The Butterfingers Angel, or as it's properly known, The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut and the Slughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree, is a 1974 play written by William Gibson (the playwright, not the sci-fi author) as a humorus re-telling of the nativity. It's not a musical excatly, Gibson called it an "entertainment", but features multiple classic carols sung by the ensemble, some of which have lyric changes. In it, Mary is a strong-willed and straightforward woman, Joseph a ball of anxiety and self-doubt wondering if he's even worthy, and Gabriel is a poor bumbling angel on his first big job just trying to keep everything togather while Satan lurks in the background. Gibson is a master of wit, and while at first the idea of a comedy based on a Biblical story sounds obnoxious and crass (as they often are these days) it takes its message earnestly, and no serious jabs are made at the concept. The characters are funny, but the premise is genuine.


It was, after all, commissioned of him by a church. And though I'm sure they were a bit surprised at what they got, they enjoyed it and it had a handful of performances there, before dissapearing into the fog of plays you pick for your community theater or cooler-than-average church. Before that though, it got an art book.

The Book

This is baffling to me. The Butterfingers Angel is also a hardcover book, including the full script was well as author introduction and lists of characters/sets in the back, with this incredible collage artwork on every. single. page. The art was done by Ellen Keusch, who I am unable to find any other information on besides a couple of advertising pieces in a similar style. The circumstances in which this book came to be are completely unknown to me, it simply doesn't seem to be a popular enough play that there would be any demand! But it is a beautiful book.

I know this because I bought it.

Yes, I went out and bought this book. See, I was already a William Gibson fan ever since discovering his work on the 1984 Raggedy Ann musical, and grew to adore his specific witty absurdist style. So I already had the idea in the back of my mind of buying another piece relating to his work (I already own a 1986 Raggedy Ann Broadway previews playbill) when I discovered that a book had been made of this specific script. Of course I watched it first, and had skimmed over the book on the Internet Archive, so I was aware of what I was getting into. After looking it up again, however, I found that not only were there copies avaliable, someone had a signed copy.

Luckily, it wasn't too expensive, only $45 (and I was using my Christmas money...) and only barely more than other copies I had seen online, which I was skeptical about because their resale sites didn't include photos of the specific book for sale, only the generic one of the cover. This signed copy, however, had full photos and detailed shots of all the little tears and imperfections, a reputable seller of vintage books too. I simply needed it, it's one of those baffling items I just need to have. After I purchaed the book I asked the seller if they knew anything about where it had come from, they had simply found it in a thrift store. So yes, in deed, I now own a signed copy of William Gibson's The Butterfingers Angel, it'll make a lovely coffee table book someday.

Read the book!

As I said, it's on Internet Archive! Free to read if you make a free account. Totally worth it.

You can't read the whole thing here, but you can get a preview and read the rest by clicking the link at the top!

Click this icon for two-page book view (MUCH easier to see) ↑

Watch the play!

This is absolutely a play that needs to be watched to understand. This is both the only production I believe I've ever found filmed in full, and also the most proffesional and most genuine. The directing and acting are simply lovely, taking little moments and opportunities that aren't even inherit in the script itself and expanding on the characters. You can skip the Herod scene, nothing happens.

By The Mummers Presents: The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut & the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree from Snydillo Studios on Vimeo.

My Interpretations

You should watch the play first! Not just for spoilers, but to form your own opinions and interpretations before you take in mine, and to understand what I'm even talking about before judging me for my opinions.

Click me to continue

Why I like this play (besides the fact that the writing and charcaters are just really fun) is that it's one that questions why we (royal we) belive in God in the first place. Gabriel, despite being an angel, has never met God, and while he tries to appear confidient in their existance when speaking to the others, he himself has moments of doubt. "That they sent me is enough to make me disbelive." He believes that he is so unsuited for this momentus task that it must have been a mistake, there can't be any greater power that would make such a mistake as to depend on him, and so maybe there isn't a greater power at all. Satan, however, is very present. Known as "the man in grey", the actor is double-cast as all the roles who mean to stand in thpe way of Jesus' birth, giving the story a very literal sense. Satan taunts Gabriel, and wonders if there's something in him that makes him so special, ultimately dismissing the thought.

Of course, in the end, it's shown that Gabriel was chosen very knowingly for the role he had to play. When he must sacrifice himself, become a tree to offer his branches down to Joseph to prove that he is deserving of being the baby's father, it's clear that it had to be him. No one else would have cared so much and been willing to lay down everything for these people. As well as seeming unassuming likley got Satan off his back, everyone underestimated him. It makes him more friendly and approachable to Mary, and theoretically Joseph, though the man still hates him. But I love the similarities between the two, in the crux of the show both shouting "God? Give me a sign!", they are both just as lost and confused, and dealing with it in different ways. But Gabriel is told by the Tree and finally accepts that he's the one who has to step up and be the sign Joseph needs.

Joseph's character is the most interesting one here, an older man full of self-doubt and awful self-esteem which is only worstened by the idea that he must marry a woman knowing he will be forced to take care of (what he assumes is) another man's child. He doesn't see himself worthy of her love and attention, doesn't see himself as a competent head of the household, and is extremely insecure about the fact that the baby isn't his. Understandably, he doesn't believe the baby comes from God and questions Mary constantly on whose it might be, assuming it must be Gabriel's. I think almost inadvertantly Gibson has a very nice message about fatherhood here, you don't have to be the biological father of a child for that child to need you. And it doesn't make him any less deserving of that role.

Where the ending works well is that it leads the viewer to realize that the intention is to assure us that God has a plan, without directly prostheletizing. We never get any solid proof, which of course is how things work, isn't it? But it leaves things up for some interpretation, even if the confirmation of a higher power is likely what the writer intended. That despite what seems like a constant presence of unfair forces against you, and no matter how doubtful you are in your own abilities, you can inspire others to face their own doubts. That even "angels" aren't perfect creatures, so in a way there are no true angels, just each other.