LS: Bruce Cameron Column January 11, 2009

The church play

This past Christmas Eve, I was proud to see my 10-year-old niece and 4-year-old nephew participate in their church’s annual production of the story of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Batman.

My nephew, you see, has Batman body armor that he refuses to take off, even in the bathtub. I don’t blame him: It gives his little-boy body the rippled abs of a dancer at Chippendales.

My niece has long coveted the role of Mary, but the appointment is strictly political. Her parents just haven’t had enough clout on the Christmas Pageant Committee to muscle the nomination out of the smoke-filled room and onto the floor.

The part has always been played by a little girl named Aubrey, whose mother secured the position of play director by plying the corruptible elders with an apple pie so succulent that in most states it would be classified a controlled substance. After fair and impartial tryouts,
Aubrey’s mother always gave careful consideration to my niece and the other actresses before picking her own daughter.

This year, though, Aubrey’s mom was outflanked when my sister-in-law got the church to approve a policy whereby any child with perfect attendance in Sunday School could have the starring role in the play. The elders were too addled with apple pie to think it through, but
Aubrey’s family always took two weeks off to go traveling in the summer and would be disqualified.

Aubrey’s mom resigned, saying, “You won’t have Aubrey to kick around anymore.”

The new director, a man, decided the key players should have body microphones, which he didn’t hand out until right before the performance because they were expensive and he didn’t want to risk them being broken in rehearsal, and anyway they were uncomplicated and what could go wrong?

The first line of the play occurs when Mary mounts the stairs, stumbling in her long robes.

“Stop pushing me!” she hisses at Joseph, a skinny boy with a sagging beard that looks like it used to be the carpet in a college dormitory.

Joseph announces they will be spending the night in the manger, along with goats, mules, what looks to be about two dozen shepherds sent over from pre-school and Batman. Unable to restrain himself, Batman takes his staff and smacks a paper mache goat like it’s a pinata.

The shepherds begin giggling helplessly.

“I hope my baby comes soon,” my niece says sweetly. Five hundred video cameras capture her performance.

The lights dim discreetly as the couple lies down, though we are still able to see Mary struggling to pull the pillow out of her shirt. Over the body mic, it sounds like Michael Moore trying to wrestle himself into the back seat of a Prius. A bright light pops on to signify the North Star, and a trio of 8-year-old wise men troop onto the stage, gazing at my nephew, who in his headscarf looks like what you’d get if Batman had a baby with Yasser Arafat. My nephew, grinning, takes his staff and pokes one of the wise men in the rear end.

“Hey!” shouts the offended wise man, his amplified voice ringing in the church.

“We’ve come to see the new king,” intones the wise man in the lead.

“Not yet!” my niece snaps. She has a line: Tenderly picking up what she has been referring to as her “live prop” (the baby playing Jesus), she says, “Behold, Joseph, our son, Jesus.”

The baby’s mother stands anxiously by, apparently invisible, while the baby frowns at all of us in disgust. My nephew is astounded — in rehearsal, it was always a doll.

“Hey, Mom, it’s a real baby!” he shouts.

Someone with a body mic has something else to report. “Brandon just farted,” he says. This is such wonderful news to the giggling shepherds that fully a third of them lie down.

The Little Drummer Boy takes the stage for the musical number, displaying no drumming ability but plenty of noisemaking talent. No one questions whether a drum solo is an appropriate gift for a newborn whose exhausted mother just wishes he’d go to sleep.

Batman, bored, begins teaching the paper-mache goats what position to use if they want to reproduce. The shepherds laugh.

Everyone later agrees it was the best show ever.



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