Short Play # 44: Ubu et Moi

     The play is set at the Closerie des Lilas, the famous Paris café that, early in the 20th century, played host to so many of the city’s writers and painters—Verlaine, Rimbaud, Paul Fort, Andre Salmon,  Augustus John, Guillaume Apollinaire and even Vladimir Ilitch Lenin—who used to play chess there with Apollinaire.  Lenin was a master chess player, and whenever he played with the young Apollinaire, he tried deliberately to lose—eventually winning anyhow, despite his best and most generous intentions.
     The most infamous—if not the most famous—of the Closerie’s habitués was certainly the madly eccentric writer, Alfred Jarry.  A few years earlier, in 1896, Jarry had become notorious overnight for his rude suite of puppet plays about the raucous King Ubu and his unseemly, unsavory adventures.
    When our play opens—in 1902—Jarry is drinking absinthe with his own character, Pere Ubu himself, the principal player of Ubu Roi and the two other plays that followed it.

UBU:  Why did you have to make me so hideous?  Why this huge belly…?

JARRY: …with the spiral painted on it….!

UBU: Yes, and this silly crown perched on the back of my head…and my absurd, can-opener nose….

JARRY:  People like you that way!  They expect it of you!

[he pours himself another tumbler of absinthe]

UBU:  You drink too much.

JARRY: Nonsense.  I have devised a fully-balanced diet for myself.  For example, two absinthes equals one beefsteak.  And one absinthe equals one pound of bread.  And so on.  You see?

UBU:  By my green candle, I do not!  And why do I begin almost every speech with “By my green candle.”   What green candle?

JARRY:  I made it up, for goodness sake!  It sounds a bit mystical, don’t you think?  It’s a noble little oath.

UBU: But I don’t know what it means!!

JARRY:  Neither do I.  Neither does the audience.  Who cares??

UBU:  And why can’t Ma Ubu be a little more attractive?  She’s like an Armadillo that talks!

JARRY:  Well now, that’s another problem entirely.

UBU:  Is it?

JARRY: Absolutely.  In the meantime, have some absinthe.


Play # 43: Victory Over the Moon—a Futurist Opera

The opera takes place on the moon.  The cast consists of fifteen characters, only two of whom, in this brief excerpt, make an appearance: the First Strongman—played by poet Vladimir Mayakovsky—and the Second Strongman, played by poet Velimir Khlebnikov.  The costumes are by Kasimir Malevich.  The unheard music is by the author.

FIRST STRONGMAN (shouting): All’s well that begins well and ends soon afterwards!

SECOND STRONGMAN:  There will be no end to this opera.  We will thereby astound the universe!!

FS (shouting): There will be no going back!

SS (whispering): Or forward.

FS (pointing proudly): You see our muddy airship?  We built it on credit.  The sun offered us cash, but we wanted to glide softly amid the winking stars of mounting debt.

SS:  At which point everything became unexpectedly cautious.  Our resolve failed.

FS (resigned): Now we breathe the emptiness of the moon.

SS (even more resigned): No more no less.

FS (suddenly animated): You can’t stand it either?  Then shake off the blades of sculptural moonlight and find another way to wash yourself!

SS (encouragingly): The way millions of others have done.

FS (comforting): You’ll be alright, you black multitudes.  You sit there in fat velvet chairs, watching us shoot at the past with our poet-revolvers.  Your heads are narrow and your sighs are made of stone.

SS (ingratiatingly): Go ahead, pick any fight with us—or with him!

FS: Or with him!

SS (reassuring):  Do it in this pebbled dark.  In this dry garden with its iron roses.  Long live this lunar darkness!  It will take you home again.  You will have warm suppers with knives and forks.

FS (shouting): And don’t forget to leave your windows open!


Short Play # 42: Salome

The play is set in the palace of King Herod Antipas, husband to Herodias and stepfather to her daughter, Salome.  Herod, largely at his wife’s insistence, has imprisoned St. John the Baptist, the prophet and “forerunner” of Jesus’s coming.  Salome has become obsessively, unnaturally attracted to him.

SALOME (disconsolate):  He will not love me.  He will not kiss me.

HERODIAS: Look, Salome, the moon is swollen with light!  It puts off its raiment in order to shine more nakedly upon you.

HEROD (lasciviously):  Perhaps Salome will join the lambent moon in its dishabille?

HERODIAS:  Don’t look at her that way!

HEROD:  What way, my jewel of great price?

HERODIAS: You gleam like the polished bone of lust!

HEROD: It is only the moon.

SALOME:   Why will he not love me?  Why will he not kiss me?

HEROD:  I love you, Salome…

HERODIAS (dismayed):  Herod!!

HEROD (backtracking quickly) “…like a daughter!  Will you dance for me, Salome?  If you do, I will give you anything you desire.

SALOME (suddenly less dejected):  You will?



Play #41: The Mayor and the Gnat: A Fable (after Jean de la Fontaine)

The play is set at mid-morning in the plushy office of the Mayor of some great weary city.  The Mayor is sitting at his desk, perspiring profusely.  There is a tap at the door and, not waiting to be admitted, a gnat flies in and addresses the gigantic Mayor in the following manner:

GNAT: Good morning, your portly Worship!

MAYOR (swatting ineffectually at the gnat):  Go away,
pesky no-bug!”

GNAT:  I think not, your Sweatiness.  I enjoy hovering in the moist jungle air you generate!

MAYOR:  Who do you represent, you black fly of Beelzebub?

GNAT (contemptuously):  Gnat, your Worship, not Fly.

MAYOR: Okay, bloody GNAT then!

GNAT:  I represent all the people, your Lardship, and I have come to feast lavishly upon your Bulkiness, you scrumptious Peking Duck of a politician!

And having clearly announced its intentions, the Gnat buzzes the Mayor mercilessly—stinging him twenty, forty, a hundred times until he is as red as a pomegranate.  The Mayor roars his protests.  His outraged cries shake the whole building.  So frantic is he, he begins to scratch and claw at himself, finally collapsing onto the office broadloom, almost insensible from exhaustion and pain.

GNAT:  Well, I can see my work here is done!

As the gnat leaves the Mayor’s office, eager to spread the word to his fellow gnats of his David and Goliath triumph, he flies right into a huge spiderweb blocking the entrance to the council chamber, where he is summarily eaten by an eight-legged alderman. 


What can we learn from this?  Well, La Fontaine says the fable teaches us not to judge an opponent from his size.  He also attaches a second moral—“you may pass through great danger safely but be killed by a little thing” (though I think a spidery alderman is no little thing!).  To this I would add a third moral—or at least a cautionary note: if you’re the Mayor, get the city to buy you a better security system—one with the optional anti-gnat features.