Play # 28: The Infanta & The Hummingbird

The play takes place under a bell jar, being based directly upon a construction by American artist Joseph Cornell called Observations of a Satellite 1 (1960).  The Infanta is of course The Infanta Margarita at Age Five, by Diego Velazquez (1559-1661).  The hummingbird in this play is by English bird illustrator John Gould (1804-1881) and is taken from Sacheverell Sitwell’s Fine Bird Books 1700-1900 (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990).

When the play opens, the Infanta is conversing with an enormous hummingbird that hovers directly over her head.

Margarita:  Your wings beat so quickly I can’t see them.

Hummingbird: What do you see instead?

Margarita:  An airy sphere, floating in the air.

Hummingbird:  That is enough to see.

Margarita:  I would like to be as ethereal as you.

Hummingbird:  Would you? [observing her closely]  Yes, you are a bit encumbered by your own dress!  It’s rather solid, isn’t it?

Margarita:  It’s like wearing a building!  I can scarcely move!

Hummingbird:  Well, movement isn’t everything.  Standing still allows you to look about you.  And it gives you time to think.

Margarita:  But you can stand still as well—if you want to.  You can hover.

Hummingbird:  Listen, hovering is a whole world in itself.  Hovering is so demanding it’s all you can do.  You drive yourself mad just to stay in the same place!

Margarita:  Well, I can certainly understand that.

Hummingbird: But you can always step out of that dress, and leap about in the sun like a spring lamb!

Margarita:  It scarcely ever happens.

Hummimgbird:  Meet me here in this meadow tomorrow, early in the morning.  I’m going to begin your
hovering lessons!

Margarita (overjoyed).  Oh, will you??

Hummingbird:  I promise.  Just one more thing, though.

Margarita:  Yes?

Hummingbird:  Wear something light!



The play is set in a public square near the Pantheon in Rome.  Dominating the square is a singular sculpture—or, more accurately, a double one, for it is a likeness of the two-faced Roman god, Janus—whose ability (or curse) to see backwards into the past as well as forwards into the future, makes him (them) the god of division, of threshold, of endings and beginnings.  We take the name of that pivotal month, January, from Janus.

As the play opens, Janus is talking to himself—as always.  The two faces of Janus will henceforth be designated Janus Left and Janus Right.

Janus Left (with a sigh):  You know that wasn’t really much of a year. 

Janus Right:  Which one do you mean?

JL:  The one just past.

JR:  Oh yes, of course.   No, I suppose not.  To tell the truth, I can scarcely remember it.

JL (impatiently):  You really have no sense of the past at all, do you? 

JR (cheerfully):  I’m too busy looking forward to what’s coming next!

JL:  As an idea, the future is too frivolous.  You don’t know anything about it and so you can’t ponder it.

JR (also impatiently):  And of course you delight in pondering the past!  What good is that?  It’s all over and done with!

JL:  What’s over and done with holds still—like a work of art.  The past is beautiful because it is an artifact!

JR (dismissively):  Dust and Cobwebs.  Useless useless useless!

JL (smugly):  And what’s so useful about the future?

JR:  Just the fact that it’s coming!

JL (contemptuously): You’re a child.

JR (equally contemptuously):  You’re a dry stick.  A yellowed weed.  An empty husk.

JL:  You know, I hate sharing this pedestal with you!!

JR:  Same here!


Play # 26: Life of Pu

The play is set in a canoe, adrift on the bosom of the Pacific Ocean.  There are two characters, both of them in the canoe: one is a Bear of Very Little Brain named Pu, and the other is a morose donkey named Robert Taylor. 

Pu [glancing at his wrist, where a watch would have been if he had owned a watch]: Well, it’s 11:30!  Time for a little smackerel of something!

Robert Taylor:  Go ahead, I’m not hungry.

Pu: I’m happy to hear it, you’re being a fierce donkey and all!

RT: I couldn’t eat anything. I’m stuffed.

Pu: Considering you’re a stuffed animal, that’s a terrible joke.

RT: What are you going to eat?

Pu: Oh that’s right, there’s nothing, is there?

RT:  Do you think we’ll ever reach land?

Pu: Why shouldn’t we?  There used to be land all around this ocean—on every side!

RT:  I’m afraid.

Pu:  No, you mustn’t be.  “Fear is life’s only true opponent.  Only fear can defeat life.  It’s a clever, treacherous adversary.”

RT:  Where did you hear that?

Pu:  Some book.

RT: I didn’t know you could read.

Pu:  I can’t.  But there are a few books that are bigger than their readers.  Here’s more: “I had no means of controlling where I was going—no rudder, no sails, no motor, some oars but insufficient brawn.”

RT:  Sounds a lot like us.

Pu:  It does, but that isn’t really much help or much comfort, is it?

RT:  No, it’s not.  [sadly] I guess we’d better just go on drifting.

Pu:  Yes, let’s do that.


Play # 25: The Poolside Play

The play takes place on a hand-mirror which, because this is theatre, we are going to try to accept as a limpid, mythologically situated pool.  There is really only one character—Narcissus—who carries on a poolside dialogue with the minor god, Nemesis, who has interrupted Narcissus to show him the fateful pool where, it is assumed (we’ve all read our Ovid, yes?)  Narcissus will become entranced with his own reflection and fall in love with it.

Nemesis (speaking as the pool):  Come over here, handsome.  I have something to show you.

Narcissus: I’m in sort of a hurry.

Pool: Oh, this will just take a minute.

Narcissus: Well, alright.  Just for a moment.

Pool: Gaze down into the water. [he does]
What do you see?

Narcissus: Water lilies and three carp.

Pool (impatiently): Look more closely—or perhaps LESS closely.

Narcissus (somewhat take aback):  Why there’s a beautiful boy down in the water!

Pool:  That’s YOU, Narcissus.

Narcissus:  Oh I hardly think so. [feels his arm]  I’m right here, where I’ve always been.

Pool: No, that’s you alright.  It’s your reflection.

Narcissus: Well, it’s a rather good-looking one, isn’t it!

Pool (insinuatingly, expectantly): Yes.

Narcissus: The pool works sort of like a mirror, doesn’t it.

Pool (not liking where this may be going):  Well, sort of….

Narcissus: So I’ll just say farewell now and be on my way.

Pool (greatly disappointed):  But aren’t you going to enjoy the sight of your own perfection for a while?

Narcissus:  Oh, I don’t think so.  There’s a pool at home.  I know how it works.

Pool (perplexed):  But don’t you think you’re ravishing?

Narcissus (looking again into the water): Not bad.  Passable, I guess.

Pool (getting annoyed): But you’re supposed to be transfixed by your perfection!  You’re supposed to fall in love with yourself!

Narcissus:  I am?  But what would be the point of that?

Pool (giving up): What indeed.