Ladders to God (part of the My Mother and the Nun series)
by Lyralen Kaye
(Liturgical music begins to play. Lights come up a soft silver, so the whole stage is coated like the surface of a mirror. US center, a diffuse spot illuminates
Adult Bernadette. Her hair hangs down her back; she wears a saint’s plain shift, but in a clinging silver material, sensual. Behind her, unlit, Agnes, Rita and Teen Bernadette stand on ladders, dressed in the identical blue robes of saints, backs turned to the audience. The light on Adult brightens and she lifts her face to find it. When she does, she begins to speak.)
I still remember them, Mom. The saints. The picture books you gave me. The
lives you said we were supposed to live. Saint Agnes, with her intransigent purity.
(Agnes turns and assumes the Saint Agnes pose—an innocent with a lamb in her arms.)
Saint Rita, whose faith led her to suffer like Christ.
(Rita turns and assumes the Rita pose—Rita is usually portrayed as a nun with a crown of thorns, praying to Christ.)
And Saint Bernadette, who kept digging so the healing could come.
(Adult and Teen Bernadette both assume the same Bernadette pose, cupping their hands to dig, then offering the imaginary healing water to heaven.)
I remember them, Mom.
(Teen Bernadette and Rita slowly fade upstage as Agnes begins to descend the ladder and her saint’s robe falls away. Underneath she is dressed as the conservative 70’s housewife that she is. As Agnes steps off the ladder,
Adult Bernadette kneels and takes the position of Saint Bernadette, digging and offering her mother water. Face lifted, she is beatified by light.
Agnes does not look at her, does not drink. Agnes slowly falls to her knees and
reluctantly, as if compelled by a force beyond her control, assumes the Bernadette pose.
Adult Bernadette becomes the Virgin Mary. When Adult Bernadette moves, Agnes moves with her—they trade places, moving in tandem.
As they move and dance they change roles, again and again, they become the three saints or the Lady to whom they pray.
The iconic poses become a fluid and shifting sensuality. As this continues, the
tempo picks up, becomes more frantic. Their rhythms come closer to matching and as they mirror each other more closely the iconography blurs until they are both one icon, then the other, flailing in and out of the dance. They stop suddenly. Then they begin to circle each other, slowly, eyes locked, their movements graceful, mesmerized. They are twinned. They stop, gesture at the same time—each touching her own face, her own body, sensual. They stop. In unison, they make the sign of the cross.)
I remember you, Mom. I remember what really happened.
(Adult Bernadette points turns to where Teen Bernadette stands, SL. She goes to stand beside her.)
And I remember me.
(Teen Bernadette crosses and climbs onto Agnes’ bed. Agnes exits.)
(Adult Bernadette opens a hand and a single shaft of light from heaven falls on Teen Bernadette. Underneath teen Bernadette’s saint’s robe she is dressed in culottes and a T-shirt. Teen Bernadette folds her hands as if in prayer, and lifts
I just want you to know I could be strong. I mean, if you want to test me, I’m
ready. You could even treat me like a saint. If you want to cut out my eyes like Saint Lucy…Jesus, you can have my eyes. I’ll give them to you. And I would be faithful like her even with a sword in my heart. I would keep praying to you.
(Lights go to normal. Bernadette speaks loudly, trying to get Agnes to hear.)
My mother says I never stop talking anyhow, so that shouldn’t be a problem. She says if you’re named after a saint, you should act like one. And I’m trying. But Jesus, it’s not easy when you’re named after a saint like Bernadette who’s so quiet and good. If I was named after a louder saint like Joan of Arc…you know, a hero. That would be better. Then I could lead an army of men and show my Mom that girls can do everything they can. No offense to Bernadette, of
course. I mean, she’s not that bad a saint. After all, your mother picked her for the vision, right? And it must have been really hard for Bernadette when even her own mom didn’t believe a word she said…about seeing the Lady, I mean, the Virgin Mary. Everyone thought Bernadette was crazy but I would have believed her. I mean, I like Bernadette. I like girls. I like them a lot, Jesus. And that’s the
truth. I mean, I love your mother. Hail Mary Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed Art Thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, amen. See?
(Entering the living room.)
Bernadette? Bernadette? Come down here, please. I need your help.
(Bernadette begins to speak even louder.)
Jesus, about my mother. Maybe she wouldn’t sit around staring at nothing all the time if you made her like louder saints. She doesn’t have to not like the quiet ones. She could like both. It’s just, I’m better at dying at the stake or getting eaten by lions or even helping the Indians than being like Bernadette, waiting until the waters come and suffering silently.
Writer's excerpt courtesy NYWIFT (NYWIFT.ORG)