(Performed at Rendezvous 2002, IIT Delhi Festival)


Michael: Himself, Michelangelo.
Ringo: Himself, Pope.
Penn: Himself, Bramante, Dead man, Michelangelo’s father.
Mary: Herself, Michelangelo’s mother
Schultz: Himself (Narrator), Peanut Vendor.
Aqualung: Madman, naked urchin.

Set – Centre stage at the back there is a table designed to look like an altar, there are 3-4 rows of church as in a church on both sides, right stage there is a podium that serves as a confession box.

(Stage is in darkness. The play is introduced and the lights come on. The audience can see the backs of the 5 actors facing the altar. Church bells sound and the lights dim into darkness again)

Schultz: We don't have a script (for Rendezvous)

(As he says his lines, he strikes a match and lights a candle on the altar and passes the match on to the next actor and so on, as they say their lines and walk upstage)

Mary: (sarcastically) Is that why you've brought us here- to sacrifice our performance at the altar of laziness?

Michael: (bending in front of the podium) Forgive us father, for we have sinned.

Schultz: How long has it been since our last confession?

Penn: (walking up to the podium) We sin before every performance father (in a wicked undertone to the audience) and if we're lucky after.

Ringo: I absolve us of the sins after. How do we sin before?

Mary: (interjecting coincidentally) We never have a script.

Michael: Correction! We never have the perfect script.

Mary: Any script is the perfect script if you at least perform it.

Penn: Obviously you haven’t seen Yaddein!

Schultz: (sitting centre stage) There are some excellent scriptwriters in Bollywood though. Take Gulzar for example. I recently read one of his works in Hans. Something about Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel.

Penn: Michelangelo painted the Sixteenth Chapel? Who painted the other fifteen?

Mary: Sistine, you fool! (to Schultz) How does it go? Do you think we can adapt it?

Schultz: It was the year 1512. Four years had passes since Michelangelo’s return form Florence. Rome was beginning to bore him…

(Michael walks up behind him with a sombre face, playing the character of Michelangelo)

Michael: You can’t find faces in Rome. There’s no character in the faces here. They all look alike. (walks right of stage)

{Partial lighting, right of stage}
(Ringo dons a red cloth as a robe and immediately gets into character as the Pope, coming close up to
Michael and staring into his eyes)

Ringo: And what do you see in my face, Angelo?

Michael: (with gravity) A burning candle.

Ringo: (a pensive pause, and then, understanding) I think I know what you mean. (smiles at the barbed words) I’m just one more candle that burns at the altar alongside those thousand others, right?
(Michael looks back at him in silent assent)
Angelo, for four whole years you’ve been looking for Judas. I can’t believe in this vast universe that the lord has created, where no two faces look alike

Mary: (standing left stage with Penn, interrupts)
{Right stage lights come on}
Hmmm… No too faces look alike. Maybe that’s why he can’t find the perfect face.

Penn: (mocking her) Is that why we can’t find the perfect script?

Mary: (irritated) We! We’re not artists, we’re amateur dramatists. And that’s all we’ll ever be at the rate you clown around.

Penn: (nonchalantly, to Schultz) Continue.

Schultz: Four years ago, Pope Julius had commissioned Michelangelo for a very special task. To paint frescoes…

Penn: French toast?

Mary: Frescoes! Your vocabulary of ‘F’ words is characteristically limited. Much like you intelligence.

Penn: (bows with exaggerated revere to Mary) I relent in the face of such intelligence. (Scowls at her and turn to Shultz) So, what’s a fresco anyway?

Schultz: It’s a painting done on a wall while the plaster is still wet. As I was saying, Michelangelo had been commissioned to paint frescoes on the walls and ceiling on the Sistine chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica.
(Walks centre stage as Penn follows behind him, attentively) Now he was nearly done. Only the face of Judas remained unfinished. The Pope wanted no unpleasantness at this time. He had not forgotten the time when Michelangelo was carving the crucifixion in wood and he had come excitedly to the Pope (Penn snaps his fingers and walks up excitedly to Schultz, and mocks his movements) saying he had found just the right model. The model was a dead man!
(Penn, standing behind him, on hearing this, immediately falls dead. Ringo walks up to him and makes the sign of the cross over him.)
The pope remembered ruefully how the funeral had been held up for twelve hours. “Bramante”, he thought now, “ Yes, Bramante was a great painter too.”

Ringo: Bramante! (Penn sits upright as if called and as Ringo continues struts towards him) Yes, Bramante was a great painter too. He, unlike Michelangelo proudly proclaimed that he could conjure faces from his imagination. But, I have to admit… (P looks up, startled and hurt) Bramante’s faces looked like they had emerged from a common mould. According to the Medici, all Bramante’s characters bore a strong family resemblance. I have no choice but to dismiss Bramante (waves his hand at Penn who falls dead) and approach Michelangelo. (Michael enters from the left and kneels before the Pope, kissing the Papal ring)

Schultz: Michelangelo had started painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He would lie for hours beneath the dome of the chapel, staring at it and muttering to himself.

{Spot on Michael as he sits alone centre stage, in character}

In those lime coated brick and mud walls, Angelo was searching for faces. Faces of the Virgin Mary, of Patrick, Yohanna and Judas! He swore he could see their flesh and blood forms.

Michael: I swear I can see their flesh and blood forms. But their faces… their faces are buried deep in the verses of the Bible. They elude me. (Groans) They continue to elude!
(Looks in to the Bible he is carrying and mutters to himself)
One who dips his bread in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man will die as the scriptures say he will. But how terrible for that man who betrays the Son of Man.

Ringo: (puzzled) Angelo, what exactly are you doing?

Michael: (startled) Oh, I’m trying to unravel these verses. (Despairingly) Maybe then I’ll find the faces.

Ringo: (points at some sheets of paper on the floor) And what are these?

Michael: Sketches of the Angel Gabriel.

Ringo: How did you see Gabriel? He doesn’t belong to this world either.

Michael: I heard his voice in the Old Testament.

Ringo: (jokingly) Then you must have heard God’s voice too.

Michael: (gravely) I heard his silence. (Walks off)

Ringo: Eccentric! But he is the only one who can paint the Sistine Chapel.

{Lights dim left of stage and the spot falls on Schultz, near the podium}

Schultz: Michelangelo had found Mary with the greatest of ease. It had happened long ago, the day he saw his mother carrying two pots of water, strung from a bamboo stick on her shoulder; and he thought, the woman who had borne the Messiah must have been like his mother – just as thin and frail.

(Mary walks to the left of the stage where Michael is sitting near Penn, sprawled, with his head on a chair)

He remembered observing his mother with unblinking eyes. Her face reflected the warmth of a roaring fire – flushed, burning like molten gold.

{Spot left of stage brightens, as the lights on the right dim}

Michelangelo had immediately repaired to his studio to sketch that face. Again and again.

Michael: Mother, why didn’t you give birth to Christ?

Mary: (matter of factly)Because I met your father. Look at him lying there, dead drunk. Go! See to him.

Michael: (turns to Penn) Father, if you were not like this, Mother would have been the Virgin Mary.

Mary: Paint a statue of him as he is in your painting. He looks so innocent there.

Michael: Every face demands the right kind of marble. I can’t find the marble with a character to match father’s.

Mary: (reminiscing) Ah! But that was a long time ago. We were in Bologna then. I remember vividly the pub at the corner of the street. It was your father’s favourite haunt.

{Full lights}

Michael: Mine too! (Throws up his paintbrush, obviously out of character)

Penn: (Awakened from his slumber) Hah! Any pub is my favourite haunt.

Mary: Any place you can drink is your favourite haunt.

Penn: And I can drink anywhere.

Ringo: Not in church. Naught but a taste of wine.

Penn: (walks up to him drunkenly) Father, let me drink in church or lead me to that place where the lord
does not reside.
(To the audience) Galib, peene de mujhe masjid mein. (hic)
Nahi to voh jagah dikha de jahan khuda nahin hai.

Schultz and Michael: Wah! Wah!

Ringo: I wonder what Jesus would say to that.

Penn: (sings and prances around stage, drunkenly)
"Jesus was a Capricorn,
He ate organic food;
He believed in Love & Peace,
And never wore no shoes.
Long hair, beard, sandals,
And a Funky bunch of Friends;
Reckon they'd just nail him up,
If he came back again....."

Mary: (in mock shock) I wonder what Jesus would say to THAT!

Penn: And here’s to you, Mrs. Mary Jones,
Jesus loves me more than you would know.
God bless you please, Mrs. Mary Jones,
Heaven holds a place for those who pray.

Mary: (pointing at him) Pray? Then pray that we can find someone to write this script.

Penn: Help! When I was younger, so much younger than today.
I never needed anybody else to write my play.

Mary: A lost cause. Ignore him. (To Schultz) You were saying.

Schultz: Where were we?

Michael: In our favourite haunt. The pub in Bologna.

Penn: (lifts a glass in a toast) I’ll drink to that.

Schultz: As his father sat drinking in the pub, Michelangelo would sit on a bench outside. (Michael enacts as Schultz speaks) He would buy hot peanuts from a nearby peanut vendor, noticing how each time the man weighed them out, a few would fall to the ground.

(The rest of the actors are watching as Schultz plays the vendor selling peanuts to Michael. Suddenly a top-nude grubby looking male appears and all the actors with the exception of Schultz turn in shocked amazement to look at him apprehensively. Schultz carries on ignoring him, and as he narrates, the man picks some nuts up and gives them to him, eating some at the same time)

A naked urchin would scurry across the street, pick up the peanuts and give them to the peanut vendor, quietly popping one into his mouth… one peanut for every time he helped the peanut seller. Michelangelo had been staring in fascination at the boy

(Michael, hearing this looks at Schultz quizzically)

Michael: (to Schultz) Who is this?
(Schultz shrugs)
{Lights dim as a spot falls on Michael and a coloured spot on the urchin, the rest of the cast is shrouded in the darkness}

Michael: (making the transition into his character, Michelangelo, turns to the boy) Who are you? (Gentler) What’s your name?

Man: (looks up, startled) Marsollini. (Shrinks into the shadows)

Schultz: The sight fascinated Michelangelo. He drew several sketches of the child. Many years later, while covering the Madonna of Bruges, he had used those sketches to make the little Jesus.
And then the Pope had asked him to paint the frescoes for the Sistine Chapel.

(Michael and Ringo enact, standing on either side of Schultz, a little upstage as he continues)

He had refused at first, telling the Pope point blank that he was a sculptor and not a painter.

Michael: (to Schultz, inquisitively) I’m a sculptor, and not a painter?
(Schultz nods)
(To Ringo) I’m a sculptor, and not a painter!

Schultz: If he finally agreed to a meeting in Rome, it was because he knew that there was not an artist or sculptor he knew who would not have sold himself for the job. It was the one creation that would ensure him a place in history.

Michael: Not that immortality is reason enough for me. There are certain other immediate needs in this ephemeral life as well. Most of all, I need money to buy marble.
(to the Pope, emphatically hinting)
I need money… to buy marble!

Ringo: (testily) Why do you love stone so much? Why not canvas and colours?

Michael: Colours merge. They lose their identity, mix with others. Unlike marble…

Mary: (excitedly, from right of stage, as full lights come on) Like with colour photographs. Black and white is so much more expressive. Colours detract.

Penn: (accusingly) Now who’s detracting?

Mary: Sorry. Carry on.

Schultz: Four years has sped past. Ever since he had started work on the frescoes in the chapel, his sculpting had come to a standstill. Angelo was as bored with colours as he was with Rome. He wanted to finish painting the ceiling, but his imagination failed him each time it came to the face of Judas, the thirteenth disciple, he who had betrayed the Messiah for thirty pieces of silver. His was an impossible face to conceive.
The pope was getting impatient.

Ringo: (walks up to the front) I’m getting impatient. It’s not as though Michelangelo has not been working. He’s been labouring for days, sketching feverishly. He’s gone through all his old sketches, even reworked them… but there was not a single face that satisfied him.

Schultz: (announcing, and pointing to a masked man who appears out of the shadows with a switchblade in his hand)
Then, one day, Michelangelo found him, his Judas. There he was in that small, dingy pub in Rome. A man with unusually bright, beady eyes. Brimming with restless energy, spitting here and there. When he spoke the words tumbled out fast, like coins from a torn pocket.

Aqualung: (approaches Penn, sleeping again on a chair left of stage) Bud!
(Penn wakes and looks in shock at the stranger, a startled man in a pub, awakened from his peaceful slumber)
Got change for a fifty?
(Penn turns his pockets inside out, empty, still in awe of the man, and fearful of the switchblade in his hand. Aqualung look sat him in disgust, swipes his drink and moves to Michael, sipping his drink at the podium.)

Aqualung: Got change for a fifty?

Michael: (gives him a passing glance) No. Sorry.
(Aqualung walks back to Penn and sits down next to him, nabbing his drink again. Michael’s eyes follow him and then widen with a sense of recognition as he mouths the word ‘Judas’. He follows him up to Penn, and reaches out for him. Aqualung shrugs off his hand violently and turns towards him.)

Michael: (in a pacifying voice) Have a drink on me…
(Aqualung looks at him with renewed interest)
Then come with me to the Chapel. I want to paint your face as a model for Judas. It will make you immortal, I promise.

{Spot follows the two of them going centre stage and the light effect changes as they come close to the altar}

(Aqualung gets up and follows Michael centre stage towards the altar. As they enter, his movements slow and he looks around him in fascination. Michael starts preparing his paintbrushes and paper to sketch him. Aqualung picks up some sheaves of paper and goes through them, pausing obviously at one.)

Aqualung: (pointing at the sketch) Who is this child?

Michael: (glances at it) He? Oh, I used his face as a model for the little Jesus many years ago.

Aqualung: Do you remember his name?

Michael: Hmm… let me think… yes, M...Mmm… Marsolini.

(Aqualung drops the sheets of paper, looks up suddenly and freezes. There is restless lighting and music. As the tempo builds the rest of the characters close in towards him curiously with quizzical looks. Schultz walks through them and stops each one with his hand as he moves to Aqualung and unmasks him. The others are taken aback and exclaim in shock, momentarily frozen by what they see.)

Aqualung: I am that Jesus.

(The spell broken by his words, they all look at each other and murmur in puzzled recognition)

Aqualung: I am that Jesus!

(They move towards him now, hostile to the intruder. Schultz stops them and gestures, indicating that they should move off now. One by one, they encircle him and unsurely begin to walk off stage and into the audience as Aqualung speaks again and they turn to see him. He points at them and the audience as one)

Aqualung: I am that Jesus! He, to whom you are giving the face of Judas today!


(This play was inspired by 'Michelangelo', a short story by Gulzar)

Cast and crew as last performed -

Directed by: Vishal Verma
Script: Siddhartha Butalia

Michael: Arjun Sanyal
Ringo: Dhruv Ahuja
Penn: Siddhartha Butalia
Mary: Jyotinder Kaur
Schultz: Vishal Verma
Aqualung: Akshay Sahni

Backstage Management: Raghav Kapur
Music : Saumya Sadasivan