The United Nations declared 1981 as the International Year of Disabled Persons. “Troubling the Waters” is a play I wrote to mark the occasion and enable students to study ritual and performance by exploring a story in the Gospel of John. Since the characters are caricatures of students in the course, I have removed the names of the original performers.
In 2020, during the Coronavirus crisis, I retrieved the play and re-edited it, making a few key changes. In 1981 a few characters had a song; in 2020 every character has a song, pushing the current play in the direction of a musical. I have now added links links to the music, something I could not do in 1981. With more skill and more time, I would add dance: a slapstick song-and-dance show.
As I look back across 30 years one thing strikes me: the relevance of healing rituals to the Covid crisis. The directive to stay home is not very different from hanging out at the pool.
This slapstick-song-and-dance show does not use masks, as did Commedia dell ‘arte (Italian popular comedy), so really it is commedia dell absurde, a liturgical parody of ritual failure.
Note: if you find typos and errors or have suggestions, please email me. I would appreciate your effort.
John 5, King James Version
1After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.
10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.
11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.
12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?
13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.
14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.
15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.
TROUBLING THE WATERS
a liturgical masque
in the manner of ritual clowning
written by Ron Grimes
in 1981, International Year of Disabled Persons, revised 2020
We clown what we revere.
in order of admission
to Bethesda Pool
Old Healerwoman (Healer)
Yet, Angel of Troubled Mercy (Angel)
Dr. J Stumble, the Great Physician, A.B., M.Div. (Dr. J)
Patient No. 38 (38)
Nurse Candystripe (Nurse)
Dr. D. Balderdash, Dip. Heal. Ars. (Quack)
Life Guard at the Bethesda Pool (Guard)
Dr. Headdoctor, D.D. (Head)
MD, a new comer (MD)
Honorary Wounded Healer, ______________, bearer of many accolades
- healing advisor
- voice of illness
- enabler of the disabled
- friend of Jesus and other wayfaring strangers
Healer: A swamp of cures. Smothering mud. A survivor of immense pain. An ageless, boisterous earth mother, a friend of serpents. She don’t take no shit from nobody. Surrounds everyone with laughter and the spirit of healing. No spirit or remedy is foreign to her. She loves Dr. J; he is her cute little white toy-boy. She envys Head’s cane, sometimes tries to snatch it away. Carries a huge bag of cures; has lower back trouble. Her song: “Wade in the Water.”
Angel: A loon. Full of darkness and light. Birdlike, always ruffling her feathers or utterly fierce. Usually indifferent, sometimes jealous. A shaman quivering with uncontainable healing power but not knowing what to do with it. She will tell your fortune. “Susanne” is her song.
Dr. J: Catatonic. His face is a blank sheet, tabula rasa. Innocent as a deer. Out of it. Pale, bleached. Carries an old puppet, who looks a lot like Healerwoman. “He is not dead; he sleepeth.” Wide-eyed, expressionless. As lacking in energy as Angel is full of it. Beyond trouble, except in one flashing moment. His song: “The Sound of Silence.”
38: A sick jackal. Always scratching, repeatedly complaining. A ne’er-do-well. Desperately in need of attention. Wants to be waited on hand and foot. Wears a medic-alert bracelet. Touchy. As afraid of health as he is of illness. “Just As I Am” is his song.
Nurse: Fastidious but fierce ostrich, sometimes competing with Guard. Secretly reads Playgirl magazine. Always straightening bedclothes or her own nurse’s hat. Wears a neck brace. Protectively carries a bandaged egg. Custodian of the Bond of Bandages. Thinks believers make better nurses. She drinks, secretly. “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” is her song.
Quack: A peacock. Indian trader; carries rattle and drum. Salesman of snakebite medicine. In and out of Wild West sideshows. Strutting, impotent con-artist. Carries a stick that serves as phallus. A dandy. An ass-pincher. Jealous of the attention women given to 38 and Dr. J. Has a withered arm. Sings “Cool Water.”
Guard: Romantic about natives and illness. Compliant, aspiring errand-runner. Wears a whistle around her neck. A liberal. Professionally “understanding.” Super-attentive. Protective of Headdoctor. Working on a degree but growing sick of the academic world. Full of detached concern. Loves all New Age music. When anxious, calms herself by chanting OM or Om Mani Padme Hum.
Head: Pompous ass. Windbag. Full of words and himself. Wears medicine feathers and paraphernalia of academic and medical snobbery. Directs things at a distance. Wears a death mask on his back. Useless without Guard. Carries a serpentine cane and a bullwhip. Has another head on top of his own. Utterly without music but loves “Pomp and Circumstance.”
MD: Sickeningly sincere. Is a “man’s best friend.” A Dr. Welby, who wants desperately to be a compassionate family physician. An empath. In med school always contracted the diseases he reads about, yet is in disgustingly good health. Drinks milk, jogs, takes saunas. Always does the correct thing. Is sick of wellness. Carries a copy of Miss Lonelyhearts. Song: “Jesus Loves Me.”
The Order of Actions
1. Call to Cleansing
2. Response to the Call
3. Entry of the Troubled
4. Entry of Life Guard
5. Entry of Headdoctor
6. Enthronement of Honored Guest
7. Honoring Exercises
9. Angelic Elevation
10. Parade of Infirmities
11. Trance Dance among the Troubled
12. Descent of the Angel
13. Entry of the Uninitiated
14. Bond of Bandages
15. Raising a Hymn
16. The Lustration of Dr. J
17. Litany of the Halt and Holistic
18. Hierophany of the Big Man
19. Healing of Patient No. 38
20. Cleansing of the Pool
21. Exit of Medicine People
Troubling the Waters
ALL CAPS = STAGE DIRECTIONS
This play is slapstick, hyperbole, bullshit and blather. Performers should watch and re-watch Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp and Buster Keaton’s, One Week. Talk is highly stylized. None of it is “realistic.” All character have a song, which they sometimes sing absentmindedly, sometimes intently as if entranced. The gestures are signaled by a bell, whistle, or whip.
Surrounded by a ring of gauze is a pool in the centre represented by a crumpled blue sheet. Rear right: tall platform or stepladder. Front left: a threshold or stylized portico. Banks of the pool are littered with the trappings of illness: crutches, pills, bandages, medicine bags, prayer sticks, fetishes, sleeping bags, make-up. Left rear: A desk, a chair, A lectern, and A light. A wheelchair, rear centre. Cushions surround a bathtub, front centre close to the audience.
Head’s bell signals transitions and high points. All respond to it immediately. All carry their scripts in black books, as if they were prayer books or hymnals. Head and Guard occasionally take notes in their books as if they were directors or ethnographers.
A TAPE OF MUSIC IS PLAYING AS MD HANDS OUT PROGRAMS. IN 2020, HE USES A CELL PHONE AND EAR BUDS.
A BELL IS HEARD FROM BACKSTAGE. IN RESPONSE MD RINGS HIS SMALL BELL TO THE AUDIENCE GATHERED OUTSIDE THE DOOR, THEN LEADS THEM TO THE PLAYING AREA.
MD: Ladies and gentlemen, our performance is about to begin. We call it “Troubling the Waters, a Masque in The Manner of Clowning.” Please check to see that you have pennies to throw into the pool for admission. If you have no pennies, we will provide them for you. For the time being, I am an audience member, so please follow and do as I do.
HE LEADS THEM SLOWLY IN AND AROUND THE POOL, AMONG THE PARAPHERNELIA OF THE TROUBLED. THE AUDIENCE THROW IN MONEY, DIP THEIR HANDS INTO BUCKETS OF WATER AND DRY THEM ON THE SHEET. THEY ARE SHOWN THEIR SEATS BY MD. HE DEPOSITS THE BASINS OF WATER OFFSTAGE AND TAKES HIS SEAT IN THE BATHTUB. HE PUTS ON A SURGICAL MASK AND GLOVES. THROUGHOUT THE PLAY HE’S ALWAS FIDDLING WITH GLOVES AND MASK: OFF, ON, OFF, ON. REPEATEDLY HE USES HAND SANITIZER, SOMETIMES SHARING IT WITH AN AUDIENCE MEMBER.
MD TURNS DOWN (BUT NOT OFF) THE VOLUME OF MUSIC.
Troubled: THEY ENTER OUT OF CHARACTER, CARRYING BLACK BOOKS. THEY TOUCH THE RING OF BANDAGES AS IF IT WERE THE HOLY GRAIL. AFTERWARD, HAND SANITIZER: SQUIRT, SQUIRT, RUB, RUB. THEY TAKE THEIR PLACES AND BEGIN DONNING WHITEFACE AND ENTERING THEIR PERSONAE. NURSE TURNS OUT LIGHTS. THE TROUBLED GO TO BED. CANDLES, BREATHING, SNORING, MEDICINE, PILLS, RATTLING, RESTLESSNESS.
Guard: ENTERS. SWITCHES ON THE LECTURN LIGHT. BLOWS BUGLE CALL ON WHISTLE.
MD: ABRUPTLY CUTS MUSIC OFF
Troubled: CONTINUING TO SLEEP RESTLESSLY.
Head: ENTERS, ACCOMPANIED BY GUARD, RINGING A LOUD BELL. PROCEEDS TO LECTURN WITH REGAL POMP. AN EXPERIENCED ORATOR, HE ADDRESSES EVERYONE: THE AUDIENCE, THE TROUBLED, THE ANGELS ABOVE, THE DEVILS BELOW.
Fellow doctors, good evening. Nurses, too. Welcome counselors, therapists, masseurs, masseuses. Welcome reflexologists, herbalists, chiropractors, pastors, Rolfers, curanderos, healers, holypersons, and others of the cloth, collar, robe, or medicine bag. And special greetings to the delegation from the Easeling Paratherapists Society. We applaud your efforts to translate the minutes of the Gottwald Salk Society for the Hole of Health into the chantways of the Blue Ant, Forked Lightening Branch, of the female subchant.
As a prelude to our ceremony, we would like to take this opportunity to recognize an outstanding contribution to the profession of fooling with healing. As you know, we award the Second Ring of Power each year to one among us who makes a noble stand in our effort to stamp out disease, one whose valor in this war to save man- and, er, woman-kind from the assault and violation of hell-bent germs, viruses, and other living-but-deadly creatures. Tonight, we are proud to award the Second Ring of Power for noteworthy service to:
Guard: TURNS LIGHT ON THE GUEST.
Head: NAMES THE GUEST: _________. PRESENTS VIA GUARD A TOILET SEAT RING TO HONOURED GUEST.
TO THE GUEST. We wish you to observe from the orchestra, so you are invited to take your seat on this specially constructed orthopedic throne. Your dutiful wife, children, grandchildren, and colleagues are invited to sit at your feet; for them we have kindly provided cushions. THEY MOVE AND SIT AS INSTRUCTED.
We hereby proclaim that for the ensuing year you shall he known by the title, “Honorific Troubler of Healing.”
Guard: BLOWS FINAL BUGLE/WHISTLE CALL. TURNS LIGHT OFF GUEST.
Head: We welcome you to this on-the-field site that at the edge of Bethesda Pool. We decided that the Gospel of John, chapter 5, needs empirical testing without their (INDICATES THE TROUBLED) knowledge so as not to prejudice the data or violate their feelings and needs for privacy.
Let me introduce my assistant in all things ill, better, and worse or until the waters part: my ex-Jungian comrade in laying down arms and making the wounded holistic, Ms. Life Guard of the Bethesda Pool. She will be awarded her Healing Arts Degree at the next commencement, for which I am Head Marshall (shows his commencement marshal’s badge on his shoulder). Welcome Ms. Guard.
Guard: Hello, Dr. Head.
Head: Would you be so kind as to share with our fellow healers the observations that have prepared to you to enable incisive and compassionate observing of these poor bodies gathered, soul in hand, at Bethesda?
Guard: Yes, of course, Doctor. (TURNS TO AUDIENCE) Project Bethesda is invaluable to our goal of binding the world’s wounds through scholarship and compassion. we have successfully isolated a living, unstained, actual, primitive, archetypal, healing pool—the Bible notwithstanding.
(SECRETIVELY, WHISPERING TO THE AUDIENCE) The ill actually revere and drink this water, but it’s actually a mudhole. Sheep urinate in it and drink from it. No wonder the infirm jump in and out so quickly. The analysands, er, Troubled, as I call them in my monograph, consider me their helper and friend. I can move freely and invisibly among them. Because of my rescues and helping hands, I have become their veritable lifeguard. I have been on the field site for some 14 months. Doctor supervises my rescues and visits on location, periodically. I guard the lives of those who throw themselves helplessly headlong into the pool, when, as they say, the angel troubles the waters. I also work nights in the laboratory tent doing research to find ways of purifying this piss-filled pool so these poor souls can be saved from angels, saviors and charlatans, and won for the cause of, shall we say, professional healing and medicine. Please, I beg you, do not look down on these people. The ill they are quite poetic. After I finish my master’s thesis, I will, in fact, write another book, this time with no supervision (SHE GLANCES AT HEAD). That book will be entitled The Poetry of Illness.
Troubled: ARE BEGINNING TO AWAKEN.
Head: Thank you, thank you, Guardian of these rancid bodies and their attendant ragtag souls. Ladies and gentlemen, all that remains to be said before we witness a ceremony at the Bethesda Pond, where the lame, halt and blind are gathered, awaiting the troubling of the waters, hoping to be the first in the pool, is to urge you to note the tangled knot of medicinal, mythopoeic, ritological, and psycho-socio-bio-somatic, as well as psychopathic and homeopathic elements which combine to make this one of the unique colonies of the medical world. SHOWS SOME OF THE WORDS ON FLASHCARDS AS IF FROM A SILENT BLACK AND WHITE MOVIE. Healing sites have always attracted charlatans and quacks throughout the history of man- (and woman-kind too). GUARD HAS BEEN TRYING TO TEACH HEAD TO BE A FEMINIST, BUT HE’S A SLOW LEARNER. Let us, therefore, not gawk in falsely objective detachment, but let us take their awful plight to heart and then, with skill, precision and commitment go forthwith to our research laboratories, couches, doctors’ offices and pastoral chambers. Because the Troubled are unable to communicate in anything other than poetry, ecstatic utterance, and gesture, you know how the ill are. My assistant and I will translate, narrate and commentate for your convenience.
Guard: It is morning. A glorious morning SHE LILTS AS IF THIS WERE AMUSICAL. A holiday among Bethesdites, a tribe that has fought for centuries to retain possession of their so-called “healing” pool, TURNING TO THE AUDIENCE, AS IF THIS WERE A DOCUMENTARY the fundamental source of their community and basic metaphor for their language.
Troubled: BEGINNING TO WAKE UP.
MD: PLAYS “Jesus on the Mainline.”
Troubled: STRETCHING. PILLS, INJECTIONS BY NURSE. COMPLAINING. SUNTAN LOTION. BEDPANS. CHECKING WHITEFACE IN MIRROR. BEDS AND BEDROLLS ARE USED AS PRIVATE PRAYER RUGS. QUACK IS UP QUICKLY, FISHING IN THE POOL. NURSE IS BUSY CHECKING TEMPERATURES AND BEDPANS. 38 AWAKENS VERY SLOWLY.
GETTING UP IS NOW IN FULL SWING.
DR. J: GOES NOWHERE, STARES INTO SPACE.
Guard: TESTS THE WATER AS IF IT WERE A CHLORINATAED POOL; IS DISGUSTED AT THE RESULTS.
Head: AS IF IN A DOCUMENTARY, IMMEDIATELY INTO LECTURE MODE Life around Bethesda pool begins each morning with dream accounts and private invocations to an angel, whom the residents say, dwells in heaven except when on earth, at the edge of this pool. But as we all know, water spirits come from the tellurian regions underground, as do the intermittent springs, which are indubitably the source of any “mystical” or “miraculous” bubbling and frothing, which the Bethesdites refer to as “troubling.” Each morning arguments arise over who gets to play angel, a stand-in, they say, for the real angel.
Guard: Having a “parade of infirmities” is a mini-tradition, pre-dating the arrival of Doctor and me. The wounded turn this into a competition. The tradition goes all the way back to missionary times and allows us to study infirmities closely without embarrassing the patients—and patient they are. Dr. Headdoctor and I do not believe in ceremonial degradation, but we study with great respect those who do believe and practice the parade of wounds and ritual healing.
Troubled: LOTS OF ARM-WAVING MOVEMENTS. HUBUB. VARIOUS ONES SEEM TO WIN THE COMPETITION.
Guard: Most of the Troubled at Bethesda consider themselves to be healers, that’s right, wounded healers. Holding a pallet spot at the pool is a token of membership in the Shameless Shaman’s Society. “Residents” considers their afflictions a certification of authority. One has be, as the pool-dwellers say, “well enough to be ill,” to reside around the inner banks of the pool. Townspeople fear an infection from the pool but go to it secretly coveting membership.
Whenever Dr. Headdoctor visits, the Troubled love to tell him their troubles. They display their wounds for Doctor to judge. It’s a sport, and he is the umpire. Even so, he allows for divination. He watches as they cast bones or drop feathers to divine who wins. Invariably, Yet, if not by the divination rite, then by self-acclamation. The competition and divination are a sham. She always wins. But Head allows it to happen and takes notes.
Troubled: THEY HAVE BEGUN TO LINE UP AND SQUABBLE OVER POSITIONS. WITH GREAT POMP AND EXAGGERATION HEAD BECKONS THEM. THEY HAVE BEGUN TO PARADE THEIR INFIRMITIES. EVERYONE WANTS DOCTOR’S ATTENTION, BUT THEY ALSO HATE HIM.
ANGEL WINS, ASCENDS HER PLATFORM, PERCHED, A PREENING OVERSEER.
Guard PINS THE WINNER’S RIBBON ON ANGEL. SHE RECEIVES THE AWARD WHILE HEALERWOMAN SNITCHES HEAD’S CANE. THE LOSERS ARE SULKY AND ANGRY. Each morning, after exposing their wounds and boasting about them, the Troubled dance. The Bethesdites believe in their divination rites even though Yet, the stand-in angel always wins. By self-exposure the Troubled assure themselves that the proper person has been selected. This person does not just represent angelic forces but actually becomes, in their eyes, a mediator on a mission of mercy. If their chants and gestures are done wholeheartedly and holistically, they believe they can transform one of their own into an angel who troubles the waters with healing power.
IN LECTURE MODE Now, if you will, let me summarize the symbolic logic. (If this goes over your head, don’t blame me):
- By joyful dancing
- the Troubled try to inspire one of their own
- into becoming an angel of mercy;
- in turn, the angel troubles the waters.
- The Bethesdites scramble to get into the bubbly pool first.
- The first will be healed—free of trouble, free to leave.
- The rest sulk, lick their wounds, and wait for another day.
THE TROUBLED BEGIN TO DANCE TO UP ON CRIPPLE CREEK. THEY QUAKE AND SHAKE, A POOR REPRESENTATION OF TRANCE DANCE.
If the ritual fails, as it ordinarily does, they have an automatic explanation, namely, that they had not gotten themselves well attuned, were not patient, or had not bared their wounds sufficiently. As you can see, they are beginning to do what I call in monographs the “Trance Dance of the Troubled.”
MD: RAISES THE VOLUME ON “UP ON CRIPPLE CREEK.”
Troubled: AS MD FADES OUT MUSIC THE TROUBLED TAKE OVER THE RHYTHM USING THEIR OWN INSTRUMENTS. THEY ARE INVOKING THE SPIRIT TO SEND DOWN AN ANGEL.
Guard: IS DRAWN INTO THE DANCE. SHE ANIMATES, FACILITATES, CONSOLES, SOMETIMES ON THE PLATFORM WITH ANGEL; SOMETIMES ON THE DANCE FLOOR.
DR. J: HAVING BEEN LED TO THE BASE OF THE PLATFORM BY QUACK, DR. J PLAYS DRIFTILY ON THE FLUTE. AN UNSUCCESSFUL KRISHNA PLAYING FOR MILKMAIDENS.
IF ANGEL AND THE DANCERS ARE ABLE ENGAGE ONE ANOTHER FULLY, SHE DESCENDS IN A FLURRY OF BIRD POWER. IF NOT, AND THE MUSIC PLATEAUS, SHE DESCENDS DISAPPOINTED. IN EITHER CASE ALL EXCEPT 38, HEAD, GUARD, AND MD SPLASH INTO THE POOL AND FLOAT IN MOMENTARY RELIEF.
MD: PLAYS “SUZANNE.”
Troubled: SING, HUM. SLOWLY RETURN TO THEIR PLACES.
ANGEL IS IN A STUPOR OF UTTER EXHAUSTION. GUARD HAS TO LEAD HER BACK TO THE PLATFORM AND HELP HER CLIMB UP.
38 IS ALWAYS TOO LATE. CAN’T GET INTO THE POOL. FALLS INTO DESPAIR, SLUMPS INTO HIS WHEELCHAIR.
Troubled: POST-TRANCE HANG-OVER. SLOWLY THE TROUBLED SLUMP INTO A BOG OF DESPONDENCY. BOOZING BY NURSE. ANGEL SMOKES WEED, BLOWS SMOKE AT AUDIENCE. MOST ARE ASLEEP.
Guard: Most of a typical day is spent like this—doing nothing, rolling over, aching inside and out, waiting, despairing. The pool becomes, as Head wrote in the first draft of The Joy of Illness “a swamp of the spirit.” The odors here are foul, especially in the sun. Everything festers, cracks, bleeds.
The Doctor and I usually spend the afternoons in our tent transcribing our fieldnotes, drinking a little gin, thinking of air conditioning.
MD: HAS BEEN MILLING AROUND THE AUDIENCE, THEN COMES TIMIDLY TO THE PORTICO, BEGGING FOR ADMISSION BY RINGING A LITTLE BELL. HE IS SEEN BY NURSE, WHO HAS HER OWN PRIVATE AGENDA FOR MD AS SHE SHOWS HIM AROUND. REPEATEDLY SHE INQUIRES; REPEATEDLY HE SHAKES HIS HEADS NO. FINALLY, HE YIELDS TO HER SEDUCTION: YES, BUT LATER.
ALL NEGOTIATIONS ARE DONE IN GESTURE AND SOUND-LANGUAGE.
Guard, AS MD ENTERS: Occasionally, a new person arrives seeking admission. Often they themselves are healers—doctors, nurses, clergy, therapists—people not unlike yourselves POINTS TO AUDIENCE. Often pool-loungers drive them away furiously, sending them back to their own practices, shouting that the world needs its wounded. Rarely are they are sent away gently with kind words. Few are allowed to stay except when they seem “well enough ill.” When admitted, they are given a guided tour by Nurse Candystripe. Old Healerwoman gives them free sample of salves or pills. If no one is watching, she tries to charge for the samples. Healerwoman has been known to steal things as well. You’ll notice that she’s been eying MD’s stethoscope.
Nurse is now introducing MD to the regulars to the pool: Patient No. 38, Balderdash, Yet, and Dr. J, whom the regulars call the Great Physician. Oh, excuse me, they are coming here with Guard and Head. TO MD I am the Life Guard at the pool, and this is my supervisor, Dr. Headdoctor. I can call him Dr. Head or Just Doctor. But TURNING TO AUDIENCE Don’t you ever, ever address him as Doc. He has degrees—earned, honorary, dishonorary.
Healer: PULLS MD ASIDE SO NURSE CAN’T OVERHEAR. THEY LAUGH, TALK. SHE IS BARGAINING FOR HIS STETHESCOPE. HE AGREES TO MAKE A TRADE. HE WILL GIVE HER THE STETHESCOPE IF SHE WILL INTERCEDE WITH ANGEL FOR HIM.
Healer: INTERCEDES WITH ANGEL.
Angel: WILL HAVE NONE OF IT. No, no, no, damnit, no. Get the hell out.
Healer: LAUGHING, TRIES TO CHEER UP MD. CAJOLES HIM LIKE A LITTLE BOY. COOS. MAKES MOTHERLY GESTURES.
Guard: How strange. Not the usual admission rite. At first MD’s was admitted but now he’s being turned away. Angel has told MD that he cannot stay. I’m guessing she’s jealous of Nurses seduction plot. He is not well enough wounded, she says. Besides, she tells him, your wound makes you gentle and compassionate. You are needed in active practice, she says, not out here on the frontiers of research.
What eloquence she has! Oh, the passion of poetry uttered by the sick. I will translate for you: “Without your wound where would your power be. It is your very remorse that makes your low voice rumble into the hearts of men. The angels cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In love’s service only the wounded soldiers can serve. Unless you consent to suffer, you cannot be free to suffer.” SHE WINKS AT AUDIENCE “free translation…”
Nurse: FLAGS OF KLEENEX AS MD LEAVES SADLY. MD RETURNS TO AUDIENCE.
Troubled: THEY BEGIN TO BRAID THEIR BOND OF BANDAGES, SUPERVISED BY NURSE, WHO ALWAYS CARRIES BANDANGE STRIPS. BRAID, BRAID. EACH BRAID IS TIED TO ANOTHER. A BRAIDED ROPE BEGINS TO EMERGE.
THEY BEGIN TO HUM “WADE IN THE WATER.”
MD: FROM THE AUDIENCE MD THROWS A ROLL OF GAUZE INTO THE POND, HOLDING ONE END AS IF IT WERE A FISHING LINE. IT IS THROWN BACK. HE FALLS OUT OF HIS TUB TRYING TO REACH THE TROUBLED. HE BINDS HIS HEAD WITH THE BANDAGE ONCE HE RECOVERS IT.
“WADE IN THE WATER” CONTINUES.
Head: The infirm have little to do but lick and bind their wounds. Such a life is very tiring. The Troubled have invented a ceremonial craft. They braid what they call “Bonds of Bandages:” belts, wristbands and headbands, the very stuff of their diseases. You will be reminded of those Christian orders in Italy that makes tables and chandeliers of the dead brothers’ bones. We still do not quite understand the symbolism of these talismanic ornaments. Some are large enough for a giant. When asked, the Bethesdites reply that it is for the Big Man when he arrives. I think they mean the Messiah, but I can’t be sure yet. The bonds of bandages are hand woven of gauze, some dirty, some clean. Many are kept; others are for sale at health food stores everywhere. The bonds are distributed in intensive care units at universities and caves.
Troubled: BEGIN SINGING THE WORDS OF “WADE IN THE WATER.”
Guard: I was hoping they were going to sing this. The Troubled love to sing. This is what they do best. As they say, they are “raising a hymn.” Such raisings are usually led by Old Healerwoman. She maintains that songs raise the kundalinic serpent of healing. Some of the pool-sitters are Christians, who resist Healerwoman’s paganism. Christ, they tell her, has already risen and overcome the demons. Nevertheless, they sing along. “WADE” BUILDS TO A FULL-FLEDGED HYMN, WHITE FOLKS DOING A POOR IMITATION OF A BLACK CHOIR.
Healer: TWIRLING THE SERPENTINE CANE AS IF SHE WERE DIRECTING A CHOIR OR PARADING LIKE A DRUM MAJOR LEADING A BAND.
Dr. J: BEGINS TO SWAY TO THE MUSIC, MOVES TOWARD WATER.
MD: PLAYS GUITAR IN AUDIENCE. STOPS AS HYMN ENDS
Guard: My god! This is Dr. J, the one they call the Great Physician. He has not moved of his own accord since I arrived at field station over fourteen months ago. Doctor?
Healer: LAYS THE SERPENTINE CANE IN THE WATER SO IT TOUCHES DR. J
Head: IS DRAWN INTO THE BAPTISM AND HYMN-RAISING. EVENTUALLY, HE ANIMATES AND FACILITATES THE ACTION. HE’S IN A MOMENTARY TRANCE.
Healer: LOWERS DR. J GENTLY INTO THE WATER.
Troubled: BEGIN IMPROVISING RAPID DEEP WATER CHANT: GLUG, GLUG, GURGLE, GURGLE.
MD: BEGINS TO PUT ON WHITEFACE.
Healer: WRITHES AND TREMBLES.
Quack: IMITATING THE RHYTHMS AND GESTURES OF AN EVANGELIST OR SALESMAN.
Head: ENTERS WATER WITH DR. J
Guard: TOTALLY FLUSTERED BY HEAD’S PARTICIPATION. SHE FETCHES A BASIN OF WATER FROM OFFSTAGE THEN SITS BACK OBVIOUSLY DISGUSTED. SHE SIEZES HEAD’S BELL, THE RINGING OF WHICH PRECIPITATES THE RAISING OF DR. J FROM THE WATER.
Head: RAISES DR. J FORCEFULLY.
Quack & Healer HELP SPLASH DR. J WITH WATER FROM GUARD’S BUCKET.
Nurse: ANOINTS HIM WITH OIL. WRAPS HIM WITH BOND OF BANDAGES AS IF IT WERE A GARLAND.
Dr. J: SEEMS PRESENT, ATTENTIVE, FOR THE FIRST TIME. LOOKS AT INDIVIDUALS IN AUDIENCE AND AMONG THE TROUBLED. SEEMS LIKE A POLITICIAN, POINTING, WAVING, SHAKING HANDS AS IF HE KNOWS EVERY INDIVIDUAL BY NAME.
38: YELLING, Get your books! WHEELS HIMSELF INTO THE ACTION. BECKONING FOR DR. J TO HEAL HIM. COMPLAINING, SCRATCHING. RINGS BELL SNATCHED FROM GUARD.
Guard: WATCHES INCREDUOUSLY
38: READING HOMILETICALLY TO DR. J: And whom do men say that you are? Ye are filled with the Holy Host. I beseech thee, torment me not. Heal me that I may be with thee this very day in paradise.
Troubled: CHANTING FROM THEIR BOOKS: Blessed are we, for there shall be a performance of these things.
38: I command thee: send Legion that I may be rid of these devils INDICATES TROUBLED.
Troubled AS CHORUS: And we said, What manner of man is this?” POINTING TO Dr. J
38: Let me touch the hem of your garment. Let the virtue come out of thee. I have an issue of blood, leprosy, epilepsy, VD… I have three infirmities and four. Boils and unclean spirits without number. I have lameness and deafness.
Troubled UNISON READING IN UNISON: And he shall publish throughout the land all that Jesus hath done for him.
38: I have spent my living upon physicians, and neither could I be healed. My faith hath made me a hole.
Troubled: NOW MOCKING 38 And he called us together, giving us authority over devils and the power to cure the sick.
38: I have lost my life by saving it. My wine is water. I am a lamb among wolves in doctor’s clothing. INDICATES THE TROUBLED. TO J.: Cleanse me with much words. I believe. Help thou mine unrelief.
Troubled chorus: He beareth our sickness with which we were possessed. He biddeth us dead to bury our dead.
38: I say unto thee, thou son of bath and balm, of Gilead and Galilee, make me whole from this very hour.
Troubled chorus: And we heard minstrels and the people making a noise. And they said, “We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you and ye have not lamented.”
38: Physician: LONG SILENCE Heal myself…..eh? HE TOUCHES HIMSELF: HEAD, HEART, FEET, THEN GENITALS.
ALL GASP, WAIT EXPECTANTLY. 38 WAITS IMPATIENTLY
Dr. J’s Puppet: SLOWLY EMERGES FROM HIS SLEEVE. THEN, LIKE A SOUTHERN EVANGELIST: O 38, Ya wanna be healed? Healed? Healed?
38: WITH SOUNDS AND GESTURS, MAKES EXCUSES. Sir, I have no man to put me in…
TROUBLED JOIN DR. J ASKING REPEATEDLY, Healed? Do you want to? Do you want to be healed? Do you? Do you?
Dr. J’s puppet: Leave that wheel chair, boy. Get the hell outta here.
38: LEAPS UP, SHOUTING: O.K., O.K., O.K. LEAVES THROUGH PORTICO. GOES TO THE AUDIENCE. BEGINS WHISPERING LOUDLY TO MD AND PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE. Am I healed? Yes? No? Maybe? 38 WANTS AN AFFIRMITIVE ANSWER BUT WILL SETTLE FOR A VOTE. CAJOLES AUDIENCE MEMBERS TO VOTE: THUMBS UP YES; THUMBS DOWN NO; THUMBS SIDEWAYS MAYBE.
Troubled: IGNORING 38’S PLIGHT. EACH ONE TOUCHES ONE. A GAME OF HEALING TAG. LAUGHING, THEY JUMP INTO THE POOL. PLAY, SPLASH, THEN PACK UP. SOME LEAVE MORE SLOWLY THAN OTHERS. EACH LEAVES SOMETHING BEHIND AT THE POOL’S EDGE. NURSE AND QUACK ARE FLIRTING, DISCOVERING ONE ANOTHER’S BODIES; HINTS OF THEIR MUTUAL TRANSFORHATION. HEALERWOMAN HAS A HARD TIME LEAVING BEHIND THE WEIGHT OF HER CURES, THEN DUMPS THE BAG, DECIDING TO TRAVEL LIGHT.
Angel: LEAVES BUT HANGS AT THE EDGES EYING DR. J SHE IS SEXUALLY ATTRACTED, RUBBING HERSELF, IMITATING DR. J
Dr. J: STROLLS, SURVEYING THE DEBRIS IN THE POOL.
Head to Dr. J: For Chrissakes, what do you think you’re doing? Look at what you’ve done. 38 imagines he’s well enough to put his health to a vote, and the Troubled will kill themselves by waiting, you idiot. And you’ve messed up my field research. How will Ms. Guard ever earn her in Master’s in Healing Arts now? And how can I account to the Gottwald Salk Society for spending all their research on this? Fool. You think you’re Jesus Christ, the Big Man himself! You’re nothing but a catatonic with your hand up a puppet’s ass.
Dr. J: UNAFRAID. BEGINS TO SEEM LESS INNOCENT, MOVING MENACINGLY TOWARD HEAD. HEAD BACKS AWAY.
Guard: WITHOUT HEART: Get out J. Get the hell outa here. You leave Dr. Head alone. He’s here to help you. Go back to sleep. Who said you could give such orders to 38? He’s been here 38 years; you’ve wrecked his life.
38: BY NOW HE HAS WANDERED BACK IN, HOBBLING TOWARD HIS WHEEL CHAIR. That’s right. He did it unto me. He told me to do it. He’s the one who made me get up and walk. And now I stumble. CLIMBS INTO WHEEL CHAIR.
Head: I’m not blind. I saw who did it. What J did is an affront to sane and sanitary procedures. He’s crazy himself. Physician, heal thyself! You fool, you are an affront to every doctor in the Hypocritical Tradition.
Dr. Puppet: TO 38: You are well. Get out before you something worse happens.
38: LEAVES, BUT WITH BACKWARDS LOOKS OVER HIS SHOULDER. EVENTUALLY TAKIN A PLACE IN THE AUDIENCE.
Dr. J: HAS DROPPED HIS PUPPET. IS FIERCELY AND ATTENTIVELY ALIVE.
Guard TO HEAD: You’re a phony. TO J.: Now leave him alone. Go back to sleep. TO HEAD: You’ve wrecked a beautiful community. THROWS HER NOTES IN THE POOL, TURNS OUT LECTURN LIGHT, EXITS ALONE.
MD: PLAYS, “Monkey Chant,” [begins @ 1:23 in this video].
Head & Dr. J: THEY SIT FACING ONE ANOTHER. DR. J IS ON BALANCE, NEITHER AGGRESSIVE NOR RETREATING. HEAD IS ENTRANCED, PUSHY, AND AGGRESSIVE BUT EXHAUSTED BY BULLYING. EVENTUALLY, DR. J WINS. HEAD LEAVES HIS MASK, WHICH IS DEPOSITED AS AN OFFERING TO THE POOL BEFORE EXITS.
Dr. J: PUSHES 38 OUT OF THE WHEELCHAIR, THEN SLUMPS INTO IT. PUTS HIS PUPPET BACK ON HIS HAND. IT BUSILY WHISPERS LOUDLY IN HIS EAR. HE REPLIES, “I thirst.” GRADUALLY RETURNING TO HIS CATATONIA.
Troubled: BEGIN TO SING “WADE IN THE WATER.”
MD: WHO HAS BEEN PEEKING THROUGH THE THRESHOLUD, ARRIVES, PUTS ON WHITEFACE AND ASSUMES AN AILMENT. IS PUZZLED, THEN DEJECTED. CHECKS DR. J WITH HIS STETHESCOPE. PICKS UP THE SERPENTINE CANE AND PHALLUS FOR HIMSELF. LIMPS OUT PUSHING DR J. IN THE WHEELCHAIR.
Angel: PEEKING IN ON THE SCENE FROM THE RIGHT, FINALLY SCAMPERS AFTER DR. J AFTER A PAUSE LONG FOR THE AUDIENCE TO FEEL THE PLAY HAS ENDED.
Troubled: FINISH SINGING “WADE”
OFFSTAGE A BELL RINGS.