We are offering a series of chancel dramas designed for the worship of all ages. They were produced at Grace Episcopal Church by its rector, 1973 – 1985, Joe Morris Doss
GO DOWN JOSEPH
CAST OF CHARACTERS and PLAYERS:
23 actors (could simply have the audience use imaginations for Potiphar, Potiphar’s Wife, Potiphar’s Chef, and the Pharaoh)
2 females (if Potiphar’s wife is used)
5 non-gender specific
16 men (though certain of the roles with designated male names could be played by women)
— Phantoms (2, or more)
— Brothers of Joseph (11)
— Sister of Joseph
— Potiphar’s Wife
— Pharaoh’s Chef
— Story book
— Cloak, many-colored
— Replacement cloak, torn and bloodied
The Joseph story was used as a combination of the Old Testament reading and the sermon. At Grace we did not use the other appointed readings. Although we did not do so in the original performance, we could have used selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. Standing at the head of the aisle and on the lowest chancel step – the place from which the sermon was usually proclaimed – with the children and any adults who wished to join them sitting on the floor in front of him, the preacher began by asking the children what were their favorite books and stories. As he spoke drawing materials were distributed and they were told that they could draw something about the play if they wished, during or afterwards. Refreshments were also distributed, as often was made available during performances, such as canola bars or popcorn.
(To the children) One of my favorite stories is about a man named Joseph. It is told in the Bible. (To the adults) I have heard it claimed that this story is the first novel, because it has the elements and complications of plot that we see in a fully developed novel. Actually, if that is so, it is the first of a series. (To the children as well as the adults) Do you know what the word Bible means? It simply means “library”. Our sacred scripture is a whole library of stories, histories, legends, poetry, songs, wise sayings, and prophecies – all the sorts of books to be found in any library.
In this novel we begin to see the ups and downs of the story of God’s people, how good fortune can lead to bad and bad to good. Scripture, this story teaches us, is not merely a matter of good things happening to good people, or the imposition of divine punishment when people do bad things or disobey God. This is an entirely realistic depiction of people struggling to live under God’s reign. And most to the point: the story reveals how God can bring good out bad. We see the founders of the faith doing an evil thing, a very evil thing, and how that act led to the immigration of the Hebrew people into Egypt and thus saved them from a great famine; but then, as we continue to read, we see how the people fell into slavery…but, how they finally were rescued to be given a special relationship with God and form one of the world’s great and lasting religions; then there are lots of wanderings and adventures and wars, and a land is conquered, a nation is formed – which finally becomes a great kingdom with a fully advanced civilization; but… then the people break apart into two nations, one of which disappears from history, the other one comes to be called Judea, which is conquered by one empire after another over several centuries. What holds it together is the unique religion of the people and their prophets, until the Jews are taken away from the promised land into exile in Babylon. Then their heirs return and re-establish the kingdom of Israel, which also keeps getting conquered and oppressed by powerful empires, one of which is in control when Jesus comes, and…well, that story is still being written.
(Someone brings out a chair and a big children’s book; the preacher sits in front of the children and opens the book as though to read from it) But let’s go back to this first story, the one that led to all this.
(The use of the present progressive tense is intentional) Once upon a time, and long long ago, Abraham and Sarah are great grandparents prospering in the wilderness of Canaan as settlers, and their clan is starting to be well established. Their grandson Jacob has 12 boys and, well, we are going to say that he had one daughter: (the sister of Joseph appears, and then each son makes a dramatic appearance, according to the actor’s choice – like doing a cartwheel or a little dance – is named, and pushes the daughter into the background ). There was Judah, Issacher, Zebulun, Reuben, Simeon, Gad, Ephraim, Manesseh, Benjamin, Dan Asher, Naphtali and Joseph. We don’t know the daughter’s name. (The sister makes an appropriate gesture, perhaps, a “shucks”, or an “of course”, or a “why?”, or a “forget them”, takes the book from the preacher, gestures for her or him to leave, and takes the seat.)
Then I will read the story, thank you very much. (The preacher joins the children, and helps them remain attentive during the play.)
I am the favorite…
(completing the sentence, though Joseph thought he had) Son!
(surprised) …son. Yes, I am the favorite son.
Bummer. Why him?
(In a burst of frustration and hostility, they fall into a series of accusations and jealous remarks, but which acknowledge the fact that Joseph is the favorite. The following are three examples.)
Yeah, why does Father like him more than me, or you, or you?
Joseph is nothing special.
Just a spoiled brat, that’s what I say he is.
(Puts his arm around Joseph)
How can I help it? You are the star, the stalwart youth, the brightest and the best. You are the picture of the all-Hebrew boy!
(More gripes and complaining, e.g.)
Give me a break
Thank you Daddy. (To his brothers) Look, I didn’t ask for his preferential treatment, but I admit that I did once have a dream in which you all bowed down to me.
(Angry groans, gestures and actions indicate that they would like to hurt him)
Well, that is a strange dream. We are not royalty, but only farmers and ranchers, and family members do not bow to family members. Your dream cannot possibly be fulfilled. Still, one has to take dreams seriously. (More moans and complaints from the brothers)
Joseph, you are now of age. It is time for me to bestow a gift upon you. You will wear it as a sign that when I am ready to yield up the forces of my life, it is you who shall place your hands on my loins to receive my manly and spiritual potency, it is your head on which I will place my hands, it is you to whom I will give my blessing.
(One faints, the others start rending their clothes, falling on their knees, keening, and so forth. Dan goes to a corner and moves his jaws furiously)
No, no, no.
Say it ain’t so
My life is worthless
We are ruined
We are lost
Not fair, not fair
There is no justice
No Father, please no
(and so on)
(goes to Dan)
What are you doing?
I am gnashing my teeth! (Opens his mouth to demonstrate)
Boys, boys, boys. I only have one blessing to give, and I have to choose. I will share my lands, cattle, goods, and possessions with all of you, but I can’t share out my one blessing. My brother Esau could tell you all about that. So, I choose as my heart tells me to. Joseph, as a sign of my blessing to come, I bestow upon you this many-colored cloak – yes, an extravagantly expensive one – to manifest your outstanding nature, abilities, and character. (In New Orleans a gaudy Mardi Gras costume was loaned by one of the parishioners, a Captain of a Krewe, but any fancy garb would serve, including a cope or some other church vestment.) Now you really stand out. (Joseph proudly shows off his new clothes to the congregation, while the brothers suffer)
(As though she has been reading from the book, looking up to the children) How does it feel inside when you think that someone is being treated better than you? Do you understand how the brothers of Joseph feel? Do you feel sorry for them? OK, but now I want you to think about what they should do. What would be best? What would God want them to do? Well, they did something about being treated unfairly. Do you want to know what they did? (Opens the book back up)
I hate Joseph.
He does not deserve the coat.
He does not deserve the blessing.
He does not deserve for Father to love him best.
That’s not his fault!
(Ephraim and Manesseh approach Reuban menacingly and put him in between them)
Shut up Reuben or we’ll sandwich you and eat you alive in a New York second.
You are supposed to be out there shepherding all this whole week. You had best get to the hills; tend our sheep, boy. (Reuben leaves for the hills. But doesn’t leave the “stage”)
I have a plan. Huddle up. (They confer excitedly and act like they are drawing up a football play.)
And so they come up with a plan. They dig a deep hole (The huddle shifts to form a big hole-like space. Joseph and the brothers then act out the scene that is described here.) Joseph’s own brothers then sneak up on him and overwhelm him. They take his coat of many colors. (Some of them start fighting over it) They tie him up, gag him, drag him to the deep pit, and dump him in, (the hole is re-formed from the ground up; Joseph is placed in the middle and acts like he is falling, the lights of the church flash, while the pit rises around him, to give the illusion that Joseph is going down into it, sinking deep beneath the top) so deep that he can’t get out even if he isn’t all tied up. Then, they wait until some slavers come along – you know, people who buy slaves and sell them for a profit.
(To children) Come on, let’s be the mean old slaver traders. That’s right, stand up and look at your parents and the others in the pews: show them how mean and greedy you are, how bad you can be. Can’t you act like you are bad, even though we know you are never ever bad or ever ever do anything wrong. Right? Oh really? Well, let’s just say we are going to be good actors. Now, let’s go buy that boy from his brothers. What do you think about those brothers? Show everyone out there a face that shows what you think about those brothers and what they are doing to Joseph. That’s good, very good. Now let’s bargain. (Lots of exaggerated, but brief, gesturing, using fingers for numbers, etc.) Very good. Now, let’s get Joseph and take him to someone who pays good money for slaves. (The children reach down and pull Joseph up, who acts at being pulled out of a deep hole, and stands there looking miserable, until the children start to lead him away in the direction the preacher chooses. Everyone acts out the roles as described here.) Actually, those slavers are headed to Egypt, a rich rich kingdom, where the Pharaoh is always looking for more slaves. So, here we are in front of a pyramid of Egypt. See it? Big isn’t it? I bet you didn’t think it was going to be this big. One of the wonders of the world! Here is the Pharaoh.
They bargain with his Captain of the Personal Royal Guard, Potiphar, and sell my brother Joseph to be a slave in his household. (Preacher has led the children back to where they had been seated and gathers them as the reader proceeds. Joseph, the Slave Master, and the Pharaoh act out their parts) Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my other brothers are already feeling pretty miserable. They are feeling awfully guilty and suddenly they think about our Father. What are they going to tell him? They have to come up with yet another plan.
You see, this is the way it works when we do something wrong. We then do others things that are wrong, perhaps in attempting to hide what we did, sometimes telling a lie to cover up or stonewall an investigation into what we did. It just gets bigger and bigger and more awful, spinning out of control.
(To the other brothers, and then to the children.) Let’s get a kid and kill it.
(To the children) The child of a goat is called a kid. Yeah, that’s where that came from.
Then we will take the blood and smear it all over the coat. No, we can’t keep it. We have to use it to convince Father that Joseph has been killed by a wild animal. (A replacement cloak, torn and bloodied is produced and carried by one of the sons to Jacob)
And that is what they did. It worked, and then they realized how the news, with the proof of the death of Joseph, broke Jacob’s heart.
(Grabbing his heart and falling back into the arms of his sons) My heart. My heart. I am a broken old man.
It has made him an old man over night.
But there is nothing we can do about it now.
Jacob just resolved to live out his days, but they were days without joy. Meanwhile, back among the pyramids of Egypt. (Again, everyone acts out the assigned roles.) At first Joseph does the lowliest and most demeaning tasks, but his talents are soon discovered and he becomes the head of the servants of Potiphar. Oops, that means that Potiphar’s wife gets to know him, finds him attractive, and soon she is trying to seduce him. But despite her best efforts, Joseph refuses to betray his master Potiphar. So, she tells a lie about him and Joseph is thrown into jail, where he wastes away for years. A slave in jail: is there anything lower? But, while there Joseph meets the Pharaoh’s chef and helps him to correctly interpret one of the Pharaoh’s dreams and that puts the man back in his kitchen.
It becomes increasingly apparent, what Jacob realized long ago: Joseph is a very, very gifted person, and in Egypt he has grown to be both humble and wise.
Now, it comes to past that the Pharaoh is highly worried about dreams he is having. It was as though the unconscious, or supra-conscious, part of his mind wants to warn him about something.
The chef told the Pharaoh about my ability to interpret dreams. I was called me out of jail to appear before the throne and asked to interpret the ruler’s dreams. The inspiration comes to me straight away and I tell the Pharaoh that there is going to be a terrible famine over the whole known world. For seven years no crops will grow. I advise him to save up enough in the fat years to feed the people during the long lean years to come.
That is exactly what happened, and the Pharaoh realized that Joseph had saved his people, his kingdom, and his throne. Joseph is placed in charge of everything in Egypt, given power, wealth, privilege, and standing second only to the Pharaoh himself. Meanwhile, back in Canaan. Poor ol’ Jacob isn’t the only one wasting away.
I am so hungry! We are starving here. But the word is that there is plenty of grain for sale in Egypt.
Evidently there is a great Ruling Minister who anticipated the famine and stored up grain. Must be quite a man!
The brilliant governor is said to be generous with those who go to buy from them.
I am hungry, h. u. n. g. r. y. why why why don’t we go down in Egypt to buy grain?
People come from all over the world to purchase grain from us, the only known source. We can name any price. So of course we prosper beyond our dreams and we make many important alliances. Then, imagine my surprise, without any word during all the years, on one ordinary day my eleven brothers come walking into court. I recognize them right away, but they don’t recognize me in all my vestments and standing so high in a position of authority. I turn aside and have them sent away, but I have a royal chalice planted in Reuben’s saddlebag so that I can have them arrested and brought back for me to judge. When they are brought back they are deathly afraid, and they bow down before me, trembling with fear.
Just like your dream so many years before that got you into so much trouble.
We need an angel and a devil. (To the children) Any volunteers? (She/he picks up a small child while one of the actors picks up another child. and they carry them to stand at Joseph’s shoulders.) You are an angel and you will shout in Joseph’s ear what God would have him do. You are a devil. So you will shout into his ear to talk him into doing the opposite of what God would have him do. Here’s your word. (The adults carrying each child whisper the word into her or his ear.) When we tell you to, both of you say your word into Joseph’s ear and keep saying it until he decides. Ready? Go.
Burn’em! (keeps repeating)
Forgive! (keeps repeating)
I can’t hold back any longer. I burst out: “I am Joseph, only Joseph, your brother. Is my father alive?” Before long we are in one another’s arms. They weep and offer profound expressions of how sorry they are for what they did to me, and of course I forgive them. I have no problem doing so.T hey are my brothers, and I know that I am doing what God had called me to. And even though they had not intended it, the evil they did in sending me down into Egypt as a slave was taken by God and turned into a great good for all of the people and for my family. (Brothers sing Amazing Grace, and encourage the congregation to join in)
We sent for my father and I set everyone up in comfort and security for the rest of their lives.
No one seems to have noticed, but I went too, and had a pretty dad-blamed good life.
(The organist or instrumentalists play Amazing Grace while everyone exits and gets ready to proceed with the Eucharist.)