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?


Short Play #52: The Zen Mistake

The play takes place in a meadow near the ancient house of Zen Master, Kenzo Shigemori.  There is an archery target set up in the middle of the meadow, and, as the play opens, the Master is restating certain Zen precepts to his student, a young Canadian named Hugh Stalwart.  Stalwart has just now directed his bamboo bow at the target and has loosed  his arrow (with its eagle tailfeathers)—but has missed the bulls-eye.

MASTER:  You cannot do it because you do not breathe right.  Press your breath down gently after breathing in….

HUGH:  I don’t know how to press my breath down, gently or otherwise.

MASTER: You must draw strength from the ground.

HUGH: From the ground?

[The Master walks up to Hugh and, bending low, presses on clearly sensitive spot on the young man’s right leg muscle]

HUGH:  Oww!

MASTER: You feel no pain.  The pain is an illusion.

HUGH:  Is that so?

MASTER: Yes.  Now try again.  This time, draw the bow spiritually.

[The Master now walks to the target to adjust its position. Just at that moment, Hugh attains enough of the gist of spiritual bow-drawing to let fly his arrow—which, though he has been dutifully paying no special attention to it (archery is “an artless art, in which the hitter and the hit are no longer two opposing objects”), nevertheless pierces the Master through the heart.  The Master falls heavily to the ground.

HUGH:  This cannot have happened.  All this is illusion too.  It is simply a test.  I must remain detached from what has happened.

[He walks across the grass to where the Master has fallen.  He then stoops to pull his arrow from the Master’s chest.  He examines the arrow closely]

HUGH: This is no ordinary arrow.  The Master has told me my own arrows do not carry because they do not reach far enough spiritually.  But this one HAS reached far enough.
I have learned the Master’s lessons!   That is unalterable.  I am now my own Master!


HUGH’S VOICE FROM BEHIND THE CURTAIN:  No curtain has dropped.  That too is illusion.


Play #51: The Industrial Age

[Note: much of the language of the play is taken verbatim from student papers handed in at the end of the author’s final lecture, a few weeks ago, at a well-known Ontario university]  

The play takes place in a university lecture hall.  The lecturer—Sitwell Kern—has grown weary from years of teaching and is pleased that this is to be his very last class.

KERN (showing a reproduction of The Eiffel Tower on the screen):  Can anyone tell me what this is?

STUDENT A (laconically):  A PowerPoint projection?

KERN (irritated):  Obviously—but of what?

[There is a restless silence in the hall]

KERN (patiently):  It’s a photograph of the Eiffel Tower in the course of its construction.  Of what cultural importance has the Tower been been since it was finished in 1889?

STUDENT C:  It represents the beginning of the industrial age?

KERN:  No it doesn’t.  It’s too late for that.  When did the Industrial age actually begin?

STUDENT C:  Earlier than the Eiffel Tower?

KERN (irritably): Yes, we’ve established that.  Perhaps you’re unclear about what the Industrial Age really was?


STUDENT G (smarmy, self-assured):  The Industrial Age was when man began to dominate over physical barriers.

KERN:  “Dominate over physical barriers”?  Is “dominate” really the word you want?  And what do you mean, “physical barriers”?  What, like walls?  What are you saying?

STUDENT F (excited):  I mean we could make buildings taller and taller now because now we could move people through them faster and we needed the dense space that they provided!   

KERN (getting angry):  Who is we?

STUDENT F (joyous):  We are we!

KERN:  We are?  And what do you mean by “we could move people through them faster”?

STUDENT F:  Crowd control.

KERN (at the end of his patience):  That’s insane.

STUDENT X:  Careful, professor.  That’s harassment!

STUDENT J (confidently):  The car was soon to be mass-produced, and would be spreading people to every corner of the world imaginable!

KERN (unbelieving):  “Spreading people”?  Like jam on toast?

STUDENT K (undaunted and with great finality):  The Eiffel Tower would become a shift in world dynamics…

KERN:  The Eiffel Tower would become a shift….?

STUDENT K (persisting):  …would become a shift in world dynamics where materiality driven advancement would determine world dominance!

KERN: Materiality-driven?

STUDENT K:  Yeh, you know, money and all that….

KERN: That may sound like legitimate discourse to you people, but none of it means anything!  You can’t just use words in any way you want!


KERN: Because then you fatally abuse their meaning!

STUDENT H:  That’s just your opinion.