: The play opens with God standing in front of a laptop computer, which sits on a tall pedestal. He acknowledges the audience but continues to do the work he is engaged in, which is to take all the templates for humanity (which are computer files on his hard drive) and drag them into the trash. The computer asks God to confirm that the files should be deleted. This would have the effect of destroying humanity (an altogether more elegant method compared to fire, water, ice, or all-out destruction of the planet).

At this critical juncture, God steps out from behind the computer to explain to the audience why humanity's time has come. He is interrupted by Satan and they begin to argue over God's brilliant (according to God) or idiotic (according to Satan) idea to give human beings the freedom to choose between good and evil. To bolster his argument, Satan brings out the souls of three all-time baddies: Vlad the Impaler (the Romanian tyrant who inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula), John Wilkes Booth, and Adolf Hitler. God counters with three examples of goodness: Mohandas Gandhi, Clara Barton, and John Lennon. The text supports the selection of all six characters, so I won't defend them here; suffice to say, they all make relevant points in this endless debate over whether humanity can be trusted to use such freedom responsibly.

I guess I won't tell you the ending, either, but suffice to say, since you're reading this right now, something must have happened to delay or derail the emptying of God's desktop trash. The point, however, remains: humanity's continued existence is at the mercy of two things: unknowable forces and events we can neither predict nor prevent, and our own stupidity. Maybe not the most uplifting evening of theater you can imagine, but then again, the client is called End Times Productions. I await word of whether or not my particular vignette of the apocalypse makes the grade. Hopefully, Manson: The Musical hasn't set the bar too high for me.

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