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"The Wind on the Water" by Andrew Ordover
Back in the '80s, when I lived in Atlanta, a news story caught my eye and got me to thinking. Commuters were claiming to have seen the face of Jesus in a giant forkful of spaghetti on a restaurant billboard off Interstate 85. Even before the story hit the papers, word of mouth spread throughout the city, and hundreds of people began stopping by the billboard, to engage in a kind of religious Where's Waldo? game. This continued until the restaurant replaced the advertisement.
This wasn't unusual for the Bible Belt, of course. Thousands of people were willing to trek up to a remote, mountain town every year, to see the annual appearance of the Virgin Mary in, if I recall correctly, the stump of a tree. Thousands of others gave money to television evangelists like Jim and Tammy Bakker-some to the point of bankruptcy-in the hope that these quasi-ministers could intercede on their behalf with the Universal Powers That Be. I may have found such stories hilariously funny (in fact, I did), but thousands of people-millions, actually-did not.
At about the same time, I recall, I read an article about stigmata, the inexplicable manifestation of the wounds of Christ. There have been cases of this phenomenon recorded throughout history. Not surprisingly, the people who manifest these wounds are usually religious devotees-nuns, monks, and so forth-people who spend a lot of time in prayer and religious contemplation. This has made the phenomenon easy for cynics and rationalists like me to discount. Surely, we say, they've brought this on themselves, somehow. And even if we don't understand the "somehow," we dismiss the story and go on with our lives.
As I read the article, and remembered my supposedly sophisticated, fellow Atlantan's reactions to Jesus-in-the-spaghetti, the writer in me said, Hmmm…what if it wasn't a monk or a nun, next time? What if this "stigmata" happened to someone who didn't even know what it was? What if it happened to a modern-day, American Jewish guy like me-an assimilated New Yorker who knew very little of his own religion and even less of Christianity? How would he react-and what would the rest of the world think?
I filed the idea away for several years, occasionally taking it out and playing with it, but never doing much else. And then, last year, Jerry Falwell announced that the Antichrist was alive among us-had to be alive among us-and was (had to be) a young, Jewish male. Hmmm, I thought again. Perhaps I ought to do something with that old story idea of mine. The Millennium is nearly upon us; the time is ripe.
The Wind on the Water is the result of those Hmmms. The play follows a young, Jewish New Yorker - a fairly average, unremarkable investment banker, happy and content with his life - who awakens one Christmas morning, bleeding from the hands.
As word of his "stigmata" spreads, fundamentalists and true-believers of every stripe latch on to him as proof of their millennial, apocalyptic prophecies. A televangelist proclaims him the Antichrist, an Orthodox Rabbi uses him to push radical Israelis toward re-building the Temple on Mount Zion, and a young, spiritually lost girl believes he is her personal savior.
The "messiah" himself doesn't believe in anything, and doesn't understand what is happening to him. All he wants is to return to his unremarkable life and be left alone. Unfortunately, however, the fate of the world may just be in his hands.
To me, the story is about more than just the millennial fervor overcoming so many people these days. I think it's also about retaining your individuality in a media-driven, commercial culture-about the price of being ignorant of your history and your heritage. What happens when you allow other people to define you and manipulate the metaphors and myths that underlie your culture? Can you ever get yourself back?
David Lazarus, the young man in the play, has only the shallowest understanding of who he is. Like many of us, he defines himself by his job, his friends, his neighborhood, his clothes…and when that identity is shattered by an event he can't understand, he doesn't know how to respond or what to do. All his life, he's allowed the rest of the world to tell him who he is. Now they're telling him he's someone else. What is he supposed to do?
If they told you that you were the Messiah…could you prove they were wrong?
"The Wind on the Water" will be presented October 8 to November 28, 1999, Thur - Sat at 8pm; Sun at 7pm. Wednesday shows added at 8pm after November 1. At the Greenwich Street Theatre, 547 Greenwich Street (between Charlton and Vandam). $12/tdf; students $10 (before 10/31); $20/tdf; students $15 (after 10/31); reservations and information (212) 604-4222. WEBSITE: http://members.aol/NDSI4BL
Andrew Ordover is a playwright and screenwriter living in Brooklyn, NY. He holds a BA in English from Emory University and an MFA in Playwriting from UCLA. His original plays and adaptations have been performed in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Miami, selections from which have been published in Smith & Kraus' Best Stage Monologues and Best Stage Scenes anthologies for 1993, 1997, and 1998. He is the Artistic Director of New York's Common Ground Stage and Film Company. Before coming to New York, he served for two years as Literary Manager at Atlanta's 7Stages Theatre. He has twice been a guest speaker at the International Symposium on Theatre Semiotics, in Athens, Greece. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild.
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