I recently finished Thornton Wilder’s sixteen three-minute plays entitled The Angel That Troubled the Waters and Other Plays. These are very short plays that just hit the reader with spiritual depth. I enjoyed these plays that were the plays that satisfied Wilder’s “passion for compression.” I will list each play and summarize it in a word or phrase, ask one question, supply my favorite quote, and for some include a scriptural reference.
Nascuntur Poetae–(which means something along the lines of “may the poets be born again”).–CHOSEN.–What is the response to being chosen?–cf. Romans 8:28-30.–“THE WOMAN IN THE CHLAMYS: And you were chosen…It is enough to know that you were chosen” (p. 10).
Porsepina and the Devil—TO THE DEVIL.–Why do we sin?–cf. Romans 7:7-25.–“(…Again the frantic girl runs in the wrong direction and casts herself into the arms of Satan…)” (p. 15).
Fanny Otcott—CONFESSION.–What does it mean to love?–cf. 1 Corinthians 13–“MRS. OTCOTT: You do not suppose that that revelation would cast any deeper shadow on the good name of Fanny Otcott, such as it is. Remember, George, the months you call sinful. It wasn’t love, perhaps, but it was grace and poetry. The heavens rained odors on us. It was childlike and harmless as paintings on fans. I was a girl tragadienne reciting verses endlessly before a mirror and you were a young student who for the first time had seen a young girl braid her hair and sing at her work. Since then you have learned long names from books and heard a great many sneers from woman as old as myself. You have borrowed your ideas from those who have never begun to live and who dare not” (pp. 19-20).
Brother Fire—IDOLATRY.–What fire are we allowing to consume us?–“ISOLA: I like to play with the fire” (p. 21).
The Penny That Beauty Spent—REQUIREMENT.–What is required of man?–cf. Psalm 86:12–“THE JEWELER (Insinuatingly): Your life is only to please the king. He has chosen you. By sending you here he is telling you that. LA GRACILE: You are mistaken…But I am only a poor thin dancer that..that has worked too hard. Besides, this is my husband. THE JEWELER (Smiling): No, mademoiselle, he is not your husband.” (p. 28). (This leads me to ask a different question–Who is La Gracile’s husband? Who is our husband? Christ?).
The Angel on the Ship—SELF-JUSTIFICATION.–Can we offer anything to God?–cf. Psalm 30:9–“MINNA: Great God Lily, I’m the captain’s wife that’s sailed behind you for twenty years. Many’s the time, great God Lily, that I shined your face so you’d look spick and span and we sailing into London in the morning, or into heathen lands. You knows everything, and you knows what I did to my husband and that I didn’t let him have none of the secret water that me and Van saved up, and that when he died he knew it and cursed me and Van to hell. But youms forgiven everything and send us some rain or by-and-by we’ll die and there’ll be no one here prayin’ to you. This is the end of my prayin’, great God Lily” (pp. 30-31).
The Message and Jehanne—EFFECTS.–How do our actions effect ourselves and others?–“CHARLES (Reading around the inside of the ring): ‘As the hermit his twilight, the countryman his holiday, the worshiper his peace, so do I love thee.’ It was the wrong ring that was delivered to you, my lady. JEHANNE: It has broken my will. I am in flight for Padua. My family are truly become nothing but sparrows and God will feed them” (p. 35).
Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came—FAITH.–What does it mean to believe?–cf. Mark 10:13-16–“THE DARK GIRL: And do you believe this?” (p. 39).
Centaurs—POTENTIALITY.–What happens when we think of what might be?–“SHELLY: Well, it is not a strange idea, or a new one, that the stuff of which masterpieces are made drifts about the world waiting to be clothed with words. It is a truth that Plato would have understood that the mere language, the words of a masterpiece, are the least of its offerings. Nay, in the world we have come into now, the languages of the planet have no value; but the impulse, the idea of “Comus” is a miracle, even in heaven. Let you remember this when you regret the work that has been lost through this war that has been laid upon your treasurable young men. The work they might have done is still with you, and will yet find its way into your lives and into your children’s lives” (pp. 42-43).
Leviathan—SOUL.–What is the soul?–“BRIGOMEIDE: It’s breathing. He has not lost-what they call-the soul. I wonder where he keeps it. It is the greatest difference between us; we sea-people have no soul. I wonder where he keeps it! I have heard that it can be seen at times, in the eyes. Perhaps if I borrowed it from him while he slept he would never miss it. No-I will ask him for it” (p. 45).
And the Sea Shall Give Up Its Dead—IDENTITY.–Where is our identity?–cf. Mark 8:34-38–“HORATIO NISSEM (In mounting terror): I am afraid. I refuse to give myself up. THE EMPRESS: Do not cry out, fool. You have awakened all my rebellious nature. O God, do not take away my identity! I do not ask for my title or my features; do not take away my myself! HORATIO NISSEM: Do you hear? I refuse to give myself up. O god, let me not be mistaken for a Gentile. FATHER CRUSOE: Your screaming has aroused my madness. Let me keep my particular mind, O God, my own curious mind, with all I have put into it!” (p. 52).
Now the Servant’s Nam Was Malchus—UNBELIEVABLE.–What are we to make of the story of Christ?–“OUR LORD: And that my mind lay under a malady that many a doctor could cure. And that I have deceived and cheated millions and millions of souls who in their extremity called on me for the aid I had promised. They did not know that I died like any other man and their prayers mounted into vain air, for I no longer exist. My promises were so vast that I am either divine or ridiculous” (p. 56).
Mozart and the Gray Steward—LOVE.–How does one love truly?–cf. Matthew 28:16-20–“THE GRAY STEWARD: It is Death itself that commands you this Requiem. You are to give a voice to all those millions sleeping, who have no one but you to speak for them. There lie the captains and the thieves, the queens and the drudges, while the evening of their earthly remembrance shuts in, and from that great field rises an eternal miserere nobis. Only through the intercession of great love, and fo great art, which is love, can that despairing cry be eased. Was that not sufficient cause for this commission to be anonymous?” (p. 62).
Hast Thou considered My Servant Job?—COMFORT.–What is it that can comfort and satisfy?–cf. The Book of Job–“SATAN: What have they done to you, my beloved son [Judas]? What last poor revenge have they attempted upon you? come to me. Here there is comfort. Here all this violence can be repaired. The futile spite of Heaven cannot reach you here. But why do you not speak to me? My son, my treasure!” (p. 66).
The Flight into Egypt—DOUBT.–What are we to do with our doubt?–cf. Psalm 119–“HEPZIBAH: It’s this matter of faith and reason, madam. I’d love to carry back to our group of girls whatever you might say about it… OUR LADY: Dear Hepzibah, perhaps someday. For the present just do as I do and bear your master on” (p. 70).
The Angel That Troubled the Waters—HEAL.–Who can heal the broken?–cf. John 5:1-9–“THE ANGEL (Stands a moment in silence): Without your wound where would your power be? It is your very remorse that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of the living. In love’s service only the wounded soldiers can serve. Draw back” (p. 74).