Commissioned and first produced by East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina in 1971, Holy Ghosts has become Romulus Linney’s most produced – and arguably his best known – play. Linney later directed the 1983 production of Holy Ghosts at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas. The play was first produced in New York City in 1987 at Theatre 890, and more recently adapted into an opera with music by Larry Bell. The setting for the play is a prayer meeting where snake handling is practiced. While initial productions used real, non-venomous snakes, Linney preferred that actors pantomime the snakes so the audience could see the actors’ faces.
The play, while “neither satirizing nor promoting snakehandling,…views the practitioners with compassion, understanding, and a measure of respect rarely accorded society’s dispossessed.” As in many of his plays, Linney is attempting to get his audience to think about the “other,” those who are out of the social norm, in relation to themselves.