Brighde Mullins









From RARE BIRD, first performed by Pioneer Theatre Company, Salt Lake City, Utah. Directed by Elizabeth Williamson








{Lights up on MRS. BERNADETTE BEEBE. She is in her late 70’s. She wears an outfit in which everything she wears matches everything else—- her accessories, shoes, et cetera)







I tried to keep my family around me, you know, my kids.

We moved to Las Vegas in the 70’s when there was a housing boom on and my husband was working construction and we bought a five-bedroom house for $30,000.  Yeah.  We had a swimming pool in the backyard and each of the four kids had their own bedroom, and we put a bumper sticker on the Chevy that said “Thank you for paying our taxes.” Ha.  We never had much to do with the Strip, except that we liked to bring the kids to a buffet now and then.

It was like we were living anywhere.


Our oldest son, our Alex, he was good at Math, a whiz. And people liked him, for no reason, they just liked him. That’s a bad combination for a compulsive gambler.  He started out fixing the ATM machines at the casinos, and then before you knew it he was playing poker and blackjack. He said he felt like God was “smiling upon him” when he walked into the Horseshoe. He said that things suddenly made sense.


So it started with Alex.  First he borrowed a little money, here and there, I’d write him a check, you know, to tide him over, not a lot, we never had a lot, but what we had was theirs, the kids, you know how it is.  Alex would pay back the money in cash while wearing a full-length suede coat in the Mojave Desert, and driving a Corvette.

Two weeks later the Corvette was gone. And he was borrowing his sister’s Huffy bicycle to get to work.


I started getting nervous so I went to talk with our Priest, Father John, for advice, and Father John said to pray for Alex. So I prayed.

My prayers didn’t seem to work. I talked to Alex, but that didn’t seem to work.  The thought occurred to me that Alex might be better off if he were out of harm’s way, you know, far away from the temptations of the Las Vegas Strip, of this city. So I put him on a greyhound bus to visit my brother in Van Nuys, and he got back on track there, far away from the Strip.


Now Maureen was my second oldest and she wasn’t so good at Math in the way that girls sometimes aren’t so I thought oh, she’s safe.  She got a job at the Stardust, spinning the Roulette Wheel.

We were very proud of her, she looked so glamorous in her fishnet stockings, with her hair piled up on her head, and it was before she gained all that weight, so she was really striking. A beautiful girl. She was the Galaxy Giveaway Girl.  But I hadn’t known about the mesmerizing power of the roulette wheel, and that was the grip that Maureen found herself in, with all of those people around that wheel, wanting the same number.  It took less time for Maureen to get into financial trouble because the wheel’s fickle, you know, and pretty soon we had these vicious ladies with Southern accents calling us at 6 AM demanding payments on credit card loans.

I went back to Father John and again he said that the only thing that I could do was to pray for Maureen. I thought maybe I hadn’t prayed hard enough last time, so I Prayed Harder, I prayed longer, I said the rosary over and over.  But after the silverware started disappearing, I knew that I had to send Maureen away too, so I put her on a train to her to her Aunt Gertrude in Valparaiso.

          (long beat)




Now my third child was Phoebe and Phoebe, I don’t know where she came from!  Phoebe always erred on the side of caution, which is to say, she never set foot in a casino or took a long-shot in her life.  She’s careful.  But my fourth and last child, my baby, Brian, he was a really talented kid, he had charisma. He could sing and tap-dance:  but he was sensible, and he went and studied accounting at the local university, and he got a good job at Nevada Savings and Loan, it’s run by Mormons.  Now the Mormons don’t gamble, and the Mormons don’t drink: it’s against their religion, which is of course, how they keep holding onto the reins in a city like Las Vegas. I didn’t worry about Brian the way that I’d worried about my other kids. He saw their examples, and he said he knew what the odds were against winning.  But still knowing the odds didn’t keep him away from the craps tables.

I went back to Father John, and I said “This is It, Father, this is my last child and I am losing him to gambling, too.”  Father John said that only Divine Intervention could help my child. Divine Intervention shows up in unexpected places, Father John said.  But it didn’t show up fast enough, and we had to put Brian on a plane to Hartford, Connecticut, where his cousins live.


My kids would come home on holidays, but they lived their daily lives, the ones that matter, elsewhere, and that was like a steak knife in my heart. There we were, me and my husband, roaming around in this big empty house in the Mojave Desert.  The only reason we moved there and bought that big house in the first place was because all I had ever wanted was to have my family around me.


My husband worked construction for thirty years and never made foreman and so his body was giving out, they can’t do construction forever, especially in the Mojave Desert. He helped build the Luxor, the Mirage and the Venetian. The Luxor I never cared for, the Egyptian-themed one, a big sphinx without a riddle; and the Mirage was not for me, the volcano, et cetera, so what– but oh I loved the Venetian!  Every woman loves a little Italy, and they had gondoliers with Italian accents, and real faux canals running through the casino.  The Venetian was the last hotel my husband helped build. And he was tired, and we were really scrimping and saving, and barely getting by. I was at the Safeway, and I was rummaging through my coupons, and thinking about what kind of meal I could put together for dinner, and I was pretty worried, and so I prayed, I just said two words,  HELP ME,  as I walked past this one slot machine and this slot machine was glinting in the sunlight, and I stopped and dropped a nickel in and –DING DING DING!

Well those bells and those lights were the closest thing I’d ever felt to Father John’s description of Divine Intervention.  Suddenly it all made sense. That night I polished the steak-knives and we ate sirloin.

Since then I’ve learned where the hot slots are (at the end of the row) and I can now play two machines at once (you just have to stake a claim) and I can hear from the way the coins fall (you can tell a nickel from a quarter) whether the slots are loose. Now I’ll tell you: you want to find a machine with multiple horizontal lines and you want to stay far away from a three reel machine. Now if you are after a top prize pay-off, and why wouldn’t you be, then you are looking for machine that is gurgling out coins that are slightly hot to the touch, that’s how you know the insides are churning and the machine is close to full tilt on the pay line.  Yes, warm coins are a real sign, especially on progressive machines in which case you should play more than one coin per spin. At least two–   Some might say that the slots take less skill than video poker, but I would have to disagree. After all– how could they have “Slots Tournaments” if there weren’t some degree of real skill involved? They aren’t just machines, there are some of them that actually hum with potential, like there’s some divinity in them, some small god trapped in the machine, and you can free that small god by putting in the coins and then by Wanting, by Willing, by Saying: apples apples apples, cherries, cherries, cherries, DING DING DING!


The funny thing is that my kids have come back home, one by one. The Lord does work in mysterious ways, just like Father John said, His wonders to perform. My kids follow me to the casinos on the Strip, to cheer me on, though sometimes I don’t know where they are for long periods of time, maybe watching a lounge show. I often get brought complementary cocktails just like a high roller.  It’s funny how everyone in the casino is at heart a gambler.  The cigarette girl plays keno and the keno runner is into roulette and the woman in the gift-shop plays the sports-book.  When I’m on my own, I prefer to play in out-of-the-way spots, so that I can stay in touch with the god in the machine, so I’ll drive out to the Wal-Mart in Henderson and the Safeway in Green Valley, just to stay close to the unexpected, to the original scene of my real divine intervention, with a cup of nickels and not a care in the world. This world, with its Big This and Small That–


(SHE PUTS A NICKEL IN A SLOT: SHE PULLS: LIGHTS AND BELLS: SHE is bathed in shimmery light. A GONDOLIER appears in the distance: BERNADETTE sits and listens as he sings to her)






E una piccola casa il fiume

Ma va bene per me

Io lo chiamo palazzo schiafanoia


Dove tutti sono insieme

Dove tutti sono da solo

Il Mare mangia la spaggia

La lluna carezza il cielo

A gli alberi la felicita


Dolcezza all pesca

Potre salvarmi cara

E abbracciarmi

Non ho voglia di morire

Quando saggio l tuo fascino


Che sogno vivo per me!



end of play












Brighde Mullins’ plays include Rare Bird; Monkey in the Middle ; Those Who Can, DoFire Eater; Topographical Eden; Pathological Venus, The Bourgeois Pig and are published by Playscripts, Inc. Awards include: Guggenheim, United States Artists Award; a Whiting; an NEA Fellowship; the Jane Chambers Award, as well as a Gold Medal from The Pinter Review. She holds MFA’s from Yale and the Iowa Writers Workshop. She has taught at Brown University and was the Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University (where she was also a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Playwriting), as well as CalArts, Queens University of Charlotte, U.S.C. and U.C.S.B.  She served as Writer in Residence at Deep Springs College, a working ranch and innovative center of liberal education in the Sierra Nevada Region of California.  She is working on a new play commissioned by the Pioneer Theatre of Salt Lake City, a play that explores the life and impact of the poet Phillis Wheatley. Check out her musings about Samuel Beckett at

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