Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dominus and Other Doms

Cast of Characters

He: Father Todd, NY accent -- Or at any rate avoid an Irish accent at all costs – these are Americans.

She: Mother Mary Clement, Mother Superior of a teaching order convent. A woman used to wielding authority, she retains some sense of proportion. She and the priest share a dry sense of humor. Their conversation is part of surviving their knowledge of sin and the burden of their responsibilities.

Scene: Mary's office in the convent. A bottle of scotch on Mary's large desk. A cross on the wall behind her desk. A comfortable chair awaits a guest. During this scene, Mary refills both their glasses at natural intervals.

[ Lights Up. ]

She: [stands at the open door of her office] Father Todd, so glad you could make it this evening.

He: [enters shaking her hand warmly with two of his] As am I. As am I.

She: [Shuts the door behind them, opens a window. While he takes the comfortable chair.] There. Smoke whatever. How you can ruin a 12 year old scotch with that weed of yours I'll never understand.

He: [Draws a cigar from his breast pocket, accepts a glass of scotch from Mary, but doesn't light up yet] I admit it's a bad habit. Not evil, but not good.

She: The Good Lord meant spirits to be appreciated, fully and rightly.

He: Mm-hm, that's why the cigar. [He fingers it but doesn't light. A knock at the door]

She: [under her breath] Go the hell away. [Goes to the door] Yes? …Sister Jenneece, this couldn't wait until morning?... So, what do you think should be done about it? …I see you have the answer to the dilemma already to hand… Go for it, Jenneece —oh, and I AM in an important meeting so… Good.

[Shuts the door, returns to seat at desk.]

In the outside world, I'm told, you get to hire lieutenants from the general populace. Do you suppose that makes the chances of finding competent people better or worse?

He: [Harrumphs] Might make it harder. A guy I was confessing the other day—fascinating guy, I've been confessing him for years—anyway, he was complaining that he put out a job ad for a Waste Manager for his company and got 300 applications—several on scented stationery!

She: How did he make a decision?

He: You know, anyone else would have read through all the resumes and picked the people with the most experience, but…

She: ..But…?

He: He threw out anything that wasn't on scented stationery.

She: Expeditious…

He: Of course he's already got a sex harassment suit going, but he figures the company can stall 'til she runs out of money.

She: I'm just getting the picture. Lucky you, Todd. You get to offer him forgiveness once a week.

He: Well, starting out it was frustrating, but the stories were almost worth the sense of ramming my head against a brick wall. But then… [He pauses for effect]

She: Then? Is he reforming? Has the Church worked a rare miracle?

He: Ah, that remains to be seen. But one day I was driving to a conference, listening to the radio, and I heard about this judge—not sure where—who was giving out some really crazy punishments – to help with jail overcrowding, and, you know, jail doesn't work that great anyway.

She: Making people parade on the sidewalks with signs on them that say 'I'm sorry I sold drugs to your kids.' Like that?

He: Right.

She: Like putting them in stocks and letting the neighbors throw rotten fruit? A bit medieval, isn't it, Todd?

He: Yes, but SO much more entertaining than increasing numbers of Hail Marys! It has me wondering what a little thumb screw might accomplish. [Gestures to suit words].

She: What have you had him do?

He: Well--a little background-- this guy has walked the straight and narrow—good family man, churchgoer, coaches Little League, holds down a well-paying, responsible job. At least, that's how it looks from the outside.

She: [knowingly] Ah! But life offers the Devil so many opportunities.

He: And it turns out, this guy's been a walking opportunity. Any kind of sexual depravity you can name, he's done it. Cheating on his wife with more than one of their neighbors. Insisting his wife act out scenes from naughty videos, which she naturally found demeaning. Patting the behinds of his Little Leaguers, when the dads aren't looking.

She: [Without irony] Appalling.

He: Anyway, the turning point came when I heard about the Little Leaguers. I was horrified. How many Hail Marys do you give for that? My God, they're talking about defrocking Bishops.

She: And they would, but they're afraid they'll find choir boys under their robes.

He: So I had to do something. Making him give up coaching Little League was the obvious move. I told him that he'd have to go to counseling—that's pretty obvious, too--not that it'll do any good. Then I had an inspiration: I made him go to a certain woman of the night for a good paddling.

She: …A woman of the night, whom you knew from…?

He: [Confused a moment] From confession!

She: Uh-huh.

He: THAT's when he discovered he LIKED being paddled. Now he makes regular visits to the dominatrix two towns over…

She: But he's definitely not coaching kids' baseball anymore?

He: A small success. Admittedly, my punishments may not do HIS soul much good, but mine gets a lift every time!

She: He's paying for it?

He: It's hard for a grown man to get a good spanking for free—So I hear!

She: It compounds the sin if he's taking bread out of his children's mouths to pay for it. Although it might require a little research to know if getting spanked is per se a sin.

He: Well, if it is, the Church has been colluding in that particular sin for centuries.

She: [grimly, taking it a little personally,] Not news, Todd, not news… You know I've been at the head of the movement to strictly limit corporal punishment. How often I've reminded my teachers that our kids with the worst behavior problems got that way from being beaten.

He: Now, Mary, don't get on your high horse. You know I didn't mean anything about St. Margaret's.

She: [Mollified, taking a different tack] Well, your story shows that sin can be an incident or a lifetime habit. God takes His sweet time working out repentance. I'm grateful to be working with children, from that point of view. Seriously, if we could just convince them that God forgives mistakes--

He: If we could sort out for ourselves what are mistakes and what are original acts of brilliance…

She: Or sins disguised as gifts from God…

He: Go on.

She: Well, one of the teachers confessed to me an early step off the path of righteousness. She was on the point of going for a uterine ablation and—

He: A what?

She: [pronouncing carefully] A utereen ablation. And no, it's not a holy rite. It's a kind of female surgery they do.

He: For what?

She: To stop the monthly bl—honestly, you'd rather not know. The point is, this sister, was afraid she'd die, because she'd committed a sin ages ago and she still felt so guilty she thought God would punish her if he got the least little chance, like outpatient surgery.

He: And what was this horrifying sin?

She: [snorts derisively] In college, before she took orders, she had sexual relations with her roommate. A sin so common it's on a par with shoplifting a pack of Lifesavers. But in this case it went on quite a long time—a couple of years, in fact.

He: Was she troubled by it all that time?

She: She said it seemed like a blessing from heaven after years of confusion about dating boys and fearing pregnancy. And of course she was very fond of the girl.

He: When did she start to see it as a sin?

She: Rather suddenly, as if the knowledge had been hidden in a closet, and suddenly one day the wind blew the closet door open.

He: So she ended it?

She: Yes. But sadly, the lingering knowledge of the one sin had such an oppressive effect on her that her heart has been ringed around with briars ever since. That's the language she used: ringed around with briars.

He: And now she's kept pure by the Holy Orders.

She: Yes, it's rather worrying.

He: You're afraid she'll take out on the children?

She: Not as directly as that. But a heart ringed around by briars…it's not a good example for the kids. Teachers should have easily accessible hearts.

He: One common sin, and a life of emotional paralysis.

She: Exactly. And why? Because she doesn't know that God forgives.

He: You tell them every week, exhort them not to do it again, and either they damn well go out and do it again every week, or they --

She: --They grasp onto it and make a career of never making another mistake. [Together, silent contemplation]

He: So, which sister was it?

She: You're hopeless!

He: Sister Margaret Joseph?

She: Shut up and have another drink.

He: I'm right, aren't I?

She: No, you're not, and quit asking. I'm not going to gratify your prurient curiosity.

He: You gave her a penance, I hope?

She: Not enough of one, apparently. She's still clinging to her sense of having done wrong.

He: It's tricky isn't it? You want them to feel just the right amount of penance, but not so much that they feel put upon.

She: Now there, I disagree. I think they need to feel a bit of resentment against the punishment, a little defensive. I think you want them saying, 'Ok it was wrong, but not THAT wrong…'

He: No, not me. I don't want them thinking, 'God's a mean bastard, God wants me to hurt.'

She: Their own damn fault if they confuse us with God.

He: All too often they do.

She: I mean adults. The children can't be expected to know the difference. Us, their parents, the bus driver…

He: The neighbor's dachshund…

She: It's unavoidable. Their little heads are so ready to see God, so in need of guidance.

He: What little kids have you been teaching?

She: Oh they're brats, all right. But they're malleable. It's not fixed. The danger's if WE think we're God.

He: Yet here we are, day to day, making decisions for God. How shall this sinner be punished?

She: And that's why God gave us spirits.

He: Souls?

She: [raising the nearly empty scotch bottle] No, spirits.

He: Bless you, Mary, I think I've had it for the night.

She: [Walks him to the door. With a wink:] Well, come up and see me between the holidays, won't you? [opens the door]

He: [Softly, shaking her hand with his two] That I will. That I will.

She: [raises her voice] And watch you don't catch anything from the Dominatrix!

[Lights down and End of Act]
(This work was created under the auspices of Hitching Post Theater, Boulder, Colorado.)

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