Darcie Dennigan is the author of Madame X (Canarium Books), The Dept of Ephebic Dreamery (Forklift Books), and Corinna A-Maying the Apocalypse (Fordham University Press).
The Play About the Nun
(The author looks out at the audience and talks as if she’s a suspect in an interrogation room and
the police may or may not be listening on the other side of the glass.)
For years now, I’ve been trying to write a play about a nun.
“For one whom voluntarily abandons the world can recognize one whom the world
For what I’ve really been trying to write? A play about Satan.
Here’s the opening:
“Scene: A middle-class Satanic interior, with Satanic armchairs. A Satanic evening.
Mr. Smith, a Satanist, seated in his Satanic armchair and wearing Satanic slippers, is
smoking his Satanic hookah and reading a Satanic blog, near a Satanic fire. He is
wearing Satanic spectacles and a Satanic beard. Beside him, in another Satanic
armchair, Mrs. Smith, also a Satanist, is knitting a Satanic muff. A long moment of
But then I read somewhere that Satan had died.
(Starts to make the sign of the cross and then shakes it off.)
And that must have been why it was so hard to write about Satan. My titles alone!
“Hail Satan: A Nostalgia”
“Bonfires Minus the Fires”
“In the Shadow of No Satan”
I need help.
And since the last person on record to see Satan alive was Herman Melville—
(Never mind the fact that the letters in his name, rearranged, also spell
MER-MAN HELL EVIL)
(The letters in his name basically spell a synonym for the Leviathan!)
(Also EVIL HELL MEN ARM!)
(I could keep going)
(She sneaks one more in quickly)
(LEARN HELL ME VIM.) (If you’re using a Finnish accent.)
(She tries for dignity again)
…I’m asking him to be my guide, my Virgil.
(The author puts on a nun costume and announces the Prologue)
Scene: A nun beneath a black umbrella walks and talks around Herman Melville, who, no matter how
tall he is, no matter what the nun says or does to him, is the height of stoicism.
(She says all this to the audience, but not for them. It’s for the benefit of Herman Melville, who stands
off to one side, looking straight out to the audience.)
When I was young and still living in Newfoundland, I had a lover who, poor devil, was a
fearer of cunts.
Oh he was brave and plunged—
But he said the word cunt brought to his head cuttlefish—raw and recently cudgeled
Vagina then? I would politely suggest—
But vagina prolonged his recoil—
Vagina, I could tell he was thinking, was too highfalutin—
Too close in rhyme to Regina—
(Then she pretends to suddenly notice him and starts to flirt brightly but wrongly, as if she’s part Blanche
DuBois and part battleaxe Girl Scout den mother)
All day I’ve been drooling after you, Herman Melville—
Beyond all that bristle on your chin, I’ve noticed—
(I have all your daguerreotypes—)
Noticed that your mouth is always slightly … open
Is your mouth waiting for something?
(She pretends he reacts to this question even though he doesn’t)
Herman—kiss you? I won’t!
1) I’m a nun now
2) You, you might prefer a man
3) And I might (by mistake!) crisscross celestial & libidinal, but I think that a kiss is no
afterlife and I think that an afterlife is what you are—after?
Note to self: Tomorrow, remember to decide whether his mouth was slightly open not out
of desire exactly but—
(She can’t think of a word.)
Herman, I am also a big collector of Leviathan memorabilia. I love Leviathans.
(She checks herself.)
I meant to say that suggestively—it didn’t come out right. Let me try that again.
(Gets closer to him)
I love Leviathans.
Whale, squid, hellish princes.
And that’s where we’ll leave it, Herman.
I’m a nun now and nothing can happen.
I just like—
(She whirls her umbrella.)
But let me tell you a story about the husband of a friend of a friend of mine—
He was some kind of scientist—of fish—
And he had, in a tank the size of a honeymoon suite, a colossal squid—
And I was going to get to go swimming with it. For research purposes.
I was at the time a literary critic—
At work on a book on Tennyson’s “The Kraken”—
I had great plans for bringing out the latent—
Just the phrase unnumbered and enormous polypi—
But to the point—
While swimming in the tank with the squid, I kept thinking of how Satan has a threepronged
And simultaneously I was thinking of how once, below a newspaper photo of a lady at a
flower show, the caption had a typo. It was supposed to say orchids, but—
It said “she enjoys crossing orifices.”
And in the tank, was I nervous? The only notation I made in my waterproof notebook was
Orchid Lady, May I introduce you to Mr. Three-Prongedness?
Ma’am and sir, what the heck, it could all be so very simultaneous.
(Pretending she’s received a lascivious look from Herman Melville)
Me? Oh, no thanks—I don’t—I don’t actually like—
I would be a vegetarian except that I also don’t like vegetables.
I would be a feminist except that I also don’t like females.
But Herman, have we properly met?
My name is Darcie—
It means dark fortress—
And you, Herman—
Their nickname for you is Fabulous Shadow—
(She gets pretty close to him, but he has almost no reaction.)
Perhaps you could visit me in my fortress—
Maybe I could recline in your shade—
Yes? Too suggestive?
Herman Melville, do you take umbrage at that?
Well then here—
(She shoves the umbrella into his hand, and he holds it for the rest of the scene.)
When you finished Moby Dick, you wrote, to your friend—
Whom, they say, you were most definitely in love with—
Not just because you dedicated a book full of seamen and spermwhaling to him—
You wrote to your friend to forget the whale
You wrote that you know of a bigger fish
You traveled to the desert to see the pyramids.
That’s my question—
I want to know about the bigger fish—
(Nothing from Herman.)
(She changes her demeanor. Now more like in Casablanca, like Ilsa Lund when she pretends to be
helpless and throws herself on Rick in his upstairs office late at night.)
It’s an it’s-the-fin-du-monde-and-we’re-still-around kiss
(she gives it to him)
(Acting as if she just thought of it)
You’ve been annihilated?
(She very quickly drops that and switches back to her Blanche/battleaxe flirtiness.)
Ok, let’s play a little game. I ask you ‘this or that’ and you pick one—
Like, rabbit? or cat?
(No reaction from Herman)
Don’t worry your whiskers. That was a for instance—
Here are the real questions—
Parasol? Or Umbrella?
The finger? Or The hand of God?
And if Hand, The hollow of the hand? Or The palm?
(She has his hand in hers now, and now she kisses his hand in farewell, and starts speaking again to the
Herman Melville is not my most important lover—
My most important lover is the next one, the big fish—
The bigger fish—
Herman is not even my most important lover to date—
My most important lover to date was not worried about the impending apocalypse—
No, he was not—
The apocalypse he said has gone, it is come and has gone—
He listened to breezes—
He brought me violets, purple and limp, in his large balletic fingers—
But he was not—do not be—mistaken—
Our sores and suckmarks, and the struggle at depths of several hundred fathoms—
The whale and the kraken—
(Now very formally, as if asked a question in a job interview--)
No, sex, no matter how dark, was never a portal. Thus the nunnery.
(Then, as if he had not heard what she just said, she turns and in a grotesque seduction, whispers to
Herman, who remains expressionless under the umbrella)
But baby, it’s your head that’s the last undiscovered islet. Come on now, let’s play—
Impassive face? Or pasteboard mask?
The green of the grass? Or the black of the walled street?
(When she gets no reaction, she turns bright and kindergarten teacher-like again)
Prison? Or prison?
(And then she walks away, frustrated, and takes off the habit.)
(Looking at the audience as if they have the answer, but also as if they are not there.)
Have to work in the beard.
Melville writes in his novel Pierre:
“It had always been one of the lesser ambitions of Pierre, to sport a flowing beard, which he
deemed the most noble corporeal badge of the man, not to speak of the illustrious author”—
Something about beards.
The alternate title of Pierre is The Ambiguities.
How to ask Melville to be my Virgil...
The nun could ask him.
The nun could ask him to be her high priest.
And when she asks this, his beard twitches
(Herman Melville’s beard twitches)
(The author catches that and moves closer to direct him.)
No, but it’s not a sneer.
(He twitches again)
It’s—he has just swallowed—and not saliva—
(Another try at twitching.)
There’s a slight twitch after the high priest question because he has stuffed himself further
down into himself.
Because he would have agreed to be no one’s priest.
Which is exactly why I want him as mine.
I trust only the leaders who refuse to lead.
Yes, you! I’m talking about you.
(Now to the audience, but as if it’s completely empty, as if she’s rehearsing in front of a mirror)
There are real characters coming.
There is real evil.
Or maybe it’s that there were real characters here once, and real evil—
Or they were out there in the real world, which never seems real until it’s over.
Please believe: before they arrive here, in the antechamber of death, and dissolve into
nothingness, the characters have existed.
(Thereupon re-donning the nun habit, and taking up her place by Herman Melville…)
May I call you Pierre?
(She grabs his yam sack.)
(She is satisfied, and turns to the audience and talks to them this time as if Herman Melville, the
Herman Melville, were not standing beneath an umbrella behind her.)
I was ready to sin blackly.
But against what—
The sin could not be sex.
I was ready to sin blackly—
so strongly and blackly that the giant squids would leave the ocean and slide naked through
I was ready to sin blackly—
(She breaks her own intensity and turns very naturally and sincerely to Herman Melville)
Dear Herman, would you make out with me while I think of what to say next?
(Thirty seconds tops, and she pulls away, wipes her mouth, and carries on)
I was ready to sin blackly, ready to see ghosts, to find portals.
I was ready to be great, to act, to be as full of hate as it takes—
So I went, with my high priest—
(She puts a necktie around his neck and exchanges the umbrella for a briefcase)
to the city, way downtown, to chambers on the second floor, where the windows overlooked
other buildings’ walls—
where we would not be able to see the squids in the clouds—
(end of Prologue)