The latest incarnation of ‘Father Ben, upper left; Ben Roberts as Father Ben in the Netherlands, 1999; The real thing, Father Carl Kabat, pictured prior to his breaking into another nuclear facility, mid 2000’s.
Tempus Fugit. The clock goes around and I have reached a sort of milestone. 20 years ago next week, my play A CLOWN, A HAMMER, A BOMB, AND GOD opened at the New York International Fringe Festival. It was 1997, and a time when a President could be impeached over oral sex (or more specifically lying about it). More important, it was a time when there was a real possibility of getting rid of nuclear weapons. The USSR had collapsed, and the Project for a New American Century had not yet figured out how to force Clinton to go to war against Iraq. There was a window of hope that opened briefly, only to slam shut on 9/11. And that’s when I brought my play to the New York Fringe Fest.
The play is based on the actions of one Father Carl Kabat.
On Good Friday 1994 (which fell on April Fool’s Day), Kabat dressed in a clown suit, broke into a Minuteman III Missile base in North Dakota, and disabled a missile by hammering the silo door shut (the missiles are in deep silos placed under huge steel and concrete silo doors designed to keep them working if the bases are themselves attacked with nuclear weapons). It’s one of many such actions undertaken by the good Father. When I first heard of it, I contacted him and asked if I could write about it. He is still out there causing trouble. We toured my play for awhile and then we didn’t after the US decided we should return vengeance on those who had done us wrong. I had hoped we would take a deep breath and stop with our anger, but we did not.
I am sad to report that we are leaning into the wind now on nuclear weapons. Our leaders are now beating the drum for more war, and the splitting of atoms isn’t the impossibility one would hope for. So even though I’d like to put the play up on the shelf, it’s still relevant to talk about nuclear Armageddon. In fact, it’s more relevant than it’s been in several years.
On Sunday, I’m heading over to Tompkins Square Park to commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima 72 years ago this week. Those of us who are in a praying mood will perhaps pray that we’ll never see the likes of a mushroom cloud again. In the meantime, I need to make sure that the work of people like Father Carl Kabat is upheld. So if you want me to come talk about the threat of nuclear destruction and how one priest disarmed a nuclear weapon on Good Friday, you know where to find me.
(My performance of the play on Good Friday 2012 at Union square. Please note that my makeup had been absconded with by two ‘crusties’ who were hanging about in the area. It was a decent performance, though. There’s a partial archive of all the performances of the play here)