Play #65: Janus, the Two-faced Boy

The play is set in a seedy bar. There is sawdust on the floor and the smell of stale beer in the air.  The place is known as Hickey’s Bar, and does indeed exude a rather Eugene O’Neill-like atmosphere of sustained sorrow and infinite patience.  The time is 11:30pm on New Year’s Eve.

Bartender (wiping the bar):  Well it’s about time for him to make is appearance.

Guy at Bar:  Who?

Bartender (resignedly): Janus.

Guy at Bar:  Local guy?

Bartender (acerbically):  No, not really.  He gets around.  He’s everywhere at once—like Santa Claus.

Guy:  He come in often?

Bartender:  No, only once a year, actually.  On New Year’s Eve.

Guy (mildly surprised):  Really.  [he takes a swig of his beer]  That’s odd.

Bartender:  It’s often enough if you ask me.

Guy:  You don’t like the guy? 

Bartender:  Well, he’s a funny-looking bloke.

Guy: Yeh? How?

Bartender (quietly):  Two faces.

Guy (puzzled):  Whatdyamean?

Bartender (irritated): Two faces.  One at the front and one at the back.

Guy (half-interested):  Kind of creepy.

Bartender:  Yeh.

Guy:  Why the two faces?

Bartender: He says it’s so he can look both ways.  Back to the past and forward to the future.

Guy (considering this): All at the same time.

Bartender: Yeh. 

Guy: And he only shows on New Year’s Eve?

Bartender:  Yeh.  I’m expecting him any minute.

Guy: Point him out to me when he comes in.

Bartender (ruefully amused):  Oh you’ll spot him easily enough!


Play #64: Ida Winesap

The play is set in an ornate ballroom somewhere in Europe, sometime in the late nineteenth century.  The vast mirrored room is swarming with glittering men and floral women.  An orchestra is playing madly.  Two young men—Lionel Watchmore and Colonel William Fitzpowder—are standing together, watching a particularly comely young woman being whirled through the room by a dashing but nameless Prussian army officer.

Watchmore:  Who is she?

Fitzpowder:  I don’t know.  She is ravishing.  A branch of wisteria!  A puff of talcum powder!

Watchmore:  A ripe fig.  A pine cone!  A pinprick!

[The Prussian officer waltzes the young woman past the two admiring men.  They call out to her in anguish as she floats by]

Watchmore and Fitzpowder in unison:  Speak to us, Pretty Matchbox!!

[The couple pause, stop dancing, and walk over to Watchmore and Fitzpowder]

Nameless Prussian Officer:  Did you hail us, sparkling but probably callow gentlemen?

Watchmore:  Assuredly we did, young ramrod!  We wish to relieve you, temporarily, of the Living Corsage you have been so determinedly steering round the floor.

Nameless Prussian Officer:  I take it you are referring to Miss Winesap here? Miss Ida Winesap?

Fitzpowder:  Evidently so.

Nameless Prussian Officer:  Well, you glossy swells, I hate to be the bearer of disappointing tidings, but you see Miss Winesap here, is not real.

Watchmore (astounded): Not real??

Nameless Prusssian Officer:  That’s right.  I built her myself!  [he turns to Miss Winesap]  Say good evening, Pretty Pelt!   [he pulls the pretty figure forward and, by placing his hand at the back of her neck,  causes her to nod her head stiffly]

Watchmore and Fitzpowder (even more astounded): Extraordinary!

Nameless Prussian Officer (coolly):  Oh not so very.  Not when you know how.

Fitzpowder (admiringly):  You must know a lot about girls?

Nameless Prussian Officer (modestly):  Just how to build them.

Watchmore (shyly):  Where can we get one?

Nameless Prussian Officer (heartily): Nothing could be easier!  I not only make them, I sell them!  I am a wealthy landowner, you see, and my wealthy landholdings are greatly given over to apple orchards.  Consequently I manufacture apple products—apple juice, cider, applesauce, that sort of thing.

Fitzpowder (intrigued):  But the beautiful Miss Winesap?

Nameless Prussian Officer (cooly):  She is also an apple.

Fitzpowder and Watchmore (astounded):  An apple?

Nameless Prussian Officer: Well, an apple doll.  She’s an apple doll.

Watchmore (impressed):  She’s an awfully big one!

Nameless Prussian Office (offhandedly): Well, the winters are long.

Fitzpowder (eager):  How can we buy one?  I mean her.  I mean one.

Nameless Prussian Officer:  Meet me in the foyer later.
[turns gallantly to the so cunningly fabricated Miss  Winesap]  Bid the two gentlemen good night, dear sack of gold dust! 

[he reaches behind her head and causes it to nod again on its bright milky shoulders.  He then adopts a flute-y falsetto voice and, speaking as Miss Winesap, addresses the two eager purchasers]:  I bid you goodnight, needful gallants!

Watchmore and Fitzpowder in unison (turning to Miss Winesap):  Goodnight, fair parcel! 




Play #63: Dancing in the Darkroom

The play is set in a small, cramped darkroom in the basement of the suburban home of high-school teacher and hobbyist photographer, John Squint.  It is the summer of 1947.  When the play opens, John is developing some pictures, attentively—if not adoringly—watched by and his longtime girlfriend, Anita Pinch.

John (fishing a print out of the rinse-bath):  There!  It’s you, all head-and-shoulders of you.

Anita (gazing at her dripping image): Look at me—I’m dull!

John (consoling her): No you’re not.

Anita: I am too. [she points at herself] Look at this stupid flowered blouse!

John: You don’t like your blouse?

Anita: I thought it was okay until I saw it in the photograph.

John: Blouse and photograph, they both look the same to me.

Anita: They are the same. They’re both incredibly dull.

John:  Well, why don’t you take it off then?

Anita (horror-stricken):  John!!

John (quickly): I meant change into another blouse.

Anita: Why bother? [she points at the photograph]  The damage is done now.  You’ve taken the photograph and now I’m dull for all time.

John:  Poor Anita.

Anita (shyly): If I do take my blouse off, will you take a more exciting photograph of me?

John (Encouragingly): I don’t see how I could fail to.

Anita (suddenly dispirited again): No, it’ll still be dull.

John:  How could it be?

Anita: Because I just remembered that my bra is even duller than my blouse.

John (smiling warmly at her):  We’ll think of something.


Play # 62: Inside the Dog

The play is set in a rehearsal hall, where a young director is guiding two actors, a man and a woman, through a tiny haiku-like play called Inside the Dog. 
I first heard the joke—around which this ambitious play is constructed—from a friend named Geoff Webster, at a coffee shop here in Napanee.  He says he heard it from some woman he knows.  

Director:  Alright, Lawrence, you turn now to Nadine and deliver the first line of the joke.

Lawrence (muttering darkly): This stupid joke.

Director (irritably):  Never mind that, just say the line.

Lawrence:  “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.”

Director (pleased):  And now, Nadine, you reciprocate by delivering the second line of the joke to Lawrence.

Nadine (muttering darkly):  This dumb joke.  Ibsen never wrote anything this silly.  Nor Beckett neither!

Director (impatient):  Never mind, just say the line.

Nadine (reluctantly, lifelessly):  “And inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read anyway.”

Director (giggling):  Great! 

Lawrence (frustrated): How do you get inside a dog?  Nobody’s ever been inside a dog!

Nadine (to Lawrence, in her smarmiest, least helpful manner):  Jonah ended up living inside a whale!

Lawrence (at the end of his rope):  But a dog is too small to get inside of!!

Director (to Lawrence, gently):  I think perhaps you’re being too literal, Lawrence.  It’s really just a little play on words.

Nadine (with brutish decisiveness):  You’re so stupid, Lawrence!

Lawrence (outraged):  Oh yeh, well let’s see you try to crawl inside of a dog!  And you’d have to carry a book too! You won’t think it’s so damned funny then!

Director (soothingly): Lawrence, it’s just language!

Lawrence (furious):  You don’t say!!


Play # 61: Cyrano Leaves the World

The play—for which much of the historical material has been gratefully lifted from Marjorie Hope Nicolson’s noble book, Voyages to the Moon (1948)--is set in the apartment of Cyrano de Bergerac, where he and his friends are discussing theories of space travel and the constitution of the moon.  The year is 1640.


CYRANO (with great conviction): I maintain that the sun and the moon are no great mysteries, gentlemen.  And certainly not mysteries that can withstand the focus and impress of our imaginations!

FIRST FRIEND:  Tell us more, then, of the relation between the sun and the moon, O Pixilated One!

CYRANO (with even more conviction): The Moon is a world like ours, to which this world of ours serves likewise for a moon!

There is great merriment among the company, and a consequent recharging of their glasses.

CYRANO:  You make merry, you amiable doubting Thomases, but I am telling you the plain truth!

SECOND FRIEND:  Talk, as they will say in the future, is  cheap, Cyrano. What we desire is experiment, enactment, engagement, recounting! 

CYRANO (exitedly):  And you shall have it all, my friends! Tomorrow morning, while you are all sleeping off this robust wine, I shall be on my way to the skies!


SCENE 2:  A forest glade, not far from Cyrano’s home.  It is five a.m.  The sun is rising.  The world is wet with dew.

CYRANO (carefully, logically):  It seems to me [he plucks a leaf from, a tree and shakes away the dewy liquid] that since the morning sun sucks up the dew engendered by the heavy night, that if a man—that is to say, if I—were to fasten about myself a number of glass vials filled to the brim with dew, why then should I not also be sucked up high into the air?  Why not?  How could it be otherwise, dew being dew and the sun being the sun?

[he leaves the stage, to repair to his workshop at home] 

SCENE 3: The forest glade again.  It is the next day, and Cyrano is back with the equipment he has devised for space flight.

CYRANO (both careful and eager):  And now for the great ascension! 

[He checks the details of his space costume—which consists of a tight-fitting suit of leather, to which is affixed a hundred small glass vials.  The sun is rising rapidly and hotly]

CYRANO (with great excitement):  And now, Venerable Sun, do your evaporative work and lift me to the heavens! 

]And much to his delight—and, if truth be told, amazement—he begins to rise slowly into the air….]

SCENE 4:  Cyrano’s apartments, six months later.  He is with the same crowd of carousers as before]

FOURTH GUEST:  And so the drying dew did lift you into the air?

CYRANO (proudly):  It did indeed.  And my rise was so rapid, I quickly found myself in the middle air with the clouds, and I was now being hurried up higher with so much rapidity, I felt sure I should bypass the moon altogether!!….

FIFTH FRIEND (breathlessly curious):  And so, what did you do??

CYRANO (smugly):  I began breaking vials, thereby adjusting, as best I could, the forces of attraction and gravity in order to make a safe landing in the moon.

THIRD FRIEND:  And so you actually got to the moon!!

CYRANO (smiling ruefully):  Alas, no.  You see, in my zeal to attain the moon, I broke too many  of the dew-filled vials, and, earth’s gravity being what it is, I found myself back on our own dear planet—but on the other side of it!

SECOND FRIEND: And was this part of the world inhabited?

CYRANO (highly amused to recall his adventure):  Yes, indeed it was. This place was peopled by savages, and they all spoke French!

FIRST FRIEND (astounded):  French!!!

CYRANO: Yes, apparently I had drifted down into New France!

THE FRIENDS (uncomprehending): New France??

CYRANO:  Yes.  In Canada!


PLAY # 60: The Deferred World

The play is set in the study of the mercurial and explosive adventurer, Professor Challenger—the outrageous protagonist of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, 1912, (and other gripping tales of the inexplicable such as The Poison Belt and The Land of Mist).

When the play opens, Professor Challenger is standing before the vigorous fire, blazing in his fireplace, and is in deep, annoyed discussion with writer Percival Crestfall, whom Challenger had invited to go along on his upcoming trek into danger.

CHALLENGER (thundering at his guest):  So you won’t accompany me?!!

CRESTFALL (defensively):  Up the Amazon in search of giant prehistoric creatures that ought to have died off millions of years ago?  No, sir, I won’t!!

CHALLENGER (impatient):  But aren’t you curious to actually gaze upon creatures which were supposed to be Jurassic in the living flesh—prodigious monsters that would swallow our largest and fiercest animals for afternoon tea?

CRESTFALL (abashed):  In all honesty, Professor, no, I’m not that curious.   I say let sleeping dinosaurs—if dinosaurs they be—lie.

CHALLENGER (horrified): Where’s your backbone, sir!!??

CRESTFALL (managing a weak smile):  It has evolved away, Professor Challenger—over these past five minutes.


Short Play # 59: Three Mini-plays about Wagner

Note: The three mini-plays that follow are found plays—or at least the substance of them was found: I lifted all of the three incidents that constitute the plays from the chapter titled “Arnold Bocklin” in Alberto Savinio’s book, Operatic Lives (1942).  Savinio (1891-1952), a brilliant writer and an equally brilliant painter (he has been a bit occluded by being Giorgio de Chirico’s brother), has always been rather undervalued.  I feel it is an honour to steal from him.

MINI-PLAY #1: The Most Beautiful Sight in the World:

The play is set in a drawing room of the Wagner home.  The painter, Arnold Bocklin, has come to pay a call.
He is received by Cosima Wagner—who raises her finger to her lips and requests that Bocklin be very quiet.

COSIMA (whispering): Come with me, Arnold.  I consider you worthy to witness the most beautiful sight in the world!

BOCKLIN (whispering back):  Alright.

COSIMA (whispering): But walk on tiptoe.

BOCKLIN (still whispering): Alright.

[Cosima leads the painter carefully into a large dim room where, on a vast, red satin divan, the sleeping composer is stretched out among the cushions, fast asleep.  His velvet beret has slipped down over one ear]

COSIMA (adoringly):  You see how he’s wearing his magician’s dressing gown?

BOCKLIN (unimpressed):  Yes, so he is.


MINI-PLAY #2: No Understanding of Music

.The play is set in Wagner’s drawing room.  The great Russian virtuoso, Anton Rubinstein, is sitting at the piano, playing music from Wagner’s newest opera, Die Gotterdammerung.  Wagner ushers another visitor, Arnold Bocklin, into the room to listen. 

BOCKLIN (having listened inattentively):  Very nice.

WAGNER (suddenly furious): I see you have no understanding of music!

BOCKLIN (coolly):  More than you have of painting.


MINI-PLAY #3:  Parsifal Wine (a mimed play)

The play is set in Wagner’s workroom in Ravello, Italy, where the maestro is putting the finishing touches to what will be his last opera, Parsifal.  He has once again invited Arnold Bocklin to the studio, thinking of him as a possible designer for his theatre in Bayreuth. 

It is a very hot afternoon.  Bocklin suits on the red divan and listens at great length to Wagner’s description of the Parsifal music and his ornate theories about it.

The painter grows steadily more drowsy.  Wagner asks him what he thinks of it all.

Bocklin requests a glass of wine.  He drinks it and then, without a word, gets his to his feet and takes his leave.

Wagner looks after him, dumbfounded.


Play # 58: THE BALZAC

The play takes place in the studio of Auguste Rodin in Meudon, close to Paris.  It is already 1896 and Rodin is working frantically to finish his gigantic Monument to Balzac, first commissioned in 1891.  The work—though still far from ready for an unveiling—is nevertheless being hotly debated everywhere.   On this particular day, Rodin has a visitor in his studio--Oscar Wilde

WILDE (in admiration):  It is superb, Auguste!

RODIN (continuing to work):  Um.

WILDE (ever more ecstatic):  It has the leonine head of a fallen angel!

RODIN (grunting with effort):  Why fallen?

WILDE (laughing):  Because so far, your Balzac is an angel in a dressing gown!

RODIN (sarcastically):  You are nothing if not
perceptive, Oscar!

WILDE : Are you going to leave him in a dressing gown?

RODIN: Well that’s the way he worked.  He was always too busy to get dressed.

WILDE:  But the dressing gown is just an unshaped cone of white plaster.


WILDE: Well, people will howl with rage over it!

RODIN:  Let them.



The play is set in a shopping mall, on a sunny Saturday afternoon in October.  A man sitting behind the wheel of his cherished 1999 Toyota Rav4 is made suddenly aware of a huge, newish maroon van behind him, six inches from his bumper.  The looming van is being driven by monstrously heavy woman, her meek, wide-eyed subteen daughter in the seat beside her.  Unable to bear the heavy-breathing of the woman’s juggernaut van so close to his back bumper, he stops his Rav4, gets out of the car and goes back to talk to the too-imminent woman. 

Woman (lowering her window, furious):  Get out of my way!

Rav-man (with elaborate, enraged calm): What’s the matter with you, hugging my back bumper like that?

Woman (more furious than ever): Get out of my way!!

Rav-man (also furious): Stay off my bumper!!

Woman (apoplectic): Move your stupid old car!

Rav-man (outraged):  Stupid old car??  This is a wonderful car, I love this car.  It has some character—unlike that glossy pointless piece of crap you’re driving!

Woman (angrier still): I have a child in the car.

Rav-man (suddenly perplexed):  So?

Woman (with conviction):  I don’t want her hearing language like that!

Rav-man: Like what? Crap?

Woman (almost hysterical):  I’m going to call someone!

[Suddenly two glowing, diaphanous angels appear, floating just above the two stopped cars]

Angel One (gently):  No need to.  We heard your angers and we are here to help.

Angel Two (also gently): That’s right. We are here to calm you down.

Rav-man (sarcastically):  Good luck.

Angel One: (calmly) Angels don’t need luck.

Rav-man (quietly):  I was thinking more of her and me.  Can’t you recognize a prayer when you hear one?

[The angels giggle together]


Play # 56: MARXMEN

The play is set in the British Museum Reading Room.  It is a warm June afternoon in 1860, and Karl Marx is sitting at a table, making notes towards what will become Volume One of Das Kapital.  He is suddenly disturbed by a ruckus in the otherwise sepulchrally quiet room—a caterwauling traceable to the entrance into the Reading Room of the three Marx Brothers, Groucho, Harpo and Chico (Zeppo has already dropped out).  Given that none of these three comedians will be born for at least another thirty years, it is reasonably hard to explain their presence in the British Museum in 1860—too hard, in fact, to bother about.

KARL MARX (scribbling diligently in a notebook and intoning the words as he writes):  “A commodity is primarily an external object, which by reason of its qualities satisfies some sort of human want….”

]The Marx Bros. having entered the Reading Room, have now found their way to Marx’s desk]

GROUCHO (reading over Marx’s shoulder):  It’s a good question!  What does a human want?

KARL MARX (sternly):  It wasn’t a question.

GROUCHO:  Oh don’t be so hard on yourself, my good fellow!  You’ll think of one eventually!

CHICO:  Okay, atsa fine, but here’s a question and (turning to Marx) I give it to you right now—and I only charge you one dollar for it!  What does a woman want?

KARL MARX (irritated):  Women do not interest me.

GROUCHO (scandalized):  Don’t let Sigmund Freud hear that, you…you…you…

CHICO: You Hegelian!!

GROUCHO (pleased): Exactly!  Say, what is a Hegelian anyhow?

CHICO: Atsa guy who never accepts the first offer.  He’s a guy who likes to hegel over the price of things!

GROUCHO: Like Cousin Morty!

[Harpo honks his bicycle horn for emphasis, bringing down upon his head a loud chorus of shhhhs from all around the room, like the wind rattling the dry autumn trees]

CHICO (to Marx): Where’s my dollar?

KARL MARX:  I will give you no dollar at all!  I didn’t ask your question!

GROUCHO (with mock melodrama):  And you will rue the day you didn’t, my good fellow!

KARL MARX (impatient):  Listen, you must excuse me gentlemen.  I have a great deal of work to do.

CHICO:  That doesn’t sound like a great deal to me.  Atsa terrible deal!  When you gonna relax and have fun?

KARL MARX (loftily):  Not until the class struggle leads necessarily to the dictatorship of the proletariat!

CHICO (patting Marx on the shoulder):  Atsa fine.  You go duct-tape your prolefariat all you like, you gonna wait a long time for a day off!

[Harpo, nodding in manic agreement, squawks his horn]

GROUCHO (suddenly sitting on Marx’s lap):  But just remember this, Bushy Beard It’s better to have dictated the proletariat and lost, than never dictated the proletariat at all!!

MARX (angry): Good day, gentlemen.

GROUCHO (to Chico and Harpo):  I think our work is done here, boys.  Let’s go visit Darwin!


Play #55: The Silent Man

The play is set in the “Hello Thar” dance hall in the desert town of Bakeoven.  Into the town comes a weary prospector, Silent Budd Marr, and his donkey, Nicodemus.  Marr heads for the Hello Thar dance hall, in search of a long, cold glass of water.   It is somewhere in the middle of the 19h century.

NOTE: The Title, The Silent Man, the names “Silent Budd Marr” and “Nicodemus,” the name of the dance hall—the Hello Thar—and the name of the town, Bakeoven, are all taken from the 1917 silent classic western, The Silent Man, starring and directed by William. S. Hart.

Silent Budd Marr (tying up Nicodemus in front of the Hello Thar dance hall):  Well, Nicodemus, I’ve been dreaming about a long cold glass of water for three months, and now I aim to have it! [he enters the dance hall and walks up to the bar].

Bartender:  What’ll it be, stranger?

SBM:  A long, cold glass of water.  About THIS long [he shows the bartender the distance between his upraised hands, as if he were describing a fish that got away].

Bartender (plunking an exceedingly tall glass of cold water in front of him).  There you are.

SBM (draining the glass):  And another!

Bartender (giving him the second glass of water):  Go easy stranger.  You ain’t had water for awhile!

SBM:  That’s true, but I have a powerful thirst!

Bartender (suddenly suspicious at hearing the word “powerful”):  How you fixin’ to pay for this here water?

SBM Incredulous):  Water ain’t free?

Bartender: Not in a rattlesnake’s eye it ain’t!

SBM:  Then I’ll pay for it with a pinch of this here gold dust!

[The dance hall’s manager, Handsome Horace, steps up next to Silent Budd Marr and examines the dust closely]

Handsome Horace:  Good quality stuff, stranger!  Where did you say you got it?

SBM (suddenly looking very wily and coy):  I don’t remember saying anything about where.


Play #54: Some Time Away From the Easel

The play is set in the studio of painter Trilby Sunfield—which is a large sunny room at the rear of the country house Trilby shares with her husband, Loomis Lakehead, a ceramicist.  They have no children, but they do have a heavy, perpetually sodden Water Spaniel called Lifeboat.
As the curtains open, Trilby is being interviewed by a woman from Sorely Pressed, a local wine, food and culture magazine.

INTERVIEWER (with great earnestness):  Thank you, Ms. Sunfield, for taking some time away from the easel to talk to me. 

TRILBY:  Not at all.  But we can’t be too long.  I have some well-heeled clients coming in an hour.  Steady buyers.

INTER:  I see.  Well, first of all, Ms. Sunfield, who are your artistic role models?

TRILBY (smiling blandly): Call me Trilby.

INTER:  All right, I will.  So who are they, Trilby?

TRILBY:  I’d say I’d been most influenced by Salvador Dali, James Kierstead, Charles Pachter and Trisha Romance.

INTER:  Some of my favourites too!

TRILBY:  Oh and Monet.

INTER:  Yes, of course.

TRILBY:  And Rembrandt.

INTER:  Right.  And what is your favourite subject?

TRILBY:  Well, my real passion at the moment is painting skies.  Cloudy skies, sunny skies, stormy skies, moody skies, Blue skies, unsettled, bad-tempered skies, all kinds of skies.  As long as they’re up there, I’ll paint them. 

INTER (giggling):  I guess you’ll never run out of material!  So tell me, what is so fascinating about skies?

TRILBY:  Well, for one thing, they give me a hit of abstract in my painting.  You see, when you paint skies, you’re painting something that’s lighter than air!  It’s magic!  And quite frankly, sky paintings sell like crazy.  They just fly off the studio walls!  People love skies.

INTER: People also love trees and babies and puppies too, don’t they?

TRILBY: I suppose, but not the way they love skies.

INTER:  So skies are really really important to you.

TRILBY (rolling up her eyes to the firmament above):  Yes, really really!  Skies are the very soul of my paintings!!

INTER:  Tell me, Trilby, where do you get your inspiration?

TRILBY: Mostly just by looking up!  But I’m also inspired by the work of other painters—like the Group of Seven and John Singer Sargent.  And I have this friend, Connie Jekyll, who is a terrific painter.  She makes farmyard scenes.  She’s especially good at old barns.   She’s quite radical—she uses a palette knife!

INTER: And you like her work a lot?

TRILBY:  Oh, tremendously.

INTER:  Just one last question.

TRILBY (glancing at her watch): Yes, though I do have some buyers coming shortly.

INTER:  Why do you feel compelled to create?

TRILBY: Really just for the joy of it. I’m always growing as an artist, and if I don’t keep painting, how will I ever know how great an artist I can be?

INTER (helpfully):  So you’re always seizing the moment?

TRILBY (momentarily perplexed):  What?

[There is a melodious ring at the door]

Oh now you really must excuse me.   My clients have arrived.  I do hope our chat was helpful?

INTER:  Inspirational!

TRILBY (smiling blandly):  Oh good.

[The doorbell rings again]  Coming, coming!


Play # 53: How Many Fingers?

The play takes place in a therapist’s office.  The therapist is holding up his left hand, showing his patient four outstretched fingers.  The patient, a comely young woman of about twenty-five, is gazing at them impassively.

Therapist (earnestly):  What do you see?

Patient: Your left hand.

Therapist:  Expand upon that.

Patient (wearily): Your yellow, papery left hand.  Your palm is as creased as a lady’s fan, and your nails could use a clipping.

Therapist (irritated): No, no.  Tell me more about the number of fingers you see.

Patient (puzzled):  More?

Therapist (gently):  Yes.

Patient (frowning with new concentration):  Your fingers look like a picket fence—which must mean that you wish either to exclude me from your world or, more likely, enfold me in it.

Therapist (astonished):  Upon my word, that’s far too much!  I just wanted you to tell me how many fingers you saw.

Patient (bored):  I saw all of them.

Therapist (impatient):  All what of them?

Patient (coldly):  All there was to see of them.  Don’t  patronize me, Doctor.

Therapist (at his wit’s end): Listen, do you see one finger or two, or three, or four?

Patient:  I’ve told you, I’ve seen them all.  Doctor, you’re beginning to bore me.

Therapist (becoming ever more fascinated, not to say aroused): I have another idea.

Patient (yawning):  Yes?

Therapist (excitedly):  Yes.  [he holds up his right hand and extends three of its fingers]  How many fingers do you see now?