Monday, February 21, 2011

Caffeinated Inc. Episode 07: The Christmas Special

Caffeinated Inc. (pronounced fully - "Caffeinated Incorporated") was the Gathering's weekly sitcom in the first two years of our existence. To that end, these scripts predate the Year of the Rabbit I'm celebrating here, but are indicative of the sort of approaches the Gathering took toward expressing the Christian faith. They also formed the basis for my blogged novel, Magik Beans. I was the primary writer, but the characters and sometimes dialogue took shape in a improv-to-script approach I shared with co-stars Blaine Kehl and Marcia Hamm.  I'll be posting all of our initial seven episodes in subsequent updates.

Director's Commentary: This was presented as a full production by recapping all the previous episodes and ending with this one. I've included it here as a separate episode, but if people were interested in performing Caffeinated Inc. as a production, drop me a comment and I'll send you the amended document, which truncates the time line of the previous episodes. This brought the series back to its roots, as a single production I wrote for a youth drama group some years prior. The storyline was a bit different, but the idea of the shop as setting was the same, as was the character of Meran.

(LIGHTS UP.  Shop is bustling with activity, as the first strains of ‘Santa Baby’ are heard.  SARAH enters, sings the song, ending by draping herself on CARL, who looks mildly uncomfortable. SARAH is clearly slightly intoxicated, holding a glass with rum and egg nog in it. The song ends.)

CARL:  You know, with all the things I’ve seen lately, you’d think that wouldn’t catch me off guard.

SARAH:  Why, what did you see now?  The angel Gabriel?  Are ya pregnant?

CARL:  Ha ha.  No, I did not see Gabriel.  But, how shall I put it. . .?

SARAH:  Put what?

CARL:  I met someone the other night. 

SARAH:  A someone?  What’s that supposed to mean?

CARL:  A woman . . .

SARAH:  Ooh!  Carl met a girl.

CARL:  It’s not like that.

SARAH:  It never is.

CARL:  Forget it.  (He starts setting out a nativity scene.)

(ALAN and KIM enter.)

ALAN: Hello!

SARAH:  (Coyly) Say, where were you two?

ALAN:  At Chapters.  We bumped into each other in the Eastern Religions section.

KIM:  Did you know that Alan is a really avid reader?

CARL:  Really?

(SARAH smacks him.)

CARL:  Alan, have you ever read anything about angels?

ALAN:  Sure, Sophy Burnham, Dante, what sort of angels are we talking about?

CARL:  How many different kinds are there?

ALAN:  Lots.  Good ones, bad ones.  Messengers, warriors. . .

CARL:  I don’t think this one was a warrior.  She didn’t even have wings.

ALAN:  You met one?

CARL:  Maybe. . . at any rate, she didn’t have wings.

ALAN: So she’s not a cherubim.

CARL:  A what?

ALAN:  There’s only a few heavenly beings mentioned with wings.  Its actually Babylonian to have angels with wings.  Lots of people who meet angels say they don’t know it until later.

SARAH:  You believe Carl saw an angel?

ALAN:  Why, don’t you?

SARAH:  Seems a little strange, doesn’t it?

ALAN:  Not really.  It seems our little coffee shop is a regular earth node.  It seems to attract metaphysical activity in copious amounts.

SARAH:  What?

ALAN:  A lot of weird shit goes on here.

(CARL nods his head contemplatively.)

CARL: Ever since Peter died.

ALAN:  That could have something to do with it.  Maybe Peter was involved in the occult. That’s how he was able to transport his spirit back to this plane of existence.

SARAH: (taking another drink) Speak English dammit!

CARL:  I don’t think so.  I found a Bible in ‘the box’.

SARAH: So you opened it!

CARL:  Yeah.  It was really anticlimactic.  (He brings the box out onto the counter, opens it, takes out a Bible, a diary and a rosary.) That’s what was in there. This Bible, an old journal of Peter’s and a rosary. That’s it.

ALAN:  Okay, so he was a Christian. . .

CARL:  Probably.

SARAH:  So what?  My family’s Orthodox, I’ve never seen an angel, or a ghost. . .

(MERAN walks in.)

CARL:  There she is!

SARAH: She who?

CARL: The woman I was telling you about.

SARAH: God Carl, you’re really getting desperate – she’s a bag lady!

MERAN:  Hello Sarah.

SARAH:  (To CARL) You told a bag lady about me?

MERAN:  No, it was in his file.

SARAH:  Pardon?

MERAN: Carl’s file.

CARL: I think she’s a federal agent disguised as a bag lady who talks in code as though she’s an angel.

MERAN: I am an angel.

SARAH:  I’m overcome with the majesty of the glory . . .

MERAN:  Don’t be a smart ass dear. 

SARAH:  A vulgar angel!  This gets better.

ALAN:  Sarah, open your mind.  G. C. Lichtenberg said, “If an angel were ever to tell us anything of his philosophy I believe many propositions would sound like 2 times 2 equals 13.”  You already said yourself you’ve never met an angel, so quit acting like the expert on them.

SARAH:  I’m not acting like an expert. . . it’s just preposterous to think that this bag lady is an angel.

MERAN:  No more preposterous than celebrating the birth of God as a bloody, smelly, poopy baby.

CARL:  Oh, that’s lovely . . . let me just adjust the Nativity. . .

ALAN: Actually, believing she’s an angel is a shorter jump of faith than Carl’s federal agent disguised as a bag lady who talks in code story.

MERAN:  I see you’ve opened the box. How are you coming with your reading?

CARL:  I’ve been pretty busy with the Christmas rush . . . but I don’t know where to start.

MERAN:  Carl, this is too important to put aside . . . especially for the ‘Christmas rush.’

CARL:  It’s not that big a deal.  Its not a matter of life or death.

MERAN:  It’s not, is it?

SARAH:  Well at least this makes sense.  An angel trying to get you to read the Bible.

MERAN:  Well, you’re putting out the visual aides, why don’t you just read the Christmas story?

KIM:  Yeah!  My grandpa used to do that every Christmas Eve when I was a little girl.

CARL:  What, you mean right now?

ALAN:  Why not?  It’s the Christmas season.

CARL:  (Brings the Bible out from behind the counter.) All right. . . where do I look?

MERAN:  Well, the book of Luke will probably be the best one to read.

CARL:  You mean there’s more than one?

ALAN:  Yeah, there’s actually two accounts of the birth of Christ.  Matthew has the Wise Men, Luke has the shepherds . . .

MERAN:  And the angels! 

SARAH:  Of course.

(CARL flips to the table of contents, then turns to LUKE.)

CARL:  (Reading) In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth. . .

MERAN:  Good old Gabe.  He had such an amazing singing voice.

(SARAH rolls her eyes.)

CARL: (Continuing) . . . um, to  a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." 

SARAH:  You know, I’ve always wondered about that virgin thing.  Why did she have to be a virgin?

ALAN:  The word in the Greek sort of just means a young woman.

SARAH:  What, you read Greek too?

ALAN: Some. But if I understand Christian belief, the idea attests God’s power over the physical realm.  No sex, just--bang!  And there’s the kid.  It’s a miracle.  How else could the double requirement of soteriology, simultaneous connection, and discontinuity be achieved?

SARAH: What!?

ALAN:  The Christmas story is about God becoming human without being screwed up like the rest of us.  Connection, but disconnection.  God, but human.  It’s a paradox.  Besides, like I said, it’s a miracle.

SARAH:  It’s just a story.

ALAN:  No . . . it’s a belief. “A miracle is an event which creates faith. That is the purpose and nature of miracles—frauds deceive. An event which creates faith does not deceive: therefore it is not a fraud, but a miracle.” – George Bernard Shaw.

CARL:  Do you guys want me to read the story or not?

KIM:  Yes!  Sarah, let him read.

SARAH:  All right, all right.  Storytime at Caffienated Inc.

CARL:  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.   You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. His kingdom will never end." 

(JASMINE enters.)

JASMINE:  Hi everyone! 

MERAN:  Hello Jasmine.

JASMINE:  Uh. . . hi.  Do I know you?

SARAH:  This is Meran.  She’s an angel. (winks conspiratorially)

JASMINE:  Oh.  Like on that TV show.

MERAN:  I don’t watch much TV, but I’ve heard the program is based on actual files.

JASMINE:  Right.

ALAN:  Nice job on the renovation. 

JASMINE:  Thanks.  I notice there’s a lot more people here today . . .

CARL:  I’m reading the Christmas story.

JASMINE:  But there are more people.

CARL:  I’m reading about GOD. 

JASMINE:  Okay, okay.  Did I miss much?

SARAH:  Just the virgin and the angel thing.

JASMINE:  Okay, so the annunciation.

SARAH:  Excuse me?

JASMINE:  I’m Catholic.

SARAH:  I’m Orthodox, I didn’t know what that was.

JASMINE:  I went to all my confirmation classes . . .

CARL:  Shall I read to myself then?

JASMINE:  We’re just waiting for you to get started.

CARL:  All right then.  Okay . . . (reading down) I’m going to skim here. . . a holiday, she sings a song, goes to see her cousin. . . cousin has baby. . .

MERAN:  That’s all important too.

CARL:  I’m sure it is, I just want to get the Charlie Brown Christmas parts. . . Okay, here we go.   In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  And everyone went to his own town to register.  So Joseph. . .

SARAH:  Where’s Mary at this point. . . ?

CARL:  I’m getting to that.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

ALAN:  So it wasn’t actually his home town. 

MERAN:  Ancestral home.  People considered the home of their ancestors their home town.

CARL:  At the rate we’re going here, we ought to be able to open our presents under the tree when I finish up!

ALAN:  Sorry.

CARL:  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

SARAH:  They already mentioned that!  Why would they mention it again?

CARL:  In case people kept interrupting while the story was being read?  “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

SARAH: Convention was in town. (CARL shoots her a look.) 

CARL:  Hey, here we go.  This is the Charlie Brown part.

ALAN:  The Charlie Brown part?

CARL:  Yeah, I played Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas at our church when I was a kid. This is the part he recites after Lucy cusses Charlie Brown out for getting such a shitty tree.  Let’s see if I can do it without the book. . . “And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night, and lo, an angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.  But the angel said unto them, fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you.  You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, Good Will Toward Men.”’  That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.

SARAH: Very nice.  What are swaddling clothes?

CARL:  I don’t know, that’s just what it says. 

ALAN:  Swaddling clothes are strips of cloth you wrap a newborn baby in.

CARL:  So Meran, were you there that night?

MERAN:  All of us were required to attend.  You should’ve seen the looks on those Shepherds faces!

SARAH:  Oh, that’s it!  Come on now!  You don’t really think she’s an angel do you?

ALAN:  Why not?

SARAH:  She’s a bag lady!

CARL:  Is it that she’s a bag lady, or is that you just don’t believe in angels at all?

SARAH:  Why should I?  I told you, I’ve never seen one!

ALAN:  You know, that reminds me of something I read the other day.  There’s this Canadian psychologist who artificially stimulated an area of brain tissue in volunteers, making them suddenly have mystical experiences.  Another psychologist did the same thing, but with a different area of the brain, causing them to smell roses or hear conversations without external stimuli.

SARAH:  What’s that got to do with anything?

ALAN:  Well, the first guy’s research, the one where stimulation caused mystical experience, is often used in public debate to prove the fraudulence of mystical experience.

SARAH:  So? 

ALAN:  Well, its just that no one’s ever used the other research to prove the fraudulence of roses and their smell.  Same criteria for proof . . . yet people don’t want to believe.

JASMINE:  Why do you suppose that is?

KIM:  It’s like that  “One of Us” song.  If God had a face, what would it look like. . . and would you want to see, if seeing meant that you would have to believe. . . in things like heaven, and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets. . .

MERAN:  That’s true.  If you saw my true form . . .

SARAH:  Oh that I’d like to see.

JASMINE:  Careful what you wish for . . .

MERAN:  If I manifested myself in my true form, you’d end up like the shepherds did.

SARAH:  What, in the Middle East?

CARL:  With that charming segue . . .  “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."   So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.   The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

JASMINE:  So if you saw the face of God, or an angel, you’d feel compelled to tell people about it.  Is that what you meant?

MERAN:  My dear, when you meet an angel, you’re not supposed to keep it a secret.

ALAN: ’Tis curious that we only believe as deeply as we live.

SARAH:  Well Carl, you seem to think you’ve seen the face of an angel.  I don’t see much deeper living going on here.

MERAN:  Give him time.  Life is a journey.

JASMINE:  I’m getting deja vu.  I just stopped in to drop off some receipts for Sarah’s records.  Is that all the story?

MERAN:  As much as should be told tonight.

JASMINE:  Then I’m out of here.  Merry Christmas everyone.

ALAN:  I’ll walk you to your car.

JASMINE:  Thanks.

(SARAH and CARL and MERAN remain.)

CARL:  Well, I understand all this business about seeing the face of an angel, and me having some responsibility, but what I don’t understand is, what are you doing here?  I mean, the angels in the Christmas story had a mission. What are you here for?

MERAN:  You’ve opened the box.  You’ve even opened the books that were in the box.  But why the box?  Why did Peter give to you in death what he kept hidden in life?  Why are the forces of heaven and hell converging on this coffee shop?

CARL:  You haven’t answered my question.

MERAN:  No, you’re right.  I haven’t.  Then again, maybe I’m just here to make Sarah tremulous.

SARAH:  Well you’ve completed your mission.  Go away.

CARL:  Do you have someplace to stay Meran?

MERAN:  In my Father’s house are many rooms. . .

CARL:  I’m serious.  Are you just going to end up in one of the back halls?

MERAN:  I’ll be fine. 

SARAH:  Sure.  How about I give you a lift to a shelter?

MERAN:  If you think you need to . . .

SARAH:  Delusional or not, there’s no reason to get yourself arrested . . .

(They exit)

CARL:  Kim, I’m heading out, are you going to be okay to lock up?

KIM:  I should be fine. (Pause.) I need to talk to you about something.

CARL:  You’re quitting.

KIM: No.

CARL: You want a raise.

KIM: No.

CARL: More hours.

KIM: No!

CARL:  A Christmas bonus?

KIM:  Will you be quiet?  This isn’t easy.

CARL:  What is it?

KIM:  I know what all that extra money Peter put away was for. 

CARL: You do?  What was it for?

KIM: It was for a women’s shelter.  Peter used to help out at a women’s shelter downtown.

CARL:  He did?  Why didn’t he ever say anything about it?

KIM: I wasn’t ever sure, until tonight.  And then it all fell together for me, and I understood.  You see, I think the reason Peter never told any of you about the work he was doing in the inner city was because he wanted to be like Jesus. (she picks up the nativity Jesus and contemplates it as she speaks.) I mean, I don’t know if I believe any of this God business, but I sure know Peter did.  And if the God he served came as quietly as this little baby, in a stable, then I’m not surprised that Peter never made a big stink about how he helped hookers and runaways get off the streets.

CARL:  My God.  And I spent all that money on a renovation.  I am an asshole.

KIM: Not Carl, you’re not! The reason I told you all this wasn’t to make you feel terrible. It was because I saw how much money is coming in again.  The shop is really taking off! And that means we can do what Peter did, only better.

CARL:  I guess that’s what all this business about living as deeply as you believe was about. He really did.  And we never had any idea. I always thought it was just the coffee shop. But it was so much more . . . Kim, how did you know all this?

KIM: Because when you read Peter’s diary, you’ll find out who I was.

CARL: Who you were?

KIM: I was one of those...people...One of those runaways. (There is an uncomfortable silence.) I won’t hold it against you if you don’t want to keep me on.

CARL: What?  Why would I do that?

KIM:  I used to be a prostitute, Carl.

CARL: Ex-prostitute from what you told me.  Right? (She nods.) Then there’ll be no more talk about you getting let go.  You’re staying, and that’s final. Come on, we’ll close up early. I’ll buy you a drink at O’Byrne’s. 

KIM: Sure. (They grab their coats, and as they head for the door, KIM realizes she still has the baby Jesus.) I just have to put this back.

CARL: (Seeing what it is.) That won’t be necessary.  I’ll – uh, I’ll put it back.  I’m just going to shut off the lights and turn on the security.  Wait for me outside.

( Kim goes outside.  CARL turns the lights down, then looks at the little Jesus.)

CARL:  I don’t know what this means . . . but I’m ready to try.  I’m ready to live as deeply as I believe.  Whatever that means.

(He places the figure back in the nativity and heads out. MERAN steps from the shadows, smiling to herself.)



  1. Wow. That is beautiful, challenging conclusion. Thank you, Mike.

  2. I love this episode as well. In the truncated, one-play version, we ditched the weird Engel moment from the previous episode, and let Meran be the focus. If I had it to write again, knowing where we'd end up, I'd have combined Alan and Meran into one character.