Catharine Dill

Catharine Dill

HOT DUST

 

This is an excerpt from HOT DUST, an examination of two strains of American religious fervor, both distinguished by charismatic female leaders: 19th Century Spiritualism and the Pentecostalism of the 1920s. HOT DUST compares these two movements through the character of Sister, a conflicted leader.

Most of the text in HOT DUST is written by Catharine Dill, with extra material written by Sharla Meese and excerpts from many other works, including: In the Service of the King: The Story of My Life, by Aimee Semple McPherson; McPherson’s sermon “Come!” from the recording An Anthology of Rhetoric; H.L. Mencken’s review of In the Service of the King in The American Mercury; the transcript from the court case The State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes; Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica; and Anti-Oedipus by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

HOT DUST is created by Exploding Moment and runs at Incubator Arts Project Jan 25 – Feb 3.

Collaborators are: director: Catharine Dill, sound designer: Cooper Gardner, composer: Geoff Gersh, lighting designer: Lauryn McCarter, set designer: Joseph Silovsky. Cast: Faryl Amadeus, Prairie Rose, John Gasper, Chet Mazur, Sharla Meese, Dave Shelley, and Brooke Volkert.

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SARATOGA SPRINGS — SISTER’S PRACTICE ROOM

 

Complete darkness. In the background, Eustace stands on a ladder adjusting a long tension rod to which he has attached a handkerchief. He adjusts the length of the rod, making a sound, twisting in and out.

SISTER

Can you feel my hand?

ELIZA

Yes.

SISTER

Now remember, your other hand is not free, so you have to feel the heat in your hand first, then pull it away. Now I say Are you there?

Eliza breathes inconsistently, gasping, possibly gurgling.

SISTER

No — wait until I say the second line. First I say: Are you there? And then I say Is anybody there? That’s you.
 
Pause.
 
Are you there?
 
Pause.
 
Is anybody there?
 
Sister lights a candle and turns it onto Eliza, who pulls her hand away as if something near her were on fire.
 

SISTER (cont’d)

Very, very good. It’s important to remember: at any time The Widow Bennington may try to touch the ectoplasm. She may try to get up from the table and follow… what is Mr. Bennington’s name–

ELIZA

Captain Gerald Bennington–

SISTER

She may try to follow him around the room, grab him. Your job will be to restrain her. Now, wait until I say Hello twice.
 
Pause.
 
Hello?
 
Pause.
 
Hello?
 
Eliza begins to gurgle. She retches unconvincingly.
 

SISTER

That’s good. Now the breath will start here.
 
She touches her own diaphragm. Eliza breathes more deeply, as if in the throes of a clairsentient message. Her body now and then erupts in small spasms.
 
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SARATOGA SPRINGS — THE BENNINGTON HOUSE — SEANCE ONE

 

A light on ELIZA as she writhes. Everyone else moves around in darkness, adjusting objects for the next scene. The following dialogue is pre-recorded.
 

ELIZA

Tablecloth running to floor, candle, plate of glass. Oiled cheesecloth.

THE WIDOW BENNINGTON

Black felt bowler, oxblood grosgrain key fob.

ELIZA

We’ve taken some liberties.

THE WIDOW BENNINGTON

Well, hello. You must be Miss–

SISTER

Please call me Sister.

The WIDOW BENNINGTON

Thank you, Sister.
 
(sobs)
 

SISTER

I regret having to meet you under such terrible circumstances, Mrs. Bennington.

THE WIDOW BENNINGTON

Thank you so much. It was a surprise for all of us. I pray each day for the health of your poor Maggie. I hope she is back on her feet again soon.

SISTER

Thank you. I feel her presence with me always, and I feel strongly that she is improving.
 
The light widens. Sister sits down and begins her own message spasms while Eliza stops. Eliza lights a candle and places it on the table. They all stare into it for a minute or so. The following dialogue is not pre-recorded.
 

ELIZA

We’ve prepared the room. We’ve sat in peace. In short, we’ve done everything we can. But let me say once again: only love and light are welcome here.
 
Silence. They all inhale deeply. A single bell chime. Sister inhales again. Eliza signals Eustace. He drags the handkerchief past The Widow, who shudders. They look at her, then watch the spirit leave the room.
 

SISTER

A filament. A shade of glass, stained green. Thicker in the center. A gold pull chain.

ELIZA

Does that mean anything to you, Mrs. Bennington?

THE WIDOW BENNINGTON

A hole in my stocking. I can grab it with my toe.
 
Silence.
 

SISTER

A gold rim — a watch?

ELIZA

Does that mean anything to you, Mrs. Bennington?

THE WIDOW BENNINGTON

What is that smell?

SISTER

Soft brown, with a crease. Leather. The fold runs diagonally from upper left to lower right.

ELIZA

Does this mean anything to you, Mrs. Bennington?
 
Silence. Then Sister gasps. Eliza cues Eustace and Sister. Eustace drags the handkerchief by the Widow, who jumps.
 

THE WIDOW BENNINGTON

Lilac water!

SISTER

(breaks from spell)
 
How are you today, Mrs. Bennington?
 
They all look at The Widow. Lights down.
 
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SARATOGA SPRINGS — THE BENNINGTON HOUSE — SEANCE TWO

 

Lights up. The Widow and Eliza sit, very still, around the table. Pre-recorded dialogue.
 

THE WIDOW BENNINGTON

Thank you so much for changing your plans and agreeing to see me again.

ELIZA

It was no trouble Mrs. Bennington, particularly when there are such important matters at stake.
 
Pause. The Widow begins to cry.
 

ELIZA (cont’d)

I’m sorry — are you well, Mrs. Bennington?

THE WIDOW BENNINGTON

I will be fine.
 
Sister enters, silently sits opposite The Widow, and inhales deeply. This dialogue is not pre-recorded.
 

SISTER

We believe in God. We believe that God is expressed through all Nature. True religion is living in obedience to Nature’s Laws. We never die.
 

Eliza signals to Eustace, who waves the handkerchief by the Widow’s face. The Widow is enthralled.
 

THE WIDOW BENNINGTON

A parasol, a lawn chair. My shoes in the grass.

SISTER

Our religion has proven that we can talk with people in the Spirit World. Be kind, do good, and others will do likewise.

THE WIDOW BENNINGTON

Stiff white collars, lying in rows in a drawer.
 
Pause.
 

SISTER

We bring unhappiness to ourselves by the errors we make and we will be happy if we obey the laws of life.

THE WIDOW BENNINGTON

She looks around, trying to address her husband.
 
I’m so sorry. Forgive me, as I forgave you!
 
Lights down. A very loud mechanical sound. A light shines on Sister, and pans over to Eliza, then to The Widow, and then to Eustace. It goes out. When it comes on again, it shines on Sister, who gasps as a tiny bit of ectoplasm protrudes from her mouth. Machine sound stops– Eliza turns a candle in Sister’s direction and holds The Widow, preventing her from going to Sister.
 

ELIZA

I know it’s difficult to witness, but this is how they often speak to us.
 
All gasp as ectoplasm begins to flow from Sister’s mouth. The ectoplasm spreads in multiple directions across the table, then slips back up and into Sister’s mouth. The Widow cries in anguish. She looks up.
 

THE WIDOW BENNINGTON

Gerald—

ELIZA

Mr. Bennington– Sister has recovered from having produced the ectoplasm.

SISTER

Every day is a new beginning. Prophecy and healing are expressions of God.
 
The Widow sobs.
 

SISTER (cont’d)

We believe in Infinite Intelligence. We believe that the phenomena of Nature, both physical and spiritual, are the expression of Infinite Intelligence.
 
Sister lifts her arms, drawn to the other side of the room, where they all turn to gaze. Footsteps as a vague male figure in white moves slowly across the stage. He turns to the seance table and disappears.
 

SISTER (cont’d)

We affirm that the doorway to reformation is never closed against any soul here or hereafter.
 
Eliza signals a bell swoosh and then to Eustace. The widow lights a candle, and we can see the tension rod getting close to her shoulder. She backs into it, then turns to see it, and EUSTACE behind her, holding it.
 

THE WIDOW BENNINGTON

Who is that? What is this?
 
She grabs the tension rod. Lights up and everyone moves: two assistants run off with the tablecloth, another with the rod and handkerchief, chairs, etc. The Widow Bennington follows Eliza. All scurry except Sister, who remains seated. Alone, she looks out into space.
 

SISTER (whispers to self)

Maggie.

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CATHARINE DILL is the founder of theater company Exploding Moment, with whom she has produced and directed four projects: Date: Time; What I Like About Breasts; Can I Help You?, and Ye’re Here, Cuzin! She has co-produced and/or co-directed five projects with the arts ensemble Red Dive, which she co-founded. Her awards include the Bessie Award for Installation and New Media, the AREA Award (awarded by Chashama and the National Endowment for the Arts), residencies at Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony and the Brooklyn Arts Exchange, and grants from Art Matters, the Greenwall Foundation, the Heathcote Foundation, the Curtis W. McGraw Foundation, and a Foundry Theatre Emerging Artists’ Award.

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GET TICKETS FOR HOT DUST HERE.

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