Guilt is a play of mine that explores the overlays and collisions between sexual and spiritual rapture: how one might fuel the other, and how one might be misconstrued as the other. It tells of the charming, clever, philandering French priest Urbain Grandier (1590-1634), who accrues male enemies and lovelorn women with equal ease. When an entire convent of nuns becomes besotted with him he is deemed to have cast a spell on them, and is tried, condemned, tortured and burned at the stake as a witch.
Grandier may have been guilty of many sins, but not that for which he condemned.
Inspired by the culture of misinformation that characterized the so-called War on Terror (and now post-fact politics!), Guilt shows how lies are soon accepted as truths if repeated often enough, and that there may be deeper motivations behind intolerance and persecution. Meanwhile the play traces the attitudes and emotions of Grandier’s four accusers — his friend De Brou, De Brou’s daughter Brigitte, Jeanne, a prioress and Surin, an exorcist — as they feel varying degrees of remorse or denial for their roles in the burning of an innocent man.
Setting the play apart from other works that have dealt with these historical events is its focus on the inner worlds of its characters and the fact that it is largely written in verse. (It is subtitled An Opera Without Music.)
Guilt was developed with invaluable input from the great British director/writer/actor Steven Berkoff, who suggested I approach Robert McNamara, artistic director of Scena Theatre in Washington DC. In 2014 Scena hosted a staged public reading, and both the acting and Robert’s directing were of the highest possible calibre.
Now Scena plans a full production in 2017. The company routinely seeks top-up funding from the Washington embassy of the country from which a given play is sourced. Having provided $500 towards the reading, the Australian embassy said that unfortunately it was unable to contribute further to a production. It is this shortfall in the budget that I am trying address with my Australian Cultural Fund campaign. Alas the since Trump’s election the US dollar has surged against the Australian, and the total required (In US dollars) has become a moving target. Guilt is probably the best thing I have written, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance that could turbocharge my career. I will be hugely appreciative of any and all donations: https://australianculturalfund.org.au/projects/john-shands-guilt/
Jeanne: I could eat his voice, and chew on every word;
eat his voice and devour his lips;
roll his voice around in my mouth,
roll it around with my tongue;
chew every word a hundred times,
and then a hundred more;
devour each syllable and vowel
of his wine-sweet voice,
and suck dry the lips that framed it;
suck the moisture from each sound,
then wet them with my tongue,
and chew and chew them,
and roll them around in my mouth.
And when I can bear the bliss no more,
let them slip, slip one at a time,
one at a time, slip down my throat.