A Rat’s Mass is set in the rats’ house, which is represented by two black chains forming an aisle, a red carpet runner, and candles. At the far left stand Jesus, Mary, Joseph, two Wise Men, and a Shepherd in procession formation. As the play opens, Brother Rat kneels, facing the audience, while Sister Rat stands at one end of the red aisle.
In his opening speech, Brother Rat mentions a “dying baby, Nazis, screaming girls and cursing boys, empty swings, a dark sun.” He talks about death and announces that in his vision he sees Rosemary exalted at the top of a playground slide. As he speaks, he alternately kneels and stands, and the chains swing lightly. Sister Rat interrupts occasionally to remind Brother Rat that they have sworn—on Rosemary’s Holy Communion book and on their father’s Bible—to keep their secret forever. In this speech are embedded many of the play’s dominant images— Nazis, playground equipment, death, gray cats, winter. At the end of Brother Rat’s speech, the chains cease their swinging, and the procession of Holy Figures moves toward the center.
Sister reminisces bitterly about their childhood, when they lived in a “Holy Chapel” with their parents and everyone called them “the holiest children.” Now she has been sent to live with relatives in Georgia, where she hides under the house and eats sunflower petals all day. Standing before her brother, she says, “I’m going to have a baby. I got our baby on the slide.” She is frightened, asking why the War started. She wants to hang herself. Brother Rat begs her to stop sending him petals and to stop saying that she must go to the state hospital; he wants her to stop talking about her rat’s belly, which is growing rounder.
Brother and Sister Rat join in a chant about the Nazis and the rats that have invaded their home. They lament that “every sister bleeds and every brother has made her bleed.” They equate the Communion wine with blood, but the blood they see flooding the streets is Sister Rat’s.
Once again, they remember their childhood before the War, and Rosemary, the pretty Roman Catholic girl with whom they were infatuated. They envied her because...
(The entire section is 904 words.)