Play #48: The Life of Man (after Leonid Andreyev)

The play is set in an operating theatre at the outer rim of the known world.  The operating room is full of seals, penguins, otters and narwhals. There is a grey-skinned man, almost anesthetized, on the table.  He is being operated upon by a doctor dressed in leopard-skin shorts, a flamboyant Hawaiian style shirt and a yellow pith helmet. Four gigantic, stringless marionettes shuffle about the operating table, hoping to be of assistance.

PATIENT:  I can’t think clearly.

DOCTOR:  Neither can I.

PATIENT: But you’re the doctor.

DOCTOR:  You think so?  Okay, let’s agree on that.  And so that makes you the patient.  You’re supposed to be experiencing the focus illness always brings to the sufferer.

1st MARIONETTE:  How about having the patient provide a birth scream?  Just to get things underway.

DOCTOR (to Patient):  Can you manage that?

PATIENT:  I’ll try.  [he screams]


DOCTOR (enthusiastic):  And the dawn came up like thunder!!  [looks down admiringly at the patient]  Can you keep it up for awhile?

PATIENT (turning purple in the face and gasping):  Why  why why?

 DOCTOR: I want your birth scream to last until your death—which should be [checks his watch] in about twenty minutes or so.  Then the one sustained scream will serve both as your birth scream and your death agony.  You think you can do that for me?

PATIENT:  I’ll try [begins screaming loudly again).


[The patient expires]

DOCTOR (to the four Marionettes):  He was good, didn’t you think?



Play # 47: Jam.

The play is set in an endearingly old-fashioned restaurant in a small town in Eastern Ontario.   The restaurant has chrome bar stools, booths upholstered in naugahyde, and a big hand-painted mural running along one side of the room, depicting cows and goats grazing happily on a riverside meadow. 

The restaurant is run by an octogenarian Greek man named John who, though he owns a prosperous sheep farm a few miles east of town, regards the restaurant both as a way of keeping busy—a form of exercise—and as a place of warm social interaction.  He also prides himself on making a great breakfast.

Like a lot of Greeks, John is nothing if not hospitable.  To everybody who enters the place, he sings out, from his grill at the back, either a hearty “Welcome Home!” or, if the customer is a single man—one of his breakfast regulars—his best greeting of all: “Good morning, Mr. President!”

On this particular morning, there are only two people in the restaurant: John and his waitress, a big strapping woman who doesn’t have much to do since John usually brings out the food himself and also collects the money for it from the customers.  

As the play opens, a heavy, middle-aged woman with puffy bleached blonde hair, and wearing a wildly patterned green and yellow shirt and long beige shorts, enters the restaurant and makes slowly and with great deliberation for a booth.  On her left arm is a bandage which looks new and which she presses steadily with her right hand.   John can’t greet her with his usual “Welcome Home!” because he has never seen her before.

WOMAN (addressing anyone who hears her):  Doctors!  Always taking blood!

JOHN: Tests?

WOMAN:  They just take blood!

JOHN: Where are you from?

WOMAN:  A farm up north of here.  I don’t own it.  I just rent it.

JOHN (nodding encouragingly):  Fresh air.

WOMAN:  Yeh.  And when it rains, the sky opens up.  If you hold up a bucket, the rain fills it in a couple of seconds.

Unlike any of John’s regulars, the woman picks up the menu and peruses it with great care.  John stands at her table, patiently waiting for her order.

WOMAN (carefully, precisely):  I’ll have one egg, some bacon and toast.

JOHN: White or whole wheat?

WOMAN:  Whole wheat.

JOHN:  Do you want potatoes?

WOMAN (looking blank): Potatoes?

JOHN (patiently):  Home fries.

WOMAN (brightening):  Oh sure, okay.

John shuffles back to his grill and in a few moments, while the waitress stands disconsolately at the front window, brings the woman her breakfast.  She falls upon it gratefully and eats heartily.

WOMAN (looking up happily):  Your bacon is just the way I like it!

JOHN (smiling):  Not too greasy, not too hard.  Would you like some jam?

WOMAN (with touching enthusiasm):  I would love some jam!

John goes to fetch it and, on the way back to her booth, drops the little plastic coffin of red jam on the floor.  The woman looks at it.  John looks at it.  The waitress turns to look at it.

JOHN (embarrassed):  I can’t pick it up.  If I do, I’ll fall.  I’ll get you another one.

WAITRESS (relieved to have a task to perform):  I’ll pick it up!

John fetches a new, second jam and brings it back to the woman.  The waitress scoops up the fallen jam and is about to carry it over to a refuse container near the counter.

WOMAN (addressing the waitress):  I’ll take that one too!

WAITRESS (turning to face her):  You really want it?

WOMAN:  Yes.  Yes.


Brief Play # 46: A Headstrong Nadar

The play is set in Paris—and party directly over Paris—in 1864.  Just the year before, in 1863, pioneer photographer Gaspard-Felix Tournachon, better known by his pseudonym, Nadar, convinced that the future belonged to those who could command the sky, had built an enormous, red, 6000 cubic meter balloon which he appropriately named Le Geant, The Giant. 

Le Geant served to inspire two novels by his friend, Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon in 1867, and Five Weeks in a Balloon in 1869.  Shortly thereafter was established The Society for the Encouragement of Aerial Locomotion by Means of Heavier than Air Machines, with Nadar as president and Verne as secretary.

As the play opens (and almost immediately thereafter closes), Nadar is becalmed in a pocket of still air near the Eiffel Tower.  His wife, Ernestine, is calling up to him:

Ernestine (waving a handkerchief at him):  Nadar!  Nadar!

Nadar (who finally hears her and leans over the edge of Le Geant’s basket in order to shout back down to her):  Yes, dear, what is it?

Ernestine:  Come down, Nadar.  It’s time for tea.

Nadar:  Not now dear.  I’m busy floating.

Ernestine:  Nadar, it’s just a basket held up by a huge ball of hot air.

Nadar:  I’ll be back later, Ernestine.  There’s a new stirring of breeze.

Ernestine: And so you’ll forego your tea for that big skybound gland, that airborne breast of yours?

Nadar:  I’ll be back soon, dear.  Well have tea then.

Ernestine (exasperated): When?

Nadar:  When I’m next becalmed.

Ernestine:  And when will that be?

Nadar (floating off down the Seine):  Who’s to say?


Play # 45: The Cathedral of Erotic Misery

The play is set in the house of Dada artist Kurt Schwitters in Hannover, Germany, in 1919.  The stage is essentially bare except for a strange white column, rather ramshackle in appearance, and apparently made mostly of wood and plaster.  The column—which fills the room it is in—features a good many apertures, concavities and hollows, all of which hold, for Schwitters, a tender and archival purpose. 
When the play opens, Schwitters is talking with Richard Huelsenbeck, one of the founders of the Dada movement, now so noisily flowering at the Café Voltaire in Zurich.  We can hear both men, Schwitters and Huelsenbeck, but they remain offstage where we cannot see them.  All we can see is the column.

Huelsenbeck:  But why a tower? 

Schwitters:  I refer to it as a column.

Huelsenbeck: And here in your house!

Schwitters:  Where else should I build it?

H: At the rate you’re constructing it, the column will take over everything!  Pretty soon there’ll be no space left for your wife or son.

S: That’s what they say too.

H:  What is it for? What’s its true purpose?

S:  What are your antics at the Café Voltaire for?  What is your true purpose there?

H: We’re trying to inject some sensibility into an unfeeling culture that thinks only of money and war.

S:  Well, me too.

H: But we are expansive, raucous, highly public.  Your column is mute, secretive, impassive, internal.  It speaks only to itself.

S:  Oh no.  It speaks to me as well.  And it’s useful.  I store things in it.  It has pockets and cavities and caves into which I place memorial things…

H: What sort of memorial things?

S:  Oh, letters, talismanic objects, lengths of bone and hanks of hair.  You can give me something for it if you like. 

H:  But nobody will ever see your project—unless you invite them here to your house, as you have me.

S:  That’s fine.  A few people are enough.

H: Does it have a title?

S:  The Cathedral of Erotic Misery.

H:  Catchy.

S:  It’s not really true though.

H: I’m very glad to hear it!

S: Yes, the waves of its misery spread way beyond the erotic.