Miss Witherspoon & Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge
Two Playsby Christopher Durang
“An endearingly meditative farce . . . It’s a pleasure to note that [Durang] hasn’t lost his screwball.” –Richard Corliss, Time
Christopher Durang, the criminally funny author of Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You, returns to the scene of his prime with two raucous new plays about death, religion, and a creamy Christmas pudding.
In Miss Witherspoon–named one of the Ten Best Plays of 2005 by both Time and Newsday–Veronica, a recent suicide whose cantankerous attitude has not improved in the afterlife, discovers that the one thing worse than the world she left behind is having to go back for seconds. Ordered to cleanse her “brown tweedy aura,” Veronica resists being reincarnated (as a trailer-trash teen or an overexcited Golden Retriever), only to find that she may be mankind’s last, best hope for survival. With the help of a black female Jesus and a wizard suspiciously named Gandalf, Veronica must journey from here to eternity and back again to learn the necessity of reengaging with life.
A hundred years and a thousand bad Christmas pageants away, another troubled soul rethinks her life in Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge. When a sassy ghost once again attempts to shake Scrooge from his holiday humbug, the whole family-friendly affair is deliciously derailed by Mrs. Cratchit’s drunken insistence on stepping out of her miserable, treacly role. Morals are subverted, starving yet plucky children sing carols, and somebody’s goose is cooked as Durang lovingly skewers A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, and many more to create a brand-new, cracked Christmas classic that the Observer-Reporter (Pittsburgh) raved was “fiendishly funny” and the Post-Gazette called “a hilarious success.”
“An endearingly meditative farce . . . It’s a pleasure to note that [Durang] hasn’t lost his screwball.” –Richard Corliss, Time
“This is Durang at the top of his metaphysical, apocalyptic, high- and pop-cultural game ” thoroughly lovable. And funny.” –Linda Winer, Newsday, on Miss Witherspoon
Lights up on VERONICA. She is seated in a chair by a smalltelephone table. She is on the phone. She is in her late forties, maybeearly fifties. Pleasant, in a nice skirt and blouse. Maybe once she workedin publishing. She has an undercurrent of sadness some of the time.
VERONICA (into phone) Well that’s just me. Kind of overwhelmed, kinda blue. That’s how I am, I’m too old to change. Oh, just things. No I don’t see him anymore. That’s long gone. I’m really done with him. I’m kind of done with everything actually. (listens, repeats back) Look to the future. (laughs) Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were making a joke. Oh you weren’t. (tries a bit to entertain this comment) Look to the future. You mean, other men? Hope? I find it hard to get on the hope bandwagon, I always have. (listens) I’ve tried the antidepressants. They don’t work. I’m antidepressant resistant. (listens; irritated now)
Well, no I haven’t tried every single one.
Listen, dear, I know I called you, and you’re a dear person, but I think I shouldn’t have called. I think I’m not in the mood to talk. I just need to go to the grocery store or something. Don’t be offended, all right? (listens) Well, if you’re going to be offended, then it just proves I can’t get on with anybody, and that’s kind of depressing to me. (listens, very irritated) Please stop talking about Zoloft! I’ve got to hang up. Please just understand who I am. I can’t change. I don’t want to change. Bye, dear, talk to you ” sometime.
She hangs up; laughs. Frowns. Suddenly feels very sad, lost in thought. Throws off her thoughts, picks up pad and pencil that are on the telephone table.
Lights up on a larger area, which represents the outside, perhaps a small garden she keeps. Veronica leaves the chair area, and walks outside. The light is softer, there are the sounds of a few birds, it’s restful. Veronica listens, and her whole body relaxes. She starts to write on the pad.
Eggs, butter, cheese. Bread, milk, frozen vegetables. Peas, carrots. String beans.
Suddenly a large “thing” drops from the sky, falling near where Veronica is. It seems to be metal and very heavy, and it makes a big clank when it falls. Or Sound creates the large clank. She screams.
Veronica stares at the object, alarmed and startled. Looks up to the sky. Moves a bit forward, tentatively. Doesn’t know what to do. Goes back to her list.
Paper towels, tuna fish, mayonnaise.
A smaller object falls. Less scary, but nonetheless something falling. Veronica lets out a smaller yelp.
… aaaaaaa! Goodness. (looks up again)
A WOMAN IN A CHICKEN SUIT comes running out.
WOMAN IN CHICKEN SUIT The sky is falling! The sky is falling!
WOMAN IN CHICKEN SUIT The sky is falling! It’s falling! (runs off in terror)
VERONICA What do you mean? (looks worried, concerned)
A third “thing” falls down on the other side of her. This one is quite big and thus quite scary.
She goes over to the object, looks at it. Looks upward again to see if there are more coming. She feels very afraid. She looks more closely at this third fallen object. Then she looks upward again.
Suddenly a fourth object falls from the sky with a big thud.
And then a fifth object almost immediately afterward. Both terrorize her, but the fifth one frightens her even more–she wasn’t expecting the fifth one so close after the fourth one. She throws her pad and pencil into the air, and runs off screaming.
Lights dim to black. The sound of falling objects continues, intensifies. Scary, loud, disorienting.
Silence for a bit. The crashing of heavy objects from the sky seems to have stopped.
Quiet. There is the sound of waves for a bit, soft, but that dies down too.
Lights come back on. Veronica is found standing in a pool of light. She speaks to the audience.
VERONICA Well, I’m dead. I committed suicide in the 1990s because of Skylab. Well not entirely, but it’s as sensible an explanation as anything.
Most of you don’t remember what Skylab was.” I seem to have had a disproportionate reaction to it, most people seemed to have sluffed it off.
Skylab was this American space station, it was thousands of tons of heavy metal, and it got put up into orbit over the earth sometime in the seventies.
Eventually the people on board abandoned it, and it was just floating up there; and you’d think the people who put it up there would have had a plan for how to get it back to earth again, but they didn’t. Or the plan failed, or something; and in 1979 they announced that Skylab would eventually be falling from the sky in a little bit–this massive thing the size of a city block might come crashing down on your head as you stood in line at Bloomingdale’s or sat by your suburban pool, or as you were crossing the George Washington Bridge, etc. etc.
Of course, STATISTICALLY the likelihood of Skylab hitting you on the head–or rather hitting a whole bunch of you on the head–statistically the odds were small.
But I can’t live my life by statistics.
And the experts didn’t think it through, I guess. Sure, let’s put massive tonnage up in the sky, I’m sure it won’t fall down. Sure, let’s build nuclear power plants, I’m sure we’ll figure out what to do with radioactive waste eventually.
Well you can start to see I have the kind of personality that might kill myself.
I mean throw in unhappy relationships and a kind of dark, depressive tinge to my psychology, and something like Skylab just sends me over the edge.
“I CAn’t LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE THERE IS SKYLAB!” –I sort of screamed this out in the airport as I was in some endless line waiting to go away to somewhere or other.
So I died sometime in the nineties. Obviously it was a delayed reaction to Skylab.
So I killed myself. Anger turned inward they say. But at least I got to miss 9/11.
If I couldn’t stand Skylab, I definitely couldn’t stand the sight of people jumping out of windows. And then letters with anthrax postmarked from Trenton. And in some quarters people danced in the streets in celebration. “Oh lots of people killed, yippee, yippee, yippee.” God, I hate human beings. I’m glad I killed myself.
You know, in the afterlife I’m considered to have a bad attitude.
And apparently I’m slated to be reincarnated and come do this horrible thing again.
Why can’t I just be left alone to fester and brood in my bodiless spirit state? Who says spirits have to be clear and light and happy? So what if my aura looks like some murky brown tweed suit? So what? Leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone.
Anyway, they tried to force me back onto earth in 2002 or so, and before I knew it my spirit was starting to reincarnate, but I put on some sort of spiritual otherworldly emergency brake system that I seem to have, and the whole process came to a grinding halt, and I simply REFUSED to reincarnate.
“What if I marry Rex Harrison again???” I said to them. Or maybe next time he’ll be my mother and I’ll get so frustrated maybe I’ll go off the deep end and commit matricide. Or then there will be more Skylabs. And of course terrorism and anthrax and smallpox and monkey pox and a pox on everybody’s houses. So no thank you.
Yes, I was married to Rex Harrison. He had several wives so you’ll have to do research to figure out which one I was.
I really don’t want to come back. I just find too much of it all too upsetting.
So I’m refusing to reincarnate, at least as much as I can. I didn’t like being alive, I don’t trust it. Plus, you know, if I can keep thwarting these attempts to reincarnate me, I’m not sure the earth is going to still be there, so if I stall long enough, my going back may become a moot point. (looks at the audience, realizes what she said) I’m sorry, am I depressing everyone? I’m depressing myself. Well pay no attention, I’m just a gloomy dead person, there’s no accounting for my moods, I guess I was bipolar in life, and I still am out here in the afterlife.
Is there anything positive to leave you with? (tries to think of something positive, has trouble thinking of anything; then tries this as a positive wish) Well, good luck. I mean it sincerely. I guess life has always been scary–Hitler was scary, I was a child then; and we all expected to die from Russia and America aiming missiles at one another, and that didn’t happen. So good luck–maybe it’ll be all right. I hope it will. I just don’t want to come back, but if I hear it all has worked out a bit better than we expected, well, I’ll be glad. So long.
Lights dim on her. Maybe sounds of water. Then a light wind.
Lights up. Veronica is seated on a chair, but is asleep, having a mild nightmare. She is in the bardo, a kind of netherworld.
Like images of heaven, this netherworld is filled with a beautiful blue–blue sky or blue nonrealistic background. The chair she sits in is in the shape of a traditional chair, but it might be see-through. You can see its shape, but sometimes she seems to be sitting on air.
Some quirks may be added to this netherworld. Pretty lanterns might be lowered from the sky, attached to what–who knows? Also if there are any other furniture or design elements, they should seem Eastern–from India, Thailand, etc.
Veronica is talking in her sleep, having a bad dream.
VERONICA Look out, look out! Help! Help!
Enter an Indian woman–from India, that is, not Native American.
Her name is MARYAMMA. She is dressed in a beautiful sari of rich, deep colors. She is attractive and smart, but also has a sharp edge to her.
MARYAMMA Come on now. Miss Witherspoon, wake up. Come on, wake up.
VERONICA What? What? (wakes) Oh, it’s you again. Leave me alone please.
MARYAMMA You have a lot more lessons to learn, you’re still focusing on your past life, or arguing with your ex-husband, you have a lot more lives to do, Miss Witherspoon.
VERONICA My name isn’t Miss Witherspoon.
MARYAMMA Well we like to call you Miss Witherspoon. It’s our nickname for your spirit. You’re like some negative English woman in an Agatha Christie book who everybody finds bothersome. It’s because of your brown tweed aura. You have a lot of aura cleansing to do in future lives, you know.
VERONICA Aura cleansing. I don’t know what that means.
MARYAMMA My aura is light and airy and clear, Miss Witherspoon. Maybe after a few more lifetimes you’ll be able to accurately see other people’s auras.
VERONICA I’ve explained as patiently as I can that I don’t wish to go back to earth. Can’t I just be left alone?
MARYAMMA That’s not how the netherworld works, Miss Witherspoon.
VERONICA Is there someone above you I can speak to?
MARYAMMA We don’t think of people being above or below each other here. We’re all part of the collective human soul.
VERONICA Okay. But might I speak to some other member of the collective human soul, I don’t feel you’re understanding me.
MARYAMMA Who do you want to speak to?
VERONICA I don’t know. Is Mahatma Gandhi here?
MARYAMMA Yes he is. But your soul is in no way ready to meet him.
VERONICA What’s your name, I want to report you.
MARYAMMA To whom would you report me?
VERONICA Well, I don’t know that now, but maybe later on it will become clear. What is your name?
MARYAMMA I’ve told you before, I’m Maryamma.
VERONICA Maryanna what?
MARYAMMA I don’t have a last name. And it’s Mary amma, not Maryanna. The middle letters are not “n” as in Nancy, but ‘m” as in mellifluous ” mary–yamma.
VERONICA You know, I’m a Christian. I wasn’t expecting some sort of Eastern religion person to greet me up here. I mean, I know a lot of American companies are hiring people in India to do phone work for them, but I wasn’t expecting to find that in the afterlife as well.
MARYAMMA There is no ethnicity in the bardo. That is just how you are choosing to see my spirit.
VERONICA Really? Well I’ve imagined you in a very pretty sari.
MARYAMMA Yes, and I appreciate it. But you know for the last thirty years of your life, you had no religion. And so your spirit is choosing to see me as an Indian woman because your soul is acknowledging reincarnation.
VERONICA If there has to be an afterlife, I demand the pearly gates, and Saint Peter. And purgatory if I have to. And heaven so I can rest there. And I don’t believe in hell.
MARYAMMA Well that’s very convenient for you. But even the people who see Saint Peter, reincarnate. Purgatory is actually reincarnation, that’s why it lasts so long and has suffering in it. It’s going back to earth and struggling over and over.
VERONICA I don’t believe you. You find some priest or minister to tell me that.
MARYAMMA And sometimes Saint Peter looks like the traditional idea of him, robe and beard and all of that. And sometimes he looks like a Hawaiian man. And sometimes, in the last many years, he looks like E.T. or Yoda. The effect of movies on the collective unconscious.
VERONICA I don’t trust anything you’re saying.
MARYAMMA But you’ve had many lives already. You haven’t just had one.
VERONICA I don’t believe you.
MARYAMMA Yes. Remember 1692 in Massachusetts. Your sister was put to death as a witch. You knew it wasn’t true, but you didn’t speak up for her.
VERONICA Well, of course. I would have been killed.
MARYAMMA Oh so you remember?
VERONICA No, I don’t remember. I was speaking from common sense. If I had been there, what I would’ve thought. I’ve seen The Crucible, it was a terrible time. Doesn’t mean I lived then.
MARYAMMA Well you did. And you were a dance hall hostess in Wyoming in 1853. And you were a cloistered nun in 1497 in D’sseldorf.
VERONICA D’sseldorf? I don’t believe you. And I certainly remember nothing.
MARYAMMA You’re just stubborn. Think back. You can remember all the other lives up here in the bardo, when you want to. It’s back on earth you can’t remember them, or just remember little pieces of them. Remember the song “Where or When”?
VERONICA Yes, it was very pretty, but it was about a small hotel, it wasn’t about reincarnation.
MARYAMMA You’re confusing it with “There’s a Small Hotel.” “Where or When” was indeed about reincarnation.(sings)?It seems we’ve stood and talked like this beforeWe looked at each other in the same way thenBut I can’t remember where or when.”
VERONICA That’s about forgetful lovers, it’s not about reincarnation.
MARYAMMA It IS about reincarnation.
VERONICA I know Mary Rodgers, the daughter of Richard Rodgers, and I’m going to ask her to write you a letter explaining “Where or When” to you.
MARYAMMA There’s no way a letter can be delivered in the bardo.
VERONICA You keep saying the bardo, but you don’t say what you mean. What is the bardo?
MARYAMMA It’s where you are now. It’s a stopping-off place where you can choose your next life, and then drink from the Lake of Forgetfulness before you return to the earth plane again.
VERONICA Drink from the Lake of Forgetfulness. You’re some terrible dream I’m having. If this is the afterlife, I demand to see Saint Peter. And not the E.T. one either.
MARYAMMA You don’t really qualify as a Christian. In your last life you stopped believing in it early on, so demanding to go to Christian heaven is not your right after this past lifetime.
VERONICA Ah, so there is a Christian heaven?
MARYAMMA Yes. For those who believe in it, there is. And there’s a pet heaven. And a Muslim heaven. And a Jewish heaven which, since they don’t believe in an afterlife, is kind of like prolonged general anesthesia.
VERONICA Oh I want that one! Send me to that one.
MARYAMMA Your soul automatically chooses the image of heaven it wishes to see. You may be telling me you want to see Saint Peter, but your soul has chosen that you see me and I need to get you to reincarnate. And none of those funny shenanigans about stopping it from happening this time.
VERONICA It’s scary down there, and it’s painful, and if you want me to learn some lesson or other, well give me a book and I’ll read it. But I don’t want to go back there.
MARYAMMA It’s not your choice. All souls must keep reincarnating until they reach true wisdom, at which point they sometimes go back to guide others–like Gandhi did–or sometimes they reach nirvana, and their spirit permeates and uplifts the collective unconscious.
VERONICA Just leave me at this level, I’m not harming anybody, just let me rest here in the ” bardo.
MARYAMMA I’ve told you that cannot be your choice.
VERONICA Well I’ve stopped it several times so far, haven’t I?
MARYAMMA That’s true. We’re all a little confused by that. The force of your will has been creating a little glitch up here, and the reincarnation process keeps aborting itself with you. We’ve asked Gandalf to look into that so that your next reincarnation actually occurs.
VERONICA Gandalf? Isn’t he a fictional figure from The Lord of the Rings?
MARYAMMA Yes, there is the fictional character Gandalf. But he in turn was based on a real person of great wisdom also named Gandalf, who’s lived many centuries, and who’s very involved with helping souls to continue their evolution in the bardo and back on earth.
VERONICA I wonder if I’m in a coma and I’m dreaming you.
MARYAMMA Life is the dream.
VERONICA Yes, yes, I’ve heard that before. It’s very confusing. I don’t wish to play these games. I want that Jewish heaven which is like general anesthesia. I want to be put out like a light.
MARYAMMA You only get that when your soul believes in no afterlife. But even then it’s an illusion ” you are in that blank state for a while, but after a bit, your soul still reincarnates, and eventually most souls on earth begin to believe in some sort of afterlife. After all, as Thornton Wilder said, everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal.
VERONICA I like Thornton Wilder. Is he here?
MARYAMMA Yes, but he’s presently reincarnated.
VERONICA Really? As who?
MARYAMMA As Arianna Huffington.
VERONICA I don’t believe Thornton Wilder is Arianna Huffington.
MARYAMMA No, I was kidding. Thornton Wilder has achieved nirvana, and is no longer reincarnating, but his soul sends out wonderful vibrations throughout the entire universe.
VERONICA There’s an Indian restaurant on West Fifty-ninth Street that overlooks Central Park South, and it’s called Nirvana.
MARYAMMA And your point is?
VERONICA No point, I guess. I’m feeling tired, my brain hurts. Can I be allowed to sleep a little more?
MARYAMMA Yes, your spirit depletes quickly, you need to achieve more stamina.
VERONICA Easier said than done, Maryamma Nirvana-head. Oh, gosh, my eyes are so heavy.
She falls asleep.
Maryamma exits quietly, wanting her to sleep.
Lights dim and perhaps change color. We hear the sound of wind whooshing.
A spotlight comes up on Veronica. It’s bright and the rest of the stage is dim or a vastly different color. It’s like there’s a wind machine underneath her ” her clothes are being blown strongly, and hair. There might be a light from underneath her too ” it’s like she’s flying through space and time back to earth.
She stays seated in her chair, holding on for dear life, as her body and especially legs are being drawn to the side, into some vortex that is the entry back to a life on earth.
Note: Most of this should be done by the actress herself, with body movements.
Oh God, it’s happening again. No thank you. I don’t want to go. I’m not going. (makes facial grimaces, resisting being pulled down to earth) Stop it now. Hell no, I won’t go! Hey hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today? God, what am I talking about? Stop it! I won’t go back! Stop it!
The spotlight goes out on Veronica. The whooshing sound stops. There is the sound of a baby crying. It’s pretty dim onstage.