In my unpacking I finally unearthed the play you asked about. Here it is. I think I will also submit it to the online magazine I write for, since it looks like it held up pretty well. My advantage is that I saw it performed, and the cast did a wonderful job.
"The Picture" was first presented in the Evangelical Covenant Church in Escanaba, Michigan about forty-five years ago by high school students of the church, then subsequently in other venues with some cast changes.
Here are the players, now in their early sixties, as I remember them and as I still see them when I read the play: Sheila Piche, Kerry Anderson, Kathy Sundquist, Larry Branstrom, Karen Lundeen, Bonnie Branstrom, Ron Kern. They must all be past sixty by now.
A play in one act
Copyright 1965, 2009
The scene is the chancel of a Protestant church, Dominating the rear wall is a picture of Christ. If the play is being performed in a church, the appointments of the chancel should be as they are on Sunday morning.
At curtain the house and stage are dark. Then, from the rear of the church, a light goes on. Then a feminine voice from behind the audience.)
Sue. You go ahead and turn on the lights in front and I'll turn this off. No sense in having them all on.
LorraineRight. (Lorraine comes down the side aisle and turns on the chancel and choir light. Then Sue in the back turns off the audience lights and comes down the aisle. Both are high school girls, about sixteen or seventeen.) We're awfully early.
Sue. So, if we had gone home first we would just turned around and come right back. What time is it?
Sue. They'll be along pretty quick, then.
Lorraine. Is Esther coming?
Sue. I don't know. I haven't seen her for a while.
Lorraine. I hope she does. She has to start sometime.
Sue. (doubtfully) I hope so too.
Lorraine. Why did you say it that way?
Sue. I mean maybe she won't come back to church at all.
Lorraine. But that's silly! Why wouldn't she?
Sue. Is it so silly after what her father did? Now that she is alone with her mother? It's going to take courage for her to come back, that's what I think.
Lorraine. I guess so. But it will be shame if she doesn't. She's the best alto we've got.
Sue. Lorraine, that's not the only reason for coming to church.
Lorraine. I suppose not. Sue, is Ben going with Esther?
Sue. Not that I know of. Why?
Lorraine. Oh, I see them talking once in a while or walking to class together. I've heard that he wants to date her pretty bad, but she keeps putting him off.
Sue. I don't know, Lorraine. You can't believe everything you hear.
Lorraine. You might think Ben's Dad might object since he's such a big wheel in the church, and after what Mr. Hardin did—
Sue. Nobody blames Esther for what her father did. That would be stupid.
Lorraine. But you just said—
Sue. I was talking about the way Esther might feel, not what others feel.
Sue. And if Esther does come tonight, for goodness' sake let's leave her alone. She's had enough trouble without people stirring it up.
Lorraine. When do I make trouble?
Sue. (not nasty.) Whenever you open your mouth.
Lorraine. Well, all right!
Sue. And don't sulk, either.
Lorraine. Who's sulking? (wandering about restlessly) I wish somebody else would come. It's creepy in here.
Sue. You've been coming here every Sunday since you were born.
LorraineI know, but this is the first time I've been in it with it empty and dark like this. If you weren't here I'd really have the jumps.
Sue. (Looking around, her eyes settling on the picture) I think it's the picture that does that.
Lorraine. Do you? (Also looking at the picture.) Maybe so.
(Commotion in the back of the sanctuary. Ben enters, very wet. A teenager, of the same age as the girls)
Sue. Is it raining?
Ben. Is it raining, she says. In buckets.
Lorraine. I suppose that means nobody will come.
Ben. Well, I wouldn't have if I had known it was going to be like this. You must have come early.
Sue. We did. We were at the library, and instead of going home we had hamburgers at Snoopy's.
Lorraine. (Staring at the picture again.) Ben, we were just saying how creepy it is in here without a lot of people around. Do you think so?
Ben. Sure. Ever since we got that picture.
Sue. We thought the same thing. Why is that, do you suppose?
Ben. Maybe it makes us feel guilty, or something. After all, whose picture is it? That's the point, isn't it?
Unnoticed, the rear door opens and someone enters.
Sue. (Avoiding the subject) Ben, do you know if Esther is coming?
Ben. Why ask me?
Lorraine. We were just wondering. We've seen you together lately. We thought you might bring her tonight. But you didn't.
Ben. (A little angry) Thanks for the suggestion, (Pause) All right, as a matter of fact I did ask her and she turned me down. So I don't know whether she is coming or not.
Sue. I wish she would come.
Esther. (from the rear) Should I blow a horn?
Sue. Esther! How long have you been standing there?
Esther. Just for a minute.
Lorraine. Come on up. Ben was teaching us what we ought to believe.
Esther. It sounded more like you were talking about me.
Sue. We were just wondering if you were coming.
Esther. Well, here I am.
(An uneasy pause).
Lorraine. Esther, we're playing a little game before the others come. What do you feel about the picture?
Esther. What about it?
Lorraine. Does it give you the creeps?
Esther. Of course not. It's just a picture.
Lorraine. (mimicking Ben) But whose picture is it? That's the point, isn't it?
Esther. All right, you tell me. Whose picture is it?
Lorraine. But—it's Jesus. You know that.
Esther. How do you know it's Jesus? Do you recognize him?
Sue. I think this conversation is getting out of hand. Let's either change the subject or go home. Nobody else is coming in this rain anyhow.
Ben. Now wait, Esther's right. How do we know it's Jesus? Is that what Jesus is like? Besides, Sue, you don't want to go home now. You'll ruin your hair.
Sue. Oh, all right. But I must say, Esther, you surprise me. Ben would rather argue than eat, but you're not that way. Are you mad because you overheard us talking about you? We never said anything, really.
Esther. It's not important. I didn't bring it up. We can talk about something else.
Sue. Ben, Esther said let's talk about something else.
(Ben shrugs, and nobody says anything. Lorraine fidgets noticeably, then turns to the picture defiantly.)
Lorraine. He's looking at me.
Lorraine. I don't care. He is!
Esther. If he is, what does it matter? It's Jesus, isn't it? That's what you said.
Sue. So here we go again.
Lorraine. I don't like the idea of his looking at me. He's the Son of God, isn't he? It's creepy, him looking at me like that.
Ben.. But it's only a picture. And we don't even know that it's Jesus, since we don't know what Jesus looks like.
Sue. A picture can't look at people. It's an artist's trick. (She moves to extreme down right). Look, from over here I can say that he's looking at me too, but it doesn't mean a thing.
Esther. That's what I think. It doesn't mean a thing. It could be anybody's picture, and if you were alone with it in a dark empty place it might give you the willies. But that doesn't have any more to do with God or with Jesus than with—anything.
Lorraine. That doesn't make sense. Why would we have it hanging in the front of the church if it didn't mean anything?
Esther. I don't know. Tradition, I suppose.
Lorraine. Well, but—That's what Jesus looks like. That's what he's always looked like. What else would he look like? I can recognize him just like I can recognize anybody.
Ben. You recognize him from other pictures. Nobody even took a photograph of him, obviously.
Lorraine. You guys are just getting me confused. I like him that way. I want him to be that way. I can't think of him being any other way. Doesn't anybody agree with me?
Ben. I agree with you, Lorraine. Sort of. At least I see what you mean. Sure, we can say he's looking at us from the picture if we want to. But he's not accusing us. It looks to me as though he likes us. The man in the picture is strong and good. That's what I want him to be. If we think he is accusing us, it's because he shows us up so much, and we realize we are supposed to be like him. (He finds himself at the pulpit) But if I can't tell others that God is strong and good like the man in that picture, I don't know what I could tell them. I don't know why we'd even have a church, then.
Sue. But Ben, you've just been saying—
Ben. Forget what I've been saying. You said yourself I would rather argue than eat. Besides, now I'm talking about what I want to believe, not about what I can prove. The picture is a kind of reminder of what God is like.
Esther. But why should you need it? Maybe God isn't that way at all. Maybe the picture is a lie. This is so easy for all of you, isn't it? Even you, Ben. You just accept everything. Your folks tell you something, and it's so. The Pastor tells you something, and it's so because he said it. You believe in Jesus like you used to believe in Santa Claus. Isn't Santa strong and good? You're just playing around with this subject because it's raining outside and you don't want to get caught in it. You're going to have to tell me more about God than that he's like the man in the picture. That's not enough for me!
Sue. But Esther, you believe in Christ. You're a Christian.
Esther. Sure I believed it. Because my father believed it. Is that a good reason? (She is not crying, but is bitter and defiant)
Lorraine. Maybe we ought to go.
Ben. (subdued) Do you want to go now, Esther?
Esther. (Calming down) Not yet. My mother won't pick me up for another hour.
Ben. Then we'll wait with you.
(Lorraine shrugs and checks out of the conversation)
Esther. You're good kids. I had no business talking to you that way. I must be ready to fly into a million pieces.
Sue. That's all right, Esther.
Esther. Do you know what I want to do most? I want to get away. From my mother, from this town, so I'll never have to hear about it again. Oh sure, people are kind to me, but the only real kindness they could do would be to stop talking about my father. And they won't. In a town like this they'll talk about him for fifty years.
Ben. These things do blow over, Esther.
Esther. Oh, yes. But when they do remember my father they'll remember only one thing about him. Not that he was the best lawyer in town, not that he was a deacon in the church and a Sunday School teacher. They'll remember just one thing: he lived with my mother until he couldn't take it any more and then ran off with the sexiest schoolteacher in town. And that cancels out all the good he did, doesn't it? (turns to face the picture). That man in the picture—he was my father's God. Everything I learned about him I got either directly or indirectly from my father. And then I learned that he didn't believe it enough to stick to it himself. If he didn't, why should I?
Sue. Have you talked to the Pastor since your father left?
Esther. No. I suppose I ought to.
Sue. He might be able to help you.
Ben. Now wait a minute. I agree she ought to see the Pastor. But what about us? We're Christians, aren't we? Don't we have anything to say that means anything? I think Esther was right to accuse us of just playing games.
Sue. All right, Ben. If you know that much. I don't know what to say.
Ben. Don't get mad, Sue. I only meant—
Sue. I'm not mad. And I know what you meant!
(Lorraine is startled by the raised voice and begins to pay attention.)
Ben. I don't think you do. God isn't good just because we say he is or even because he says he is, but because he acts like it. If we're playing games here, How about this one? Each of us tell something God did for us that showed he was good.
Sue. That's getting awfully personal, Ben.
Ben. So was what Esther told us.
LorraineI think it's a good idea.
Ben. Then do you want to start?
LorraineWell—I guess it is silly. I remember my cat got up a telephone pole and a fireman had to come and get it down, and he was real nice about it even after she clawed his hand real bad. So when I think about God I remember how nice the fireman was. (pause) I said it was silly.
Sue. I remember that . We were only about four years old. I never thought of it that way before.
Ben. How about it, Sue? Do you want to play?
Sue. I can't think of anything to say. No, wait. I remember this one time I saw a horror movie on television and it nearly frightened me out of my mind. I kicked and screamed when it was time to go to bed, because I didn't want to be alone. Then while Dad tucked me in he talked and talked about how much God loved me and how he was right there with me. I still think of that every single night.
Ben. My grandmother died when she was just past fifty. I hardly remember her, except that I thought she was the most wonderful person in the world and I was mad at God for letting her die. I said it right out loud, My parents tried to shut me up, but my Grandfather took over instead. He sat me on his lap and told me how wonderful God was and that someday he would tell us why Grandma died. I didn't think much of that at the time, but as I got older I got to thinking that if Grandpa could say that on the same day that his wife died, there must be something to it.
Sue. Ben, we all told about things that happened when we were little kids.
Ben. I know it. It doesn't say much for us, does it?
Esther. It doesn't matter. I appreciated all of it. Do you want to know why I came tonight? Mainly to get out of the house. I thought I didn't care about God or the church any more, but it's not easy to get rid of God. As you told your stories I though of a dozen things that happened to me. Who did them? God did them. You reminded me that God does do things for people I suppose I mean that God is good because he's God, and if he were bad he wouldn't let us have anything good. There wouldn't be people like that fireman, or Sue's Dad, or Ben's Grandpa. If God were bad he would hate for anyone to love, or be unselfish, or even be kind. (slowly) If God weren't good there wouldn't be people like my father, who did good things because he loved God. Then he did a bad thing, a terrible thing, but that doesn't cancel all the good things. It only shows how good they were.
(They are all very solemn.)
Sue. You were right about the game., Ben. What God does is personal.
Ben. (with a self-conscious laugh) This has been some choir practice. And I can still hear the rain coming down.
LorraineI'm beginning to feel like we're in the Ark, and Ben is Noah.
(Pastor enters from rear. They shade their eyes to see who it is, then call out, "Hi, Pastor," etc.)
Pastor. What are you kids doing here?
Sue. We came for choir practice, but now we're just waiting for the rain to stop.
Pastor. Choir practice has been called off, but you have probably figured that out by now. I saw the lights on. I can take you home, if you hustle.
Esther. You go ahead. I live too far out of the way, and Mom is picking me up in an hour.
Ben. I can take you home, Esther.
Pastor. Good. That's settled then. Would you mind locking up, Ben?
LorraineYou didn't say anything about having your car, Ben.
Ben shrugs noncommittally. Sue and Lorraine put on their coats and follow the pastor up the aisle. They say their mutual goodbyes and exit)
Esther. I didn't see your car outside.
Ben. It's at home. (Talking fast) It's only a short walk, and we can dash across the street and have a Coke at Snoopy's until the rain lets up. You can call your mother from there and tell her you have a ride. (She is silent) Or you can wait here alone.
Esther. All right. I'll take your offer.
Ben. Good. I'll go back and switch on that light, and you turn off these.
Esther. Ben, I think I understand more than I did.
Ben. So do I. (turns on house lights)
Esther. God is in this place, isn't he? Not in the picture but here with us. (turns off stage light).
Ben. I think he is here because we're here, and will go with us when we go.
Esther. I hope that more than anything. (She walks down the aisle to join him. Then the house lights go dark, followed by the sound of a door closing.)