Prospect Park


by Frank Thomas Smith

Scene Six

Two chairs downstage center. BISHOP CASEY sits facing the audience. KENNETH sits at a 90 degree angle to him at his left. A desk is behind them upon which is a crucifix. The Bishop sits with his legs spread. He repeatedly lifts his hand to his ear and/or inclines his head toward Kenneth when the latter speaks. He is not hearing Kenneth's confession, but falls into this posture by force of habit.

BISHOP CASEY: How long has it been since we last saw each other, Kenneth?

KENNETH: It must be a good twenty years, Father ... I mean Bishop Casey.

BISHOP CASEY: You were considering entering the priesthood, if I remember correctly.

KENNETH: Not exactly. I was on the St. Francis Prep basketball team you coached.

BISHOP CASEY: Yes, of course. I thought you were interested in the priesthood as well. A forward, weren't you?

KENNETH: No, point guard.

BISHOP CASEY: That's right. Well, I must admit that your story is an extraordinary one. However, you do realize that you could have gone to your parish priest.

KENNETH: I don't have a parish priest.

BISHOP CASEY: Oh? It's terrible the shortage of priests. We could certainly use you, Kenneth. Which parish do you live in now?

KENNETH: It's not that. I left the Church long ago; no church, no parish priest.

BISHOP CASEY: I remember now, Kenny Paulson. You had a great jump shot.

KENNETH: Relatively great.

BISHOP CASEY: When did you start having doubts about the faith?

KENNETH: A long time ago, even then, when I played basketball for St. Francis. But I didn't tell anyone, I was afraid I wouldn't be allowed to play. At least it didn't affect my jump shot.

BISHOP CASEY: You always were fresh, weren't you. Maybe you should tell me about it now. How did it happen?


BISHOP CASEY: Your loss of faith.

KENNETH: It was the index of forbidden books. I was leaving mass one Sunday with a friend and they handed us the list at the door. The Three Musketeers was on it. I had just finished reading it and I had every intention of reading the sequel as soon as I could get my hands on it, which would have been a sin for a Catholic, so I decided to stop being one. Of course it wasn't that easy. But that was the beginning of the process. Do you know why The Three Musketeers is on it, Bishop CASEY?

BISHOP CASEY: As a matter of fact, no.

KENNETH: Well then, I'll tell you. One of the main characters, Cardinal Richelieu, is a really bad guy, which of course is impossible. I mean how can a Cardinal be bad? So ban it!

BISHOP CASEY: It seems a trivial reason to me.

KENNETH: Not to me. I was horrified.

BISHOP CASEY: You should have sought guidance.

KENNETH: What for? It was right there in black and white. My favorite book forbidden to me.

BISHOP CASEY: Why have you come to me now then?

KENNETH: I liked you when you were the coach and I thought now that you are a bishop you must know about these things. I'd be interested in knowing, for example, if anyone else has seen him.



BISHOP CASEY: Oh, well, every now and again someone thinks they have, although it's usually the virgin. [Thinks] There's a woman in Germany right now who has the stigmata...

KENNETH: Stigmata?

BISHOP CASEY: The wounds of Christ … five of them, on her hands, feet and breast.

KENNETH: Oh yeah, of course. I mean no, I haven't heard about her. I wonder why.

BISHOP CASEY: Because it's hardly news, except in Germany, and there only for a while.

KENNETH: Why is that? Sounds like big news to me.

BISHOP CASEY: It's only news about the power of suggestion. She also claims to experience Jesus – in the flesh.

KENNETH: Wow! Second coming?

BISHOP CASEY: Not exactly. Time travel.

KENNETH: [Pause] Oh. I assume she's a German peasant girl, like the others.

BISHOP CASEY: Actually she's an architect. And she's not even Catholic

KENNETH: Protestant?


KENNETH: Oh my God, that's so cool!

BISHOP CASEY: It's ludicrous.

KENNETH: But has anyone really seen him, according to the Church?

BISHOP CASEY: Not that I know of. That's why I can't help wondering why you should?

KENNETH: I've asked myself the same question.

BISHOP CASEY: And why he should be black.

KENNETH: Why not? There are black Madonnas in Poland, Brazil and Catalonia – even Switzerland.

BISHOP CASEY: Switzerland?

KENNETH: Sure. There's a town in Switzerland, Einsiedeln, that has a cathedral with a black Madonna in it – a statue of course – and she's holding a black Jesus in her arms. I don't know why they're black, do you?


KENNETH: In Brazil it's because someone found a small black Madonna figure in a river a half a century ago.

BISHOP CASEY: I heard about it. They built a church for it in Rio de Janeiro.

KENNETH: Sao Paulo. It must be one of the ugliest churches in existence.

BISHOP CASEY: Have you seen it, personally.

KENNETH: Yes, I was in the peace Corp. It's on the highway that connects Sao Paulo with Rio. From the outside it looks like a huge warehouse; inside like an over-sized airplane hangar. I guess a better analogy would be a supermarket. There's even a gas station in the parking lot. The church is made of brick with one endlessly repeating design – almost Arabic, but ugly. The Madonna's the size of a large doll. It's encased in a glass vault beside the main altar. You buy a ticket at the box office. I forget how much it costs – not much – and wait in line between aluminum rails that funnel you up to the altar. People like to touch in Brazil, or anywhere I guess, but the Madonna is behind glass, for security reasons probably, so all they can touch is a metal rod that extends out through the glass from the doll's foot. It's obviously a big deal for them to see the doll and touch the rod. They kneel before it and some of them even cry. It's moving and repellent at the same time. [Pause] But she's black all right.

BISHOP CASEY: That's understandable. Brazil has many black people.

KENNETH: Yes, one can assume a certain identification. But not in Switzerland – no racial identification possible there.

BISHOP CASEY: Either way, Jesus was not black.

KENNETH: No, he was a Jew.

BISHOP CASEY: So how do you explain that the person you saw and take to be him is black.

KENNETH: I can't explain it. But given the existence of black Madonnas, I don't think it's so strange.

BISHOP CASEY: The whole thing is strange.

KENNETH: You don't believe it then?

BISHOP CASEY: You haven't said anything convincing. Why should I believe it?

KENNETH: Walking on the water? That doesn't happen every day.

BISHOP CASEY: An optical illusion, your imagination, a trick, who knows? It's only your word for it; you have no witnesses, if I understood you correctly.

KENNETH: You did. I can understand you having doubts, but not an outright rejection without really knowing. What if I'm telling the truth and it was really him?

BISHOP CASEY: [Smirks] That's hardly likely.

KENNETH: Why? He's supposed to come back, isn't he?

BISHOP CASEY: Wrong color,wrong manner. Your friend doesn't coincide in any way with what we know of him.

KENNETH: What do you know of him if you haven't seen or heard him.

BISHOP CASEY: We have the Gospels, which give an exact description.

KENNETH: That was two thousand years ago. I mean NOW. Besides, I suspect there are more sides to him that what's in the gospels.

BISHOP CASEY: Perhaps you intend to write a Fifth Gospel with the Beatles supplying the music; or another Jesus Christ Superstar.

KENNETH: Now you're getting fresh, Bishop Casey.

BISHOP CASEY: [After a long pause] There is a great contradiction in all this, which constitutes the main reason why your story is unacceptable.

KENNETH: Aside from it being crazy?

BISHOP CASEY: Aside from that. [Pause] If Jesus were to come back, now, why would he appear to you and not to the Church? Why should he appear to someone who does not even belong to the Church? Our Lord cannot simply ignore his own Church!

KENNETH: If it's his, he can do what he likes with it, I should think.

BISHOP CASEY: You think wrong. For two thousand years we have been carrying out his mission. There have been a few mistakes, it's true. But we have learned from them.

KENNETH: Whatever that means.

BISHOP CASEY: Just be quiet a minute, will you. The Church has its own and his dignity and truth to uphold. And now you, Kenny Paulson, jump-shot artist, turn up and say that he has returned, black, in blue jeans and whistling Dixie.

KENNETH: Humming … Let It Be.

BISHOP CASEY: It would be irresponsible, unthinkable for him to do such a thing. Ergo, it's unacceptable.

KENNETH: Maybe he has a different concept of responsibility.

BISHOP CASEY: All the more reason to protect him from himself, to protect his name and his work. [Pause] I mean if it happened to really be … him, which of course it isn't.

KENNETH: What you're saying, Father – Bishop Casey, is that you, and/or your Church, know more about what's needed than the one you're supposed to be representing.

BISHOP CASEY: I'm only stating why it couldn't be him. I'd advise you, Kenneth Paulson, to not broadcast your - er - revelation and make a fool of yourself.

KENNETH: That's your only advice?

BISHOP CASEY: No. Come back to the Church and heed its teachings.

KENNETH: So it's either the Church or him?

BISHOP CASEY: Your him, yes. [Looks closely at Kenneth's face] What's that on your cheek? I didn't notice it before.

KENNETH: You didn't look at me before. But anyway, what's wrong with my cheek?

BISHOP CASEY: There's a red mark on it.

KENNETH: [Touches his cheek] Here?

BISHOP CASEY: It must be a rash.


BISHOP CASEY: [Goes behind the desk, takes a mirror from a drawer and hands it to Kenneth] Do you mean to tell me that you didn't have it before?

KENNETH: [Looking in the mirror] Wow! It wasn't there this morning when I shaved. It's where he kissed me.

BISHOP CASEY: This is getting grotesque, distinctly hysterical.

KENNETH: Hysterical?

BISHOP CASEY: In the medical sense: a physical manifestation of a psychic disturbance.

KENNETH: Do you think stigmata are hysterical.

BISHOP CASEY: If you are referring to that woman in Germany, I'd say yes, definitely. She and many others.

KENNETH: Like Saint Francis?

BISHOP CASEY: Saints recognized by the Church had genuine stigmata; the rest are hysterical. Besides, by definition stigmata represent Christ's wounds, not his kisses. You're not a saint, are you?

KENNETH: No, of course not. I can't explain why he picked me. Maybe I'm not the only one.

BISHOP CASEY: [Reverting to his confessional pose] Go to a doctor, have it treated. Cortisone will take care of it.

KENNETH: Do you really think so?

BISHOP CASEY: Yes, it works wonders. I have eczema too. Cortisone treatments offer the only relief.

KENNETH: [Looks closely at him] Where?

BISHOP CASEY: Not on my face.


BISHOP CASEY: [Scratches his crotch, smiles] Would you like to see?

KENNETH: Actually … no.

BISHOP CASEY: The itching would be intolerable if it weren't for the cortisone. Are you sure you don't want to see?

KENNETH: [Touching his cheek] This doesn't itch at all, it tingles. And it's not intolerable; it's most agreeable.

BISHOP CASEY: All the more reason to have it treated.

KENNETH: You don't like it, do you? Evidence like this disturbs you. Like Brownsville.

BISHOP CASEY: Brownsville?

KENNETH: A neighborhood in Brooklyn where the poverty rate is over fifty percent and most of the people live on food stamps. It also has the most births to teen mothers in the city. It's part of your diocese. Do you know where it is?

BISHOP CASEY: Of course I know where it is.

KENNETH: When did you last visit it?

BISHOP CASEY: Why should I visit Brownsville?

KENNETH: The people are very poor there. It reminds me of the favelas in Brazil. And Jesus hung out with the poor, didn't he?

BISHOP CASEY: First of all, you can't compare Brooklyn with Brazil. And secondly, the poor will be with us always, according to Jesus.

KENNETH: The difference between the favelas in Brazil and the poverty in Brownsville is that in Brazil it's horizontal in shacks and in the Brownsville projects it's vertical.

BISHOP CASEY: I think we have a soup kitchen there.

KENNETH: Where exactly?

BISHIP CASEY: Our Lady of … Something.

KENNETH: Congratulations! You're a bishop with a soup kitchen, you think. And I'm an ad man with a big mouth, suddenly. [Pause] Hey, Bishop Casey, what do you say we get together and do an advertising campaign about Brownsville – awaken social consciousness, as they say. Your money and my know-how. This advertisement is brought to you by the archdiocese … no, then you'd be an archbishop, and you ain't there yet. This announcement is brought to you by the diocese of Brooklyn. At the bottom there's a pic of a dead mutilated cat. Text. Who killed this cat? A ten-year-old child. Why? Because in Brownsville children's souls are destroyed. Who destroys then? We do. The ad-men, the bishops and priests, the bankers, the drug dealers. And let us not forget the politicians and the turnstile teachers. And the television and movie people – assassins of the first order. No bloody Ghengis Kahn or Hitler was as efficient a killer as those creative geniuses. Previously only bodies could be killed. So what can you do? You with your hands dripping blood, you average rosy-cheeked murderers. Stop! Get off the bandwagon! Something like that Bishop Casey. What do you think?

BISHOP CASEY: You're crazy. You better get hold of yourself before it's too late and you explode.

KENNETH: That's exactly what I feel like doing: exploding. Wham! Don't worry Bishop Casey, I won't do it here. It'd be wasted effort. You'd have me scraped off the walls in no time.

BISHOP CASEY: You'll have to leave now. I have a busy appointment schedule today. [Stands] I wish I could say it's been a pleasure seeing you again.

KENNETH: It hasn't?

BISHOP CASEY: Decidedly not. Go now, and God bless you.

KENNETH: Thanks Father, I mean Bishop. Thanks very much. (Exits]

[Blackout, except for the crucifix, which glows in the dark for a few seconds.]

Author's note: This is a work in progress, so there might be some inconsistencies with previous scenes, which will be corrected when the final scene (7) has been finished, and the whole play is available as a pdf file.

Scenes 1 and 2

Scenes 3 and 4