Play #87—With Colin and Clifford at the Active Volcano Café

The play is set in a small cafe in a quiet town in Eastern Ontario. The cafe, which was once known as The Downtowner, has recently been redecorated by the owner, and has now been reborn as the Active Volcano Café—no doubt because of the presence on the back wall of an enormous mural depicting, albeit crudely, two black-and-white volcanoes out of which furl billowing clouds of thick black smoke.  The new volcanoes dominate everything—even conversation.

Colin:  What are you going to have?  A latte?

Clifford (vaguely):  Sure, I guess.

Colin: You seem a bit abstracted.

Clifford: Insufficiently present, right?

Colin: Yeh.

Clifford:  It’s these damned volcanoes.

Colin: Well, they are sort of aggressive.

Clifford (darkly): Sinewy black smoke rising.

Colin: Muscular.

Clifford (still more darkly):  Rising from big volcano shoulders. 

Colin: Why are they here, do you think?

Clifford (suspiciously): Maybe they’re not.

Colin: They’re just a projection, you mean?

Clifford: Well, it happens.

Colin: But here?  At the Downtowner?

Clifford: That‘s all different now, remember? It’s the Active Volcano Café now.


Play #86: Helpless

"I know one thing: that I know nothing"—Socrates

The play takes place at seven o’clock on a weekday morning in the second floor bathroom of a comfortable, middle-class house on a shady street in small town in Eastern Ontario.  A middle-aged man, Albert Curtius, is brushing his teeth.  He suddenly stops, looks down at his toothbrush and his toothpaste, and calls out to his wife, Abigail.

Albert:  Abigail! 

Abigail (poking her head into the bathroom): Yes, Albert?

Albert (puzzled): What is tea-tree oil toothpaste?

Abigail (patiently): Toothpaste made from tea-tree oil. 

Albert (impatient):  Yes, but what is a tea-tree?  Where do they grow? How do you make toothpaste out if it?  Why is the oil so desirable? 

Abigail (calmly): It’s good for us, dear.

Albert (still impatient):  Is it?  But why, Abigail?  How?

Abigail:  I don’t know.

Albert:  I don’t know either.  And as a matter of fact I’m suddenly discovering that I don’t really know much about anything at all!  It gives me a strange, lonely feeling.

Abigail (soothingly): You’re tired, Albert.  The feeling will pass.

Albert (a note of panic developing in his voice):  But it doesn’t.  In fact it’s getting worse all the time!  Think about the water I’ve been using to brush my teeth.  What is it?

Abigail (perplexed):  What is water?

Albert (impatient):  Well, okay, yes, it’s apparently two gasses mixed together, yes.  Hydrogen and Oxygen, sure.  But how?  Can we make it ourselves? No.  Where does it come from?  This faucet? The lake? The clouds?  The sky?  The Polar Ice Cap?  It pours out of this faucet.  And by the way, what is this faucet made of?  Steel?  Chrome?  Chrome-plated steel?  What is Chrome?

Abigail: The shiny stuff on cars?

Albert (relentless):  Maybe.  Is that stuff chrome?  I was just looking at shiny finish on this fixture.  Is it a metal or just a coating?  What is it made of?  And what about this sink the water falls into?  Is it porcelain?  Or some kind of ceramic?  What is porcelain?  The name makes it sound delicate and expensive.  But what is it?  Is it different from China?  If so, how?  Maybe it’s just made of plastic.  But why do I say “just” plastic?  Why do we tend to look down on plastic?  How is plastic made, and what part does petroleum play in making it?  Some commercial soft ice cream is made with “edible petroleum products.” What are those products?  Does this mean that a soft ice cream cone is made of plastic? Why is some plastic called “space-age plastic?  Is it different from the plastic they make drinking glasses and sunglasses out of?  What was Bakelite?  Early plastic, right?  Do they still make it?  The steering wheel of my uncle’s 1948 Buick was made of Bakelite.  Why was Bakelite soft and sort of slippery—like jade?  What is jade for that matter?

Abigail (soothingly): Go and lie down for a bit, Albert.

Albert (agitated):  Where? On our bed?  The blankets are made of wool, right?

Abigail: some of them.

Albert (growing panicky):  Why do sheep grow wool?

Abigail (calmly): To provide blankets, Albert.

Albert: Are you sure? I thought it was to feed their young.

Abigail: Lambs don’t eat wool, Albert.

Albert (triumphantly):  But moths do!  I see them doing it!  But moths don’t eat the wool from real sheep.  So how do they know to wait until the wool is made into blankets?

Abigail (imploring him): Please, Albert, lie down and take a little rest!

Albert (beside himself):  Take it where? Why do you say to take a little rest?  Why not “have” a rest, “embark” on a rest??  Where am I going to take it to?  It sounds like medication—take an aspirin!

Abigail (leaving the room):  Not a bad idea either!


Play #85: The Homily

Over at Miss Lilys café in Picton, Ontario, just exactly beside the table where, on this sunny Spring morning, Magorzata and I are drinking coffee and eating apple turnovers, there is a shelf on which rest a number of irritatingly chatty, downright loquacious china cups, each of them stuffed with a complimentary bag of fancy-dancy tea—as an incentive to purchase them.

The longer I stare at these cups—and they really do seem to stare back at me—the more irritating their bromidic messages become (and curiously, it seems impossible not to read them aloud).  One of the cups is particularly annoying.  It reads (the text is swathed about with ghastly childlike flowers): Only Do What Your Heart Tells You.

GMD (holding the cup up so Malgorzata can see it, thus wrenching her away from her browsing through Marguerite Yourcenar’s The Abyss, which we have just bought for a dollar on a sale table in the bookstore adjoining the cafe): Look at what this cup says.

M (dutifully peering at it): Strange advice!

GMD: Isn’t it? [reads the cup aloud]  Only do what your heart tells you.

M (yearning to return to Yourcenar):  Dangerous.

GMD: I think so too.

M:  And grammatically inelegant.  Don’t they mean “Do ONLY what your heart tells you?  Not “only do”?

GMD: I think they probably do.

M:  “What Your Heart Tells You” is pretty open.

GMD: It’s like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, talking about finding “her heart’s desire” right in her own backyard—no matter what it turns out to be.

M: Backyard desire.  Sounds a bit limited.

GMD: Could be an early play by Eugene O’Neill!

M: What would you do if you took the cup’s advice?

GMD:  I think this cup is an evil, anarchic cup at heart.  I    think it would prompt me to buy it, take it outside and hurl it back at the front window, breaking it into a million pieces!  I could blame it all on the cup!

M (smiling gaily): I hope the cup knows a good lawyer!


Play # 83: The Right Hand

Fashion photographer Randy Medici is on a quest to discover—and employ—the perfect female hand.  He needs it so that he can start making the photographs for the upscale designer-bracelet campaign he just beginning for Harper’s Bazaar.  As the play opens, his New York studio is abuzz with a dizzying array of models—all of whom have hands to offer for his consideration.

Randy (impatient, harried): Just the right hand, sweetheart.  Just hold it up.

Girl 1 (holding up a hand):  Is this my right, Randy?

Randy (gently): Yes it is, Kate.  But it’s quite the wrong sort of hand, I’m afraid.

Girl 1: It is?

Randy: Yes. It’s too white, too moon-pale, dear.  Too medieval!  I need something more vigorous.  The sort of hand you’d find at the end of a tennis racket! Next!

Girl 2 (holding up her hand and waving it):  Hi Randy!

Randy: Hold it still, sweetheart.

Girl 2: It’s a lovely hand, don’t you think, Randy?

Randy: Yes I do—but it’s a period hand.  Way too 1950s!

Girl 2 (puzzled): What do you mean?

Randy: It’s a very nice hand, Heather, but it’s a Jayne Mansfield hand!  It’s all balloon tires and whitewalls, sweetheart!  It’s a tailfin hand!   What I need, you see, is more of a Breakfast-at-Tiffany’s hand?

[The girls continue to parade by, holding out their right hands—a pageant that goes on for the next hour and a half]

Randy:  Sorry sweetheart, too bony.

[Another hand is offered]

Randy (impatient):  No no NO!  That’s a bloody Regency hand.  Right out of Jane bloody Austen! 

[And another]

Randy (growing weary):  Too Venetian.  Too Grand Canal! 

[And still another]

Randy (exhausted):  Mannish.

[And one more.  It will be the last hand of the morning.  Its donor is swathed in yards and yards of black silk crepe de chine, from which is tentatively extended a small, porcelain-like hand that shines under the studio lights like the phosphorescent belly of a fish on a bed of cracked ice.

Randy (breathless, the old excitement stirring again):  What kind of a hand is this?!!  This perfect fruit!  This greengage plum of a hand! This worldly-wise embryo of a hand! 

[The black-swaddled donor says nothing.  The air in the studio has stopped moving and is mica-hard.  Randy can scarcely breathe.  A couple of the models faint.
Violently agitated and yet desperate to understand, Randy moves towards the mysterious figure and, reaching out, plucks the black veils of crepe-de-chine away.  What is underneath, balancing on wooden, stilt-like, prosthesis-legs strapped to her calves, is a dainty child of about six—a little girl, white-faced and staring]:

Prosthesis-Child (holding up her diminutive hand ever higher towards Randy):  This is my hand.

Randy (transfixed):  It’s exquisite.

Prothesis-Child (quietly):  I have another as well.

Randy (more or less unhinged):  Do you?

Prothesis-Child:  My mother told me to come here and offer this one to you.  She said you would like it.

Randy:  Did she?

Prothesis-Child (wonderingly): She did.  I don’t know why she said that.  It’s just my hand.

Randy (now thoroughly enchanted):  Yes.  So it is.


Play #82: The Blue Wheel

The play is set in the desert near Harar, Ethiopia, in August of 1884.  Rimbaud, his poetry now definitively behind him, is working in the coffee trade, overseeing the export of the coffee of Harar to Europe.   When the play opens, Rimbaud and his friend, Alfred Ilg, a Swiss engineer, are taking a morning walk together.  It is only just after dawn, but the sun is already merciless.

Ilg: How did you come to the coffee trade?

Rimbaud: Harar coffee is the best in the world.

Ilg: No question, but why did it need you?

Rimbaud: I suppose I found selling coffee to be a slightly less empty occupation than selling guns.

Ilg (risking everything):  Tell me, Arthur, is Abyssinia one of your “Floridas incredible”?

Rimbaud (as if he has just been slapped):  What?

Ilg (persevering): “I've slammed myself / into Floridas incredible / mixing petals / with panther / eyes and human skin / while under oceanic skies / rainbows reined / the sea-green herds."

Rinbaud (revolted).  Bah!  What’s that, The Drunken Boat?

Ilg (quietly):  You know it is.

Rimbaud (angrily): Well, keep it out of the desert. There can be no boats here, drunken or otherwise!

Ilg:  But don’t you miss poetry?

Rimbaud: I don’t think of it—unless some well-meaning fool like you rubs my nose in it!

Ilg: I don’t think you’re very well, Arthur.

Rimbaud (exasperated):  Oh, who is, Alfred?

Ilg (glancing down at his friend’s legs):  Your knee seems to be giving you some trouble.

Rimbaud (annoyed): Everything gives me some trouble.

Ilg: You need rest. 

Rimbaud (confidentially): You know what makes it better sometimes?

Ilg: What?

Rimbaud: I imagine I am a big blue wheel—a big spoked wheel, like the front wheel of some giant bicycle….

Ilg:  Taking the weight off…

Rimbaud:  Rolling over the burning sands.

Ilg (hopeful):  That’s a poem, isn’t it?

Rimbaud:  No. That’s a wish.   Poems come unbidden...whereas I really long for the blue wheel!!