This is a play about the life of Joseph Smith that I wrote about seven years ago for the youth in our ward. It is ten pages long and has about eighteen parts. The cast list is at the end.
Joseph Smith and the Ghosts of Church History
Joseph Smith and the Ghosts of Church History
by Rebecca H. Jamison
Act 1 Scene 1
[A church dance: music is playing and couples are dancing. Enter Emmett, a popular nerd, and his dance partner, Shoshawna. They’re doing a disco, break-dance, hip hop thing. The other dancers gather around Emmett in a circle. The music should last a minute or less. When the music ends, a few dancers come up to talk to Emmett.]
Marlow: Hey, that was some great dancing, Emmett.
Shoshawna: Yeah, too bad the dance is over.
LeDawn: We’ve missed you at church lately, Emmett. Where’ve you been?
Emmett: Oh, I’ve been kind of busy with my coin collection and [pauses then speaks proudly] my Tae Bo Video.
Shoshawna: Are you coming tomorrow?
Emmett: No way.
Marlow: Why not? We get treats in Sunday School and Priesthood—as long as it’s not fast Sunday.
Emmett: I just don’t feel like it. Church is kind of like a humbug. I’ve gotta go home now.
[Emmett walks away as the others shrug their shoulders. He walks to the front of the stage and to the right, where a sofa with ugly afghan awaits him.]
Emmett: Home Sweet Home.
[He sits on the sofa, where his mother has left a note. Emmett opens the note and reads it. Curtains close]
Emmett: Dear Emmett, I sure hope you had fun at the church dance. Sorry I didn’t wait up for you. I didn’t think I needed to worry about girls. Love, Mom. [Emmett sighs.]
[Emmett lies down on the sofa and rubs his stomach.]
Emmett: Man I wish I hadn’t eaten school lunch today.
[Grandma Harley, an old woman in hippy clothes or motorcycle gear, enters.]
Emmett: [not surprised] Oh, hey, Grandma Harley, what are you doing here? Wait a minute. [Jumps up in shock] You’re dead.
Grandma Harley: Settle down, Emmett. I’ve just dropped by for a little visit.
Emmett: [rubbing his stomach] I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that corn dog.
Grandma Harley: I’m here to talk to you about the church. You see, now that I’m on the other side, I’ve had some time to think. I really wasn’t a very good example for you.
Emmett: [rubbing stomach] I think maybe I’ll become a vegetarian.
Grandma Harley: Pay attention, Emmett, I’m talking about your reactivation.
Grandma Harley: Yes. You know, I’ve come to find out that the church is true. And now it’s your turn to find that out.
Emmett: So you want me to read the Book of Mormon?
Grandma Harley: Well, that’s an excellent idea, but, first, I think you need to learn a little bit about Joseph Smith. Tonight you’ll be visited by three of my good friends. The Ghost of Church History number one will visit you at one o’clock. The Ghost of Church History number two will visit you at three o’clock. And, finally, the Ghost of Church History number three will visit you some other time.
Emmett: Is this like early-morning seminary or something?
Grandma Harley: Sort of. Well, I better get going. See you later—maybe after the resurrection.
[Emmett lies down and pulls the Afghan over himself. Lights go out.]
Act 1 Scene 2
[Lights come on. Enter Ghost of Church History number one. She has big hair and is dressed in a poofy formal gown. Emmett wakes up and looks at the ghost.]
Emmett: Hey, do I know you? Are you my prom date or something?
Ghost #1: [Sighs in exasperation] I’m the Ghost of Church History #1. I’m here to help with your reactivation.
Emmett: [Stands up] Oh, my reactivation. Okay. What do you want me to do?
Ghost #1: Just hold on to my sleeve. Don’t get it dirty.
[Curtain opens and the two walk through. Scene is Joseph Smith’s home. Joseph is seven-years old. He is in bed. His mother and father are beside him. Emmett and the Ghost stand off to the side. Two doctors enter, carrying bags of tools. Much of this scene is copied from Stories from the Life of Joseph Smith by Richard Turley and Lael Littke.)
Doctor #1: My poor little Joseph, we have come again.
Seven-year-old Joseph: Yes, Doctor, I see you have. But you haven’t come to cut off my leg, have you sir?
Doctor #1: No. It is your mother’s request that we make one more effort. That’s what we have come for. Your mother has suggested that we cut into your leg again and take out the diseased part of the bone.
Doctor #2: It is a new treatment, but one I’ve tried many times. We hope it will cure the sickness so that you will be well.
Joseph: [takes a deep breath] Then do it.
[Joseph’s father sobs. Joseph takes his hand.]
Joseph: It will be all right, Father.
[Doctors begin to prepare for surgery by placing sharp instruments on a table and covering them with a cloth.]
Doctor #2: Mr. Smith, do you have some rope we can use to bind him?
Joseph: No. I won’t let you tie me.
Doctor #1: I’m sorry, son. It will be painful. We must tie you down so you won’t struggle.
Doctor #2: [pulls out bottle] We will give you some liquor. You must take something. Otherwise, you cannot endure the operation.
Joseph: No, I don’t need anything. Father will hold me. That’s all I need.
Mother Lucy: I’ll be here too, son.
Joseph: Mother, please go outside. I don’t want you to watch.
Mother: [kneeling beside the bed and putting her arms around him] Joseph, I have to help you through it.
Joseph: No, you’ve done so much for me already. Father is here, and the Lord will bless me. He made Sophronia well when she was so sick. He will help me too.
Emmett: [rubbing stomach] I’ll never eat in the school cafeteria again.
Ghost #1: Maybe we’d better leave. [They walk to the front of the stage and the curtain closes.]
Emmett: So, what happened after that?
Ghost #1: The operation was very painful. Joseph’s father stayed with him through it all, whispering encouragement, singing, and praying. After the surgery, Joseph had a long and painful recovery. It was a terrible experience for Joseph to endure, but it made him strong.
After the operation, the Smith family moved to Norwich, Vermont, where they suffered three successive years of crop failure, and then moved to Palmyra, New York.
In New York, Joseph grew tall and strong. He was able to work like a man even though he was still a boy. His friendly personality made him popular. He joined in barn raisings, dances, corn huskings, and athletic contests.
Act 1 Scene 3
Ghost #1: Joseph thought about which church to join. He wondered if there was a correct religion. Or were they all wrong? How would he know?
One day, in the spring of 1820, as he was reading the New Testament, a verse caught his attention.
Joseph: [soliloquy] James 1:5. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
This is what I need to do. I need to ask God which church is correct.
Ghost #1: [to Emmett] Do you know what happened next?
[Stage light goes out and spotlight falls on Joseph, who walks to the center of the stage.]
Joseph: So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.
I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me. Thick darkness gathered around me. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me--just at this moment of great alarm—I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until if fell upon me.
It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me, I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him.
As soon as I was able to speak, I asked the Personages which of all the sects was right. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong. The personage who addressed me said that if I would remain obedient, I could assist in the great work of the restoration.
[Lights go out.]
Act 2 Scene 1
[Lights come on. Emmett is sprawled awkwardly on the couch. He wakes with a loud snore.]
Emmett: Where am I? [scratches head] That was some crazy dream. [Ghost #2 enters and stands behind the couch. She is wearing a robe or coat, under which she can hide objects.] Or not.
Ghost #2: So, what do you think of Joseph Smith now, Emmett?
Emmett: I guess he was really a prophet. I mean, he really saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
Ghost #2: I wish everyone could know what we know.
[Enter Abigail, Jane, and Charlotte from opposite end of stage]
Jane: That crazy Joe Smith. For over two years now, he’s exerted that he’s seen a [pauses and speaks melodramatically] vision.
Charlotte: Yes, well, he must feel very important to see things no one else does.
Abigail: I feel heartily sorry for him. He should be locked away, but that Smith family continues to support him in his lies.
Jane: Maybe they’re all as crazy as Holy Joe.
Act 2 Scene 2
[Curtains open, revealing Smith family home. Jane, Abigail, and Charlotte exit. Smith family, which now includes a baby, Lucy, is seated as the father stands to address them.]
Father Joseph: I’ve called you all together this evening because something of great importance has occurred. Your brother Joseph has received another heavenly messenger.
Hyrum: Will the Lord permit you to tell us what happened, Joseph?
Sophronia: Oh, Joseph, tell us about it.
Joseph: A few nights ago, I stayed up late into the night, praying to the Lord. My sins were weighing heavily upon me and I wished to be forgiven.
As I knelt there, I noticed a light growing brighter and brighter. An angel appeared. He was whiter than any earthly thing. His name was Moroni. He spoke of a book written on gold plates, containing a sacred record of an ancient people.
He showed me in vision where these plates were deposited—not too far from our home. Today, I went to that place. I found the plates buried beneath a rock in a stone box.
Samuel: Did you bring the plates home?
Joseph: No, the angel did not permit me to touch them. I fear that I am not yet worthy.
Alvin: Joseph, you seem tired. Let us go to bed now then rise early. We will finish tomorrow’s work an hour before sunset. Then, if mother will get our supper early, we will all sit down while you tell us the great things God has revealed to you.
[Smith family exits the stage.]
Act 2 Scene 3
Ghost #2: For the next four years, Joseph continued to prepare himself to be worthy to take the plates. In 1827, the year he married Emma, he felt that the angel Moroni would permit him to take the plates. But, he was afraid that people would try to steal the plates from him.
[Joseph reenters, looking 4 years older, wearing a suit coat. Emma accompanies him.]
Joseph: I’ll need to go to the hill after midnight. Most people will be asleep then.
Emma: I’ll go with you and keep watch while you speak with the angel.
Joseph: Thank you, Emma. Are you sure you won’t be afraid?
Emma: Not if you’re there.
Emmett: So, those plates--were they like twenty-four karat gold? Cause if they were, they would be worth like a lot of money.
Ghost #2: The plates were worth more than money, Emmett.
[Joseph enters Smith house, accompanied by Don Carlos. He carries the heavy plates, wrapped in his coat.]
Don Carlos: Mother, Joseph has been attacked.
Mother: Who attacked you?
Joseph: I’m not sure. It happened three different times. The men were all different.
Katherine: Are those the plates? Can we see them?
Joseph: No. I intend to be faithful to the Lord’s commands.
Act 2 Scene 4
Ghost #2: Joseph encountered so much opposition in Palmyra, that he and Emma moved to her parents’ home in Harmony, Pennsylvania to translate the plates. But even then, they continued to have trouble.
Emmett: Can we see the plates?
Ghost #2: No.
Emmett: So Joseph was the only one who saw the plates?
Ghost #2: No, no, no, eventually the three witnesses and the eight witnesses all saw the plates. [Pulls Book of Mormon out from robe.] Their names are recorded at the beginning of the Book of Mormon.
Emmett: Oh, yeah, I think I remember hearing something about that. I really should read the Book of Mormon.
Ghost #2: Then you can find out for yourself that it’s true.
Act 2 Scene 5
Emmett: So what’s next? Let me guess. They publish the Book of Mormon and then they start missionary work.
Ghost #2: Well, yes, a few weeks after the Book of Mormon was printed, Joseph organized the church. It was April 6, 1830.
[Joseph and Oliver enter the front of stage followed by Father Smith, Orrin Porter Rockwell, and Martin Harris, all three wrapped in blankets as if they have just been baptized.]
Joseph: Praise to my God! That I lived to see my own father baptized into the true Church of Jesus Christ!
[Joseph and father embrace.]
Father: My heart is full, thinking that the Lord’s true church has been restored.
Orrin Porter Rockwell: I shall never forget this day as long as I live. I have felt for myself the power and blessings of the Holy Ghost.
Martin Harris: I agree with you, Brother Rockwell. I too have felt God’s power. How long have we awaited this day, Oliver? And now, look at us all, the first members of the Lord’s true church.
Oliver: Yes, Martin, the Lord has begun the great work of His church.
[Youth sing “Let the Mountains Shout with Joy”]
[Lights out.] (INTERMISSION)
Act 3 Scene 1
[Emmett sleeps on couch. Ghost #3 approaches. She is wearing a business suit and is quite severe in her appearance. She carries a briefcase.]
Ghost #3: [roughly] Wake up, Emmett. [Emmett wakes in fear] I’ve heard about you. You’re the one that says church is a humbug . . . Isn’t that word a little out of fashion?
Emmett: Well, actually, I’m sort of an out of fashion guy.
Ghost #3: Allow me to introduce myself. I am the ghost of church history from June 1830 to July 1844, specializing in Kirtland, Ohio; Jackson County, Missouri; and Nauvoo, Illinois. I brought along a little test—to see how much you already know about this period. [pulls thick stack of papers out of briefcase.]
Emmett: [shielding himself with his arms and backing away] I’m really not good at taking tests.
Ghost #3: Very well then, I will just continue with the story. A year after the church was organized, the members began to gather together in Kirtland, Ohio. They were happy there. But as more and more saints came, the other citizens began to feel threatened.
[Enter Emma carrying twin babies wrapped in blankets, followed by Mary Elizabeth, carrying rocking chair, which she places at front corner of stage.]
Mary Elizabeth: Here, Sister Emma, sit here and rest. You have had a terrible night.
Emma: I’m worried about little Joseph. He is still weak from the measles. I fear that the mob bursting into our home last night was too much for him. He is worse today.
Mary Elizabeth: Let me hold baby Julia. [takes one baby from Emma]
Emma: It was a terrible shock last night to see Joseph covered in tar and feathers. At first I thought it was blood. It took us all night to clean him up. Thank goodness for good friends who helped us.
Mary Elizabeth: It’s a wonder he preached to the congregation this morning.
Emma: Were you there?
Mary Elizabeth: I was. Brother Joseph spoke of brotherly love and forgiveness. A few members of the mob were in the audience.
Act 3 Scene 2
Emmett: What happened to the baby—little Joseph?
Ghost #3: He died a few days later. It was a difficult time for Joseph and Emma. Little Joseph was the fourth child they had lost. Later that year, the Lord blessed them with a fine, healthy baby boy. Joseph and Emma also named him Joseph, after his father, and in memory of the little Joseph who passed away.
Emmett: Did anything good happen in Kirtland?
Ghost #3: Lots of things. The Lord revealed the law of consecration and the word of wisdom. Joseph started translating parts of the bible. And, best of all, the saints built a temple to the Lord.
Emmett: There was a temple in Kirtland?
Ghost #3: Yes, it still stands today. There’s a painting of the Kirtland Temple near the Relief Society room.
Emmett: The Relief Society Room?
Ghost #3: It’s near the phone and the water fountain.
Emmett: Oh, I know where that is.
Act 3 Scene 3
[Enter a choir and conductor, rehearsing “The Spirit of God” for the temple dedication. They sing one verse.]
Choir Conductor: I think this is an excellent song that Brother Phelps has composed. It will sound beautiful at the temple dedication tomorrow.
[Choir and conductor exit.]
Ghost #3: The temple was dedicated on March 27, 1836. A thousand people attended the dedication, and there was a great outpouring of the spirit.
[Enter Mary Ann Angell (Brigham’s wife), Eliza R. Snow]
Eliza: I say this temple has been worth every sacrifice I’ve ever made. It’s worth one hundred times our sacrifices.
Mary Ann: I have never felt such joy, Eliza. I feel as though I have been filled with the glory of God.
Eliza: Many of the saints have seen angels and other marvelous things. Was Brigham at the priesthood meeting when the spirit came in like the rushing wind?
Mary Ann: Indeed he was. I have never felt the divine presence so strongly as I have during these past few days of the dedication. I feel like shouting hosanna even now just thinking about it all.
Eliza: I do too, Mary Ann.
[Eliza, and Mary Ann hold hands and lift them up into the air, shouting Hosanna. Then exit.]
Emmett: So all the trials were over now, right?
Ghost #3: Not quite. The persecution in Kirtland became so great that Joseph was forced to flee to Missouri.
Emmett: Oh yeah. I know how to spell that—M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I—Missouri. So I guess people were friendlier in Missouri?
Ghost #3: Not really. Most of the time, Joseph was in Liberty Jail.
Act 3 Scene 4
[Scene is Joseph, Hyrum, and Sidney Rigdon chained together in Liberty Jail. Spotlight on three men in the middle of darkness.]
Sidney: I feel so discouraged. We have been here so long. How long must we suffer? We have done nothing wrong. Yet, we sit on the floor of this cold, stony place with nothing but rotten food to eat and foul-mouthed guards constantly abusing us.
Hyrum: I’ll pray that the guards will allow us to have a doctor help you, Brother Sidney. You have been ill for far too long.
Joseph: This morning, I prayed to the Lord, asking how long the Saints would continue to suffer. The Lord answered, ‘My son, peace be to thy soul.’ He told me my trials would be but a small moment. And promised that if I would endure them well, God shall exalt me on high. The Lord knows our trials. He understands them because He has descended below all the trials we face. He has suffered all that we suffer and more.
Sidney: It brings me great comfort to hear it, Joseph.
Hyrum: It does indeed. Let us pray to our Heavenly Father, that we might be filled with the Holy Spirit as we face our trials.
Emmett: I guess I shouldn’t complain so much about the school cafeteria . . . How did they ever get out of there?
Ghost #3: The authorities knew the men were innocent, so they allowed Joseph, Sidney, and Hyrum to escape while they were taking them to another prison. Nine days later, they were greeting their family members in Illinois.
Act 3 Scene 5
Emmett: Oh yeah, Illinois. That’s where the Nauvoo temple is.
Ghost #3: Very good, Emmett. Maybe there is hope for you. Joseph led the saints as they built the great city of Nauvoo and started work on the temple there. He also began to restore the temple ordinances and translate parts of the Pearl of Great Price. But, even though he was busy, he still took time for play.
[Enter Joseph with several boys to the front of the stage. He’s carrying a broom handle or stick.]
Joseph: Let’s have a contest of stick pulling.
[Two young men pull sticks. When one wins, Joseph pats them on the back.]
Joseph: Good job, boys. Now, how would you like to help me build a log house for the widow Johnson?
Boy 1: That sounds like fun, Brother Joseph.
Boy 2: We can probably find some others to help too.
Act 3 Scene 6
Emmett: Now you’re going to tell me something bad, aren’t you?
Ghost #3: What do you think, Emmett?
Emmett: You’re going to tell me about persecution and mobs.
Ghost #3: You’re right, Emmett. The same sort of things that happened in Missouri and Ohio also happened in Nauvoo. The worst of it happened in Carthage jail.
Emmett: What? What happened there?
[Scene: Joseph, Hyrum, John Taylor, Willard Richards, and Dan Jones sit on chairs inside the Carthage jail.]
Joseph: Are you afraid to die, Brother Jones?
Dan: Engaged in such a cause, I do not think that death would have many terrors.
Joseph: You will yet see Wales and fulfill the mission appointed you before you die. As for me, I am very much resigned to my lot, knowing I am justified, and have done the best that could be done.
Now, Brother Dan, you must go. Go tell Governor Ford about our situation.
[Dan Jones departs.]
Joseph: It is better for me to die than for my dear brothers and sisters to suffer as they did in Missouri. I am willing to die for them. My work is finished.
Hyrum: Brother Taylor, could we trouble you to sing “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” for us?
John Taylor: Yes, of course I’ll sing for you.
[John Taylor sings or lip syncs the verse about being in prison. Lights go out after he begins the song. He continues singing in the darkness.]
Act 3 Scene 7
[Lights on. The Saints come in and sit in a circle, obviously mourning their prophet and his brother. These include Mother Lucy, Emma, Mary Fielding, Samuel Smith, Katherine, and Sophronia, as well as others. ]
Katherine: Brother Taylor has asked that I read his words to you. He is, at the moment, suffering from his wounds.
“Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.
“Joseph and Hyrum Smith will be classed among the martyrs of religion; and many should be reminded that the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants cost the best blood of the nineteenth century to bring them forth for the salvation of a ruined world.
“Joseph lived great and he died great in the eyes of God and his people. He, like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated.”
Youth sing “Praise to the Man”
[Lights go on and Emmett wakes on the couch. He seems surprised to look around and find himself at home.]
Emmett: [calling] Mom?
Mom: [entering room] Yes, dear.
Emmett: What day is it?
Emmett: [excited] Is it really? Like the day we go to church?
Mom: Yes, Emmett, Sunday is the day we go to church.
Emmett: [jumping up] Am I late?
Mom: No, our ward starts at eleven now. You have plenty of time.
Emmett: Great, then I can get started on the Book of Mormon before we go.
Mom: [feeling Emmett’s forehead and looking worried] All right dear, whatever you say. You’re such a good boy. [To herself] I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about girls.
[As Emmett opens the Book of Mormon, the curtains open and music plays as cast members come out to take their bows. Emmett is so involved in reading the Book of Mormon that it is difficult for the ghosts to pull him onto the stage and force him to take a bow.]
Cast members (18 + male characters; 18 + female characters):
Emmett Shuppe: A main character, who is sort of a Napoleon Dynamite type
Shoshawna: Emmett’s dance partner
LeDawn: A girl from Emmett’s ward
Marlow: A guy from Emmett’s ward
Grandma Harley: Emmett’s dead grandma, who was a hippy, motorcycle-rider
Ghost #1: A formal, snobby girl ghost who narrates the first part of Joseph’s life
Doctor #1: Joseph Smith’s primary care physician
Seven-year-old Joseph Smith \
Doctor #2: Joseph Smith’s specialist doctor
Father Joseph: Joseph Smith’s father (dies by Act 3 Sc. 12)
Mother Lucy: Joseph Smith’s mother
Joseph Smith: main character
Abigail, Jane, and Charlotte: three young women from Palmyra
Alvin Smith: Joseph’s older brother (Alvin dies before Act 2 Scene 3)
Hyrum Smith: Joseph’s older brother
Sophronia Smith: Joseph’s older sister
Samuel Smith: Joseph’s younger brother
William Smith: Joseph’s brother just younger than himself
Katherine Smith: Joseph’s younger sister
Don Carlos: Joseph’s youngest brother (Don Carlos dies by Act 3 Sc. 12)
Lucy Smith: Joseph’s youngest sister
Ghost #2: a flamboyant girl ghost who narrates Act 2
Emma Smith: Joseph’s wife
Orrin Porter Rockwell: one of the first members of the church
Martin Harris: one of the first members of the church
Oliver Cowdery: one of the first members of the church
Ghost #3: A very business-like and terrible-teacher-like girl ghost who narrates Act 3
Mary Elizabeth: saint from Kirtland
Choir: group of saints who sing “The Spirit of God” (possible youth band playing the song)
Mary Ann Angell: Brigham Young’s wife
Eliza R. Snow
Boy 1 and Boy 2: two young men from Nauvoo who play sticks with Joseph
Willard Richards: saint who accompany Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage jail
Dan Jones: saint who accompany Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage jail.
John Taylor: saint who accompanies Joseph in Carthage and sings a solo
Mom: Emmett’s mother