Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 428
A Rat’s Mass was first produced and directed in Boston by David Wheeler, an avant-garde director for the Theater Company of Boston. In September, 1969, following a successful run in Italy, A Rat’s Mass was produced by Ellen Stewart for New York audiences at the La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, with Seth Allen directing.
The universe of A Rat’s Mass is Brother Rat’s and Sister Rat’s. It is a bizarre maelstrom of terror, oppression, sacrilege, and rage in a malignant conflict to the death. In this universe, Brother Rat has a human body but the head of a rat, and Sister Rat has a human head but a rat’s belly. A procession of Two Wise Men, a Shepherd, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus alternately watch and march as Brother Rat (whose name is Blake) and Sister Rat (whose name is Kay) recall their childhood days of innocence, before their holy home was invaded by screaming worms and gnawing rats in the attic.
Rosemary, an Italian Catholic wearing a Communion dress and carrying a catechism book, is a Medusa-like character with worms rather than snakes in her hair. Unlike Blake and Kay, she has a world in which she belongs, a religious heritage, a historic ancestry. Blake and Kay love her as their best friend. They revere her beauty, her holiness, her sense of belonging. At her urging, Brother Rat commits incest with Sister Rat on a playground slide, while Rosemary watches, to prove his love for Rosemary. Then they swear on her catechism book and their father’s Bible that they will never tell anyone.
Sister Rat, however, becomes pregnant and has a nervous breakdown. She is taken in an ambulance to a state hospital. Upon her return, Brother Rat and Sister Rat beg Rosemary to help them atone. She refuses and tells them to commit suicide by using their father’s shotgun to put bullets through their heads. Brother Rat and Sister Rat beg for the return of innocence.
Finally, the procession deserts Brother Rat and Sister Rat, whose voices and body language are growing more and more ratlike. Brother Rat admits his unwillingness to accept responsibility for his incestuous actions, preferring instead to believe that someone else has impregnated Sister Rat. Brother Rat’s central conflict has been his need to protect Sister Rat and his love for Rosemary. The increasingly loud sound of the rats’ gnawing and escalating battle sounds accompany the return of the procession, who have become shotgun-bearing Nazis who murder Brother Rat and Sister Rat. Rosemary remains unscathed.
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