Laman and Lemuel are Dead

A play by my brother, Doug Summers Stay.

Laman and Lemuel are Dead

The stage represents a boat. This is made totally clear by the sound effects. Throughout the scene, sounds of wind and a thunderstorm are getting louder, with occasional flashes of lightning. In the center of the stage stands the mast of the ship. Nephi is tied to it with his back to the audience. He is bound and gagged. Through the whole scene, he is continually struggling, and just as he is about to break free, Lemuel tugs on the rope to tighten it, undoing all of Nephi’s hard work. Otherwise they pay no attention to him, or to the storm. Laman and Lemuel are looking at the liahona intently.

Laman: It’s a clock.

Lemuel: A compass.

Laman: A clock.

Lemuel: A compass.

Laman makes a face, walks away, mutters, a clock.

Lemuel: [calling after] a compass!

Laman: clock clock clock clock clock clock clock

Lemuel: [trying to talk over him] compass compass compass compass compass compass

Laman: clock times infinity!

Lemuel: [cool] compass times infinity… plus one.

Laman: Aha! Aha! according to Cantor, the set of infinity plus one is commensurable with the set of infinity, assuming, of course, that we are both talking about the infinity of the whole numbers, which we certainly are, unless you want to get into the continuum hypothesis, which I’m sure you don’t!

Lemuel: Hmph.

Laman takes the ball and examines it more closely.

Laman: At first glance, I admit, I was taken in. What use is a clock in crossing the ocean, I thought? What you need is a compass. But then I realized: longitude. To properly calculate longitude, what you need is an accurate clock. With a clock, you can calculate your position from the stars.

Lemuel: If there were stars. It looks stormy. So what time is it?

Laman: I don’t know. I can’t read the language. But It can’t be that hard to figure it out. There’s just the two arrows and a bunch of symbols around the outside. With a little scientific deduction, we should be able to work it out.

Laman sits down with a pencil and paper and starts doing mathematical calculations.

Laman: It’s a curious thing really. [he holds the ball like Hamlet with the skull, until the audience gets the joke] It’s one body, unbroken symmetry. It moves, so it can’t be dead, but it’s made out of metal, so it can’t be alive. It doesn’t seem to be rusted, but then, it doesn’t seem impervious ro rust.

Lemuel [agreeing] It doesn’t make sense.

Laman: And yet it clearly isn’t insensible.

Lemuel: What’s the point in making something like this? It just seems strange, is all. You find a clock in the desert. It looks complicated. Curious workmanship. Someone must have made it.

Laman: Not necessarily.

Lemuel: What do you mean, it just appeared, poof, a watch out of nowhere?

Laman: Not out of nowhere. There were clocks before, there will be clocks after. It fits in a long line of clocks of increasingly curious workmanship.

Lemuel: I’m not sure I follow.

Laman: Well. Suppose that I could prove that some particular clock did, in fact, arise without a maker in the middle of the desert. Would you be willing to admit that a clock only a tiny bit more curious could also not have a maker?


Laman: Then consider. The first clock, a simple sundial, perhaps no more than a tall rock, standing upright, with scratches on the ground around it. You wouldn’t be surprised to find that in the desert, would you?

Lemuel: No, but…

Laman: So a clock only slightly more curious than that could also arise in the desert. For example, an hourglass formed by sand falling through a crack in the rock.

Lemuel: Yes, but…

Laman: And proceeding by mathematical induction, we find that a ball of extremely curious workmanship needs no creator at all.

Lemuel: [thinks about this hard. Counts on his fingers.] I still don’t get it.

Laman: Look, it’s the theory of evolution. We could do an archaeological dig out in the desert. At the deepest levels, we find crude clocks, big and lumbering. Over time, following refinements in style, they become smaller, more efficient. Some styles of clock, like the grandfather clock, reach an evolutionary plateau. Other styles, the water-clock, for example, go the way of the passenger pigeon. And one family gives rise to this golden ball. There’s nothing left to explain, really, except the details.

Lemuel:[ponders it for a time. Scratches his head, bites his thumb, strokes his chin. After an awkward flailing of limbs manages to get into the position of Rodin’s the thinker.] Nope, it stilll doesn’t work for me. When you leave stuff out in the desert, the sand gets in it, it wears out, falls apart. Nothing ever falls together.

Laman [looks up, surprised]: you mean entropy. What you are referring to is the arrow of time. [looking thoughtful.] Perhaps this clock is outside that system altogether. Perhaps it has its own arrow of time?

Lemuel: Of course it does. It’s right there. [points to the arrow on top of the liahona.] Unless it’s a compass after all.

Laman: [With a lot of hand gestures] Not that kind of an arrow– A fourth dimensional arrow. An arrow pointing forward in time, from the past to the future. Except that this, this has an arrow pointing from the future to the past. The random motion of particles formed it in the desert. A thousand years ago it was a pile of rusted metal sitting in the desert. Slowly, bit by bit, it formed into the shape we see now. Eventually some poor sap is going to have to dissasemble it piece by piece, I suppose. Of course you could prophecy with it, if its past is our future. Nothing supernatural about that.

Lemuel: [really confused] So, where is this other arrow again? The arrow of time that’s not on the clock?

Laman: It’s in the universe as a whole. See, this is the picture that science gives us. The world runs by natural law, like clockwork. And eventually, the spring is going to run down.

Lemuel: So, the universe is like a giant clock.

Laman: Exactly.

Lemuel: So who made that clock, then?

Laman: [Shakes his head.] Suppose that a perfect God did create the universe, like a clock, to let it run with its natural laws. A perfect God would make a perfect clock, right?

Lemuel: I guess.

Laman: But occasionally, God interferes with the natural law, suspends it and causes a miracle. Case in point. [holds up the liahona.] But– it’s a pretty poor clock that needs messing with like that all the time, isn’t it? Which implies an imperfect clock which implies an imperfect God, contradiction, and therefore…

Lemuel: Now you’re starting to sound like Dad: If there’s no law, there’s no sin, no sin, no righteousness; no righteousness, no happiness; no misery, no misery implies no god

Laman: I like that one.

Lemuel: No god, no creation, and all things are vanished away.

[Laman continues to work, drawing more and more vigorous diagrams. Lemuel, a little bored, starts banging his hands on his legs. He finds a rythm he likes. It’s Book of Mormon Stories.]

Lemuel: So it’s a brass ball with writing on it that tells you the way to go. Plus two spindles. And what’s that thingie holding them up?

Laman: An iron rod.

Lemuel: Wait a minute. That has some metaphorical meaning. Wasn’t that in the dream — the thing that kept you from going where you wanted?

Laman: Something like that. I never was big on that psychoanalysis stuff. [works a bit more.] What we need is a theory to explain it.

Lemuel: A theory’s no good. What you need is an answer.

Laman: Theories are how you get answers. It’s how science works. First, you find a theory. You have no idea whether it’s true or not, but you say, “Let’s suppose it’s true.” We call that a hypothesis. And then, you mull it over for a while. Do an experiment, see if the theory holds true.

Lemuel:[getting it] Things start to click.

Laman:You are enlightened.

Lemuel: You understand more.

Laman: Your theory grows. Pretty soon, you see applications. You create something based on the theory. It bears fruit. The thing works, you see that it’s good.

[Laman continues to mess with the liahona and his pieces of paper, now getting blown by the wind. The storm is getting pretty bad, now.]

Laman: Shall we go below, get some sandwiches or something?

Lemuel: Sounds good to me. You want anything, Nephi?

Nephi: MMmph, Mmm. MMph MM Mpph.

Laman: [shrugs] Guess not.

Laman[as they walk away.] You might as well call it a compass as a watch. Space, time, it’s all the same relativistically speaking. That’s a bad wind coming up, isn’t it?

Lemuel: Its a South-easter.

Laman: How do you know?

Lemuel: It says on the compass.


3 Responses to “Laman and Lemuel are Dead”

  1. marcistringham Says:

    This is great! I can’t believe I’ve never seen this before.

  2. tom Says:

    Very funny. I really like it!

  3. ICM Says:

    To the small subset of those familiar with both the Book of Mormon and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, this is hilarious! Love it!

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