Time and Place
Present day, in a run-down suburban church
Leonard: A twenty-three-year-old priest hired by his mother, discontent with his life
Gabriel: A teenager who grew up in the ghetto; is going to school to become a firefighter
Crowd: Small group of people who go to church to listen to Leonard’s preaching
Angela: Gabriel’s mother; very protective of her son
(The small, suburban church falls to a hush as Father Leonard, a twenty-three-year-old priest, finishes preaching loudly to the four people who’ve gathered. Behind him are several candelabra and a giant wooden cross held in place by steel cables. Some of the windows are broken, the church having fallen on hard times. Leonard holds his book closely to him, as if it were a treasure, his voice full of confidence and pride.)
LEONARD: And He shall forgive us, our children, for all that we have done, and all that we are, for we believe in our Lord; and he shall lead us to a better tomorrow! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
CROWD: Amen. (They all leave except for one teenager)
LEONARD: (looks to see the teen still sitting in the pews) Sorry, son, but I’m afraid you’ll have to come back next week. I’ve paid my dues for the crowd today.
GABRIEL: I’m not yo’ son. My name’s—
LEONARD: I said, there’s no time. Come back again next week. (Starts to leave stage left)
GABRIEL: Wait! I have jus’ one question; please, jus’ one, and I won’ trouble you no more!
LEONARD: (Turns to face Gabriel) Just one?
LEONARD: (Sighs and walks over to pews) Alright. Fire away.
GABRIEL: How do you find God?
LEONARD: (Shocked) E-excuse me?
GABRIEL: How do you find God? I’ve wondered that evah’ since my momma told me she found God here in church when she was six. I’ve been comin’ here to find God since I was six, too, and not once have I been able to fin’ him. I wanna know how.
LEONARD: (Flustered) W-well, that’s a very noble endeavor. I admit, though, that your question isn’t one I can fully answer.
GABRIEL: Why not?
LEONARD: Well, because… (Leonard looks to see if anyone else is around.) To tell you the truth, I’m still looking myself.
GABRIEL: Get out! You, a priest, lookin’ for God? That’s the silliest thing I evah’ heard!
LEONARD: Well, it’s true! I got this job as a priest three years ago, after the previous one retired, and I’ve been looking for a long time! I’ve preached sermon after sermon, and I still feel no closer to finding the Lord. I feel as if I’ve spent my whole life running around in circles.
GABRIEL: So then, why did they let you be a priest?
LEONARD: (Pauses) That’s the thing, actually. My father was the original priest here for this church. My mother bought it a long time ago, for a hefty sum of cash.
GABRIEL: So this is your momma’s church?
GABRIEL: Wow! The most my momma an’ I got is an apartment on the south side o’ town! Course, we gotta deal with junkies an’ dealers tryin’ ta’ sell us all their crap. But we ain’t havin’ none of it!
LEONARD: It’s good to see bright hearts in a suburb like this. (Smiles) What’s your name?
GABRIEL: It’s Gabriel.
LEONARD: Gabriel! The name of one of God’s right-hand angels! And a bringer of good news as well! Your mother chose a great name for you.
GABRIEL: Heck yeah, she did!
LEONARD: Yes, indeed. He delivered messages to the Virgin Mary and Daniel, telling them of their futures to come. Gabriel… It’s a very great name, indeed.
GABRIEL: Thanks, mistah.
LEONARD: No problem. (Clears his throat) My name comes from the Old German Leonhard. It’s supposed to mean “brave”. Heh, I’m anything but brave.
GABRIEL: Man, you’s sad as hell.
LEONARD: Oh, I’m always this way. But it's not all bad; I live by myself these days in an apartment in the north side of town. It’s a bit run-down, but I’m happy. It’s better than living out on the streets!
(They both chuckle)
LEONARD: My mother adored every single part of the Bible, from start to finish. She was militantly religious. She loved reading the Bible to herself every day during breakfast, during lunch, and dinner as well, carrying a beautiful ivory cross on her neck, poring over each passage like it was her life’s dream... Her favorite passage was..
GABRIEL: Was what?
LEONARD: Her favorite line was from Ephesians 5:33: “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Hmph. A fat load, if you ask me.
GABRIEL: Wha’ do you mean by tha’?
LEONARD: (Shakes his head) Nothing. I’m just rambling.
GABRIEL: Oh. Okay.
ANGELA: (Off-stage, yelling) Gabriel! Where are ya?
GABRIEL: (Looks stage right) Sorry, momma; the preachah’ man’s tryin’ to help me find God!
ANGELA: Well, tell ‘im to hurry up! You’ve got schoolwork t' do!
GABRIEL: Alright! (Looks back at Leonard) Hey man, I doan’ mean to rush ya, but I need to hurry up.
LEONARD: Don’t worry, Gabriel. I understand. It’s good that your mother looks out for you the way she does.
GABRIEL: Heh, she’s always lookin’ out for me. She tells me if you doan’ believe in tha’ Lord, you ain’t gonna get anywhear’ in your life; then the Devil’s gonna drag you down to Hell.
LEONARD: She’s a very good mother. Believing in the Lord will help you down the road to success.
GABRIEL: I bet you’ve got a lotta success, what with you bein’ a priest an’ all.
LEONARD: It’s all a part of the Lord’s larger plan for me. With my job experience and my degree, I hope to become an actor soon. (Smirks) I like to think I have the chops for it!
GABRIEL: Like one o’ them big shots? Tha’s pretty cool, if ya’ ask me.
LEONARD: (Excited) I know, right? I’ve got an audition in two weeks! Though, honestly, I am a little nervous. (Tugs at his shirt collar) It’s on a Sunday, and I have to go to prayer. I’d love to go, though.
GABRIEL: So jus’ take a day off.
LEONARD: What? I can’t--
ANGELA: (Shouting from off-stage again) Gabriel! Wha’s takin’ you so long?
GABRIEL: Doan’ worry, momma! I’m almost done! (Looks back at Leonard again) So why’s you got an audition? An’ why’s you workin’ heah’ if you don’t like it?
LEONARD: (Discontent) It was my mother’s wish that I look after the church. As much of a nut as she was, she still meant well. This church was all she had, and I want to respect her wishes in keeping it. But, it doesn’t feel like the life for me, you know?
(Both pause. Leonard looks at the cross.)
GABRIEL: Do you hate workin’ heah’?
LEONARD: I don’t hate it. I’m a Christian through and through; I love going to church. I believe I’ll make it far, as long as I remember the Lord’s teachings. Still, I do wish this place wasn’t forced on me.
GABRIEL: Man, my momma didn’ force nothin’ on me. She said I could be who I wanted to, so I wanted to be a firefightah’. My daddy was a firefightah’, an’ he got lost in a blaze one time. They said on tha’ news it was so big.. (Averts his gaze.) My daddy loved doin’ wha’ he did. Said he loved makin’ a difference to tha’ community. I remembah’ momma choked up when she saw tha' news. Things weren’t the same aftah’ tha’, ‘specially now that my momma lost her job as an accountant. Now we live offa’ food stamps ‘n’ stuff.
LEONARD: I’m so sorry to hear, Gabriel. I wish I could help you.
GABRIEL: We doan’ need tha’ help, but thanks.
LEONARD: But living off food stamps isn’t going to last you long.
GABRIEL: Man, wha’ do you care?
LEONARD: I care because I want to help!
GABRIEL: We doan’ take a dime from no one, an’ we ain’ gonna take one from you, mistah!
LEONARD: You don’t have to take it for my sake! Take it for yours! I’ve seen so many kids deny the help they need, and they end up drug addicts and thugs! They just—
GABRIEL: So you’s sayin’ I’m gonna end up like them! Like hell I will! Ain’t no one gonna get me t’ do nothin’ crooked! My momma’d have me hung out t’ dry if I did! I’m done listenin’ t’ you, whitebread! (Begins to leave)
LEONARD: Gabriel, listen! I’m sorry I doubted you! (Sits down and sighs) Nh. Every time I try to help people, it always comes down to this. (Stays where he is for a minute)
GABRIEL: (Comes back in with Angela; angry)
LEONARD: Gabriel! I-it’s-- (Looks worriedly at Angela)
ANGELA: You’s Leonard?
LEONARD: (Quickly recomposes himself) Yes, I am.
ANGELA: You’ve got some nerve talkin’ to my son the way you did. You think he some little stray lamb who’s gon’ get led away? Some poor fruit someone gon’ take?
LEONARD: Well, no, that’s not what I—
ANGELA: I got news for you. My boy is as respectful, courteous, an’ well-educated as you dumb white boys. He’s got a bright future ahead of ‘im, he ain’t done no wrong, an’ he’s got a scholarship so he can go to college. He gon’ graduate with honors next year!
LEONARD: (Annoyed) Ma’am, with all due respect, I simply stated my opinion. I appreciate you have a lot of love for your son, but this is no way to behave to anyone!
ANGELA: Oh, so you think you know what’s best for us, don’t you? You’s just some sheltered white boy who thinks he can just tell my boy what to do! Folks like you, you wouldn’t know your own ass from a hole in tha’ ground!
LEONARD: (Raises his voice) Ma’am, you’re being very standoffish; going after me like I just injured your son! If you think you can waltz into this church and try to insult me, you have another thing coming! (Both of them start arguing; Gabriel watches)
LEONARD: And another thing-- WOMAN: I don’t care what you have to say!
GABRIEL: Both of you, stop it!
ANGELA: Oh baby, I’m sorry! (Hugs Gabriel) I didn’t mean to scare you! Oh, I’m really sorry!
LEONARD: (Looks at the scene; says nothing)
ANGELA: (Blankly looks back at Leonard) Look, I’m sorry I blew up at you the way I did. But a mothah’s got a right to defend her young. I look at you an’ I see a young boy who don’t know any bettah’. You hide behind your wall, shootin’ off yo’ mouth like some gun, but you ain’t hittin’ no marks, cause no one wants yo’ help.
LEONARD: (Expresionless) So what do you suggest I do?
ANGELA: Boy, what you need is some sunshine. You need to find yo’self a girl, or walk aroun’ to get to grips with the world around you. From the look of it, you ain’ been out in days; you’s pale as bones!
LEONARD: I don’t really need your opinion on my looks, thank you.
ANGELA: Well, if you doan’ want mah’ opinion on that, how ‘bout this: You doan’ need this church. I see in your eyes a boy chained up by some fool notion that bein’ a priest makes you some big shot, when you just afraid.
LEONARD: I am not afraid, ma’am. I am simply a priest, teaching the word of God, and I simply misjudged the situation. And, I apologize for exploding in front of you, too.
ANGELA: Doan’ apologize to me; apologize to mah’ son.
LEONARD: (Looks at Gabriel) I’m sorry.
GABRIEL: It’s alright, mistah’. Doan’ worry ‘bout it.
LEONARD: (Looks at Angela) So, he tells me you found God here.
ANGELA: Well, ah’ did find someone here, but it wasn’t God; it was myself. I go to church every day, cause I believe the good Lord’ll look aftah’ mah’ son, so he doan’ go off bein’ some crazy nut.
LEONARD: Hm. Well, good for him.
ANGELA: Damn right it is.
LEONARD: Hmph. Well, this has been an eventful day, but I need to go. (Starts to exit stage left)
ANGELA: You know, whitebread, you got issues.
LEONARD: (Turns sharply) I don’t need you telling me that. I’m fully aware of my predicament, thank you very much.
ANGELA: Do you now?
LEONARD: Yes, I do. And I can take care of them by myself. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and take care of my own business. Thank you very much, and have a good day! (Starts walking stage left again)
ANGELA: If you’s gonna be this way to me, you ain’ gon’ make it very far with othah’ folks.
LEONARD: (Stops, then turns around and storms over to her, furious) What do you know about me?
ANGELA: I know you ain’ right in tha’ head. You look like you ain’ seen a good night’s rest in days, whitebread.
LEONARD: (Sarcastically) Well, I’m touched you care so much about me, but I don’t need your sympathy.
ANGELA: It’s clear you ain’ got sympathy fo’ yo’self.
LEONARD: And what if I don’t?
ANGELA: Then you need to find some and treasure it. They say God works in mysterious ways, but I know this much is clear: if you doan’ have the courage to love yourself, you ain’t gonna find God and yourself. God loves those who love themselves, just as he helps those who help themselves. You need to help yo’self by followin’ what’s right in your heart. Cause boy, you doan’ look like the kind o’ person who could work in the house of our good Lord.
LEONARD: (Concedes) There’s no one else who can look after this place. It’s such a miserable, squalid building, I don’t think anyone would dream of using it.
ANGELA: It ain’t the house of God that’s miserable; it’s you. No house of tha’ Lord is evah’ horrid, except for the people who can’t find it in their hearts to love him and themselves.
LEONARD: So what do you think I should do?
ANGELA: Well, what do you think you should do? I can see it in yo’ eyes, white boy; this ain’t the place for you. Why run a house of God if you doan’ have it in yo’ heart to give it the proper care? Give it to someone else who can make use of the Lord’s house without feelin’ dishonest about themselves.
LEONARD: (Pauses) You’re right. I don’t need this profession. I never wanted to be this man; this isn’t who I am. (He holds out his hand to shake) I want to apologize to you, miss. I’ve been very awful toward you, and you didn't deserve that.
ANGELA: (Declines) You helped yourself. We didn’t have anythin’ to do with that.
LEONARD: Regardless, I know what I need to do. (Smiles joyously) I think I’ll sell this old church. It should have enough money on it to help me see my dream through.
ANGELA: Glad to hear it. Now you go find tha’ Lord, an’ stick to yo’ own damn self. (Looks at Gabriel and smiles, her hands on her hips) Alright, let’s get you home. You’ve got school real soon, an’ you ain’t skimpin’ out, you understand?
GABRIEL: Yeah, mom. (Smiles at Leonard) Goodbye, mistah’ Leonard. Hope ya find God in Hollywood!
LEONARD: Thank you, Gabriel.