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Longer One-Act Plays

The Nature and Purpose of the Universe

(approximately 1 hour)

Production History

The cast in this version was:

Justin Rashid as Ronald, an agent of God, Lynnie Godfrey as Elaine, an agent of God, James Nisbet Clark as Steve Mann, Anne De Salvo as Eleanor Mann, David Wilborn as Andy, Coach, Fr. Hemmer, Nick Mariano as Donald, Ralph, Lars Kampmann as Gary, The Pope

The Nature and Purpose of the Universe was first presented in 1974 in a brief workshop production at the Direct Theatre in New York City, which featured Sigourney Weaver as Eleanor, Nicholas Hormann as Ronald, and Diana Belshaw as Elaine.  The same theatre then presented the play twice in full productions in 1975 and 1979.

The Direct Theatre premiered the play in September, 1975, directed by Allen R. Belknap and Yannis Simonides.

It was presented in a “radio version” – as if the play was being put on by the fictional St. Dominick Inspirational Society Players from East Rutherford, N.J.

This directorial concept allowed the actors to stay mostly in place, in front of microphones; and the violence in the play was immediately stylized by the fact it was all suggested with sound effects and grunts from the actors, but no actual hitting.  This concept also allowed for more doubling in the cast.  An introductory speech to the audience, setting up this way of doing the play, is included in an addendum in the Dramatists Play Services acting edition.

The Direct Theatre re-presented the play at the Wonder Horse Theatre in New York City in February, 1979.  This version was not the “radio” one, but presented the play as written, set in a house and various other locations (including Iceland).  (The author likes both ways of presenting the play.)

It was directed by Allen R. Belknap.  Setting by Jonathan Atkins, lighting by Richard Winkler, costumes by Giva Taylor.

The cast in this version was:

Jeff Brooks as Ronald, an agent of God, Caroline Kava as Elaine, an agent of God, Tom Bade as Steve Mann, Ellen Greene as Eleanor Mann, Ethan Phillips as Donald Mann, Eric Weitz as Andy Mann, Chris Ceraso as Gary Mann, Robert Blumenthal as Coach Griffin, The Pope, T.A. Taylor as Ralph, Fr. Hemmer

Before both of these productions, the Direct Theatre presented a brief workshop of the “radio” version of the play in 1974, which featured Sigourney Weaver as Eleanor, Nicholas Hormann as Ronald, and Diana Belshaw as Elaine.

Some reviews included:

...a marvelous blend of outrageous parody and black humor.
       – BackStage

...a hilarious show written in the form of a radio play within a play.
      – Wisdoms Child. 

One of the year’s 10 best
      – Soho Weekly News

The Story

Eleanor Mann is a miserably unhappy housewife in New Jersey.  Her three sons are disgraces, her religious fanatic husband beats her, and her vacuum cleaner doesn’t work.  In a dark comedy homage to the Book of Job in the Bible, Ronald and Eleanor are two angels sent down by God to drive poor Eleanor to distraction.  Elaine keeps showing up as various neighbors, school officials and a nasty census taker to berate and yell at Eleanor.  Ronald appears as a suave Fuller Brush Man, promising to run away with Eleanor and save her from all of this.  Along the way, the Pope is kidnapped and accidentally killed, the Mann family flees to Iceland before the Fuller Brush Man shows up; and poor Eleanor falls into deep despair, when in Iceland she faces one final overwhelming disappointment that pushes her over the edge.

A darkly comic play, but hilarious to some audiences.

Cast: 2 women, 7 men
Rights: Dramatists Play Service

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