Summary: A Good Friday/Easter drama based on the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, as experienced by Pontius Pilate. The whole play takes place in one location, Pilate’s palace.
Style: Dramatic. Duration: About 25min.
Actors: M, 1F, plus 7+V
Scriptures: Matt 26 – 28, Mark 14 - 16, Luke 22 – 24, John 18 - 20
Pontius Pilate: A difficult character to get along with: he can change from sarcasm to anger to self-doubt very suddenly.
Caiaphas (High Priest): A sly, shifty and greedy sort of character.
Jesus: Basically, a non-speaking part – he only speaks one sentence in the play.
Front door Guard: Roman soldier, functioning as the palace front door guard; he interacts with Pilate regularly.
Soldiers: High Priest’s and Roman soldiers, assign as applicable.
Roman Commanding Officer
3 Priests and 2 Pharisees, or a combination – minimum of three
The location is the palace where Pilate resides while in Jerusalem. The set consists of a smaller inside section, and a larger open court section (the Jews did not go inside, as that would have prohibited them from eating the Passover meal – cf. John 18:28).
The set can be as simple or as elaborate as the director decides.
These are also up to the director, but there should be some historical reference to the clothing of religious leaders, Roman soldiers the governor, etc.
Crown of thorns
Some sticks, swords
Washbowl with water
A judge’s bench (cf. John 19:13)
Roman style wine cup
Horizontal beam of the cross
Night sounds (crickets, etc.)
Early morning (Birds, etc.)
A rooster crowing
General crowd sounds; street sounds
Additional mob shouting “Barabbas!” and “Kill him! Crucify him!” – to be synchronized with actors on stage creating the impression of a large crowd
(The stage is dark)
(Sound FX: Quiet night, some crickets. A rooster crows in the distance. More quiet night, then the rooster crows again, much louder this time)
PILATE (voice only)
Oh, for Jupiter’s sake! It’s not even sunrise yet. Where’s Colonel Sanders when you need him.
MRS PILATE (voice only, sleepily, yawning)
Who’s Colonel Sanders, Dear? The new regimental commander?
No, he’s a trader at the downtown market selling roast chicken.
Why’s he called ‘Colonel Sanders’ then?
Really woman, I am the Governor of Judea, I don’t have time to explore people’s naming preferences
(Stage light slowly fades up, indicating sunrise). Pilate comes onto the stage. He looks out the window.)
Sound FX: some rowdy crowd noises.
(A guard comes in through the front entrance)
What’s that commotion out there?
The body of a suicide victim has been found in a…
Judas Iscariot. Apparently, he was one of the followers of Jesus Josephson, the rebel preacher who has been causing trouble wherever he went.
I know about him. Why did Iscariot kill himself?
Word on the street has it that he was the one who enabled the High Priest’s security detail to arrest Josephson in Gethsemane last night.
These religious people – never any peace when they’re around.
That may be truer than you think, Your Excellency. My information is that they’re heading this way for you to play judge.
Oh, Great Tiberius Caesar help us!
(The guard goes outside, speaking to the Caiaphas and others (inaudible). Pilate goes out as well, to meet Caiaphas and entourage. They have their prisoner with them.)
His Eminence the High Priest, Sir.
My dear Caiaphas, your robe is torn…
CAIPHAS (Charged up)
The profanity of the imposter-messiah Jesus Josephson left me with no option Your Excellency! This vexatious mortal had the audacity claim that he is God!
Yes, well, that robe went out of fashion a long time ago anyway. Now, why is this vexatious mortal imposter-messiah here?
CAIAPHAS (equally sarcastic)
Because he is a criminal - obviously… Your Excellency
Of-course he is. Go and judge him by your own laws.
We’re not allowed to execute him.
That serious, hey?
(Pilate looks at a bruised Jesus, then back at Caiaphas)
Looks like you initiated the execution process already…
(Caiaphas keeps quiet)
PILATE (Addressing Jesus)
So, are you the king of the Jews?
Those are your words.
(There is a slight pause, while Pilate just looks at Jesus.)
He is a fraud misleading our loyal citizens.
He claimed that sex workers will be rewarded with everlasting life.
Delightful prospect for the afterlife.
One of his followers attacked and cut off the ear of the servant of the High Priest.
He kept on healing people on our Sabbath when we are supposed to abstain from laborious activities.
I know what you mean. I myself have been trying to take off weekends.
He rode into town on a stolen donkey!
He called King Herod a fox.
That seems like an accurate description to me.
(To Jesus): Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?
(Jesus just keeps quiet. There’s a long pause)
He's been causing trouble all over Judea ever since he started his so-called ministry in Galilee and now…
Where did you say he is from?
(Pilate is suddenly pleased, giving a cunning little laugh; then he starts ranting)
You know what? I’ve had ENOUGH of you lot! If Josephson is from Galilee, it means he falls in my good friend His Royal Majesty King Herod’s jurisdiction, which means he is said monarch’s problem; And you know what else? Herod just happens to be in Jerusalem at the moment. Who says I can’t be lucky as well, heh? So, what are you waiting for? Tickets to the gladiator contests in Rome? Go! And take your prisoner with you.
(Abruptly his mood changes to insincerely pleasant.)
And give the king my best wishes for a merry Passover or whatever the appropriate expression is. Guards!!
(Soldiers and priests/Pharisees whisk Jesus away.)
(Fade to black)
(Lights fade up)
(Pilate is relaxing inside when he is disturbed by the guard, who comes in and says something inaudible. Pilate sighs, gets up and walks over to the High Priest and his contingent. Jesus is with them.)
Indeed, we are Your Excellency.
PILATE (to Roman Commanding Officer) What was Herod’s verdict?
He sends his most heartfelt regards; says you are a true friend.
I am? (Then, answering his own question) Of-course I am.
Here’s his report
(Hands over a sealed document. Pilate breaks the seal and opens the document, and studies it for a moment)
PILATE (to priests/Pharisees)
As I thought: Not guilty.
(Pilate thinks for a while)
You said he was a troublemaker, yet you brought no solid evidence to substantiate your accusations. I questioned him in front of you, but I could not find any wrongdoing in his actions. I then sent him to Herod, who also did not find him guilty. So, here’s the deal: I’ll have him whipped, but then he is free to go. Guard! Take this prisoner and have him flogged, then bring him back!
(Soldiers take Jesus to one side, handling him quite roughly. They give him a crown of thorns and a purple robe. They push him around and mock him. It is up to the director how graphic and violent this scene must be)
Praise be to thee, thou great king of the Jews.
SOLDIER 2 (slaps Jesus)
So, if you’re the Messiah, tell us who hit you!
(Then they lead him off-stage, and one can hear sound of whipping)
(Pilate is alone on stage. His wife enters)
I’ve had these dreams…
PILATE (very irritated)
I’m not your psychotherapist…
MRS PILATE (unfazed)
Do not have anything to do with judgement of this man, Ponty, he is innocent.
Yes woman, I know. Now go away, I’m in the middle of a trial.
(Pilate’s wife exits. Caiaphas and priests/Pharisees sneak back. Pilate sits down at the judge’s bench)
If you set this man free, you are no friend of the Emperor! Anyone who claims to be a king is an enemy of the Emperor…
PILATE (to soldiers)
Bring the prisoner here!
(Jesus is brought back. A crowd gathers outside as well now.)
Explain to me once again what this man’s crime was.
CAIAPHAS (rolling his eyes)
Like I said: He claimed to be the Son of God! Our Jewish Law says that he must be put to death for that.
PILATE (to Jesus)
Tell me the truth: what is your mission?
(Jesus keeps quiet. Pilate loses his cool, jumps up and goes and stands very close to Jesus, shouting.)
Why don’t you answer?! Don’t you know I have the power to set you free or let you die a very painful, humiliating death?!
(Jesus does not respond. Pilate addresses the crowd)
Listen to me! Here’s the deal: As you may or may not know, the Roman government releases a prisoner each year during Passover, as a gesture of goodwill. So, who do you want to be set free today? You can choose which Jesus you want: Jesus Barabbas, the terrorist, or Jesus who is called the Messiah.
Just so there is no misunderstanding, who do you want me to release?
And Jesus the Galilean?
Kill him! Crucify him! Kill him!
(Pilate looks around anxiously, goes over to a wash basin.)
I won’t have anything to do with the death of this man…
Where is the soap? Why is there no soap?!
(He takes some water and washes his hands in front of the crowd)
Take him and crucify him!
(Jesus is led to the background where, where the horizontal wooden beam of the cross is placed on his shoulders. Jesus then starts his journey to Golgotha and everybody leaves the stage, except Pilate and Caiaphas. Pilate stands with his back to the Caiaphas. Pilate starts washing his hands again, then looks at his hands.)
There is blood on my hands!
Get a hold of yourself…Your Excellency. There is nothing on your hands. His blood will be on our hands, and the generations after us…
You may go now…
(Caiaphas exits, leaving Pilate on his own. Pilate just sits and stares at nothing in particular. After a while, Caiaphas comes rushing back, out of breath, with the Guard on his heels)
I’m sorry Your Excellency, His Eminence did not ask for permission…
(Pilate glares at Caiaphas)
There has been some mistake, Your Excellency! The charge sheet you have instructed to be put on the cross of Jesus, contains a small typographical error.
And what might that be?
The sign reads, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews’
It should say that he claimed to be king of the…
What is written will not be changed! I hope that is understood!
(Caiaphas exits without saying anything else. Pilate gets up and washes his hands again, frantically.
Where’s the soap…
(Pilate lies down on a couch, maybe falls asleep. Lights stay on, but it is extremely quiet. After a while, there is a sudden, unexpected, very loud earthquake-like sound. Lighting cuts to black)
PILATE (Jumps up)
GUARD (comes in with candle; very dim lighting)
What’s going on?
Don’t know, it just went dark outside.
Why are the streetlamps not lit? This lack of basic service delivery will still be the Empire’s downfall.
(There’s a knock on the door. The guard goes outside, speaks to someone – inaudible. Goes back in.)
There’s a Joseph from Arimathea to see you, Your Excellency.
What? Is he lost?
(Pilate goes out to meet him)
I am a follower of Jesus from Galilee, who was executed earlier today. I would like permission to take his body to give him a proper burial.
PILATE (looks at him surprised, then speaks to the guard)
Is the crucified rebel-leader already deceased?
Yes, Your Excellency.
PILATE (Pause, considers request))
Give the body to this man here.
(Stage lighting fades to black)
SCENE 3 - Saturday.
(Sound effects: early morning bird sounds. Lights fade up. The guard approaches Pilate)
His Eminency, the High Priest…
(Caiaphas and 2 priests/Pharisees enter)
PILATE (extremely irritated)
What’s this – aren’t you supposed not to work on the Sabbath?
Well, to quote that rebel preacher Jesus: if an ox fell into the well on the Sabbath, you cannot just leave it there…
So, which ox is in what well today?
Well, here’s the thing: when that liar Jesus was alive…
May he rest in peace…
CAIAPHAS (Caiaphas glares at the priest, then continues)
When that deceiver was alive, he preached that he would come back from the dead in three days. So, we need you to give the order that the tomb is to be closely guarded for three days, in case his disciples want to come and steal his body.
Yes, and then they will tell the people that he has been raised to life, and this last lie will be worse than the first one.
They will be spreading fake news.
Already one of your soldiers who was present at the crucifixion allegedly suggested that Jesus was the Son of God…
The Roman Armed Forces revere Caesar, it does not endorse individual officers’ superstitions.
Do whatever you deem necessary
(Lights fade down)
SCENE 4 - Sunday
(Early morning sounds. Lights fade up slowly: it is sunrise. Pilate enters, sits down and sips on some drink.)
GUARD (Comes in after a while,
Word on the street is that some women have seen the rebel preacher who was executed on Friday…
Jesus the Galilean?
Yes. Apparently, he was alive and well…
Yes, that is why females are not allowed to testify in court – they tend to talk rubbish.
Some of his male followers saw him, too – allegedly.
(While he is talking, Caiaphas appears in the doorway, but Pilate does not notice)
Go get that useless Chief of Priests and bring him here immediately!
I think he is here already.
Talk about the devil.
I can explain…
I’m sure you can.
Truth is, the guards at the tomb fell asleep, and what we feared has happened: the followers of Jesus came and removed his body.
PILATE (extremely annoyed)
Well, if that is true, those soldiers will be executed before I have my mid-morning snack!
Umm…There are some mitigating circumstances, Your Excellency. It was a long day and a long night, and the soldiers were working double shifts and…
PILATE (immediately realises what has happened)
You paid them to spread this cock and bull story, didn’t you? You paid them and now you want to start your own fake news story!
(Caiaphas keeps quiet)
(Insecure. He turns away from Caiaphas, and talks, more to himself than to Caiaphas)
How did this happen? How did this happen!? A nobody carpenter with a small group of ignorant ruffians and fishermen, supported by some low-class females…and yet he managed to get religious leaders to act like hooligans and a mighty Empire to try and stop a rebellion…
(Pilate, back to being self-confident; turns to Caiaphas)
Don’t worry. This will soon blow over. It’s no big deal, nothing will ever come of this. Just another religious fanatic executed… Nothing will ever come of this
(Pilate gives Caiaphas an insincere smile)
Can I pour you some wine?
(Lights fade to black)
© JPJ de Bruyn 2017. All rights reserved.