A Play by David Wagner
Three brothers and sisters are playing a board game at Christmas, and in the process some truths hit home for the first time.
(Two characters sit on the floor around a low coffee table - there is a place set for a third. A game board is set up on the table. The scene is frozen. Marissa is in the center spot, facing the audience. She is frozen holding her fist as though about to roll a die, looking at the game board. To her left is Ryan. He has his arms crossed and leans back, as though he'd rather be doing anything right now other than playing this game. Claudia enters stage right while scene is frozen and comes downstage center to deliver opening monologue.)
Claudia: Families are funny things. You take a small group of people that are completely different from each other and throw them all together under the same roof. It's like some strange social experiment. My family is no different. There were plenty of good times and there was plenty of turbulence. Like most families, certain traditions began and were to be repeated yearly, some of which made no sense. But they were fun. One of those traditions was our yearly game of Shift on Christmas Eve. My brother, my sister and I would play Shift, which was a board game based on Bible trivia. Why Shift? Why Christmas Eve? I have no idea. But we played it every year until we all grew up and left the house to begin life on our own.
Ours was a Christian home, in a sense. I mean, we all went to church, to Sunday school, to youth group meetings, to Bible Camp. We said grace before meals, and our prayers before bed. But that was about it. We were always content with that. But I had begun to get uncomfortable with my relationship with God. It seemed to be shallow, stagnant. I needed to find out if there was more, or if I should leave God altogether, because things could not stay the same. The last year that we all played together was a turning point for me.
(Claudia walks over to the frozen scene and sits at the empty spot. Scene unfreezes. Marissa rolls the die, claps once and begins to move her piece with an Aha!)
Marissa: Aha! There we go! [Moves her piece, counts as she goes]
Ryan: Six again? You must be cheating somehow!
Claudia: Scrabble anyone?
Marissa: Gimme a break, guys. Come on, read me my question.
Ryan: [Draws a question card from the box of cards, holds it up and reads] OK, the question is…
Marissa: Wait…what's the category?
Ryan: General Bible Knowledge…the question is… "Why on earth do we play this game with you every year?"
Marissa: Come on, Ryan, what's the real question?
Ryan: Ok, ok…[pauses to quickly read over question to himself] …good, it's a tricky one…name the twelve sons of Jacob in order of birth.
Claudia: Ha! Good luck.
Marissa: The twelve sons in order…I know this one…
Ryan: Oh, really..? [Holds up a little yellow card, twirling it, chuckling]
Marissa: Oh, you're going to use your Challenge Card, eh? You sure you want to do that buddy?
[Ryan smiles at Marissa as he slowly, dramatically lifts the challenge card up high and slowly brings it down onto the game board. While he's doing this, Claudia says the following]
Claudia: [Very melodramatic] No, Ryan, don't be a fool! Save it for later! No!
Ryan: Ha! An official challenge! Up to it?
Marissa: All right, buddy, I accept. But if I get the answer right, you go back to the beginning [Taps the board at the "beginning" space]
Ryan: And if you get it wrong, you must draw from the Pile of Mixed Blessings! Mua-ha-ha-ha-ha!
Marissa: Bring it on.
Ryan: [Hands the question card to Claudia] Here you are, Claudia. You're the neutral judge. You check the answer.
Claudia: Very well…
Marissa: Ok, let's see…The twelve sons of Jacob-
Ryan: -In order.
Marissa: In order. I know. Shh! I'm trying to concentrate. [Closes her eyes, presses her temples].
Ryan: [after a pause] Oh, come on already! While we're young!
Marissa: I know, I know! Ok, the 12 sons. I need a pen and paper to write on [glances around as though she would get up]
Ryan: Hey! No way! That's cheating.
Marissa: Ok, fine, I'll try. [Head down, pouty. Then she smiles a sneaky grin, glances up and looks at Ryan while she recites quickly] Rueben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, and Joseph! So there! (Sticks out her tongue at Ryan)
Ryan: You knew it the whole time! You sneak!
Marissa: Ha ha ha! Back to the start, infidel! [Reaches for Ryan's piece to move it to beginning]
Claudia: Wait! You missed it, Marissa.
Claudia: You ended with "Benjamin and Joseph."
Marissa: [Pause, shocked] No! I meant "Joseph and then Benjamin!"
Ryan: Yes!! [Fists go up in a victory salute. Laughs uproariously]
Claudia: Sorry, sis.
Marissa: Come on, guys! You know I knew that one! It was a slip of the tongue!
Ryan: You missed it on the easiest part! Everyone knows Benjamin was the youngest!
Marissa: That's not fair!
Ryan: [Dramatically] Now…you must draw…from the Pile…Of Mixed Blessings! What, oh what, will it be?
[Marissa reluctantly draws a blue card from a pile of blue cards face down near the board. She reads it, then tosses the card down in disgust. Ryan quickly grabs it and looks at it]
Ryan: It's a "Shift" card! Yes! [To imaginary crowd] Ladies and Gentlemen, it is time…to…Shift! [Marissa has her head in her hands. Solemnly, to Claudia and Marissa, Ryan says:] All rise.
[Claudia stands, Marissa slowly rises to her feet. They rotate positions clockwise. Ryan is now in Marissa's former spot]
Ryan: OK, now I, my dear, have taken over your piece. That means…[mock surprise] why, what do you know? Now I'm leading! Fancy that! And the scripture is fulfilled - he that is last shall be first!
Marissa: Enjoy it while you can, buddy.
Claudia: [to Marissa] Would you rather play something else?
Marissa: And give this guy the satisfaction? Not a chance.
Claudia: I just want to make sure you're enjoying yourself.
Marissa: Don't let the act fool you, Claudia…I'm having a ball.
Claudia: Me too.
Ryan: All right, break it up, you two. I do believe it is my turn. Now that I have a commanding lead, I'm going to slam the door on you two.
Marissa: Gee, your holiday spirit is so touching.
Claudia: A true inspiration!
Ryan: Oh, I see…two on one, eh? You guys ganging up on me as usual, huh? Gimme that die! [Snatches the die, shakes it ceremoniously in his cupped hands] Come on, come on…baby needs a new pair of shoes! [Rolls die]
Marissa: Ha! A "one."
Ryan: Aw, man! Makes no difference [moves his piece]. I shall inch forward toward victory. [Doing a Winston Churchill impression] This will be my finest hour. My question please.
Claudia: [drawing a card from question box] Ok, let's see…
Ryan: Bible Heroes…Bible Heroes…
Claudia: The category is…
Ryan: Bible Heroes…Bible Heroes…
Claudia: Christian Doctrine!
Marissa: Ha ha ha!
Ryan: Fine, I pass.
Ryan: I said, "I pass," not "I quit."
Claudia: Oh, come on…at least try it.
Ryan: These questions are impossible.
Marissa: For you, maybe.
Ryan: It's always like: "explain the Godhead" or "what is the nature of sin" or "summarize the Gospel in Haiku form."
Claudia: Oh, come on, they're not that bad. Here, let's try it.
Marissa: Last chance to pass…
Ryan: [Slight pause, to Claudia] All right, let's have it.
Claudia: Ok… "What does it mean to overcome sin?"
[Ryan slumps as though shot]
Marissa: You should have passed, Ryan.
Ryan: [To no one] Why? Why do I do this to myself?
Claudia: Well, you have to at least attempt an answer.
Marissa: Or you must draw from the Pile Of Mixed Blessings as well. And who knows what card you might draw? Perhaps… "Go to outer darkness…go directly to outer darkness…" [Claudia picks up with Marissa, they continue in unison] "…do not pass Go, do not collect two-hundred dollars."
[Claudia and Marissa laugh together]
Ryan: You guys set me up. I'm telling mom.
Marissa: [all smiles] You're a little old to be tattling, aren't you?
Claudia: Come on, Ryan. You know the deal…if we accept your answer, then you've completed your turn safely. If you get it wrong, you go back to the spot you were just on.
Marissa: Besides, mom wouldn't believe you. She thinks Claudia and I have always been little angels.
Claudia: You, on the other hand…
Ryan: You're just mad 'cuz I'm winning. OK, fine, you want an answer, I'll give you an answer…
Marissa: Take your time. I need some ice water. [Getting up, to Ryan] You want anything?
Claudia: Good, a potty break. [Stands and stretches]
Marissa: [to Claudia] Anything from the kitchen?
Claudia: I'll join you in a minute. [Exits]
Marissa: Ok. [To Ryan] And don't move the pieces while we're gone. I know where each one is. [Exits]
Ryan: [Alone now on stage. Looks up to God, quoting Fiddler on the Roof] Sometimes I think when things are too quiet up there, you say to yourself, let's see what kind of mischief I can play on my friend Tevya. [End of quote] 'Tis the season, eh Lord?
[Stands, stretches] Overcoming sin? Ok, so what does it mean to overcome sin? I thought you were the one who overcame sin? Is that the answer? Nah, that would be too easy. Ok, so…we overcome sin by…not sinning. By resisting temptation. Is that it? We resist the urge to sin, and don't do it. Then we've overcome it, right? But we're sinful people by nature so we have to sin, don't we? Is that the answer? Are we even supposed to be concerned with such a thing? I'm clueless, Lord. Help me find the answer.
[He hears Claudia and Marissa returning, quickly sits back down and pretends that he's moving the pieces around, knowing that he's being seen.]
Marissa: Hey! I saw that, Ryan! [Ryan sits back quickly, whistling, as though nothing happened.]
Ryan: What'd I do?
Claudia: [whacks him on the head lightly] You cheater.
Marissa: [Examining pieces quickly] Ok, he didn't move 'em.
[Claudia and Marissa sit down again.]
Marissa: Ready with your answer?
Ryan: Not really. This kind of question opens up a philosophical can of worms, which, if explored thoroughly, might lead to endless discussions on the nature of man and his relationship to God, to his fellow man, and to -
Claudia: Uh oh… filibuster.
Marissa: Excuse me, Senator…could you limit your response to simple "yes" or "no" answers please?
Ryan: Ok, fine. What does it mean to overcome sin? [Continues very uncertain of himself] Well, it means…to never purposely do what you know is wrong. Like if you have a problem stealing, and you're tempted to steal something, you pray, and God will give you strength not to steal. Is that it?
Claudia: Well, that's not the answer that they're looking for, but it is an angle. So, you're saying to pray when you're tempted so you can keep yourself from sinning?
Ryan: [Startled] Is that what I said?
Marissa: That's what you said. Does it work for you?
Ryan: Uh…well…I don't know. I've never really thought about it before. I usually just wing it.
Claudia: Well, what do you know about sin?
Ryan: I don't know…I suppose we should try to live a righteous life, you know…do good, help the poor, that sort of thing.
Claudia: Do you?
Ryan: Do I what?
Claudia: Do good.
Ryan: What's that supposed to mean?
Claudia: Do you do good?!
Ryan: Well, I'm a Christian, if that's what you mean.
Claudia: So, a Christian is just somebody who does good?
Ryan: What's with the third degree, already?! I go to church Sunday morning like a good boy, I tithe ten percent, I volunteer at the occasional pot-luck. What more do you want?
Marissa: What about the rest of it?
Ryan: The rest of what?
Marissa: The part about praying for strength when you're tempted.
Ryan: I told you already, I just thought of that right now. I haven't tried it. Did I get the answer right or not?
[Scene freezes. Claudia rises to address the audience again, pacing, as scene remains frozen behind her]
Claudia: You ever hear something for the first time, but it clicks like something you've known your whole life? Here, Ryan had faked his way through the answer, but he stumbled onto something that at once confused me and made perfect sense to me. Overcoming sin. Seems like something every Christian should be very familiar with, but here we were, Christians for our whole lives, and we'd never really thought about what it meant in practical terms to overcome sin. Ryan had no idea what he had said, or it's implications…he just wanted to win the game.
[Claudia walks back over and sits down, the scene unfreezes]
Claudia: What was the question?
Ryan: I said, did I get the answer right or not?
Claudia: Yep, I give it to ya.
Ryan: Thank you! Sheesh!
Claudia: I guess it's my turn. (Grabs die, rolls it, moves her piece forward a couple spaces. Marissa grabs a question card from the box.)
Ryan: Ask her a tough one now. Ask her how many angels can stand on the head of a pin.
Marissa: You're the only pinhead around here.
Ryan: Say…them's fightin' words!
Marissa: Ok…the category is Biblical Geography…
Ryan: Oh, I know the answer! "Cleanliness is next to Godliness."
Marissa: Very funny. The question is a two-parter: Regarding the Jordan River, what does "Jordan" mean, and into what body of water does it empty?
Claudia: Ooh, ok…well, it empties into the Dead Sea, I know that much. As far as what "Jordan" means…I don't know.
Marissa: [Reading from card] It means "Descender."
Claudia: Well, that makes sense.
Ryan: It does?
Claudia: Sure…people were baptized in the Jordan River.
Claudia: And, when you're baptized, it's supposed to be like dying and then coming to life again a new person, right? Well, the "old you" that died "descends" downstream into the Dead Sea. That's probably how it got its name.
Ryan: Sounds like somebody's been hitting the eggnog a bit hard lately.
Claudia: Seems plain enough to me. Don't you remember Sunday School?
Ryan: I thought this was Sunday School. In any case…you missed the question, so back you go…[Mischievous chuckle, moves piece back to original position]
Marissa: You know, winning isn't everything.
Ryan: Don't let Vince Lombardi hear you say that. Winning might not be everything, but beating you for once would be nice. Roll! [hands her the die]
Marissa: All right, pal…time to show you how we do things down town! [Rolls die] Yes!
Claudia: Good grief, Marissa, have you rolled anything other than sixes tonight?
Ryan: [As Marissa advances her piece] And she lands on a bonus space.
Claudia: OK, sis [draws a card]…if you get this right you get to roll again. Category is…
Ryan: Christian Doctrine…Christian Doctrine…
Claudia: Bible Heroes!
Claudia: Samson killed more of the Philistines by his death than he did in his life. He brought the temple down upon himself and the Philistines. Who was the temple dedicated to, and how many men and women were on its roof when it collapsed?
Marissa: This one is cake. A better question would be what were the three methods Delilah used to try to capture Samson before succeeding by cutting his hair?
Ryan: What, are you making up the questions now? Come on!
Marissa: OK, fine. It was the temple to Dagon and there were three thousand men and women on the roof when he brought it down. Can you answer the other question, Ryan?
Ryan: OK, so, you're smarter than me…big deal. What do you want, congratulations?
Claudia: You know, I just thought of something…those silly methods she used to try to capture him initially were successful…as long as Samson was sleeping.
Ryan: What are you saying?
Claudia: I mean, as long as you're asleep the silliest little things can keep you bound.
[Scene freezes, Claudia rises and paces addressing the audience again]
Claudia: All the years we played this game, it had been for simple enjoyment only. It was an excuse for Marissa to display her "vast amounts" of Bible knowledge, and for Ryan to tell his dumb jokes and puns. Me, I just enjoyed the interaction, which from the outside may seem like it was more squabbling than playing, but really, I considered it quality family time…and nothing more.
This time was different. New thoughts were springing up, like overcoming sin by praying when tempted. Seems like a no-brainer. So, why hadn't I thought about it before? And it seemed that it was somehow connected to the idea of baptism; like when you resist sin, that part of you dies and then is made alive again, or something. Suddenly, it was right there, in front of me. All this time, I was taught that after you're saved, you simply endured this life until it's over, and then heaven would begin. Without realizing it, I knew there had to be more to it than that, and here were some steps forward I could take. It was exciting.
I felt like Samson: asleep, bound by simple, silly things, but now shaking myself, breaking free. I felt like I was waking up. I waited to see what would come next.
[Claudia re-enters the scene, sits at her place and the scene unfreezes]
Marissa: I get to go again, I get to go again…[Grabs up the die]
Ryan: I have a theory…Marissa has memorized every question…whadaya think, Claudia?
Marissa: Gimme a break…most of these questions could be answered by anyone who reads the Bible.
Ryan: What is this "Bible" thing you keep talking about?
Marissa: Very funny. The questions are easy.
Ryan: Well, at least you're humble.
Claudia: [Draws a card] OK, roll, Marissa.
Marissa: [Rolls die, lets out a whoop] Yes!
Ryan: Six again…God loves you the best.
Claudia: Category is…
Ryan: Quantum Physics…Quantum Physics…
Claudia: Complete the Verse.
Marissa: King James or NIV?
Ryan: Oh, brother.
Claudia: King James. The verse is First John Three Nine. Complete the Verse: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and…
Marissa: …and he cannot sin, because he is born of God! Whoo-hoo!
Ryan: No way! There's no way on earth that you knew that!
Marissa: The lady is on a roll! I am a Bible Trivia Machine!
Ryan: Uh, excuse me, Miss Bible Trivia? One question…
Ryan: "Benjamin and then Joseph?"
Marissa: Ok, ok, so I blew one of them. [They thumb their noses at each other]
Claudia: [Has been studying question card carefully] Do you guys realize what an amazing verse this is?
Marissa: What's that?
Claudia: Whoever is born of God does not commit sin. Is that possible?
Ryan: Is what possible? Not sinning?
Marissa: You mean like "sinless perfection?" I think that as long as we're in this world, we have to sin.
Claudia: So did I…but that's not what this says, and this is the Bible.
Ryan: I think that only applies to Jesus. He was born of God, so he can't sin.
Claudia: But it doesn't say it's for Jesus…John wrote this to Christians.
Marissa: So, what are you saying?
Claudia: You can quote it from memory, but you can't see what it's saying?
Marissa: No, I just can't see what you're saying.
Claudia: Ryan, it fits in with what you were saying before…
Ryan: It does?
Claudia: [to Ryan] Are you sinning right now, at this moment?
Ryan: Uh…no, not that I'm aware of.
Claudia: Will you sin before the day is over?
Ryan: I don't know…probably.
Claudia: Ok, what are you doing correctly right now that you won't be doing later?
Ryan: You lost me.
Claudia: Don't you get it? You're not sinning right now…later on, when you're tempted to sin, you pray for strength to resist, God gives you the strength, and you overcome it! You keep from sinning! Why? Because you're born of God, so now you can go to him for strength to overcome sin! See how it fits?
Ryan: [Rubbing his temples] I think my brain is going to explode.
Marissa: I get it, Claudia. Sounds fine, but what happens when you sin anyway? Because, I don't care who you are, you're going to sin. You're not perfect.
Claudia: I realize this. It just seems to me that this is how a Christian grows. By slowly gaining strength over sin.
Ryan: I've never heard you be all religious before, Claudia. What's up?
Claudia: I just need more, that's all.
[Scene freezes, she rises to address crowd again]
Claudia: I needed more. I was seeing that there was more to God, and I wanted it. More than just wanting it, though, I felt like I was getting it. What a gift! Like getting something you never realized you always wanted.
Marissa would go on to win the game, with Ryan holding on to second. While I came in last, in a sense, I really won. God used a simple game to dramatically shift my view of Him, of life, of my walk with Him, of what Christianity's all about, and while I knew I had a lot more to learn, at least now I knew the way.
PRODUCTION NOTES: This was really fun and well-received. The set was simple - a board game set up on a small coffee table center stage, with three floor pillows. This is a piece for three teen-agers or older (unless your kids are really precocious), since it requires a ton of memorization. It has a lot of (attempted) humor, plus (I hope) plenty to make people think. The board game is fictitious. We just grabbed a board from an existing board game for use as a prop, grabbed the Chance cards out of a Monopoly set to use as the Pile of Mixed Blessings, and went from there. Everyone enjoyed it tremendously, which is a great feeling.
Copyright David Wagner, all rights reserved.
This script may be performed without royalty payment, provided no charge is made for entrance to the performance. In return the author would like to be told of any performance. He may be contacted at email@example.com