Last month my latest play, Brothers, ran for three weeks at the Brinton Black Box Theater in the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo, Utah. It went pretty well–only one sell-out crowd of twelve performances (which isn’t really as impressive as it sounds since the theater sells out at sixty)–but most importantly to me was that the show was an artistic success. At least, as far as I’m concerned, it was. Elwon and Dave worked hard to grasp the subtleties in the roles. Along with them and Paige–my itinerant stage manager–staff at the Covey Center helped me create just the right atmosphere for the play’s premier production.
The brothers in question here are Lucifer and Jehovah, though, nowhere in the script do those names appear. Like its predecessor, Stones, the identity of the characters is pretty obvious from the dialogue, or becomes pretty obvious as the situations unfold. There were two reasons for leaving the names out. One: The names carry weight. Pretty much anyone who hears those names has preconceived notions about the people who wear them and how they should be worn. I wanted to keep those preconceptions at bay as much as possible, which is–let’s face it–completely impossible. Still, we do what we can. Two: I want audience members to keep in mind that these characters are members of a family before they are characters in a play or in a great big book of scripture. Or in history. The hope then is to make the characters a bit more approachable since most audience members will know what it’s like to be a mother, a father, a sister or a brother. Or a son or daughter. I suppose there’s also a third reason; hopefully it will soften the blow when those who would be inclined to cry “Blasphemy!” suddenly realize that I have had the audacity to place a divine figure on stage with words to say that cannot be attributed directly to scripture.
All this is merely background to the idea that I really want to present. After every performance of Brothers, we invited any audience members who wished to remain after for a few minutes to join in a question and answer/discussion of the play. By and large, the questions asked were of the actors and their feelings about creating the roles of a god and a devil. There were a few about the symbolism of the set and its dressings, the rehearsal process, and whether or not the performing or writing of the play had changed us in any way. Then came the question that I was both prepared, and unprepared for: “Did the spirit guide you in writing this play?”
That’s a loaded question, and the answer could be just as loaded, if not more so. Still, I did my best to take the powder out of it. And here’s why–
Twenty-some-odd years ago, when I was working at the MTC, I read an article in some local paper about some local singer/songwriter who had written some kind of musical production that he (or she) claimed was inspired by the Lord and practically written by the Spirit. Well, who am I to argue with that? Nobody, really. I can’t, and I won’t argue with a claim like that. However, I will reserve the right to dislike the work in question. Even if the Lord was involved. There were a few of us in the particular office I worked in who were also writers of plays, and we all read the article and all had the same question pop into our minds (and quickly spew from our mouths), “What if I don’t like it?” Would that make us out of tune with the spirit? Of course not. Here is an excerpt from the author’s note in the program that we handed out to the Brothers audience that addresses that point:
This play is not scripture.
It really is just a play; nothing more, nothing less.
… Let’s face it, the scriptures are rather thin on character development. And it helps me to get more out of the scriptures if I can find a way to make the people in them seem more like real people to me. Most of the time this is nothing more than a mental exercise, but sometimes, as I said, I’ve just got to write it down. Now, let me make something perfectly clear (pay close attention); I am not a prophet. Once more with feeling; I am NOT a prophet. And these plays are not prophecies–not even in my own thinking. They’re ruminations, explorations, fantasies (in the musical sense). At the same time, however, they are accurate depictions of how I think and feel about religious matters that are very dear to me. In a sense, then, they are testimony. Not the kind of testimony that says, “I know for a certainty that these people did and said these things,” but the kind of testimony that says, “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if these people actually felt these things and thought these things. In fact, I really hope that they really did, because that would make them understandable to me–approachable even.”
I told the woman who asked about the Spirit’s involvement with my play that I would not answer her question on two grounds. First: It’s a very personal question, and anything that can be called testimony connected to the play should be found in the play itself, not in any ancillary claims. Second: This allows you–or anybody else–the privilege to hate my play. Even if the Spirit did work through me, it may work through you differently than it does through me, and that must be allowed. I don’t think artists should try to manipulate an audience’s devotion that way.
Listen, at least one reviewer didn’t like Brothers very much at all. Davey Morrison Dillard blogged about the show somewhere (sorry, I’m working off line and can’t remember the name of the site) and expressed his distaste for the writing. (In actuality, I think his problem with the play had less to do with the actual writing and more to do with my take on the doctrine. He disagrees with my premises.) I’ve got no problem with that; Davey doesn’t have to like it. Nobody has to like it.
Although, I don’t mind it at all when people do.