Short Play # 59: Three Mini-plays about Wagner

Note: The three mini-plays that follow are found plays—or at least the substance of them was found: I lifted all of the three incidents that constitute the plays from the chapter titled “Arnold Bocklin” in Alberto Savinio’s book, Operatic Lives (1942).  Savinio (1891-1952), a brilliant writer and an equally brilliant painter (he has been a bit occluded by being Giorgio de Chirico’s brother), has always been rather undervalued.  I feel it is an honour to steal from him.

MINI-PLAY #1: The Most Beautiful Sight in the World:

The play is set in a drawing room of the Wagner home.  The painter, Arnold Bocklin, has come to pay a call.
He is received by Cosima Wagner—who raises her finger to her lips and requests that Bocklin be very quiet.

COSIMA (whispering): Come with me, Arnold.  I consider you worthy to witness the most beautiful sight in the world!

BOCKLIN (whispering back):  Alright.

COSIMA (whispering): But walk on tiptoe.

BOCKLIN (still whispering): Alright.

[Cosima leads the painter carefully into a large dim room where, on a vast, red satin divan, the sleeping composer is stretched out among the cushions, fast asleep.  His velvet beret has slipped down over one ear]

COSIMA (adoringly):  You see how he’s wearing his magician’s dressing gown?

BOCKLIN (unimpressed):  Yes, so he is.


MINI-PLAY #2: No Understanding of Music

.The play is set in Wagner’s drawing room.  The great Russian virtuoso, Anton Rubinstein, is sitting at the piano, playing music from Wagner’s newest opera, Die Gotterdammerung.  Wagner ushers another visitor, Arnold Bocklin, into the room to listen. 

BOCKLIN (having listened inattentively):  Very nice.

WAGNER (suddenly furious): I see you have no understanding of music!

BOCKLIN (coolly):  More than you have of painting.


MINI-PLAY #3:  Parsifal Wine (a mimed play)

The play is set in Wagner’s workroom in Ravello, Italy, where the maestro is putting the finishing touches to what will be his last opera, Parsifal.  He has once again invited Arnold Bocklin to the studio, thinking of him as a possible designer for his theatre in Bayreuth. 

It is a very hot afternoon.  Bocklin suits on the red divan and listens at great length to Wagner’s description of the Parsifal music and his ornate theories about it.

The painter grows steadily more drowsy.  Wagner asks him what he thinks of it all.

Bocklin requests a glass of wine.  He drinks it and then, without a word, gets his to his feet and takes his leave.

Wagner looks after him, dumbfounded.


Play # 58: THE BALZAC

The play takes place in the studio of Auguste Rodin in Meudon, close to Paris.  It is already 1896 and Rodin is working frantically to finish his gigantic Monument to Balzac, first commissioned in 1891.  The work—though still far from ready for an unveiling—is nevertheless being hotly debated everywhere.   On this particular day, Rodin has a visitor in his studio--Oscar Wilde

WILDE (in admiration):  It is superb, Auguste!

RODIN (continuing to work):  Um.

WILDE (ever more ecstatic):  It has the leonine head of a fallen angel!

RODIN (grunting with effort):  Why fallen?

WILDE (laughing):  Because so far, your Balzac is an angel in a dressing gown!

RODIN (sarcastically):  You are nothing if not
perceptive, Oscar!

WILDE : Are you going to leave him in a dressing gown?

RODIN: Well that’s the way he worked.  He was always too busy to get dressed.

WILDE:  But the dressing gown is just an unshaped cone of white plaster.


WILDE: Well, people will howl with rage over it!

RODIN:  Let them.



The play is set in a shopping mall, on a sunny Saturday afternoon in October.  A man sitting behind the wheel of his cherished 1999 Toyota Rav4 is made suddenly aware of a huge, newish maroon van behind him, six inches from his bumper.  The looming van is being driven by monstrously heavy woman, her meek, wide-eyed subteen daughter in the seat beside her.  Unable to bear the heavy-breathing of the woman’s juggernaut van so close to his back bumper, he stops his Rav4, gets out of the car and goes back to talk to the too-imminent woman. 

Woman (lowering her window, furious):  Get out of my way!

Rav-man (with elaborate, enraged calm): What’s the matter with you, hugging my back bumper like that?

Woman (more furious than ever): Get out of my way!!

Rav-man (also furious): Stay off my bumper!!

Woman (apoplectic): Move your stupid old car!

Rav-man (outraged):  Stupid old car??  This is a wonderful car, I love this car.  It has some character—unlike that glossy pointless piece of crap you’re driving!

Woman (angrier still): I have a child in the car.

Rav-man (suddenly perplexed):  So?

Woman (with conviction):  I don’t want her hearing language like that!

Rav-man: Like what? Crap?

Woman (almost hysterical):  I’m going to call someone!

[Suddenly two glowing, diaphanous angels appear, floating just above the two stopped cars]

Angel One (gently):  No need to.  We heard your angers and we are here to help.

Angel Two (also gently): That’s right. We are here to calm you down.

Rav-man (sarcastically):  Good luck.

Angel One: (calmly) Angels don’t need luck.

Rav-man (quietly):  I was thinking more of her and me.  Can’t you recognize a prayer when you hear one?

[The angels giggle together]


Play # 56: MARXMEN

The play is set in the British Museum Reading Room.  It is a warm June afternoon in 1860, and Karl Marx is sitting at a table, making notes towards what will become Volume One of Das Kapital.  He is suddenly disturbed by a ruckus in the otherwise sepulchrally quiet room—a caterwauling traceable to the entrance into the Reading Room of the three Marx Brothers, Groucho, Harpo and Chico (Zeppo has already dropped out).  Given that none of these three comedians will be born for at least another thirty years, it is reasonably hard to explain their presence in the British Museum in 1860—too hard, in fact, to bother about.

KARL MARX (scribbling diligently in a notebook and intoning the words as he writes):  “A commodity is primarily an external object, which by reason of its qualities satisfies some sort of human want….”

]The Marx Bros. having entered the Reading Room, have now found their way to Marx’s desk]

GROUCHO (reading over Marx’s shoulder):  It’s a good question!  What does a human want?

KARL MARX (sternly):  It wasn’t a question.

GROUCHO:  Oh don’t be so hard on yourself, my good fellow!  You’ll think of one eventually!

CHICO:  Okay, atsa fine, but here’s a question and (turning to Marx) I give it to you right now—and I only charge you one dollar for it!  What does a woman want?

KARL MARX (irritated):  Women do not interest me.

GROUCHO (scandalized):  Don’t let Sigmund Freud hear that, you…you…you…

CHICO: You Hegelian!!

GROUCHO (pleased): Exactly!  Say, what is a Hegelian anyhow?

CHICO: Atsa guy who never accepts the first offer.  He’s a guy who likes to hegel over the price of things!

GROUCHO: Like Cousin Morty!

[Harpo honks his bicycle horn for emphasis, bringing down upon his head a loud chorus of shhhhs from all around the room, like the wind rattling the dry autumn trees]

CHICO (to Marx): Where’s my dollar?

KARL MARX:  I will give you no dollar at all!  I didn’t ask your question!

GROUCHO (with mock melodrama):  And you will rue the day you didn’t, my good fellow!

KARL MARX (impatient):  Listen, you must excuse me gentlemen.  I have a great deal of work to do.

CHICO:  That doesn’t sound like a great deal to me.  Atsa terrible deal!  When you gonna relax and have fun?

KARL MARX (loftily):  Not until the class struggle leads necessarily to the dictatorship of the proletariat!

CHICO (patting Marx on the shoulder):  Atsa fine.  You go duct-tape your prolefariat all you like, you gonna wait a long time for a day off!

[Harpo, nodding in manic agreement, squawks his horn]

GROUCHO (suddenly sitting on Marx’s lap):  But just remember this, Bushy Beard It’s better to have dictated the proletariat and lost, than never dictated the proletariat at all!!

MARX (angry): Good day, gentlemen.

GROUCHO (to Chico and Harpo):  I think our work is done here, boys.  Let’s go visit Darwin!