Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, August 03, 2015

The Book of Job

When I set out to rewrite my script for Job (the final performance of which was last night), I went back and re-read the book of Job and summarized each chapter of arguments by Job and his friends. The structure of most of the book is: one friend makes a statement, Job rebuts; the second friend makes a statement, Job rebuts; third friend makes a statement, Job rebuts; and this is repeated three times. Then Eliphaz, the learned young man, steps in to give his opinion. Finally, God speaks, Job humbles himself, and there's a short last chapter in which Job receives even more blessings than he had at first.

I couldn't reproduce that structure on stage; three sets of arguments was simply too long and repetitive for our slender play. And since the arguments don't build on each other or push the story forward, they could be condensed and slightly rearranged to create the dramatic arc of the scene.

So, here's what I've been doing all summer while I haven't been blogging. I present to you Act 2, Scene 1 of Job. Our characters here are Job; Satan (ever-present but unseen by any of the characters); Job's old school friends Ellie, Billie, and Moe; and Eli, Ellie's nephew, a young man with a great sense of his own importance. I wish you could have seen the fabulous (and hysterically funny) young actors who made the scene come alive, but here's a taste of our show.

(Song lyrics composed by Rick Nohle.)


(Job, pacing in discomfort, reading from his prayerbook. Satan sitting on the bench, tearing his hair in frustration.)

JOB: “I love the Lord, for he has heard
the sound of my appeal.
He stoops to listen when I call.
‘O Lord, I beg you, save my life!’
And he has kept my soul from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I held fast to my faith, even when I said,
‘I am greatly afflicted’;
How shall I make a return to the Lord
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up
and I will call on the name of the Lord.”

(Billie, Ellie, and Moe rush in and stop short upon beholding Job’s awful appearance. Eli follows more sedately.)

BILLIE: Oh, Job, this is awful! What’s happened to you?

ELLIE: We came as soon as we heard. Everyone at the reunion was talking about it.

MOE: (seriously) Maybe we could start a fundraiser… get you some therapy… some legal advice… a little face cream…

(They settle down by Job, Ellie and Billie on either side of him and Moe standing behind. Billie reaches out to pat Job’s back while his head is in his hands, but decides not to touch him in case he’s contagious. Job is in real pain, itchy and miserable, but trying not to scratch. Eli stands aloof on one side of the bench and pulls out a tome to study, while Satan watches with anticipation from the other side.)

ELLIE: (with decision) Now Job, we’re here to help you. We’re going to dig deep together. We’re going to get inside your head. We’re going to the source of this problem. (She pulls out her phone, ready to get video.)

JOB: What do you mean?

MOE: Confession is good for the soul.

BILLIE: We’re your oldest friends. You can trust us. We won’t tell anyone. (Billie whaps Ellie, and Ellie shoves her phone back into her pocket.)

JOB: (patiently) About what?

ELI: I’m not your oldest friend, but as a fellow seeker of wisdom  -- and correct me if I’m wrong here! -- I think we can both agree that it’s not in God’s nature to act unjustly. Ergo, I think we need to inquire into the root cause of this suffering of yours, and determine: just what did you do?

JOB: Nothing to merit all this.

ELLIE, BILLIE, MOE, AND ELI: (shaking their heads) Oh, Job...

“What Did You Do?”

Come on! Come on! What did you do-wah-doo?
Come on! Come on! What did you do-wah-doo?

Come on and tell us, Job, what did you do? [MOE: What did you do?]
That something so awful should happen to you? [MOE: Happen to you?]
You’re doing the time, Job, so what was the crime?
Oh, Job! What did you do? [MOE: What did you do?]

You had us believing that you were a saint. [MOE: You were a saint!]
We’re so disappointed to find out you ain’t. [MOE: Find out you ain’t.]
So what is the purpose of this masquerade?
Tell us the truth! What did you do?

God wouldn’t punish you without a reason.
Some kind of scandal, some kind of treason.
Examine your conscience, look back on your past.
MOE: Do you owe me money? I just thought I’d ask.

Did you go out on a date with a floozy?
Whatever it was, Job, it must have been a doozy.
What were you thinking? Did it involve drinking?
Oh, Job, what did you do?

God wouldn’t punish you without a reason,
Some kind of scandal, some kind of treason.
Examine your conscience, look back on your past.
MOE: Are you sure about the money? It can’t hurt to ask…. (refrain)

Come on! Come on! What did you do-wah-doo?
Come on! Come on! What did you do-wah-doo?
We are your friends, Job, we care about you!
Tell us the truth, what did you do?

JOB: (bursting out, addressing God since his friends aren’t any help) I wish I’d never been born! Since you’ve turned away from me, at least let me die!

ELLIE: (disappointed that their whole song and dance has been so poorly received) Look, can I say something? You can dish out the philosophy, but you can’t take it. Everyone knows: You reap what you sow, and happy the man God reproves, and all that. I’m just saying: turn away from him, and he turns away from you.

JOB: I have never turned away from God! But how can I live if he sets himself against me? At least I have this one consolation: I’ve never denied him.

BILLIE: But even you have to admit, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. God doesn’t reject the blameless man.

JOB: I know that. But innocent or not, I can’t fight against his strength. (He gets up and moves away from the bench, then turns back.) And if I didn’t keep insisting that I’m innocent, you’d take that as sign of guilt, too. I don’t care if I live or die, if only I could understand why all this is happening! Which of you righteous ones will be my advocate before God and plead my cause?

MOE: You talk a big game, Job, but maybe you’re not as smart as you think. If God had a mind to come down and answer you, you’d remember fast enough what he’s letting you forget now. Come on, brother, how you gonna win if you ain’t right within?

JOB: (bitterly) That’s rich coming from you. Nothing less challenging for a comfortable man than heaping a little scorn on the wretched. I’m a neat little narrative with all the ends tucked in: look what happens to the bad guy!

ELLIE: Well, everyone knows that the wicked never prosper. Listen, I could tell you stories of bad karma all day. (She reaches for her phone.)

JOB: Yes, they do. The wicked prosper all the time! How are we even arguing about that? (Laughs to himself) I could spout off sermons too, if our places were reversed, but could you take my part? (To God) And to add insult to injury, you send idiots to defend you!

BILLIE: (indignantly) Who’s stupid? We’re not the ones making all the excuses. Punishment is for the wicked, Job. Everyone knows that.

MOE: Yeah, that’s why it’s called punishment.

(Job collapses back on the bench.)

ELI: (blurting out of the blue; they’d all forgotten he was there) I’d like to take a turn, if I may. I know I’m young, so I let my elders take the first crack at saying something wise, but just as I suspected, wisdom comes from God, not from old age. (Ellie and Billie glare at him) Now, I’m just a plain-spoken fellow, no fancy words, but I feel like I have a unique insight into the problem of pain. (Eli paces down, holds center stage to pontificate.) You see, Job claims he’s as pure as the new-driven snow. He dares to accuse God of attacking him without giving any cause. But here’s where I’ve found your crucial error: God is so far above us that he speaks in many ways, in dreams and visions, and yes, sometimes in suffering. Exhibit A here. (He gestures to Job, who is almost sobbing in agony.) Now answer me this, if you can: how can God pervert justice? How can you demand he answer you as men do? Your only right before God is to repent and praise him, to meditate on how little you understand. (Job rocks himself. Eli is just getting warmed up.) You need to listen for his voice in the thunder, to contemplate his ineffable majesty…


(Eli shrugs sadly and steps back. His long-winded speech has at least had the effect of softening the other three a bit.)

SATAN: (sees his opening, mock-quoting again) “He stoops to listen when I call.
‘O Lord, I beg you, save my life!’
And he has kept my soul from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.”
He has not kept your feet from stumbling! He has not kept your eyes from tears! And he will not keep your soul from death! Curse God and end this now!

JOB:  (looks up, to his friends) What have I ever done to any of you, that you turn my misery into a game of gotcha? Is it so hard for you to show me even a sliver of human kindness? Does it offend you if I grieve? (begging) Have pity on me, oh you my friends, for the hand of the Lord has touched me!

(stands) But write this down in your book: I know that my Redeemer lives! And when he comes at last to take up his witness stand on this poor dust, he will call me to himself, and I will see my vindication in the flesh.

Oh God, how long will you leave me in this limbo? How long until you long for the work of your hands?

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