The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

As Holy Ghosts opens, a young woman, Nancy Shedman, sweeps out a sparsely furnished room in a ramshackle house that contains stacked folding chairs, benches, and an old piano. She has just fled her husband of one year to join a group of Pentecostal Christians offering her sanctuary in their farmhouse-church. Disillusioned by a childless marriage punctuated by beatings and drunkenly ineffectual lovemaking, Nancy has left home with her husband’s furniture, possessions, and pickup truck. Aiding her in the move was Obediah Buckhorn, Jr. (called Oby), a passerby camper volunteering scriptural consolation who took her to his preacher father for counseling.

In act 1, Nancy is surprised by the entrance of her irate husband, Coleman, a redneck owner-manager of a fish farm. Hurt and humiliated, he accuses Nancy of infidelity and demands both the return of his chattels and a divorce. To facilitate the latter, Coleman has brought Rogers Canfield, an elderly alcoholic lawyer escaping a depressing retirement. The shabby but gentlemanly Canfield enforces a testimonial procedure for the angry couple to air grievances. Oby, a huge, childlike man, arrives and is reviled by Coleman for adulterous wife-stealing. Oby corroborates Nancy’s story of the drunkenly abusive behavior that impelled her departure, Oby’s celibate involvement, and his father’s proposal of marriage—thereby astonishing Coleman, who thought Oby his rival. Agreeable to divorce but not to returning possessions claimed as her just due, Nancy hotly refutes Coleman’s portrayal of himself as a caring husband betrayed by a perfidious wife.

As the Shedmans argue, a motley group of poor white southerners intermittently arrive, gathering for a religious service. One carefully carries in two large wooden boxes. The group is a strange collection of human flotsam, including a terminal cancer victim named Cancer Man, a grief-deranged owner of a dead bird dog, an expelled female Sunday school teacher, two hot-tempered but affectionate homosexual construction workers, a lady churchgoer made outcast for raising her skirts for any “good Christian boy,” a shotgun-wedded couple with baby, and the simple-minded Oby. The irrepressibly foul-mouthed Coleman...

(The entire section is 912 words.)