THE SHORT DIVINE COMEDY





by Eric Ferguson




ŠEric Ferguson 1995
5732 Bossen Terrace #2
Minneapolis, MN 55417
voice/fax: (612)726-6364
eric@celticfringe.net
http://www.celticfringe.net




CHARACTERS

Wisemen:
Belshazzar, in his 20's
Zerubabbel, ditto
Arioch, older

Shepherds:
Agabus
Gamaliel
Barnabas

Others
Mary
Joseph
Innkeeper
Angel


SCENE 1

(Belshazzar and Zerubabbel enter riding camels, Belshazzar in front. Camel heads on a stick will suffice as camels. As the lights come up a loud sneeze is heard.)

BELSHAZZAR
Oh, yuck! Zerubabbel, your camel just sneezed on me again. I swear, you must have been training him to do that.

ZERUBABBEL
You know he's never had much tolerance for sand.

BELSHAZZAR
We're traveling across deserts you fool. Why didn't you bring a different camel?

ZERUBABBEL
I'm comfortable with this one.

BELSHAZZAR
Crimminy.

ZERUBABBEL
I'll take this camel over yours anytime.

BELSHAZZAR
Of course you would! Otherwise it would be you getting sneezed on.

ZERUBABBEL
I don't like strange animals.

BELSHAZZAR
That's what your mother said, but she had you anyway.

ZERUBABBEL
Who told you that one, your mother? Did she get bored trying to figure out who your father was?

BELSHAZZAR
Would some friendly god please bring this journey to a swift end? I can't stand this imbecile anymore!

ZERUBABBEL
I second his appeal. It seems I can longer tell the man from the camel's backside!

(Arioch enters. He is much older than the other two and much more level-headed.)

ARIOCH
Zerubabbel, Belshazzar, what are you two bickering about now? Do you know you can be heard all the way up at the front?

BELSHAZZAR
We should have given this obloquious rodent the wrong route to Judea. He'd still be wandering around Persia or something.

ZERUBABBEL
Well look who just learned a new word. I wish you were as good at making the observations. You can barely tell a star from a planet.

ARIOCH
Will you argue with each other the whole way to Bethlehem?

BELSHAZZAR
Please inform Zerubabbel of just who made the correct prediction of the Star's appearance.

ZERUBABBEL
And who analyzed the Jewish prophesies to discern the time and place of their Messiah's birth? Who told you just what to look for in the sky? That was me as I recall.

ARIOCH
If you must cavil, I'll tell you who did what. You found those prophesies after I told you where to look. Speaking of looking, Belshazzar, just who was whose assistant during your observations? Well?

BELSHAZZAR
I was yours.

ARIOCH
Right. Now, I have better things to do than sit around fighting over who did what, but you two have worn down even my patience with your bickering. I must have been drunk when I called you two my brightest students.

ZERUBABBEL
But you don't drink.

ARIOCH
Which shows you what a trick it was. You know, I'm almost at a loss for words. Have you two entirely forgotten why we're on this journey? How often does the Jewish God have a son? How often do you get to see your observations and deductions brought to life? We're going to witness perhaps the biggest event in history, and you bitter men pick nits. You'll miss God but you'll be free of lice. Don't you feel just a little ashamed of yourselves? (They sheepishly agree.) All right then, let's be on our way, with a little more of the decorum that befits us.

(They move on. As the exit, there is another loud sneeze.)

BELSHAZZAR
Zerubabbel!

(Exeunt Wisemen, blackout.)



SCENE 2


(In blackout, Joseph is knocking on the door of an inn and yelling "Hello, is anyone there, etc." Lights come up. Innkeeper opens the door. He leaves just enough of a pause between questions for Joseph to start to answer, but cuts him off before Joseph can get a word in.)

INNKEEPER
Hey, are you trying to wake the whole house? Do you know how late it is? You know, I was finally just falling asleep. What do you want anyway?

JOSEPH
Sir, I'm sorry to wake you. I just need a room.

INNKEEPER
So does everyone else in the Eastern Mediterranean, and they're all banging on my door in the night. Don't you know about this stupid census?

JOSEPH
Of course I do, that's why I'm here.

INNKEEPER
Yes, right, well, you should've gotten here earlier, I'm full up. Now good night. (He closes the door and is heard to mutter "lousy tourists".)

JOSEPH
(Knocks) Look, you must have something. Come on.

INNKEEPER
(Opening the door) Didn't you hear me? No, I don't have anything, except a great case of grogginess.

JOSEPH
I'm not picky. Please, my wife...

INNKEEPER
Has married a lout.

JOSEPH
Is pregnant. And every inn in Bethlehem is full.

INNKEEPER
And I'm tired after dealing with an inn crammed full of lodgers wanting this and wanting that and it's "can't I have a room to myself" and "I don't have as much money as I thought I had" and "The stew is cold"...

JOSEPH
Please mister, I don't have anywhere else to go.

INNKEEPER
Do you know how many hard luck stories I've been hearing? I can't help you!

MARY
Excuse me, good innkeeper, I know you've grown weary of people asking you for help, but may I ask you one question?

INNKEEPER
Just one?

MARY
Just one.

INNKEEPER
All right, what?

MARY
(As she says the line, she gets right into his face and finishes the line with a sense of menace in her voice.) Have you ever experienced the wrath of a seriously pregnant woman?!

(As she finishes a baby's cry is heard from within. The Innkeeper looks at her, looks back inside, and after a moment's thought...)

INNKEEPER
I'm sure I can figure out something. (They enter the inn. Blackout.)


SCENE 3


(Agabus, Barnabas, and Gamaliel are leaning against a tree in a pasture, supposedly watching over their flock. We hear sheep baaing offstage and Barnabas' snoring. Gamaliel is also sleeping. Agabus nudges Barnabas.)

AGABUS
Hey! Quit your snoring, you're keeping me awake.

BARNABAS
(groggy) What? Sure, fine. (He goes back to snoring.)

AGABUS
Hey, come on. Roll over or something.

BARNABAS
What do you want?

AGABUS
I want you to quit snoring like you're trying to shake the tree clear down to the roots.

BARNABAS
I wasn't snoring.

AGABUS
I suppose I'm hearing things.

BARNABAS
I don't snore.

AGABUS
You most certainly do and it's keeping me awake.

BARNABAS
Aren't you supposed to be awake right now? It's your turn to keep watch.

AGABUS
It's Gamaliel's turn.

BARNABAS
Then why are you awake?

AGABUS
Because you snore like a cow that's been tipped over!

BARNABAS
How does a tipped-over cow snore?

AGABUS
Ah, um, ...loud.

BARNABAS
I don't snore.

AGABUS
Everybody knows you snore! Everybody tells you you snore! I wish you could hear yourself!

BARNABAS
I try. I keep sleeping through it.

GAMALIEL
Will you two quit your nattering! You've woken me up every night this week.

AGABUS
You're supposed to be keeping watch.

GAMALIEL
We should all be keeping watch if you want to get down to it, but I'll remind you we agreed to take turns.

BARNABAS
Isn't it your turn?

GAMALIEL
No, I kept my watch already, remember? It's Agabus' turn.

BARNABAS
Last time you complain about my snoring.

AGABUS
Hmph.

GAMALIEL
Well, keep awake, will you.

(Gamaliel goes back to sleep. Barnabas rolls over, gives one deliberate snore, and also falls asleep. Agabus quickly follows. The Angel enters.)

ANGEL
Harken shepherds, for I bring you good tidings of great joy. (He notices they're asleep and stops. He tries again.) Awaken shepherds, and harken to the message I bring you. Hey, wake up!

(Angel goes over to the shepherds and jostles them. Agabus just rolls over. Barnabas brushes the Angel away and mutters something about bugs. Gamaliel gives the angel a good swat which causes the Angel to yelp in pain. Angel calls up a good crash of thunder which blows them awake.)

ANGEL
Hearken shepherds, I bring you good tidings of great joy. This night unto...

BARNABAS
(with child-like awe) Are you really an angel?

ANGEL
What?

AGABUS
Of course that's an angel. What else could he be?

BARNABAS
And just how many angels have you seen?

GAMALIEL
Will you two shut up and listen.

ANGEL
Thank you. Now,...

GAMALIEL
I mean, just how many people do you know running around...

AGABUS
Flying.

GAMALIEL
...flying around with clothes like that, and wings, and calling up claps of thunder.

BARNABAS
Nobody I guess.

GAMALIEL
Exactly. (to Angel) Please go on.

ANGEL
Unto you this day in the city of David...

AGABUS
Actually, this is night.

ANGEL
I know that.

AGABUS
Ok. I just thought maybe you hadn't been to Earth before and didn't know...

ANGEL
Don't start with me!

AGABUS
Sorry.

GAMALIEL
Say, aren't you supposed to have a whole chorus of angels with you for big announcements?

ANGEL
You clowns are lucky if you get one dead guy with an out of tune harp!

BARNABAS
What, one angel isn't impressive enough to you?

ANGEL
Stop your bickering and listen! (He calls up another clap of thunder.) Unto you this night in the city of David, (He sees they are confused) Bethlehem, (now they catch on) oh, forget it. Look, the savior has just been born, you'll find him laying in a manger in the stable of a local inn. I know, that doesn't sound all poetic. I'll let the gospel writers clean it up.

BARNABAS
What's a gospel?

ANGEL
Never mind, just go! I'm out of here.

(Angel exits. Shepherds start to leave.)

GAMALIEL
What's a gospel. Good grief.

BARNABAS
Well, I didn't know.

GAMALIEL
All right, all right. Just don't embarrass me in front of the Messiah. (Exeunt, blackout.)


SCENE 4


(Outside the stable. In dim light, the shepherds and wisemen bump into each other.)

BELSHAZZAR
Hey, watch it, will you.

ZERUBABBEL
Is that sheep I smell? Filthy animals.

GAMALIEL
You could use a bath yourself mister, and so could your camel.

ARIOCH
We don't want trouble. Please just make way.

AGABUS
Just who do you think you are anyway, ordering us around!

ARIOCH
We are wisemen from the east.

BARNABAS
I thought you had a funny accent. Stupid foreigners.

ZERUBABBEL
You impudent peasant!

ARIOCH
We are here to see the newborn savior, whose birth we have discerned from studying your ancient prophesies and the stars.

BARNABAS
Shows who's more important. We heard directly from an angel. So don't try ordering us around in our own country.

BELSHAZZAR
You should be taught some respect for your betters.

BARNABAS
What bettors? We don't even gamble.

(The argument gets loud. Joseph comes out from the stable.)

JOSEPH
Hey, hey, excuse me, gentlemen, could you take this argument somewhere else?! My wife just gave birth and she's trying to rest.

ARIOCH
Wait a minute. Your wife just gave birth?

JOSEPH
Yes.

ARIOCH
To a son?

JOSEPH
(not understanding Arioch's purpose) Yes.

ARIOCH
(with growing realization) In this stable in the city of David?!

JOSEPH
Yes.

BARNABAS
Sorry to disturb you. We'll leave.

(All start to leave. Arioch is the first to stop.)

ARIOCH
Wait, wait, this is the place we were looking for!

(Everyone stops, mutters something like "Oh yeah", and then the mob pushes into the stable. Lights up on the interior of the stable. As they come through the door, they jostle each other, saying things like "get out of my way". Mary is recovering. Joseph tries to stay ahead of the surging mass.)

BELSHAZZAR
Madam, I have a gift for your child!

ZERUBABBEL and
ARIOCH
So do I!

AGABUS
(to Joseph) Hey mister, will you let a bunch of foreigners see our messiah before we do? (Gamaliel and Barnabas second this.)

JOSEPH
Would you all just get out of here!

MARY
Gentlemen, gentlemen, please, how can you argue over such petty nonsense at a time like this? Don't you think this occasion calls for a little more solemnity? When you think about where you are, you'll feel very ashamed of yourselves. Now say your sorry or shake hands or something.

ARIOCH
She's right. We should feel ashamed of ourselves for behaving this way. (to Gamaliel) Shepherd, my name is Arioch and I'm willing to apologize if you will. We had no right to behave so arrogantly.

GAMALIEL
I'm Gamaliel, and we should be more polite to strangers to our town. There's no excuse for such pettiness here, or anywhere else either. I also apologize.

(Apologies all around. Shepherds and wisemen kneel as the wisemen present their gifts. Lights fade on the tableau. Blackout. A sneeze is heard.)

ALL
Zerubabbel!

(end of play)

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