Gratia Plena (Full of Grace)
My ten minute play about AIDS and survival guilt, Gratia Plena, is only available for purchase on Amazon in the Kindle format. As a thank you to those who visit my blog, I'm posting the script here. It's short, since it's a ten minute play. Enjoy!
Hail Mary, full of grace
The Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women
And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God
Be with us sinners now
And in the hour of our death.
Cover photo courtesy of James A. Cottingham
(Full of Grace)
A ten-minute (or so) play
Harry C.S. Wingfield
There is one character in this play. STEWART is an older gentleman, dressed in gardening clothes. The play takes place in STEWART’s hosta garden. The stage can be bare of scenery and props, except a garden statue of St. Francis of Assisi might be a nice touch, and maybe a garden bench, or a portable small crate or box STEWART can carry around and sit on as he weeds. The shade garden can be suggested by lighting effects.
Note: Some lines are intended to be sung. I have indicated these in italics.
STEWART enters, looking at the stage floor intently, and singing to himself.
(singing Schubert’s version of “Ave Maria” to himself) Ave Maria, gratia plena, Maria…..Shit! There’s a gazillion of them. Little weeds, little weeds.
He bends over, supporting himself with one hand, and starts rapidly pulling little weeds with the other and tossing them aside. For the remainder of the play, he alternately addresses the audience, attends to the garden, and sings/talks to himself.
I know, I know, I should be using gloves for this, there might be germs. But with these little guys you really have to be able to feel them to get them out. And it’s best to get them out while they are really little like this, before they can get roots in. That’s what the mulch is for. I spread it out between the hostas, and then when all these seeds get started, they don’t get started in the hard dirt. Not if I get out here every day and pull them out, they don’t. But I don’t mind. It gives me time with my babies. This one is a Frances Williams. I’ve had her for about 5 years now. Maria, gratia plena, Maria, gratia plena, Ave, Ave dominus, dominus tecum…
No, I didn’t name her after anybody. Frances Williams is the variety name. Like that golden one is a Sum and Substance, and that green one is a Plantaginea, and that blue one is a Sieboldiana Elegans. David says they all look green to him, but when I put a blue one next to a gold one, I can really tell the difference. So many shades of green. Amazing.
“Bendicta tu in mulieribus,
Et benedictus, et benedictus fructus ventris,”
STEWART runs his hands over the ground lightly.
No, I don’t ever rake the leaves. They can be useful sometimes. And I like the idea of everything staying back in the garden, recycling. I mean I buy the shredded pine bark like everybody else, but I also let the dead leaves and dead flowers and pulled up weeds do their thing, too. Lots of life in dead leaves, if you use them right. At least that’s what St. Francis of Assisi over there would probably say. David calls him St. Francis of two sissies. The patron saint of the gay garden.
I used to name my plants after people. Friends who had died, you know. But it got too tedious, too hard to remember them all. The cherry trees are named after Nancy and Adrian, though. Theirs were the hardest. Adrian went with me to the big quilt display in D.C. Then the next time they had the quilt display, I was taking Adrian’s panel. Adrian’s and Nancy’s. Such a big display of panels. So many people. I had known Nancy since the third grade. Blonde hair, blue eyes, always smiling. She wasn’t supposed to get this.
You know I dreamed about her the night she died. She was coming out of this great big house, like Biltmore, only bigger, and she walked out from this enormous crowd of people and came up to me and said, “I’ve been waiting for you for so long! Let me show you around.” And I said to her, “It’s such a big house! There are so many people!”
And then I woke up and I knew she was dead. I didn’t call Nancy’s mother for a few days, but when I told her about the dream she freaked out. Then she told me Nancy had been going in and out of consciousness, and that night she had opened her eyes, and sat up, and looked her straight in the eyes and said “It’s such a big house! There are so many people!” And then she closed her eyes, and put her head back down, and a few hours later she was gone. Makes me glad she told me she had been waiting for me a long time. I’ve got too much to do.
A TV reporter was interviewing me one time, and she asked me “How do you get out of bed every morning knowing you have this horrible disease?” And you know how sometimes things pop out of your mouth before you realize what you are saying? She said “How do you get out of bed every morning knowing you have this horrible disease?” and I said “I have to go to the bathroom. And the cats have to be fed.” It just popped right out. It was such a stupid answer. I should have said something profound like “My faith in God sustains me.” But then I thought about it later, and it was the truth. I get out of bed because I have to go to the bathroom. And the cats need to be fed. And then there’s MY breakfast to fix, and pills to take, and dishes to wash, and weeds to pull, and the day just happens.
Right after I feed the cats sometimes I just stand there in the kitchen window and look out at the hostas. I designed this garden so that I could view it from that window. I was planning for the day when I would be in a wheelchair, and not able to get up and about. I thought that was the way it was going to go, you know? But here I am, fourteen years later, still alive, still out in the garden, still pulling weeds.
“Fructus ventris, Jesus…”
I love to sing. And singing is how I pray. It uses your whole body. You have to BE the music. To me, that’s praying. And I read once that singing church music is good for the immune system. So maybe “Ave Maria” is making me live longer. Funny, since it’s usually for funerals. “Be with us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.”
I also pray when I’m digging in the yard. I can listen out here, you know? Just listen. And be with my plants, and my trees. Nancy, and Adrian. But I don’t name the other ones any more.
Sometimes I name the weeds, though. Name them after people who have really pissed me off. Then I rip them out by the roots, concentrate, put my whole body into it, and add them to the mulch. And I yell their names out when I’m yanking. “Take that, Ronald Reagan!” “Take that, Pat Robertson!” Into the mulch. Don’t mess with me, don’t mess with my hostas.
I don’t remember which tree is Nancy and which one is Adrian. Doesn’t really matter, they’re both here. They’re all here, watching out for me, praying for me.
One time I was at a retreat, and they had one of these labyrinth things, that you walk through as you pray and meditate. And they said to ask the labyrinth a question as you started in, and then listen for the answer as you walked. I couldn’t think of anything to ask. So I just said to the labyrinth, tell me what to ask, OK? And as I started walking I found myself asking all my dead friends to pray for me, sort of like the Catholics ask Mary and the saints to pray for them. Skip and Mike, pray for me, Billy and Roy, pray for me, Adrian and Nancy, pray for me. Why not? I prayed for them when they were dying, now it’s their turn. Lord knows I need it.
This guy from church came to see me in the hospital one time when I was near death from Pneumocystis, tubes in my arms, tubes up my nose, fever of 105, and wanted to pray the Rosary with me. I told him I don’t pray like that. I talk to God without the help of beads, thank you very much. And he said “But it’s important to pray the Rosary if you’re about to die.” But I had no intention of dying, not then, not now. I had too much to do. I had to go to the bathroom, and feed the cats, and take my pills, and weed my garden. I’ll pray how I want to pray. People ask me sometimes if I have a personal relationship with Jesus, and I tell them if I do, then it’s PERSONAL, isn’t it? Usually shuts them up. I know you mean well, but stop growing in my garden. Into the mulch. Don’t mess with me, don’t mess with my karma, don’t mess with my garden. If I get sick, I get sick, but I’m healthy today and I’m going to act like I’m healthy. And I don’t plan on dying today.
Maybe I’m already dead. If I am, I guess I came to a pretty good place. So peaceful, so many shades of green, so graceful. Hostas are so full of grace! Not like “Hail Mary, full of grace.” That’s talking about the grace of God. But graceful like ballet dancers. So tough, so strong. They come back every year, you know? Just have to keep them mulched and weeded. Yeah, it’s pretty good here, except for all the weeds. Almost heaven, Alabama!
When I’m dead they can just take my ashes and scatter them here in the mulch. Feed the hostas. You can remember me here, in the garden. Pull some weeds while you’re here. Don’t add me to that damn quilt. I don’t want the people I leave behind to have to grieve like that. I don’t want them to hurt like I hurt. So many panels. So much grief. Such a big house. So many people.
I have no idea why I’ve outlived them all. Sometimes I think they’re the lucky ones. They didn’t have to go to all those funerals, make the quilt panels. They didn’t have to remember. Don’t have to get out of bed, go to the bathroom, feed the cats, take the pills, pull the weeds. One guy from support group, his mother started calling me after he died. Just to talk, stay in touch with his friends. But the conversation would always end up with her saying “I can’t understand why he had to die and you are still doing so well!” Jesus! Doing so well? Does she have any idea how crazy you can get when all your friends are dead and you’re so lonely you’re naming your goddamn garden plants after them? I don’t know why I’m still alive, why they died and didn’t come back, and why every time I that I nearly died, I didn’t die after all, but came back to life again with all the damn scars and the pain and the dead leaves and the crazy mothers. And I have to go to the bathroom, and the cats have to be fed….
No, I’m not in denial. I take too many damn pills every morning to be in denial. Right after I go to the bathroom and feed the cats, I take all those pills. Every morning, and till the hour of my death. But sometimes I stop for a couple of minutes and just look out the window at my hostas. So many shades of green. So peaceful. Just like heaven. Heaven, right here on earth, right now. How do I get up every morning knowing I’ve got this terrible disease, indeed! Stupid TV reporter. Up by the roots, and into the mulch.
I used to get into arguments with my Bible study group about this all the time. They thought when Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand” it meant the Apocalypse could come at any moment. And I told them no, it means the kingdom of God is right here, right in front of us, in our hands, and it’s our CHOICE whether we are in Heaven or Hell, right now, right in this moment. It has to be good now, or what’s the point? The kingdom of God is at hand. Now. Nunc, as they say in Latin. “Be with us sinners NOW, and at the hour of our death.”
It’s all right here. Heaven is right here. Right now. I can make my own retreat center. Make my own labyrinth. Right here, in my own back yard. Ask it any damn question I want to.
Why me? Hail Mary, full of grace, gratia plena, WHY ME? Why me? Why me?
My grandmother used to say the thing about life is that it’s so daily. Maybe death is daily, too. And it’s all about choices. The kingdom of God is at hand! The kingdom of God is at hand! And right now mine are filthy from pulling out all these little weeds….
STEWART slaps some of the dirt off his hands and starts to exit, but notices something at his feet.
….and tending to all these hostas. Oh damn it to hell! I must have pulled up your roots with the weeds! Don’t worry baby, my precious Frances Williams, I’ll get you safe in the dirt again. I’ll take care of you. I’m here now. I’m here now.
STEWART gets on his knees for the first time in the play, and starts replanting the hosta.
(singing to himself) “Nunc et in hora mortis, In hora mortis nostrae,
In hora mortis, mortis, nostrae, In hora mortis nostrae
Ave Maria, gratia plena.”
Lights fade to black as he sings.
For all my books and plays, go to Amazon using this link: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=harry+c.+s.+wingfield&crid=262DMMXT9TOWM&sprefix=Harry+C.+S.+%2Caps%2C188&ref=nb_sb_ss_ts-doa-p_1_12