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.