The Collected Plays of Thomas F. Rogers

EXPAND-cover-180x270A companion collection to Thomas F. Rogers, Let Your Hearts and Minds Expand: Reflections on Faith, Reason, Charity, and Beauty

Described in a 1988 Distinguished Service citation from the Mormon Festival of the Arts as “undoubtedly the father of modern Mormon drama,” Thomas F. Rogers is the author of almost thirty plays. These include Huebener and Fire in the Bones, the first literary treatment of the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre. A collection of four of Rogers’s plays received a 1983 award for drama from the Association for Mormon Letters, and in 2001 the organization awarded him with an honorary lifetime membership. The following synopses are provided by the playwright. The Maxwell Institute is pleased to provide access to these plays as an online companion to Thomas F. Rogers’s book Let Your Hearts and Minds Expand.

1973–1998

Petunia Passes

1973

After the husband and father of a typical young suburban family wrecks their car, they are forced to alter their customary routine and restrict their future activity both to going places on foot and to a more family-centered life style. They finally become reconciled and see this radical change as a blessing in disguise until . . .

This script is based on the actual experience of its author and his family during their early years in Provo. By winning a Mormon Arts Festival’s playwriting competition with this play, Rogers received a cash award that exactly covered the cost of the family’s car repair.

Huebener

1975

During World War II, while aware of the risk to his life, the fearless young German Latter-day Saint Helmuth Huebener persisted in launching a campaign against Hitler’s propaganda machine. In this play we witness the tragic story of Mormonism’s arguably greatest twentieth-century martyr.

Huebener’s premiere performances were a sensation at Brigham Young University. Since then it has enjoyed frequent performance, including productions in both Russia and Finland. An excellent German version has long awaited performances in the land of its setting. Scripts in German, Russian, Spanish, and Finnish are available from the author.

A Good Man is Hard to Find

1975

A family in the Deep South—mother, father, grandmother, juvenile son, and daughter—take an innocent excursion into the countryside from which none of them is fated to return. Their nemesis is an escaped convict, the Misfit, who, with his two young accomplices, dispatches each of them in turn. The last of his victims, the grandmother, pleads for mercy. As she does so, her own shallowness and hypocrisy come to light. The Misfit in turn reprimands his accomplices for taking pleasure in the executions. In its enigmatic way, this one-act play, based on Flannery O’Connor’s celebrated story of the same name, raises hard questions about mortality, goodness, and Christian salvation.

Judgment Day

1975

In this stage adaptation of a story by Flannery O’Connor, Tanner, an elderly white Southerner in need of their care, joins his daughter and her husband in their Manhattan apartment. There he envisions conversations with his former black acquaintances in the South but discovers that his condescending manner provokes a violent and finally fatal response from one of their black New York neighbors. O’Connor’s title reflects the racial tensions that, sadly, still persist a half century since African Americans’ civil rights were legally recognized. I was drawn to this story after fulfilling my first teaching appointment during the 1960s Civil Rights movement as a faculty member at Howard University in Washington, DC.

Fire in the Bones

1977

This first-ever literary treatment of the Mountain Meadows Massacre brings to light the complex and tragic circumstances that underlay the 1857 catastrophe that cast a shadow on the Latter-day Saints. The play faithfully mirrors Juanita Brooks’s thorough and critically acclaimed scholarship. While exonerating Brigham Young as the massacre’s direct instigator, Fire in the Bones depicts the tragic dilemma into which well-meaning persons, like John D. Lee, are sometimes thrust and the sacrifices that a community, right or wrong, may require of them.

The play is a study in tainted conscience and mob psychology, of people’s paranoia in the wake of an anticipated extermination, as during the Utah War.

In their temperament and their fate, its characters resemble the zealots of every society and every age. Such people—ancient or modern—make tragedy as timely as ever. I gratefully acknowledge Juanita Brooks, whose valiant life’s work called the subject of John D. Lee to my attention and provided the impeccable research that underlies almost every line of the script. The play premiered in 1978 in a production by the Green-Briar Theatre in the Salt Lake Valley.

Reunion

1978

On the weekend of an LDS general conference, the Robison family’s three oldest children, now living away from home, have come together to celebrate the missionary farewell of their youngest brother Billy. They are also concerned about their father Arthur, who, they discover, is dying of cancer. Despite their desire for an agreeable reunion, the older children’s misfortunes and mutual antagonisms soon rise to the surface.

After writing two fairly prominent plays about historical Mormons who had been both excommunicated and executed—John D. Lee and Helmuth Huebener, both posthumously reinstated as church members—I sensed I had fallen into a sort of narrative rut. The recognition that an even higher truth and loyalty transcend both dissidence and unquestioning authority led me to describe a different thematic trajectory in the lives of the Robison family—from an initial thesis and its opposing antithesis to a more lofty synthesis, however tentative. After its writing, the play had multiple staged readings in Provo and elsewhere in addition to student productions at BYU and on the Utah State University campus in Logan.

The Second Priest

1970s

This play poses the pacifist dilemma. Set in an unspecified locale—now or sometime in the future—its idealistic hero, Agen, refuses to take the lives of his political enemies. In consequence, his wife dies, and he loses his memory. Years later, as he recovers from his amnesia, he proves the perfect candidate for his nation’s highest office. Manipulated by his minister and boyhood friend, Cantri, while negotiating a binding peace with a foreign power, Agen unintentionally abets the death of his only child. In an effort to enforce the treaty he has already paid such a high price for, he finally attempts, in a public address, to dissuade his nation from developing any more deadly weapons. In order to stop him, Cantri orders Agen’s assassination. Ironically, a man’s attempt to combat war and bloodshed by disavowing violence has led to, first, the deaths of his wife and son, and then his own.

Premiered in a production by students of the BYU Honors Program.

Set Apart

1970s

Corry Anthon, athletic and playful, has come on a mission with just enough of a testimony to make him ill at ease. Phil Jeppsen, an Australian convert and former vagabond, welcomes the MTC’s discipline—it is only his companions he has problems with. Good-natured, bumbling Harvey Wilberg, who had put off a mission, torments the others with his childish jokes but also has a childlike heart. Malan Rignell, a rancher’s son, is quietly witty though clumsy in others’ company, but no one guesses his strong self-doubt or his talent as a peacemaker.

Adapted from Ben Parkinson’s groundbreaking novel—both realistic and spiritual—this play showcases the experiences shared, but rarely documented, by tens of thousands of LDS youth. I try to capture Parkinson’s vision of life in the MTC, a place “set apart” from the world, by exploring the backgrounds and conversions of characters who are all the more compelling for being so human—which is to say less than perfect and more like the rest of us. Parkinson’s narrative is intelligent, rich, true, and broad-ranging in its depiction of the spiritual struggles of missionary-age young people.

The Wager

1970s

Philip Meynard Flammer had a long career in the Air Force as a pilot and, later, historian, most notably working in Saigon in 1968-69 documenting the Vietnam War. The author of several books and articles on military history, he eventually joined the Brigham Young University history faculty and taught there for a number of years before his retirement and death. He influenced an entire generation of LDS thinkers and practitioners in the field of national security, especially through his writings on military ethics. Unfortunately, this legacy has largely been lost to our faith community.

I first made Professor Flammer’s acquaintance when we were both graduate students at Yale University. At BYU, Phil also worked with me as an assistant director of its Honors Program (1975—1976). Flammer said his novel-length manuscript recounts a single night’s dream about the failed attempt of several Nazi soldiers at the end of World War II to evade detection and extermination by members of the invading Soviet army. The particulars of World War II and—as in all wars—the both human and inhumane behavior of its combatants were another area of Flammer’s expertise.

The Seagull

1970s

The first of Anton Chekhov’s four major plays, The Seagull depicts the conflicting aspirations of writers and artists, old and young. It is a slice-of-life drama set in the Russian countryside at the end of the 19th century. Its cast of characters are dissatisfied with their lives. Some desire love. Some desire success. Some hope to realize artistic genius. Most critics view The Seagull as a tragedy about eternally unhappy people. Others, like Chekhov himself, see it as a “comedy”—a humorous albeit bitter satire, poking fun at human folly. The great Russian playwright’s dramas anticipate the decline of Russia’s decadent aristocratic society on the eve of the 1917 Revolution.

This translation was commissioned by one of the directors at BYU and performed there on at least two separate occasions.

God’s Fools (or, Journey to Golgotha)

1981

This play addresses the plight of writers and religious dissidents in the USSR. Its characters are modeled after some of Russian’s greatest contemporary poets and religious martyrs—some purged by Stalin, some assassinated since World War II and others still alive in Soviet prisons or residing, as emigres, in the West. The play commemorates all who were ever persecuted by totalitarian regimes—not because they opposed the systems under which they found themselves but because, as uncompromising idealists and poets, they valued life above political expediency and, as believers, they pledged their highest loyalty to God, not to other men. Such victims of conscience were a rare and notable phenomenon in the twentieth century. The play traces the growing disillusionment of a promising Komsomol youth who is engaged by the State Secret Service to disrupt the worship of various Christians. Their courage and integrity so contrast with the cruel, self-serving duplicity of the youth’s employers and associates that he finally joins his victims. In doing so, he is reconciled with his God-fearing mother and rises to the stature of his father, a brilliant poet and artist, who was himself liquidated in Stalin’s purges.

On January 1, 1973, a young Russian defector was murdered in the foothills of Los Angeles by agents of the KGB—ostensibly a suicide. He was twenty-two. As a young Komsomol leader in the USSR with a promising political future, he’d been recruited to terrorize Christians. Conscience-struck by his victims’ courageous suffering, he joined the Soviet navy and jumped ship off the Canadian coast. While seeking asylum, he became a Christian convert and, despite ongoing threats against his life, frequently addressed large gatherings of young Americans, telling them his story. At Brigham Young University the premiere performances of God’s Fools were dedicated to his memory. Fifteen years after its premiere performances at BYU, at which time its appearance in Russia was completely unimaginable, this play was produced by a professional theater, Teatr Vladimira Malyshchitskogo, in St. Petersburg. I was recruited for the role of the American double spy, Cooper. This script is also available in a Russian translation.

Frere Lawrence

1984

The late private life of T. E. Lawrence derives from Lawrence’s posthumously published autobiography, The Mint. A military hero of mythic proportions after WWI and dutifully subject to his society’s stringent Victorian mores—so antithetical to his true nature—he later adopts the surname Shaw and chooses anonymity as a noncommissioned serviceman, thus totally expunging his former identity, a kind of suicide. The noble, neurotic Lawrence evokes our nearly insatiable and often frustrated yearning for intimacy, or as Freud titled it, the “discontent” of “civilization”—the perhaps most fundamental sociobiological root of everyone’s “double bind,” for which talent and prominence are ultimately no sublimation and often the catalytic source of a deep-seated loneliness. With a mix of present tense and flashback (derived from Lawrence’s classic memoir, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom) and through the eyes of so-called intimates, the story unfolds as a nightmare of images and aural effects that weave the fabric of the “genius” known as “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Gentle Barbarian

1988

Based on the life of Russian author, Ivan Turgenev, this taut play is very Chekhovian in nature. Its characters are richly drawn and full of repressed sensuality. Their lives and loves interweave, creating a tapestry of czarist Russia during the mid-1800s—the Russia of a privileged few and a peasant working class. It is fascinating to observe that, despite the social upheaval that led to its eventual dissolution and the radical intervention of the former USSR, much now remains as it did then. With its poignant irony, Turgenev’s own personal story surpasses those he penned that in Western Europe won for him such acclaim. In the person of this humanitarian idealist, the play illustrates the hypocrisy and self-deception of many a well-intended intellectual.

Crime and Punishment 

1989

Crime and Punishment focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who formulates and executes a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her cash. He argues that with the pawnbroker’s money he can perform good deeds to counterbalance the crime while ridding the world of a worthless vermin. He also commits the murder to test his own hypothesis that some people are naturally capable of such things and even have the right to so behave. Several times throughout the novel, Raskolnikov justifies his actions by comparing himself with Napoleon Bonaparte, believing that murder is permissible in pursuit of a higher purpose. Originally titled The Drunkards, Dostoevsky’s novel is the first of four nineteenth-century masterpieces that unprecedentedly explore social issues that beset humankind to this day, including child abuse and the mistreatment of women. These classic works are also deeply religious, treating the psychological turmoil and spiritual yearning of flawed, often rebellious human beings (Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov) and the nature of God himself (The Idiot, The Devils). After the fall of the Soviet Union, Dostoevsky was canonized as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church. Crime and Punishment has been cited as one of the world’s great detective novels whose mystery is not the perpetrator’s identity (which is known from the outset) but, more intriguingly, his very own search for the motive of his crime.

The play premiered at BYU by the acclaimed professional director, Tad Danielewski, his final production there before transferring to the University of California.

The Anointed

1980s

A musical drama in two acts based on the biblical account of David, Saul, and Solomon.

The Idiot

1980s

How would the world react if its Savior suddenly appeared again in the guise of just another mortal? The profound Russian writer Dostoevsky inserts such a character in each of his  major novels—in Crime and Punishment the prostitute Sonya Marmeladovama, in The Possessed (or The Devils) the false Messiah Stavroginm, and in The Brothers Karamazov the maligned but holy abbot Zosima and his righteous disciple Alyosha. In all literature, there are in fact very few memorable Christ figures: Don Quixote may be one, and a later Russian author’s protagonist, Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, another. In my opinion, as this stage version’s adapter, Myshkin (the hero of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot) is the most complete and impressive of them all.

Myshkin’s characterization and the novel itself are filled with irony. Like Christ, Myshkin is a prince (in Russian, a rank of noble, aristocratic heritage). However, his surname derives from the word for ‘mouse,‘ in turn suggesting his meekness and the lack of regard with which he is viewed by others. Despite his earnest, self-sacrificing efforts in their behalf, he fails to influence their lives for the better, as with the general default of many an ostensible Christian over time. Myshkin is viewed, instead, as odd and eccentric—an “idiot.” His only success is with children, who are uncorrupted and innocent.

Set in nineteenth-century Russia’s high-society milieu, both the novel and its stage version focus on Nastasya Filippovna, a beautiful woman, vied for by various men who would either make her their mistress or marry her for personal gain. The lone exception, Myshkin, is willing to rescue her and redeem her reputation by offering to marry her for totally selfless reasons. “Such beauty could save the world,” he declares when he first sees her portrait and recognizes her spiritual potential. Nastasya nevertheless refuses him, vengefully throwing herself into the arms of Myshkin’s destructive nemesis Rogozhin rather than forgiving those who have so misused her.

On an allegorical level, Myshkin’s and Rogozhin’s rivlary illustrates the contest between everyone’s superego and id over his or her very soul (anima)—hence the story’s universal psychological and spiritual import. At curtain, we view an ironic pieta: two men, both grief struck, sit on either side of the prostrate woman one of them has just slain, the other attempting to console him. Although Dostoevsky’s darkest novel, The Idiot also displays a deep vein of hilarious humor. Its tragicomedy is near operatic and great theatre. As the critic George Steiner observed, Dostoevsky possessed “the most natural dramatic temperament since Shakespeare.” This script is also available in a Russian translation.

The Immortal

1980s

This play imaginatively derives from real incidents that occurred in 1941 when the Shah of Iran was deposed by theocratically dominated factions. (He did not leave the country until 1953.) What the play imaginatively treats are the Shah’s actual thoughts and his possible reaction while dying in exile. Parables from the Middle East and India are extensively employed in the script as commentary on his circumstances and, more broadly, on the world’s realpolitik, which never seems to change. The issues of this hard-hitting play are just as timely and at home on the stage today as they were in the 1950s. Totalitarian regimes rise and fall and rise again.

Charades

1990

I was amazed to see the similarities between this script and Sam Shepard’s Lies of the Mind, which came to my attention about a year later. Although highly phantasmagoric, this play reflects a variety of persons of whom I became aware or with whom I was personally acquainted, including my own father, whose words occur nearly verbatim in the lines assigned to Danny’s father, Burt: A one-time stockbroker, the middle-aged Danny boasts about his mercenary adventures in Rhodesia, Nicaragua, and more recently Afghanistan. He also claims to have an adopted son there, a defector from the Red Army. In Danny’s absence, a younger man shows up, claiming to be a Soviet defector and Danny’s actual son. We later learn that he is bent on killing Danny for ostensibly betraying his mother to the KGB. Meanwhile, Danny’s one certain offspring, the pregnant Gladys, accuses her father of sending her husband to Afghanistan. To absolve himself, Danny must admit that his military exploits are an illusion. In doing so, however, he will betray the possibility that Gladys never had a husband. He leaves the choice to her. Other characters’ histories also come into question: whether Danny’s father was ever insane, whether his father’s dog is still alive, whether Danny’s aunt once had an affair with a Spaniard named Jesus, and whether the young Russian is really Danny’s son. Each must wrestle with the prospect that the authenticity of our dreams is less important than how they affect our relationship with others. Also available in Russian.

First Trump

1998

As, one by one, individuals gather on a mountaintop near Fish Lake, Idaho, they discover why they are there: the first trump of the resurrection has signaled the beginning of the thousand-year Millennium. Families are being gathered and assigned missions to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers.” It is time to link the generations together—physically, spiritually, and emotionally—a process in which the ancestors and descendants in one family learn to surmount their disagreements and strive for a greater whole as they assist the troubled and guilt ridden among them, only to find that the whole is much greater than they had thought. The notorious but largely forgotten 1878 trial of Sylvanus Collett, the author’s great-grandfather, and his involvement with Orrin Porter Rockwell in the so-called “Aiken Affair” only months after the Mountain Meadows Massacre become the focus of the family’s conflicted feelings and of legal disputes in the early Utah Territory.

Student Plays, 1952–1959

Nest of Feathers

1952

As an entering freshman, I wrote my first-ever play, Nest of Feathers, which, as a full-length script, premiered the next year in a student production in the University of Utah Department of Theatre’s Play Box Theater under the direction of Professor David Morgan. The script was influenced by those of the then-prominent American playwright, William Inge (Picnic, Bus Stop, Come Back, Little Sheba) that similarly depict the bigoted, mean-spirited strife between social classes and generations in small town Middle America.

The play’s setting is Cokeville, Wyoming, where I spent the summers of my early youth. In her status as a respected religious and civic figure, its protagonist Eloise is modeled after a dear aunt of mine who had suffered an early accidental death and was otherwise more like the play’s Reverend Reeder in empathizing and reaching out to the town’s various fellow citizens, including its derelicts and transient hobos. Its essentially Depression-era, pre–World War II setting evokes the writing of James Agee and painters like Edward Hopper, Grant Wood, and Norman Rockwell, in which the vestiges of small town Americana—where everyone knew everyone else and petty rivalries abounded—are depicted. After the war, urbanization and greater mobility reduced American society to—in the words of pop sociologist Vance Packard and for better or worse—“a nation of strangers.”

As I now view the Cyber Age’s fashionable self-isolation in a younger generation, I sense an even greater alienation from and dissolution of both communal and familial ties—a plethora of empty “nests of feathers.” Tyrannical matriarchs, interestingly, reappear in two or three later plays, hence this needed disclaimer: my own mother was most indulgent, even permissive, and the most guileless human being I have ever known. However, there was a strong domineering tendency and concern for respectability—“What will people think?”—in both the grandmother with whom I lived under the same roof until I graduated from college and in my mother-in-law, though neither was ever the deceitful, manipulative termagant we see in the play’s Eloise. To that extent, she is, fortunately, a melodramatic distortion of the real persons I have known and claim as kin—as with perhaps most of the dramatic personae who so allure us.

Josephine

1954

The protagonist of my second-ever script, again full length, also figures as the maternal head of a household and the focus of those who orbit about her. Otherwise, Josephine Williams markedly differs from the controlling, strong-willed Eloise Taylor (Nest of Feathers). Having inherited a sizable estate, the widowed Josephine compassionately brings her late sister’s two orphaned children, Brent and Christine, into her home, treating them as, like her son Steven, her very own. As he did from their first acquaintance, Brent finds ways to discredit Steven, even implying that the household accident that left Josephine blind was deliberately plotted by her son. Chagrined, Steven leaves home, only to return just before his mothers’s death. Meanwhile, Brent has plotted to become the principal beneficiary of Josephine’s will. Despite her loss of sight, however, Josephine has since attempted to type her memoirs and subsidize their publication. Finally, her devoted financial adviser, Fred Chase, and Steven ease her death by encouraging her to sign away her stocks and property for that purpose. All but the thwarted, enraged Brent are content to see Josephine’s wealth serve what is otherwise a futile enterprise. Unlike her scheming nephew, those with compassion and gratitude for her influence in their lives gladly match her magnanimity. The play calls for a duplicate set of actors who portray her dependents, first as children and then as young adults.

I was prompted to write this play as an entry to the church’s 1954 MIA playwriting contest. Although a finalist, it was considered insufficiently upbeat for a general church audience. This may also be why the script’s formality and proper diction are, by contrast with Nest, so plain, stiff, and at times overstated. By contrast with the more earthy personalities in Nest those in Josephine represent the politer version of a superficially more sophisticated social class. My choice of maternal protagonists for both plays may well reflect my own exclusive upbringing by a mother and a maternal grandmother. As I only recognized after writing a number of later plays—Huebener, Fire in the Bones, God’s Fools, Charades, and others—my principal subconscious obsession has been the oedipal rivalry between the protagonist, usually a younger man, and his father or a father surrogate—itself a perennial literary motif, as in Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, and The Brothers Karamazov.

The Deserted

1958–59

More matriarchs appear in this play. Harriet, a convalescing older mother, and her married daughter, Linda, haggle about Harriet’s racist aversion to the Hispanic people who predominate in their southwestern US setting. Having first discovered that her son-in-law is himself Latino and then that she was saved from dying in a car accident by transfusions of a rare blood type donated by both her son-in-law and yet another Latino, Harriet tears at her bandages to rid herself of the “impure” infusions. Overhearing their argument, the son-in-law leaves both women, and, shortly after, Linda follows his lead.

Harriet’s prejudice may seem over-the-top, but my wife and I did encounter such racist intolerance during our early marriage. Taken to dramatic extremes, such depictions may be atypical while nevertheless reflecting the unstated, at least unconscious feelings of some and serve others as an object lesson.

He That Wavereth

1958–59

In post–World War II Germany, a pair of Mormon missionaries encounter Rudi, a young artist, his pious Lutheran mother, and fiancé, a devout Catholic. Rudi, who fought in the war but lost his father, another soldier, witnessed the war’s battlefield horrors firsthand and has little if any faith in God. Intrigued by the missionaries’ message, but wary, he arranges for a confrontation between them, a local protestant minister, and a good friend his age, now a zealous Jehovah’s Witness. The various parties disparately address the concept of immortality and a universal resurrection, leaving Rudi all the more perplexed and disillusioned. Despite his mother’s and his fiancé’s hope that the missionaries’ intervention will prompt Rudi to believe in God and in an afterlife, he fails to respond. On an Easter Sunday, just after his ailing mother’s death and burial, the missionaries visit him one last time. He rejects their offer to meet again, and both his fiancé and the missionaries leave him. Turning to his easel, he attacks its canvas with a distraught frenzy.

This is the first play I ever wrote that so directly reflects my personal experience on a conscious level—that of a recent LDS missionary. Although billed as a one-act script, it is certainly long enough to be considered full length, a character drama or “think piece.” However, its drama lies less in its characters’ lengthy arguments than in their inability either to agree on fundamental Christian tenets or to appreciate one another’s beliefs. The title derives from James 1:6—“he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed”—and suggests both the hero’s religious uncertainty and the disarray of its various spokesmen throughout the play, which was written to be evaluated by Yale’s then playwriting guru and at the time Broadway’s most respected critic, John Gassner. I’m not sure whether he ever read it. It may have only been looked at, however cursorily, by his graduate assistant.

Although I gave the Mormon missionaries my best shot, in the ensuing argument the other religious figures’ views were represented as accurately and fairly as I could convey them. I did not expect my Ivy League mentors to be much engaged by the subject matter, which they apparently were not. However, for those with a real interest in matters of faith and the emotional investment of either genuine believers or concerned nonbelievers—I still contend that indifference to religion is itself a form of faith—such issues should have innate, even dramatic appeal, as they surely do for most all of humanity, if not also, at least subliminally, for Ivory Tower intellectuals.

Siegfried Idyll

1959

Beyond its depiction of sordid, mean-spirited lives—a nevertheless needful “value contrast,” as artists put it, shadow underscoring light—the Nibelung legend forcefully portrays a redemptive aspect of human life. Siegfried’s infatuation with Brunhilde has been, while whole-souled, also blind, as we in fact often say “love” is. He even kills for it. The one character who approaches Christlike self-renunciation in others’ behalf is Gudrun, and, despite Siegfried’s truly fallen state, he learns from her example. She is in a sense his savior—like Beatrice is Dante’s and Margareta Faust’s—and his own Liebestod is a necessary “blood atonement” that emulates Gudrun’s decency and virtue. It is this that makes the tale so significant in both German letters and for Wagner’s audiences. This play version is an attempt to translate the celebrated Teutonic myth into more identifiably everyday human terms. The classic story of Siegfried and Brunhilde is here transferred to a later day when, after the Second World War, Germany was split apart by the Allies in the name of peace, and the Cold War settled upon us. In 1957, Mother Nibelung and her two freedom-seeking sons are searching for riches and for legitimacy. They find the hope for their dream’s fulfillment in the person of Siegfried, whom, through political and legal coercion, they dupe into marrying Gudrun, their teenage daughter and sibling. The fates and other mysterious powers also rule the lives of Siegfried and his manipulative lover, Hilde. Everything culminates in a web of murder and deceit, compulsion and duty, love and need.

The setting and political circumstances in this modernized version clearly reflect my prior experience as a missionary in Germany, headquartered in Berlin and with ready access to its Soviet-occupied East Sector (before the notorious Berlin Wall was erected).

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NOTE: Two more full-length scripts—stage adaptations—did not receive permission from the original author’s publisher or estate for productions but are available in the Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections at Brigham Young University: William Faulkner’s novel Intruder in the Dust and Richard Worthington’s historical account of the garroting of a captured Nazi sailor in a US military prison in Mesa, Arizona, during World War II by fellow prisoners and their subsequent hanging at the federal prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas—Military Justice: The Last Mass Execution in the United States. The great American opera has yet to be written—based, of course, on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Notice: its libretto is already written, just awaiting a gifted composer. In addition, an English translation of Georg Buechner’s original script, Woyzeck—a haunting portrait of both abnormal psychology and institutional sadism—which in turn provided the text for Alban Berg’s unforgettable turn-of-the-twentieth-century Viennese opera of the same name—is also available and waiting in the wings (earlier premiered in a memorable BYU student production). Inquiries may be addressed to their adapter and translator.

Disclaimer

The plays in this collection are protected by copyright and appear here for reading and scholarship purposes only. Anyone desiring to produce one of the plays in this collection in any venue or by any medium—theatre, film, television, or Internet—must apply in writing to the author’s agent/publisher at Leicester Bay Theatricals:

Leicester Bay Theatricals PO Box 536 Newport, ME 04953

Email: cmichaelperry53@gmail.com