It was not a particularly demanding play, I remember few of the details, but the core effect of the play and its most dramatic moment are clear in my memory, that scene somehow indelibly etched there in whatever parcel of gray matter stores the most extraordinary snapshots in time. Names of the actors are stored back there, too, but not all: Val, Marla, Ken, Ed, our most perennial actors, and one most visible in recall, Karl, but there were several more.
Again, so few details return to me these 45 years or so later—and I get no good links when I search the web—but it seems likely that the title of the drama was “Construction.” One by one, or perhaps a few two by two, the actors appear on the stage, which was a part of the floor of the church’s gym since we were doing the play in the round. The setting is indeterminate, could have been an island or some other empty space. The only anomaly in this uncertain space is, helter-skelter, bits and pieces that could be construed to be construction material.
Okay, now I’m in trouble, for I do not recall how the play proceeded, but here’s my vague recollection: the group gradually assembles, diverse, not knowing one another, and must find its bearings as group. Before long it’s clear that there are natural leaders, and there are outsiders (as I recall Val played a woman of rather questionable past). Soon, what seems most important is to decide what to do with the boards and bricks and tools that lie about. (Oh, how I wish I could remember the details!) The upshot is that, because the location is uncertain and likely dangerous, the group should build a wall. There is not consensus—the shady woman objects, right?–but someone remembers Robert’s Rules and majority wins. They begin building a wall.
Progress is made, the wall takes shape, when suddenly a young boy who’s part of the group but has escaped construction tasks, runs on stage, screaming, “Someone is coming! A stranger! He looks strange.” (My memory reminds me of the emotion of that moment, little more.) The group assembles, waiting, and Karl Dahlstrom walks slowly into the scene.
Now, it’s the 70’s, folks, and Karl doesn’t need a wig or a beard glued to his face. He’s adopted a hippie appearance as his persona, and his hair is long and beard fairly generous, and truly, in that setting, looks . . . strange. His presence is not commanding, and he speaks gently; the group is tense and wary. He inquires about the building project, is told about the wall. He objects. “I must ask you to believe me: I come from the one who put these materials here. I know his intention. It is to be a bridge.”
Hostility immediately builds in the group, the leader assuming an aggressive posture before the stranger. Only the shady woman pleads for the stranger to be heard out. Before many more words, he is wrestled to the floor where two boards lay unobtrusively, and then lifted, his hands outstretched, on a cross. The play ends.
I repeat: I remember few details, nor the words, but I cannot erase that last scene and still feel, in my bones, the crude sensation of being one of the lifters of that cross, that stranger, my friend, Karl—the sense that it was wrong but I must be there, doing the will of the crowd. I am much further back, in Jerusalem, crying out, “Crucify him!” I am feeling that, can still feel, can realize how bitterly wrong I was, but was nevertheless there, lifting that cross.
“But it was intended to be a bridge,” the Builder said.