Friday, January 13, 2012

"Manna From Heaven" - a one-act play

And now, for my 100th post, something truly amazing; something truly spectacular. Ladies and gentlemen, young and old, come forward and let me introduce you to one of the modern miracles of our time: a product so amazing that you can't believe how simple and how effective it is; that youth, vitality, mobility, and liberation are yours to have, protect, and keep for yourself, all in a neat and modest little package. Allow me the privilege of introducing to you the most fascinating gift that mankind has been offered in centuries: the new manna from Heaven, Wonder Bread!
Yes, this is a true story. I saw it happen before my own eyes. An elderly woman in a supermarket walked away from her tripod walking device, and in doing so, she carried under her arm like a football (rugby, Australian rules, if you wish, but American style will do) a loaf of bread!  

Naturally, I was intrigued by this manifestation of miraculous healing, and sought out the reason for its origin. To my surprise and delight, I found that this grandmotherly type had simply overlooked the fact that she was no longer using her cane-device, but had instead been able to perambulate with the comfort and aid of the loaf of bread as a stabilizing assistant to her locomotion. When I showed her the cane and pointed out the disparity between her choices, she insisted that I return the original and take away the latter--to which I refused, declaring that she should accept the replacement and embrace its healing abilities.
Of course, she did not readily accept my counsel, and made repeated and vociferous efforts to claim back the now-outdated tool--and I kept it from her as a means to bring attention to the success of the alternative. To my eventual dismay and subsequent horror of my (ex)-wife, it took a kick in the shins for me to return the old woman to the tragedy of her judgment.  

But so! in my earnest ways, I sought a means to provide the common populace with the knowledge that she had overlooked, and thus, may I present for your edification and higher learning, the virtues from which you may gain insight about this matter.

MANNA  FROM  HEAVEN - A one-act play

Cast of Characters

The “Doctor” - A “cures-all-that-ails you” snake-oil salesman/con artist.  A grifter from the Old South, the honorable Buford E. Puckett.

The Old Woman - Elderly woman with a dowager’s hump, uses a cane to move around, out shopping for groceries.

“Doctor’s assistant” - Young woman, “Miss Alice.”

Various townspeople who give donations to the “preacher-doctor” as he speaks.

Assorted townspeople who become customers, including a young boy who threatens to disrupt the “doctor’s” sales presentation.


Town Courthouse for rural community in the Farm Belt, @ 1880’s


Late afternoon; a hot summer day

Setting:  A large gathering of townspeople has come to hear the “doctor” speak at the local courthouse.
At Rise:  It is late in the afternoon on a hot summer day.  The “doctor” is standing behind a table at center stage.  A ballot box, with a slot on top, has been placed in the middle of the table.  As the “doctor” speaks, people come forward from the gathering crowd and drop envelopes stuffed with money into the box.  The “doctor” is approximately 50 years old, with a curled wax mustache and gray streaks in his hair.  Two tables are set on the wings of the stage: one is full of canned goods and preserved meats, and the other is stacked with loaves of bread.  The “doctor” is pleased to see the audience of townspeople, and he speaks with great enthusiasm and deliberate zest.

          Ladies and gentlemen, my good neighbors in the community of man and womankind, generous patrons of social development and higher institutions of literacy, education and civilization, welcome one and all.  Allow me to humbly introduce myself:  The Reverend Dr. Buford Elijah Puckett, of the Charleston Puckett’s, at your service and conduct as a mere vessel of presentation, doing the work of our exalted Creator in Heaven.  May I express the wellspring of gratitude that draws up from my beating heart to see your earnestness and overwhelming desire.  It makes my soul feel good to know that your lives are now so much more special in the eyes of our Lord, to have brought you here on this warm summer day, to hear my message and the rewards of life that He has instructed me to provide to you!
          I once witnessed the healing of a person with an affliction, and the mighty work that manifested this miracle is the reason that I stand before you today.  Yes, may I say that it nearly brought tears of joy to my eyes to see this blessed event, praise the heavens for letting me be a vehicle of testimony in these rugged times of disbelief and doubt.  Dare I say, that this wondrous event was enacted before me, without so much as my raising my hands to chase away the unclean embrace of Old Scratch, the Devil himself?!  Indeed, I stand ready to rush forward at a moment’s notice, to wrestle against the works of sin and hardened cruelty, with the tools of hard work and honest living as my shield and sword.  I was given the realization that in all walks of life, blessed treasures are offered to those who are aware of the proper calling and follow it.
(He turns and points grandly
 with a sweeping gesture of his
arm towards the ballot box, as people in the
crowd push forward to drop in their envelopes)

          I swear by the generous offerings and donations that are filling this box...that the glory and power is in all of us to bring our message, and that the joy and true measure of your faith is credited by the gifts you are bringing forward.  I must share with you the uplifting of inspiration and value for the sincere and pure embrace with which you good people show for a warrior of the Lord, who is in service of your needs.  (He points to various members of the crowd)
          Let me assure you that you, yes, you sir, and you, madam, even you there sir; you too can be healed of your pains, your aches and torment and woes, the sorrows from the physical burdens that ail and afflict you, as the weary hand of Father Time rests upon your shoulder.  And all you need to do...
(He pauses and smiles gently as a man wearing overalls and a battered straw hat climbs up and drops an envelope in the box, and shakes PUCKETT’s hand generously, then exits)

...thank you, my good fellow, that’s very noble of you, sir!  How thoughtful and kind you are, indeed!...all you need to do, is hear my message and let your conscience assist you.  I have been instructed to bring to the flock of children that our Lord calls His own, a personal offer of a timely gift of the same wonderful treasure from Heaven that took the burden of discomfort from a lady in need.  A lady such as this kind and gentle dear sweet soul coming up to me now.
(He turns and gestures a welcome to an OLD WOMAN shuffling in from side stage to greet him with an envelope in her hand.
She drops it in the box and smiles at him, and he puts his arm around her shoulder and presents her to the crowd)

          Look at her, ladies and gentlemen, isn’t she a dear?  Thank you, ma’am, for your sacrifice and timely donation, the envelope box is just the right size for so simple an offering as you have provided, and I assure you as the Lord looks down, He values your kindness most generously, as do I!  And yea! Let me give my word as truth, that if my eyes had not known otherwise, I would have sworn that this was the same, I must be mistaken, madam, you are too spry in appearance, forgive my error...whom I had the wonder, the blessed honor, to see healed yesterday.
(The OLD WOMAN slowly exits)

          Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I was in your spacious and well-stocked marketplace the other day, purchasing some needed supplies to present to a local charitable orphanage.  I was escorted by a charming and vivacious member of the Ladies Quilting and Sewing Auxiliary Group, and may I add that your selections of available provisions are well maintained; my compliments to your productivity! 
(A SECOND OLD WOMAN, bent over with a stooped back, has entered from the side stage, using a tripod cane.  She stops at the table piled with bread and tucks it under her arm, and starts to shuffle slowly across the stage in front of PUCKETT.  She has forgotten her cane, which is standing on its tripod setting by the table.
PUCKETT ignores this oversight)

          We had just the briefest moment to greet your kind and gracious mayor, who happened to be personally arranging a private dinner in my behalf, when I came upon the most puzzling and perplexing set of circumstances I have seen since my early days in the seminary in New Hampshire.  To my surprise and total disbelief, I found an abandoned walking cane, alone and without an owner.
(He turns and picks up the walking cane that the OLD WOMAN has forgotten, and waves it at the audience)
          Now I ask you good people:  What would possess anyone with such a need for as valuable and priceless an instrument, to simply neglect it?  I personally took time from my varied and busied schedule, just before my train arrived at your lovely town...
(He stops and pulls a folded piece of paper from his vest pocket and examines it at arm’s length.  He nods accordingly, and puts it back)

...the time to review the lengthy, well-documented price structure that I had telegraphed from Philadelphia for such a tool of mobility as this cane.  Ladies and gentlemen, may I speak from the depths of my being when I declare that I was astonished, no, I was overwhelmed, to find that the purchase fee of this walking cane, complete with rubber molded support and ornately carved mahogany wood handle with gold inlay, cost as much as the extraordinary cash amount of what I send on a weekly basis, to support the poor missionaries at work in the tropical rainforests of New Guinea, as they work with the deprived villagers?!  Yes, may I be struck down if I speak falsely:  that exquisite piece of artistry and workmanship, designed to free an afflicted soul from the ravages of time and arthritis, that very precious abandoned cane, was worth fifty fair and solid American dollars.  And to think that someone like this feeble old woman, lost in her very moment of needing to provide herself with nourishment and sustenance, had the temerity, the neglect, the unknowing loss of such valuable merchandise for a vital means of transportation at this pressing time in her life!
          Well, let me say this:  I never fail to return after an extensive, exhaustive search for a proper owner, any item, large or small, no matter, that has wandered lost and abandoned before my path.  Why the other day, I observed a man leaving town in the city of New Orleans by horse and buggy, and in his errant ways, he had overlooked a small satchel amongst his belongings.  Of course, his manner of departure was at such a pace that he had set off and was beyond my ability to call and stop him.  I naturally retrieved this satchel and upon examining its contents, found that he had misplaced several thousand dollars in oil well stock certificates, as well as the property rights to a mineral spring.  I immediately hired a swift horse and rode after this man to the outskirts of town.  My dear friends, can you imagine the look of horror and disbelief that crossed his face, when I caught up to him and showed him what he had nearly lost?  Of course, after much insistence upon his part, I reluctantly accepted a considerable donation for a home for young-mothers-to-be, who are in a most delicate condition without the companionship of a husband.  But I tarry in my story...
(A YOUNG WOMAN, obviously his assistant, enters from side stage and places a pitcher and glass in front of him. The young men of the
town look at her as she moves.  PUCKETT smiles at her, pats her hand, and presents her to the crowd)

          Ah, thank you, my dear.  May I present my dear niece and assistant, my late brother’s daughter, Miss Alice, for whom I am sole surviving relative and guardian.  She has provided me with some delicious lemonade.  How fine it is to have a cool throat and warm words of inspiration to share at the same time!  Now, as for the errant, neglected walking cane!  I immediately tucked it thusly under my arm, and set out in search of the proper owner.
(He puts the cane under his arm, and becomes aware of the OLD WOMAN carrying the loaf of bread, moving along as she examines the other table. He points her out to the audience)

          And lo:  in a manner to which I did not expect to see so quickly, did I find that person!  But may I bear witness, my friends, that this gentle and sweet woman, when I found her, had the ability, the very lightness of her feet, I say she had the vitality, to walk without her cane, because she was healed!  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am here tonight: to bring this heralded message to you.  This paragon of the golden years of life could walk effortlessly, by simply cradling in her arm, a mere loaf of bread.
          Now, I would not ask your minds to ponder the miracle that I beheld.  The good Lord works in many strange and wondrous ways, we have all seen and heard, but few have been given the glory and honor to witness.  I give thanks as a man of honor and duty to you, my brethren, that I have seen the beauty of the work of our Creator in this cherished and glorious manner.  That I was privileged to see the miracle of healing before me, and in so simple a way, my friends, brought tears of joy and thankfulness to my eyes!
(He wipes his face with a handkerchief and looks upward with a smile, and then turns back to the audience)

I dared edge close, and gently took this dear blessed woman by the arm, so as not to disturb the miracle of her recovery.
(He does so and addresses her in a polite manner)

My dear lady, may I ask for the briefest moment of your time?  I have to ask:  would this exquisite implement of mobility be rightfully claimed by your ownership?
(The OLD WOMAN has a startled look on her face.  PUCKETT is obviously holding her walking cane, and she realizes that she has been moving
without it. His unexpected presence and question have taken her by surprise. PUCKETT turns back to the crowd, and his voice and gestures swell with fervor)

          Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot tell you the look of surprise, of sheer thankfulness that crossed her brow!  I begged her forgiveness for making her heart flutter so; I know that a matron of such advanced years needs no hastening to bring her to that blessed moment when we make peace with our Maker and stand before the judgment and glory that is ours in Heaven.  I braced myself to assist her unsteady hands to revive her if necessary, awaiting the usual much-needed bottle of smelling salts that she had hopefully tucked away in her handbag.
(The OLD WOMAN has recovered from his speech and the sight of him holding her cane, and replies in a creaky, scratchy voice)

My good man, my cane!  My priceless Malacca wood-and-gold cane!  It has been an heirloom in my family from my dear great-great aunt in England!  Oh my, what are you doing with my cane?
(PUCKETT ignores her remarks and gestures, and replies instead to the audience)

I cannot hide from you kind people the fact that I beamed with joy at the thought of returning so swiftly upon my first effort, this piece of art to its proper owner.  But no, that is just the beginning!  For the miracle that has lightened my load, the crowning glory of my endeavors to bring light to the hidden and dark corners of life was fulfilled when she said...
(PUCKETT turns and gestures to the OLD WOMAN, as if on cue, and SHE replies in a quivering voice)


(SHE reaches out for it and PUCKETT brushes her hand aside.  HE addresses the crowd)

          Did I hear proper?  Oh, the humility at first that I felt, that the mere return of her valued antique was not her first concern, as I so foolishly believed.  But how rewarding, how honored were the deepest wells of thanks from my heart, as I realized that I had witnessed a greater miracle than I had ever dreamed:  she was indeed walking without this cane!  And the treasured moment of reality was mine when I knew that a simple loaf of bread, a small piece of a baker’s hard toil and effort, had brought this miracle into being!
(HE turns and speaks to the OLD WOMAN)

          Madam, let me be the first to recognize that you are indeed cured of your ailment, and give the thanks and praise to your Creator.  This worthless piece of wood and metal can now be cast aside as an example of how the hand of the Lord can reach down and touch us all!  You are a living testimony to the power and majesty of divine will!  By so simple an act as carrying a loaf of bread, you have cast aside your obstacles and bear the word of the good news of faith and believing!
(The OLD WOMAN is pulling at PUCKETT’s coat sleeve, reaching for her cane.  SHE answers him in a tormented, pleading voice)

But Sir--I need my cane!  I CAN’T WALK WITHOUT IT!!

(SHE is clawing desperately at his arm, but his size and strength, along with her age, make her attempts seem feeble. HE continues to hold the cane aloft in his hand, and waves it at the audience, ignoring her)

          Ah, my friends, how simple the mind can be, if we forget all that the Lord can do.  He can reach down and touch us in so many ways!  Was it all in vain, that this lost child, who had been sadly afflicted by a stooped shoulder and bent knee, could forget that she had been transformed into a vital source of dynamic inspiration and determination, by forging a free and unencumbered manner of movement?  No, I could not let this pearl of opportunity pass thusly by my hands.
(HE turns and speaks to the OLD WOMAN in a reproachful, scolding manner)

No, madam, you are sadly mistaken.  But take heart, there is a far greater reason to cherish this day!  You are healed; yea, I say, you are cured from your prison of propulsion.  Let wings grown on your heels and fly--you can walk, and without the chain and shackle of this wretched stick!
(The OLD WOMAN continues to struggle for her cane, but now SHE is aware of the loaf of bread in her arm, and is trying to keep her balance and not drop it as she continues to grab for her cane.  PUCKETT continues to ignore her
efforts and turns to the audience)

          How blind we are, my good people, to the very door that opens before us.  What more could I say?  But no, I would not give this burden of freedom back to the hands of the Grim Reaper, to hold this daughter captive!  And yet...she reached out in valiant despair and disbelief to wrestle from my hands, this gnarled and twisted piece of ill-constructed wood.  What tragic human error that I had to bear witness to, in my moment of heralding a personal triumph unclaimed!
(PUCKETT turns to speak to the OLD WOMAN)

          Madam, please, can you not take a closer look at the part you are playing to in the world, at this vital fragment of existence in history?  Your piteous tones are breaking the depths of my heart with your blatant ignorance!  A lesser man or woman would be weeping, but you have climbed above the pain and suffering of the fragility of your condition!  You have been given the chance to run barefoot through fields of clover, you can share a grandchild’s first steps, you can dance in slippers of finest silk, whenever you wish.  You are freed from your impairment!  Rejoice, and relinquish the futile grip you have fastened upon this wretched and useless remnant of a tree branch!
(The OLD WOMAN wails in a tortured voice as she struggles to reach her cane)

Please, Sir!  My cane!  MY CANE!!

(PUCKETT turns to face the crowd, slowly shaking his head in disbelief at her words)

          My friends, I must confess that her desperate ways convinced me of her reluctance, and I hide my face in shame to admit that her furrowed, wrinkled face was lined with relief when I handed back to her the object of her desire.  I could no longer hold back her overpowering fear, and with an inner sigh of remorse, returned back to her the cane.  I would rather have bent it into a twisted horseshoe with my bare hands, rather than see it trick her into the falsehood of dependency.  Would it be any easier to say that she thanked me with a token of appreciation, with a stipend of gratuity to further my cause?, she snatched it away like an eagle plucking the flesh from its prey.
(The OLD WOMAN grabs the cane angrily from
him, and slowly exits to the side stage.  She is still carrying the loaf of bread under her arm, but she is not using  the cane.  Instead, she is holding it in the air, shaking it vigorously, accenting her anger. She appears to be bitterly talking to herself.  PUCKETT watches her shuffle away and then faces the audience and beams at them)

And then she turned away...and her muffled feet made a sound that I still hear in my deepest sleep, reminding me of the lack of trust, of comfort, of honesty, in the true message of one such as I, a man who devotes his life for the glory and power of our Creator, and asking only for the most meager support along the way.
(A MAN climbs up from the audience and drops a thick envelope in the box.  HE shakes PUCKETT’s hand, and exits to the side. 
PUCKETT waves at the man as he leaves)

          Yes, sir, thank you kindly, you are a noble soul to know that your charity fuels my zeal, and your name will be remembered in Heaven for your deed.  But...let me assure you that in my dark moment, the Evil One, Satan himself had tried to cast doubt before me.  But, there still shone that faint ray of hope that proved that righteousness and good works carry the day!  Behold, ladies and gentlemen, I have gone the extra mile for you, I have searched the corners of this great country and sat before the very supplier of this source of inspiration.  I have found the baker and secured from him, his exclusive recipe for his divine creation.  I have behind me, waiting for your demand and in limited quantity, the same loaf of bread that I witnessed the dear woman carry with her.  Yes, I have sallied forth, to provide for you at a cost so small that you would never think it possible, an opportunity to relieve yourselves of the pains, the woes, the aches and soreness, the yearning for life and vitality of younger days.  Bring to your thoughts the memories of children at play or a colt prancing in the field, for now we can have for ourselves, the same gift of life that this woman cast aside so rudely.  Ladies and gentlemen, I say to you:  YOU CAN PURCHASE FOR  YOURSELF YOUR OWN LOAF OF THIS SPECIAL BREAD!!
(MISS ALICE, PUCKETT’s assistant, enters from side stage, carrying several loafs of bread on a silver tray.  She stacks them on the table next to the donation box.  PUCKETT nods to her,
and she gestures the availability of the bread to the audience with a wave of her hand)

(The crowd presses forward and gathers around the table.  An ELDERLY WOMAN pushes forward, with a YOUNG BOY in tow.  He is squirming
to break free of her grasp so he can get a closer look at the bread. Eager people wave money at both PUCKETT and MISS ALICE. PUCKETT hands over the bread to his “customers” with a flourish, and continues to answer questions)

          Why, thank you, sir, I shall have my lovely assistant and niece, Miss Alice, provide you with the proper change for your $20 gold piece in a brief moment, the line does grow longer, you know!  And you are quite right, madam, a simple five dollars is much too kind a price for so valuable and powerful a blessing as this. But I must think of my poor colleagues in the steaming jungles of New Guinea who count on my support, as well as the hard-pressed young ladies who are with child in the home I am building for them in New Orleans.  Come again, sir?  Well, I accept your offer to decline reimbursement of your change, you are wise beyond measure.  No, ma’am, I believe that you are quite right to purchase a loaf for your dear mother in San Francisco, and I am confident that it will retain its resilience as you travel by train.  Oh, perhaps a dozen more for your aunts and uncles?  They must be blessed to have such a family member as yourself.
(YOUNG BOY edges closer to PUCKETT, and reaches out to touch the bread on the table.  PUCKETT makes a threatening gesture, as if to cuff the boy on the ear)

Get away, kid, you’re in the way of my customers!  You’re going to get a tanning, I’m warning you!!  Take this nickel and scram!
(PUCKETT reaches into his pocket and hands the boy a coin.  The BOY stuffs it into his pocket and breaks free of the ELDERLY WOMAN’s grasp, and scampers off the stage.  PUCKETT glares at him and says under his breath)

More than you’ll ever earn in an honest day’s work, I’ll warrant that!
(PUCKETT turns back to help the ELDERLY WOMAN) 
          Ah, yes, madam, I was about to ask my assistant to escort the lad to a safer place, apart from this crowd.  Your grandson, you say?  I was quite worried for his well-being, you know.  All the pushing and pressing can be dangerous to a little one.  I beg your pardon, I did not notice you had a hearing device.  A miracle of science, is it not?  And how lucky you are to own your own miracle:  our gift of this bread.  Thank you!
(Crowd thins out as the loaves of bread are bought.  PUCKETT and MISS ALICE are left alone, and PUCKETT empties the ballot box
and donations into a sack.  His pockets are bulging with money.
The OLD WOMAN who had lost her cane now joins them. SHE is standing up straight now, with no curve to her back, and she brandishes the cane over PUCKETT’S head.

You fool, get a move on things, we have to catch that train!  I thought you would knock me over with those grand gestures of yours!  If your father hadn’t taught you so many danged high-strung manners, we could have been gone hours ago!  A fine thing you are, hobnobbing with the mayor!  At least your sister can handle herself (she motions towards Alice) with these country bumpkins.  Well, how’d we do?
(PUCKETT nods his head eagerly)

We did real well, Ma, I’ll bet we made a thousand dollars and gold, too.  This is the best racket that Pa could have invented. 
(HE stops for a moment to look up in a far-way glance toward the sky)
You know what I heard, Ma?  There’s a fellow in Michigan named Kellogg, who says that eating corn flakes for breakfast is the best thing for body and soul.  I think we should pay him a visit and introduce him to our little package here.  It builds strong bodies too.  We’ll tell him it’s called....“Wonder Bread.” 
(C) MDLOP8 1992

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