Play #20: After The Ice Man

The play takes place in a forlorn Chinese restaurant.  There are only four people in the restaurant--a young waiter who keeps himself busy by looking longingly out the front window, and three men, two of whom, Manny and Skinner, seem to be in their late 40s, and an older man, HorseBob, who is about 65.  Manny and Skinner sit nursing beers.  HorseBob is standing at their table.

Skinner (looking away abstractly and sighing heavily):  It’s been thirty years now.

HorseBob:  What has?

Skinner: Since I played hockey.

Manny (attempting to sound alert):  Thirty years?

Skinner:  No, MORE.  It’s been thirty-TWO years since I played hockey.

HorseBob:  Can you still skate?

Manny:  You never forget how to skate.

Skinner: That’s right.  Once you know how to skate, you never forget.

HorseBob:  Have you skated lately?

Skinner (getting vaguely angry): I told you, I haven’t skated for thirty-two years!

Horswebob:  Then how do you know?

Skinner (impatiently):  Know what?

HorseBob: That you can still skate.

Manny:  Hey listen, he said he hadn’t PLAYED HOCKEY for thirty-two years, he didn’t say he hadn’t SKATED for thirty-two years!

HorseBob: He DID say he hadn’t skated for thirty-two years.

Skinner (morosely): Yeh, I said that too.

Manny (apparently astounded):  No kidding!

HorseBob:  That’s what he just told us.  He just said that.

Manny (murmuring into his beer):  Long time.

HorseBob (to Skinner, brightly):  So you DON’T know.

Skinner:  Know what? 

HorseBob: That you can still skate.

Skinner (annoyed): I know, all right.

Manny:  Well, CAN you?

Slinner (disconsolately):  Yeh, probably.  Thirty-two years is a long time.

HorseBob:  It sure as hell is.


Play # 19: Stalled

The play is set on a length of railroad track somewhere in the wilderness—perhaps under a Christmas tree.  There are only two characters in the play: Paul, a boy of seven, and a grizzled trainman named Bernard.  They are sitting atop a double-ended, electric locomotive—which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. 

Bernard (gazing sadly down the railroad tracks):  So little choice.

Paul: Just forward or back.

Bernard: Left or right.

Paul:  And yet we’re not going anywhere at all.  Bernard, we’ve got to move.  It’s almost dark, and I’m getting tired and hungry.

Bernard (rummaging in his pocket): Here. Have a chaw of tobacco.

Paul (sulking):  No.

Bernard:  There’s only one way I can think of to get this old bucket moving again.

Paul (listlessly):  What’s that?

Bernard:  Well, which way do you want to go?

Paul (pointing down the tracks): East.

Bernard: Alright then.  You go and stand on the eastern end of the engine.

Paul (moving off): Okay.

Benard:  And I’ll go stand on the western end.

Paul (shouting back to him):  I’m here!  Now what do I do?

Benard:  You think all the good, positive thoughts you can.  Think about what you really like, and all the things you hope for.   

Paul (dubious): I’ll try.  And what are you going to do?

Bernard:  The opposite!  I’m going to think all the dark, bleak, despairing thoughts I can.  Now get thinking!!

(Paul closes his eyes tightly and tries hard to ponder all the lovely things he can muster.  Bernard doesn’t have to work quite as hard as Paul does)

Paul (suddenly feeling movement beneath his feet): Bernard!!  The engine’s starting to move!!

Bernard (grinning at him): Yes, I think we’re definitely eastward bound!

Paul (exuberant):  Oh don’t smile, Bernard!

Bernard (gleefully): Why not?

Paul (laughing):  You might stall us again!!


Play # 18: I Want! I Want!

The play is set on the curvature of the earth, where we see a very long spindly ladder, set on the ground and stretching up into deep space bright with stars where, finally, it rests against the cradling curve of the new moon.  The setting is, of course, taken from the 10th etching of William, Blake’s For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise (1793-1818).
We see a young man—naked in the frosty night—who seems on the point of climbing the ladder.  His parents—we assume they are his parents—stand to one side, looking on.  They are also naked (this is Blake, after all).

PARENTS:  Is there nothing we can say to dissuade you?

BOY:  No, nothing.  I’m off in pursuit of my heart’s desire.

PARENTS: You’re heart’s desire lies somewhere at the end of that spiderweb ladder?  Up on the rockinghorse moon?

BOY: We’ll see.

PARENTS:  When will you see?  The climb is fearfully long.

BOY: But at least the way is unobstructed.

PARENTS:  That’s because nobody else would be so foolish.   And besides, you’ll freeze.

BOY: No more than down here.

PARENTS:  What is it you want so desperately?

BOY:  Wanting-in-itself, I think.  Pure desire.

PARENTS: You have to climb all the way to the moon in order to want?

BOY:  Up in the thinning air, yes.  Up where there’s no air at all.  Up there, my desire will grow hard as a star.  Clean as light.

PARENTS: Will we ever see you again?

BOY:  No.


PLAY # 17: The Little White Cloud That Cried

Characters in the play:

1) A little white cloud, amiable, articulatre to the point of garrulousness.
2) A winter tree, leafless and bereft

Floating home from his dialogue with the timorous Thel (see Brief Candles # 15), that play’s Little White Cloud has somehow snagged itself on one of the branches of the Winter Tree.

CLOUD:  I can’t move.  You snagged me in your branches!

TREE: Just in one branch.  And I didn’t snag you, you snagged yourself.

CLOUD:  Well, however it happened, I can’t move.

TREE:  Why don’t you just dissolve the snagged part and regroup when you’re free?

CLOUD:  I would, but I’m feeling more….well, unified than I ever did before.

TREE:  Unified?

CLOUD: More dense.  I think I’m changing.

TREE:  Into what?

CLOUD:  I’m feeling creaturely.  Maybe I’m becoming an animal.  A cat maybe.

TREE:  You’re beginning to look a bit like a cherub.

CLOUD:  Well, I suppose if I have to turn into something, a cherub would be okay.  At least I could still float.

TREE:  Indeed you could.  Look on the bright side.

CLOUD: But how can this solidifying have happened?

TREE:  Well, I’m neither a tree-surgeon nor an arboreal psychologist, but I think it’s possible that a tiny bit of my residual sap somehow entered your cloudstream!

CLOUD:  I do feel warmer.

TREE:  You see?  Yes, I think you’re becoming positively corporeal!

CLOUD:  It will be harder to move about.

TREE: Oh yes, considerably harder.  (he smiles the warmest leafless smile he can muster)  But it will be so lovely to have some company.   We can talk.  We can reminisce….

CLOUD: Reminisce?  About what?

TREE:  Oh, I don’t know…leaflessness in my case and unfettered drifting in yours.


Play #16: FRIDA

The play takes place one of the galleries in the Art Gallery of Ontario, during the current run of the Gallery’s exhibition, Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting.

Characters in the play:

Two middle-aged women who are seeing the exhibition together and, as the play opens, are both gazing intently at one of Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits.

WOMAN 1 (with great conviction, bordering on indignation):  She wasn’t a Communist!

WOMAN 2: (quick to agree): Why would she be a Communist? 


Play #15: Thel or Come on in, Experience is Fine!

Thel (from poet William Blake’s The Book of Thel, 1789) is almost a young woman, which is to say that she teeters perpetually on the banks of the river of experience, terrified of committing herself to real life—for the simple reason that to choose real life will be to choose mortality and inevitable death (ironically, her name means “desire” in Greek).  Unborn, Thel is immortal.   Which sounds like a good idea to her.

The characters in the play:

1) Thel, a young, diaphanous shade of a girl—not even far enough along to be a virgin.
2) A highly articulate river
3) A cheerful, philosophically shallow cloud.

As the play opens, we see Thel standing on the bank of a river.  A mindless cloud floats overhead.

Cloud: Hi Thel, still deciding whether or not to get real?

Thel: I am not like thee, little Cloud, because I can smell the sweetest flowers but still feed not these selfsame flowers. 

Cloud: Well, I don’t feed them either.

Thel: Yes you do, you rain upon them bright watery nourishment by which they flourish and multiply.

Cloud (thinking about it): Oh yeh, right.  But then I’m gone.  Used up.

Thel (rather impatiently): But then you reform and appear again as another shape!  Don’t you remember?

Cloud (happily): Yes, of course! I’d forgotten that’s how it works.  But you see, I only hold memory enough for one shape at a time.  When I’ve become a new cloud, then I have to start over with a brand new memory!  The one I have now is only twenty-five minutes old!

Thel:  But if I become a mortal woman, I will probably start alright…

Cloud: Do it!  You’ll be beautiful!  You’ll be a beautiful baby!  You’ll be a beautiful teenager!  You’ll be a beautiful woman!  You’ll be a beautiful…well…matron!

Thel (continuing): …But then I will also come to an end.  I will not ever acquire another shape and another and another, the way you do.

[She moves closer to the river and dips her right foot in the icy water]

River: That tickles.

Thel (jumping back):  It does?

River (casually):  Oh yes. A little.  It was sort of nice.

Thel:  You never stand still.

River: No.  Rivers flow.

Thel: Through time?

River: You can’t step into the same ME twice!

Thel: But I want to remain exactly as I am—for always   I want to be the same ME for eternity!

River:  Don’t you think that’s a little selfish?

Thel (adamant): No!

River:  Come, Thel, have a little dip!  See where it leads you!

Thel (terrified):  I know where it will lead me!

River (calmly):  No you don’t.


Play #14: Lupus and the Maiden

The play takes place in the archetypal forest of all our fairytales.  Here, the trees are thick and dark and so tall you can’t see their leaves.  Nestled among them, in a dusky glade, is a small cottage.  The door is open and we hear, from inside, the voice of a young woman.  She is singing a lugubrious song.  As the play opens, a young wolf named Lupus strolls into the clearing.

LUPUS (putting down his knapsack and looking around):  A charming cottage!  And it’s singing!

YOUNG WOMAN (coming to the door):  It is not singing, ingenuous young wolf!  It was I who was singing.

LUPUS (ashamed of his mistake):  I’m dreadfully sorry.  It was an easy mistake to make.

YOUNG WOMAN (greatly irritated):  No, it wasn’t.  It certainly was not. 

LUPUS (observing her closely):  You don’t have very large teeth.

YOUNG WOMAN (acknowledging the truth of this):  I have delicate, milky, evenly-spaced, babylike teeth—like two tiny pearl necklaces.  See? (she grimaces at him).

LUPUS (impressed):  Wow.  Nice.

YOUNG WOMAN (looking him over more carefully):   Listen, would you like to stay to supper?

LUPUS:  Well, I was sort of on my way to my grandmother’s place…. 

YOUNG WOMAN (cheerily):  But you have to eat, don’t you?

LUPUS (eagerly, boyishly): And so do you, I guess.

YOUNG WOMAN (with elaborate casualness):  That’s right, I do. 

LUPUS (even more eagerly): What are we having?


PLAY #13: On the Road to Manderley

[The play takes place on the road winding up to Manderley,  a great baronial house clinging to a rugged Cornwall cliff that rising precipitously from the ocean.   Manderley (see the 1938 Daphne Du Maurier novel in the pages of which the house was first constructed) is the ancestral home of Maxim de Winter, who, having been recently widowed (see the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film, Rebecca), is now bringing home to Manderley his new wife—a pleasant but inexperienced, unworldly young woman who, neither in the novel nor in the film, is ever given a name.]

Max (pulling the car over to the side of the road, and addressing his wife—who is gazing raptly at the huge house of which she will shortly be mistress).   Well, my sweet, no-name bride, what do you think of your new home?

Bride (wonderingly):  It’s big.

Max:  Yes, it is.  And old.  And dark, drafty and cold.

Bride (excitedly):  Oh Max, it sounds so lovely!

Max:  You think so?

Bride: Well, no, but I so very much want to make you happy!  

Max:  There’s just one thing.  My housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, was devoted to my late wife, and is almost certain to hate you profoundly.

Bride:  Oh that’s alright, Max dear.  I’m sure her animosity will prove to be diverting. [she peers up the road towards Manderley].  Here’s just one thing, though.

Max:  Yes, my love?

Bride:  Well, I don’t want to upset you, Max, but the house appears to be on fire.

Max:  How very bothersome!  And on our first day here, too! This wasn’t supposed to happen for months yet!

Bride: Never mind, darling. We’ll make do somehow.


Play #12: The Courtship of Mary Deer

(The play is set in the front yard of a neat cottage by the sea—a cottage inhabited by a young woman named Mary Deer and her termagant mother.  As the play opens, the two women are undergoing an amorous visitation by Mary Deer’s current suitor, CaptainTerrapin Outport).

TO: I trust you will accept this token of my continually revised estimation.  I herewith offer you this haven of stygian blooms, as soft as soot.  

MARY DEER: You bring me a cloud of smoke!

MARY DEER’S MOTHER: Take this botanical filth away!

TO: Madame, I offer Mary these sinister posies so that she may not think me frivolous.  (Turning to Mary Deer) No old-lady sunsets here, Mary Deer.  These flowers are as heavy as oil.

MARY DEER’S MOTHER:  Ashes and arches!  They make me cold.   

MARY DEER: The blossoms are indeed as bright as staples, Terrapin, but the strangled leaves and overarching stems are black as any barbed-wire crow!

TO: Mary Deer, we two are surfeited with easy sugarshack beauty.  We need blooms as empty as foam or famine!  This particular outburst is Nightshade—harvested from the dragon evenings of the Ancients.

MARY DEER’S MOTHER:  But your suitor’s task was to move her with light, and you come to her with these floral entrails!!

TO: No, bleak mother of Mary Deer, my resolve is to bring to your daughter posies grown in the hard clay of evacuated stables and watered with the acid dew of the world’s exhalations.  Anything breezier would, in my outsourced estimation, sweep her tiny parts back into her own bloodstream.

MARY DEER (annoyed): I will have something to say about that, Captain Outport!

MARY DEER’S MOTHER and T.O. (both turning to Mary Deare and speaking together):  Oh yes? What?


Play # 11: Plums

Scene: The lobby of the Sunrise, a small hotel in Paris, frequented by the Impressionist painters.  There are pots of paint sitting on the carpets, and a number of encrusted easels leaning against the walls.

CONCIERGE (talking to the second-floor maid, who sits primly on his knees):  And you say you heard a quarrel in Monsieur Manet’s apartment?

MAID:  Yes sir, a violent one.  Monsieur Manet was very upset.

CONCIERGE:  Do you know what he was upset about?

MAID:  Yes sir, he was fighting with Monsieur Degas about black.


MAID:  The colour, sir.

At this point, Edgar Degas comes storming down the stairs and into the lobby.  The concierge hastily stands up, dumping the maid onto to the carpet.

DEGAS:  Idiot!

CONCIERGE (all discomfiture):  Why monsieur Degas!....

DEGAS (shouting back up the stairs): Black is not a colour!

MANET (from upstairs):  It is the only colour!

DEGAS:  Absurd!  And by the way, Manet, I AM SENDING BACK YOUR PLUMS!!


PLAY #10: THE FARM PLAY or Desire Under the Eves

Scene:  A stern barnyard with a farmhouse nearby.
There are three characters in the play: Bo-Peep, a Sheepstress, Miss Seed, a housekeeper, and Rib Tickler, a dissolute farmer.

Bo-Peep:  I tend my sheep in the sunny meadow.  I think of little else but their comfort.

Rib Tickler:  Horses asses, pigs’ pizzles, bull testicles, the horns of goats.

Miss Seed (whacking the dinner triangle):  Time for your prayers, Rib.

Bo-Peep:  I do not go in for prayers for if I did, my flock would wander.  And besides, Mister Tickler would stare at my belly from over his psalter.

Rib Tickler (intoning the words): Pizzles, horns, dark under the covers.

Bo Peep (to all the world):  There is joy in the hills.  (to herself) I see him looking at my baby hands, at my lacy fingers and at my cross-tied bonnet.

Miss Seed: Go back now to work, Rib.

Rib Tickler:  The girl cares for her sheep.  I care only for her pincushion body.

Miss Seed:  I am hoping for rain. It’s been too long dry

Bo Peep and Rib Tickler leave the stage in opposite directions.  Miss Seed remains, gazing up at the cloudless sky.


PLAY #9: The Judgment of Paris

The play is set in the vales of midmost Ida.
It is the unhappy task of Paris, a commoner, to award a Golden Apple to the goddess he deems the most beautiful of all; he must choose between the fearsome Juno, the astringent Minerva and the delectable Venus.  No contest, you might say.  But for Paris, it’s not that simple.

JUNO:  Well, little Paris, you have a decision to make.  Do you fancy yourself up to the task?

PARIS:  I hope so.

JUNO (pointedly): I hope so too.

VENUS:  Paris.  What a lovely name!  How fine to be named after the City of Light!

MINERVA (looking scornfully at Venus):  Stuff and nonsense!

VENUS (purring): Do you like me, Paris?

MINERVA:  We ALL like you. Venus, now stop vamping our noble judge.

JUNO:  He NOT noble.  He’s just nobody—with a catchy name.

PARIS (sighing heavily):  I would like to be as fair as possible, but Venus is just too much for me.  There’s no withstanding her loveliness!

(he gives her the apple)

JUNO and MINERVA (thin-lipped with rage):  Okay, just you wait until the Trojan War begins.

Venus and Paris:  The what?



A Punch n’ Judy theatre, with a play in progress.  Punch is just delivering a typically rattling blow to Judy’s head, and the audience is howling with delight.  The action pauses for a moment during which time Judy speaks quietly to Punch:

JUDY: You don’t hit me the way you used to.

PUNCH:  Sure I do (raising his stick to level another blow at her)

JUDY:  No, it’s been changing lately.

PUNCH: I don’t know what you mean.

JUDY:  Your heart just doesn’t seem to be in it anymore.

PUNCH:  Nonsense!  I hit you the way I’ve always hit you.

JUDY:  No, I don’t think so.  Listen, I want to ask you a question and I want you to tell me the truth.

Punch:  Yes?

JUDY:  Have you been hitting anyone else?


Play #7: FENDI

(The play is set in the studio of a fashion photographer.  He is busy photographing a model—who is busy being photographed)

MODEL:  I am bustling with life.

PHOTOGRAPHER:  But you are too little for the light.

MODEL:  Thicken me with some darkness.

PHOTOGRAPHER (throwing her a handbag):  Take this big black bag.  It will be your exclamation mark!

MODEL: Whose is it?


MODEL: I want a Bakelite buckle to hold.


MODEL (panicky):  My style is easy and modern.  Music is definitely a part of me.  I let you finish my sentences.   I sleep on an inflatable bed.  I am afraid of butterflies.

Photographer:  Hold still.


Play #6: The Wall

(A man is standing next to a wall.  His friend, passing by, stops for a moment to chat)

Friend:  “What are you doing here?”

Man: “Committing suicide.”

Friend: “How?  I don’t see how.  Are you starving yourself to death?”

Man: “No, I’m waiting for this wall to fall on me.”

Friend: “Why, is it condemned?”

Man: “I don’t think so.”

Friend: “Then how can you expect it to fall?”

Man:  “They all fall sometime.”


Play #5: Fliers

Orville (winged, and perched on the roof of a house):  “I’m ready!”

Wilber (on the ground, squinting up at him):  “But you’ve got your wings on!”

Orville:  “Well, isn’t that how you do it?”

Wilber:  “No, wings off!”

Orville:  “Surely not.”

Wilber:  “Yes, yes, it’s true.  Wing’s OFF!!  Gosh, Orville,
anybody can fly with wings!”

Orville:  “Even birds!”

Wilber:  “Exactly.”


PLAY #4: Getting By

There are two men on stage, standing very close to one another, as if they were on a crowded bus.

ESTRAGON (to the other man): “Are you trying to get by?”

OREGON: “Yes.”

ESTRAGON: “What do you do to get by?”

OREGON:  “Nothing.  I ask you to move. ”

Estragon moves slightly

OREGON: “See, I’m getting by now!”

ESTRAGON: “What’s it like?”

OREGON:  “Getting by, you mean?”


OREGON: “It feels much the same as before I got by.”

ESTRAGON: “Why bother then?”

OREGON:  “Oh I don’t know.  It’s another place to stand.  A new viewpoint.”

ESTRAGON:  “Maybe I’ll try getting by without you.”

OREGON: “Can you do that?  Well, I suppose it’ll be easier than before.”

ESTRAGON (moving slightly): “Yes, I’m getting by fine now.”


Scene: a living room, early evening

WIFE:  “I’m ready to go.”

HUSBAND:  “I can’t seem to move my left arm. It’s as heavy as lead.

WIFE: “What about your right?”

HUSBAND: “As light as cloud.”

WIFE: “How could this have happened?”

HUSBAND: “It must be that therapist I’ve been seeing.”

WIFE:  “Doctor Atlas?”

HUSBAND: “Yes.  He told me to put all my troubles to one side.”

WIFE:  “And you chose….?

HUSBAND: “The left side, yes.”

WIFE: “You’re being a bit literal, aren’t you?”

HUSBAND:  “Bodies ARE literal.”



Sunlight floods the stage.

DARK POLLUTED MAN: “What is this golden air?”

RADIANT LITTLE GIRL: “It’s what we use for money.”

A bird lands on her upraised palm

BIRD: “You can’t fly through it.”

RADIANT LITTLE GIRL: “You have to cut it into cubes and stack it like bricks.”

DARK POLLUTED MAN (to bird):  “Light is too hard.”

BIRD (to the Dark Polluted Man): “Yes, too hard.”


Play #1: Conic Section

There is a large metal cone on stage.
Two men, the sculptor and a gallery-goer,
stand on each side of it, both on tiptoes in
order to see one another.

Gallery-goer (pointing at the cone): “It doesn’t seem enough.”

Sculptor:  “No, it’s enough. Actually, it’s too much.”

Gallery-goer: “How do you mean?”

Sculptor: “My wife and two children are under there.  And my dog,”

The dog barks. They both gaze balefully at the cone.