Saint Mary the Virgin hosts hot steamy night of Scripture

Posted on November 4, 2008

 Pulp Scripture Cast (from left): Emily Jordan, Kat Anderson, playwrite William Bivins, Dan Wilson, Linda Ayres-Frederick, and Dennis McIntyreOn the night before the big election, I was done with campaigning and the last thing I wanted to see was another political commercial. My pre-election tension was high, as a Facebook friend wrote in her status that she felt “the same anxiety as on Christmas Eve when I was six-years-old and I had asked Santa for a bicycle.” I completely understood the sentiment and I needed relief. What better than a night out for trashy tales of sex and smut? And in the fullness of pre-election ambiguity, where better to go for bawdy fare than St. Mary the Virgin, San Francisco?


Advertised as “For Mature Audiences Only,” Pulp Scripture by SMV-resident playwright William Bivins, was billed as “Bible stories they didn’t teach you in Sunday School.” The seven one-act plays were performed as dramatic readings by four actors who showed remarkable breadth of character and range of emotion.

 

Emily Jordan swung freely from newly passionate and aware Eve, to the timid younger daughter of Lot who is just learning the machinations of sex, to femme fatale Delilah, and back to slightly naïve but eager Ruth. Dennis McIntyre showed comparable range; after beginning the evening as God in the Garden of Eden, he brought unique character to Lot, Abraham, and Judah.


Linda Ayres-Frederick playfully brought the Jewish mother to the character of Naomi while Dan Wilson adeptly moved from confident Samson to incredulous Isaac who learns he is about to be made a sacrifice by his own father.


With a show that opens with feigned sex, the series of short plays were at once brow-raising, funny and reverent – Pulp Scripture illustrated how encounters with holy history are best revealed as equally sacred and profane. “Bivins has made scripture more accessible and immediate,” the Rev. Jason Parkin, Rector of SMV told me after the play, “and he has shown that engaging the divine story can be happy, joyous, and fun.”


I tend to be a bit too PC for my own good, and I was really curious how the representation of Genesis 19:1-11, titled “The Depravity of Sodom,” would present the story historically used by more literal readers of scripture to damn gay sex. The story of the angelic visitors who Lot takes in, and who then become the sexual desire of every man in Sodom, I thought would prove to be a difficult text to depict, but I had forgotten the underlying sense of the story that it shows the extremes of radical hospitality and its opposite.


McIntyre as Lot broke open the discomfort of the story in his total cluelessness as to just what the men of Sodom wanted his guests for. Their response… “Lot, we’re SODOM-ites.”


The synthesis of sacred and profane was made palpable by the liturgical flavor of the evening. Each vignette was introduced as a reading from scripture by lector Kat Anderson who closed each presentation with the familiar “Here ends the lesson.”


Poster for Pulp ScripturePulp Scripture is the product of the playwright’s encounter with the many different paintings of the sacrifice of Isaac he had seen in Italian museums. “Isaac is always depicted as solemnly lying there while his father is about to slit his throat. Then we went to the Uffizi Gallery and saw Carvaggio’s “Sacrifice of Isaac” where Abraham is pushing down on Isaac’s neck and Isaac is screaming bloody murder. Now that’s more real than all of those other paintings.”


As a comedic playwright, Bivins couldn’t pass on the opportunities a story with such rich internal conflict offered. His interpretation of “The Command to Sacrifice Isaac,” which debuted at an SMV parish retreat, adeptly depicts the typical tensions of a father/son relationship under what could mildly be put as extreme circumstances. Of the Pulp Scripture collection, it showed the most complexity of character while asking the obvious question, what kind of God is this who would test the most faithful believer in this way?


After his third short play for parish retreats, the Rev. Beth Hansen, Senior Associate Rector at SMV, recommended a full night of his short plays. “Especially in this time when family values and scripture are so loosely bandied about in public,” Hansen said, “I felt that these plays would help people more fully consider that there is more to the story than just happy family life.”


The women of Pulp Scripture not only challenge our sense of who God is and what our relationship to the divine is all about, they challenge the broader culture’s sense of feminine sensuality as a mere expression of the profane. Indeed, Bivins unveils the grace inherent in the gift of sexuality.


In her closing to the program notes, Hansen writes:


“Scripture offers witness to a clear pattern of sneaky seductive women becoming very useful to God’s purpose. Ironic that by Eve’s seducing Adam to eat the forbidden fruit we are driven from God’s Grace, yet by many women’s sexual seduction we are given the progeny for redemption back into Grace. With such unexpected Holy results coming from these sneaky seductresses, curious that our Ultimate Redeemer was born of a virgin, or so they say.”


Bivins would like to take the show on the road. If your congregation or organization is mature enough for these Bible stories and you would like to host a performance of Pulp Scripture, contact William Bivins at wbivins@sbcglobal.net.