Awards Season? Duck Season!

January to June is awards season, the annual accounting of deserving individuals and organizations from the previous calendar year. It is the time for all the awarding bodies, self-appointed or industry-based, to name those they’ve selected as worthy of their acknowledgement for their work in the year past.

There are two general responses to this.

For millions who get a kick predicting winners and losers beforehand, and afterwards reviling the awarding agency when they pick wrong, it’s a tradition. Some settle in early with popcorn and play bitchy Mr. Blackwell with the various versions of overpriced tasteless fashion statements on the famed Red Carpet. Some just get into handicapping the artists, and comparing proceedings with their picks throughout the evening. Some enjoy evaluating the host, the musical numbers, the presenters and the acceptance speeches for intellectual and emotional content, appropriate tone, and proper length.        It takes on aspects of a major sporting event, for many observers.

However, there are less vocal but nonetheless disaffected audiences for the annual event. The recent controversy over the representation of minority-status ethnicities among Oscar nominees is only the most recent example of this disaffection, which surfaces occasionally when nominations have apparent socio-political implications.

My own dislike of awards starts-out childish and personal, I admit. It dates back to my profound puzzlement over 1971 nods for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor going to the biopic Patton over my favorite, Five Easy Pieces, and actor George C. Scott’s rejection of an Oscar for the lead role as the doughty old general. Five Easy Pieces, in my opinion, was the better film. Scott, I thought, should have won for 1967’s The Flim-Flam Man. I was only ten, but like everyone I had opinions. I still think history will bear me out –at least on Five Easy Pieces.

I feel like this disappointment in the results is the fate of all awards. It is, I admit, in origin childish and personal, and not at all assuaged by my grandmother’s simpering exhortation to “Think how good the other team feels!” And I can’t understand why this perception of injustice in awards isn’t more common. Did you never notice how the awards in Scout meetings went to the biggest finks? Did it never seem to you that “High School Standouts” seldom featured a “Class Clown” with a truly outrageous but understated sense of humor, but went to the same braying fellow who won “Best Laugh”? Don’t awards seem to exist to dole out privileges that are no more earned than most privilege?

My own dislike of awards grew with my awareness as an adult. The actors I’ve admired since my youth were character actors, working actors with little public acknowledgment, their faces well-known but their names often little-recognized. Though there was a category of “Best Supporting Actor,” it didn’t seem to embrace the kind of actor I refer to, but instead was reserved for stars slumming in smaller roles. The list of actors never even nominated includes a surprising array of talent, but suffice it to say that the list is led by the late great and much beloved Alan Rickman.

When I became an actor, I was appalled to see good hard work passed over in my own community. My first exposure to that was a colleague whose brilliant Salieri went unsung, while the poor, lackadaisical effort of the actor who played Mozart was celebrated. I was told it is common for awards to reflect a love of the role as well as the actor. More recently, I’ve been disturbed to see how being passed over for nominations or awards has wounded friends in the profession, who labored to achieve worthy performances only to have their sense of accomplishment turned to ash by the lack of inclusion in the lists. Though of course these artists can be arraigned for needing to develop a thicker skin, it is hard to take anything so profoundly a part of one’s identity as “Nothing personal.”

As much as we like to say “It’s an honor just to compete,” we all recognize how hollow that sounds after someone has lost a competition. We’re trying to have our hierarchies and partake of the communal cake, too.

Though it may be a display of some deep-seated need in the race, the phenomenon of awards seems particularly pervasive in American culture. Americans have always been fond of the superlative: the best, the most, the biggest. Too, we like to think of ourselves as a classless society, a meritocracy where the best rises to the top. It is, as Americans see it, a confirmation of our belief in fair play: with a level playing field, the best will prevail.

Closely examined, however, it is a kind of implicit Social Darwinism, a belief that the best always rises to the top, leaving the remainder in the mudsill. It offers a species of circular logic to confirm its truth: creatures prove themselves to be the best, or most adaptable, since they survived and thrived; they were able to do that, of course, because they were the best. Ipso facto, it props up the status quo.

This explains the fierce reactionary resentment one hears voiced in various forums, about what we might call the “Student of the Month” syndrome: “If everyone is a winner, then no one is.” Acknowledgement for everyone challenges the concept of hierarchy. The concept of equality alters the vertically oriented order to things. Without selective acknowledgement of worth, we fear that we labor in an anarchic environment where merit has no external motivation. Social displays of coherent and cohesive values seem to lack positive reinforcement, and our actions seem to arise from internal and personal states that are not subject to any feedback.

So, this positive disposition toward awards is quite understandable. It’s natural to seek positive reinforcement from one’s community. The danger, in cultural terms,  is the confusion between that pluralistic alignment with one’s community and subscription to the concept of the absolute authority. Pernicious in politics, it is deadly in the arts. A sense of objective ‘best’ plays into disturbing and increasingly prolific memes that render divergent viewpoints irrelevant in the face of a universally acknowledged, standardized truth. It’s a method for the marginalization of other voices –diverse perspectives on our culture, which not only have a right to be heard, but perhaps need to be. The arts is the place for this. If any field is dedicated to replacing today’s mainstream thought with tomorrow’s innovation, it should be the arts. Awards, like all rewards, work against experimentation, unless experimentation is specifically being cited for positive feedback –as with sciences. Otherwise, the easy remuneration that comes with following established systems of reward will likely militate against any work that truly dares.

Awards, unless specifically instituted to provide positive feedback for non-commercial undertakings, steer artists toward gearing their efforts to popular standards, rather than attuning their practice to their own different drummer.         If we give credence to awards, we identify as believers in the concept of objective “best” in the arts. If we agree with the way that the artists were acknowledged,   then we have the objective confirmation of our opinions in the fact of that public acknowledgement. Even if we disagree with individual awards, though, we show that we subscribe to the idea.

To be sure, individual awards do not go unchallenged. In awards season, the Kanye Wests of the world hasten to announce to a captive audience their objections to particular instances of artistic recognition. They feel a need to advocate for “my girl, Beonce” over vanilla Taylor Swift, or whatever their version of that dichotomy is.

Such objections, of course, have their own agenda, which is often based on objective and quantifiable, extrinsic elements such ethnicity, gender, political persuasion, and a host of other –essentially social— considerations, more than on intrinsic artistic merit, which seems to remain stubbornly subjective.

However, objections to individual awards never challenge the basic assumption of all awards, and in fact serve to reinforce their seeming authority. Kanye’s quibble acted in much the same way that the Bundy family’s opposition to individual acts by the Bureau of Land Management reinforces federal prerogatives and undermines their putative revolt: Their claim is compromised by their acceptance of the largesse when it suits them.

Such objections never surface when our needs are being met, and when you see such people accepting benefits even as they complain about the system that distributes them, it becomes clear that they’re not challenging authority, but trying to leverage it. They’re just angry because they didn’t get theirs.

To be sure, we do hear hints of a more all-encompassing problem with awards. There are those lists of the surprising number of indisputably “great,” iconic Hollywood stars who never garnered the little gold statuette named for someone’s Uncle Oscar, and how many duds did. More tellingly, we often see actors awarded the honor late, for a less deserving role, after being passed over for more notable work earlier in their career. These observations lose their force when one complains about, say, Jim Carey being passed over for acting accolades, or disputes an obviously worthy award out of prejudice. However, it is a telling fact that actor Peter O’Toole was never honored with an Oscar, despite eight nominations, while John Wayne was, with only three nomination –telling about what kind of work      the industry is really promoting. The patriotic Patton over Bob Rafaelson’s quirky tale of familial disaffection and artistic alienation.

As an aside, surprisingly few people in show business know that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) was founded by ultra-conservative industry mogul L.B. Mayer as a way to forestall the development of the left-leaning craft unions, the Screen Actors Guild and its more radical sister organizations for directors and screenwriters. This draws attention to the agenda of awards.

Occasional scandals with over-the-top marketing campaigns –employing mass mailers of materials to Academy members “For Your Consideration” to gain            the nomination or award so essential to prestige marketing— make it clear that    the annual red carpet event at the Helen Chandler Pavillion is still part of this       self-congratulatory identification with the mainstream, this jockeying for status. The parade of Hollywood royalty AMPAS is a marketing arm of the industry as          a whole. This is, of course, why they ceased televising awards for technical achievement in film. Nobody goes to see a flick because the sound guy won for it.

There’s even a kind of reverse cache to being passed over for an award. Popular soap-opera staple Susan Lucci achieved a special kind of notoriety when she was dissed for a daytime Emmy, year after year. So many worthy musicians have been passed over for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in favor of lesser candidates (too often, not even rockers) that one could populate a separate museum with the rejected artists.

This sense of injustice is a frequent response to public acknowledgement of the arts. It feeds into the same emotional spike that sports fans experience when “We was robbed” by a referee’s questionable call, and disputing the results is part of the fun of awards season in the same way that booing the umpire is an integral part of the enjoyment of baseball.

Such disputes are so common that they have served to promulgate whole new artistic canons. Painters whose lack of adherence to proper form barred them from an academic gallery established their own outdoor exhibit for their “Impressionist” works, which rapidly supplanted Naturalism in an age of photorealism. Performers left out of a state-sponsored arts festival founded the dynamic ‘Fringe,’ which in Edinburgh almost immediately outsized the stodgier official event and across the next 75 years grew to embrace festivals in any city that wants to identify as an ‘arts destination.’

So, I don’t argue that awards serve no purpose. In fact, one of the strongest arguments for awards is that artists deserve acknowledgement, and need it.       Their work deserves social affirmation, and requires it. Like most, I believe that merit should be rewarded. And, hey, awards are fun. Who doesn’t like prizes?

Yet the definition of merit is hazy, especially in the arts. There’s little consensus      as to what defines a superior performance, when there is such a complex skein of opportunity, synergy and timing. And as much as we like to think or say that we    all bask in the reflected glow, to say that awards benefit everyone by upping everybody’s game and bringing much needed emotional investment to the arts           is just another form of trickle-down in a culture already burdened with too much vertical.

However, I recognize that mine is a minority viewpoint. Like a democratic socialist or a person who doesn’t like pizza, I’ll learn to keep my mouth shut. I’ll avoid this pattern of competitiveness more appropriate to the cut-throat high-stakes gamesmanship of the awful real estate office in David Mamet’s play, Glengarry,    Glen Ross. (in the minority of folks who aren’t Mamet fans, either) or, at least, endure the kind of ‘silly season’ we can expect in a world dominated by talk of  “winners” and “losers,” where the zero-sum solutions of electoral politics trump reasoned discourse and assessments in a community of like-minded people.

You can have Patton. I’ll stick with Five Easy Pieces.

Advertisements

Ireland Stumbles

Slide1                                                           

                                                             LIGHTS UP on Ireland & Sons, an antiquarian’s

                                                            shoppe out of a sketch by Gilroy or Rowlandson.

 

                                                            SAM IRELAND, 50ish dealer in antiquities, sits

                                                            behind a table, with his 19 year old son W.H.

                                                            standing silent beside him.

 

                                                            JORDIE stands fidgeting, auditioning his wares,

                                                            as it were. He is an ill-kempt looking man whose

                                                            main interest seems to be in securing a pint of ale

                                                            for the empty ale pot he holds. He attempts this by

                                                            an outpouring of amusing anecdotage, which

                                                            SAM notes, skeptically, in a pocket account book.

 

JORDIE:

Nay, not just there in Stratford, but to this day

In all the roadside villages along the way

From Warwickshire to London, yea, the Bard

Of Avon, as they call him, was heard of –Nay,

Was known by name!— at every little courtyard inn,

For there was not a tavern even then

In any hamlet (pun intended, hehehe)

But that the tapster knew Bill Shakespeare’s name,

Long before he’d left for London to become

The Poet of the Age. So say they still in Stratford.

 

                                                            JORDIE pauses, then genuflects awkwardly.

 

I’ve heard it sworn myself, and will attest to it

Under witnesses, above my signature…

 

                                                            JORDIE puts the ale pot on the table, prentational. 

 

That this ale pot was his ale pot what wrote Lear,

And Hamlet, and the other plays he wrote.

 

                                                            A pause. SAM continues writing for a moment.

                                                            JORDIE clears his throat, indicates the empty

                                                            ale pot upon the table.

 

Can I get a pint, Gov?

 

                                                            SAM finishes his notes with a flourish, sets down

                                                            his notebook and smiles at JORDIE.

 

SAM:

By all means, Jordie, you shall have an ale.

 

                                                            SAM addresses W.H., as if speaking to a servant.

 

(Go, Samuel! Fetch a drink for our good friend)

 

                                                            JORDIE gives the ale pot to W.H., but SAM

                                                            snatches it from W.H., and snaps at him.

 

Bring another ale pot.

 

W.H.

Y-yes, F-f-father.

 

                                                            W.H. exits. SAM examines the ale pot.

 

SAM:

This ale pot looks to be authentic. Kiln fired,

Of a type you’d find in Warwickshire.

But nay, I’d not part with tuppence for that tale

You and your various sources would vend

About the Bard of Avon in a drinking bout

Under a tree in Bidford Common.

crabbed from a bunch of drunkards just about

a half a hundred years after the fact.

 

                                                            SAM thumps the empty ale pot, listening.

 

There’s nothing in this. No novelty. It smacks

Of rheumy gossip, frankly. Rumor, stale,

Over-rehearsed, a shopworn tale.

 

                                                            SAM sets the ale pot down with a thunk.

 

In short, it’s second hand news.

Worth no more than a small handful of sous,

This relic of another era.

 

                                                            SAM rises, addressing a contrite JORDIE.

 

I don’t believe that Shakespeare drank

Immoderately. I don’t subscribe to the popular view

That artists must be dissolute.

I am myself a temperate man, and so

Ascribe success in business dealings to

Retaining a clear mind and good judgment.

 

                                                            W.H. returns with a full ale pot for JORDIE.

 

JORDIE:

Ah! Thank ye kindly, Will Henry.

 

SAM:

My son’s name is Samuel, Jordie.

Mind you don’t spill the ale, there, Sammy.

 

                                                            Sam turns his back on both the others.

 

You’ve other items, Jordie, or that’s it?

 

                                                            JORDIE looks at W.H., who nods at him.

 

W.H.

Y-yes, J-j-jordie, there was something else?

 

                                                            JORDIE cagely draws out a document, as

                                                            W.H. shifts to stand outside his father’s eyeshot

                                                            to “conduct” JORDIE, even mouthing words

                                                            JORDIE hasn’t conned correctly.                                                     

 

JORDIE:

I hesitate to show it to such eyes as yours,

As Ireland & Son—

 

                                                            W.H. desperately shakes his head: “NO!”

 

SAM:

—It’s ‘Sons.’

 

JORDIE:

Beg pardon: “Sons.”

…Are known as such a reputable house.

 

SAM:

Get to the point, you avaricicious lout.

 

                                                            JORDIE, catching only an amiable tone and

                                                            missing SAM’s irony, looks confused.

 

JORDIE:

I thank ye kindly for that, sir, I’m sure.

I’d not abuse your patronage with slurs

Upon the authenticity of such

As you’d be likely or disposed to purchase

From these, my humble hands.

 

W.H.

G-G-G-GET T-T-O THE P-P-POINT!!!

 

                                                            SAM and JORDIE stare at W.H., chagrined

                                                            at getting so worked up. SAM sighs.

 

SAM:

Even my half-wit son is bored with you.

 

                                                            JORDIE draws out an impressive sheaf of

                                                            manuscript pages, tied with string.

 

JORDIE:

A manuscript, this scrap purports to be.

I’m wagering that it’s no forgery.

 

                                                            SAM gazes at the paper with rapt interest.

 

I picked it up in a bookstall near Saint Paul’s.

The paper, anyway, is older, you can tell.

The ink is brown, the hand’s an antique script.

 

SAM:

The trade in antiquities and documents

Outstrips the Tulip Bubble of a hundred years ago.

(scoffs) What am I telling you two for?

You’ve no idea what I’m talking about.

 

W.H.

Yes sir. The T-t-t-tulip B-b-b-b-b-b-b-bubble.

Inflated the price of b-b-bulbs in Amsterdam

In the late 1600s—

 

SAM:

–Yes, yes, yes! I am

Acquainted with it. God, how you waste my time!

I’ll give you two quid for it, Jordan.

 

JORDIE:

Aw, give old Jordie three.

 

SAM:

Two and another pot of ale, and I’ll buy your ale pot.

 

                                                            JORDIE hesitates only a moment before

                                                            handing his ale pot to W.H., who steps in

                                                            on cue to take it and clapping him on

                                                            the back to cue his last line as both smile.

 

JORDIE:

Sold! And if you like that, there’s more of that lot.

 

                                                            BLACKOUT. A bit of Handel, then LIGHTS UP

                                                            on SAM seated, perusing a pile of documents.

 

SAM:

I tell you, Sam, these Shakespeare manuscripts

Are the best blessing that’s e’err shower’d upon our house.

Can you believe the Good Lord’s bounty?

 

W.H.

B-b-b-bless me! G-g-g-good Lord, n-n-n-o!

 

SAM:

First just a few receipts and oddiments,

A mortgage deed with Heminges name on it,

Then a letter from Southampton! List!

 

                                                            SAM reads from a manuscript, pronouncing

                                                            the orthographics in what he takes to be

                                                            antique pronunciation. He’s also squinting

                                                            to read through bad glasses.

 

Doe notte esteeme me a sluggarde nor tardye for thus havyinge delayed

to answerre or rather toe thank you for youre greate Bountye…

[G]ratitude is alle I have toe utter and that is tooe greate ande tooe

sublyme a feeling for poore mortalls toe expresse

 

                                                            SAM struggles reading. W.H. takes the paper

                                                            from SAM, which SAM scoffs at but allows,

                                                            as his eyes are failing him.

 

W.H.

Here, F-f-f-father, let m-m-me.

 

                                                            W.H. reads, his stutter disappearing, with

                                                            a period feel and fluency that escaped

                                                            his father’s reading.

 

O my Lord itte is a Budde which Bllossommes Bllooms butte never dyes.

…as I have beene thye Freynde soe will I continue aughte thatte I canne

doe forre thee praye commande me ande you shalle fynde mee… Yours…

 

                                                            SAM continues through his treasures, with

                                                            W.H. helpfully handing each to him in turn.

 

SAM:

The profession of his Protestant faith!

 

W.H.

P-p-p-poo to those who claim our Shakespeare P-p-p-papist.

 

SAM:

A letter from Queen Elizabeth herself!

 

W.H.

You always say “A good man will find favor.”

 

SAM:

A wry self-portrait.

 

W.H.

“Wymsycalle conceyte.”

 

SAM:

A verse addressed unto his future wife, //Anne Hathaway.//

 

W.H.

//“Ann Hatherrewaye,”// yes. Complete with a lock of her hair.

 

SAM:

Books from the bard’s own library.

 

W.H.

With his marginal notes.

 

SAM:

A sheaf of “Hamblette” down in manuscript.

 

W.H.

//The text of Lear.//

 

SAM:

//The text of Lear.//

 

W.H.

Yes, sir.

 

                                                            A pause. SAM searches before him for

                                                            the documents as W.H. provides them.

 

SAM:

And then the unknown works I’d always suspected. Henry Two, Rowena

and Vortigern.

 

W.H.

Is that your favorite? Vortigern?

 

                                                            SAM sighs deeply, quite contented.

 

SAM:

They’re all my favorite, William.

 

W.H.

Sir? You called me “William.”

 

SAM:

Did I?

 

W.H.

Yes sir.

 

SAM:

The other Samuel died on me.

 

W.H.

Well… yes, sir.

 

SAM:

I don’t have a favorite, Samuel.

 

                                                            A spell is broken. W.H. tries to hold onto it.

 

W.H.

William.

 

SAM:

But I’m happy.

 

                                                            SAM smiles. So W.H. smiles, wanly. Music of

                                                            Handel. BLACKOUT.

 

                                                            LIGHTS UP on SAMUEL, completely blind, sickly,

                                                            reedy voiced, coughing, clutching a cane and some

                                                            documents rolled in his withered fists, attended by

                                                            W.H. as the two confront poor JORDIE, called to

                                                            account for passing on the forged documents.

 

SAM:

I don’t understand it. The Duke of Leicester’s signature and seal are found upon

the document, and yet the damned thing’s dated 1590.

 

JORDIE:

That’s right, sir.

 

SAM:

He died in 1588!

 

JORDIE:

Could be the Duke post-dated it?

 

                                                            SAM, in a blind rage, swats at JORDIE with the

                                                            documents, but catches W.H. in the face, then

                                                            tosses it aside and blindly searches for another

                                                            document on the table, which W.H. swiftly puts

                                                            under his father’s grasping hand.

 

SAM:

References to the Globe Theatre

 

JORDIE:

That’s Shakespeare’s theatre, innit!

 

SAM:

Before it was built! This Heminges signature looks nothing like authenticated Heminges autographs. Or so I’m told.

 

W.H.

A m-matter of op-p-pinion, surely.

 

SAM:

Shut up, son. Boswell himself had passed on this. The poet laureate.

The College of Heralds. The Duke of Clarence.

 

W.H.

Well, then.

 

SAM:

But they’re not right! Not right! Wrong hand and orthography, wrong history

– BAD SPELLING!!!

 

JORDIE:

That don’t count.

 

                                                            SAM rises in a rage, blind as he is, to whip

                                                            JORDIE with the paper, driving him from the room.

 

SAM:

And now I find myself mocked? Me! A scholar!

Mocked from the pages of volumes by Malone!

Mocked from stage by Kemble at Drury Lane!

My discoveries called forgeries, crimes,

The grossest of flimsy impostures!

 

JORDIE:

I got a lead on poxy skeleton, the Duke of Gloucester’s!

Marlowe’s Coronor’s Report, a portrait dated

Armada year that may be Shakespeare’s!

 

SAM:

Get out, get out! It’s killing me, you fool!

 

                                                            JORDIE bows and hastens away, followed by                                                                     

                                                           W.H., who sees him out. SAM collapses, weeping.

                                                            After a moment. W.H. returns and kneels at his

                                                            blind father’s feet.

 

W.H.

F-f-f-father… f-father… It was m-m-me.

 

SAM:

How now?

 

W.H.

Sir, it was m-m-me. The f-forgeries. I wanted so to p-p-please you.

 

                                                            SAM takes this in, nodding, then smiling.

 

SAM:

No. Oh Lord, you are a brave lad for the trying,

And well I love you for that heart would bleed for me.

But well I know, my son, you’ve not the head for this.

No, you’re not nearly clever enough to have freighted

so much mischief. I thank ye, though.

 

W.H.

I, s-s-sir, your son, AM that p-p-person!

 

                                                            SAM feels his son’s face gently, reading his tears.

 

SAM:

No. I won’t believe it. What is it Vortingen says?

 

            Make me forget the place by blood I hold,

            And break the tie twixt father and his child?

 

No. You may be a dull boy. But you are my son. You would not wound me so.

 

 

                                                            The two sit in silence for a moment, the elder man

                                                            striving not to weep, keep his dignity; the younger,

                                                            left with nothing else to comfort him, free to do so.

 

In Ecclestiastic Latin, the word is scandulum :

“that on which one trips, cause of offense”

In Greek, it’s skándalon, “A trap” is more the sense.

“A moral stumbling.” “The thing that causes one to sin.”

 

            Woe to the world for things that cause people to stumble!

            Scandals must come, but woe to those through whom they come!

Matthew 18:7 (or is it Luke 17:1?)

 

“Discredit to one’s reputation” that’s what brings in

the shame. The public disclosure of one’s crime. Or sin.

 

                                                            A pause.

 

I don’t know what I did.

 

                                                            A pause.

 

I did not think myself guilty of the sin of Pride.

But Sam, if only I had heeded your advice,

And not have published.

 

W.H.

Indeed, sir.

 

SAM:

It’s just so hard sometimes, to know where one has stumbled.

 

                                                            W.H. takes this in, nodding, as

                                                            LIGHTS FADE TO BLACK.

 

                                                            END OF PLAY.

 

Devereaux Redux

Slide1

At LIGHTS UP, WALTER DEVEREAUX, a man in his 60s, is sitting at a desk, marking papers with occasional but vigorous red pen strokes. He has a natty if tatterdemalion appearance, with a cardigan sweater-vest and horn-rimmed glasses. He is a curmudgeon, though his manner is civil.

MIKE DIXON enters. He is a man in his mid to late 30s, well dressed, soft spoken, consistently respectful, but with a banked energy that is quite evident.

DIXON:

Excuse me. Dr. Devereaux?

 

DEVEREAUX: (without looking up)

What’s it say?

 

DIXON:

I’m sorry?

 

DEVEREAUX: (pointing, not looking)

Can you read? On the door. What’s it say?

 

DIXON:

Your name. “Walter Devereaux, Ph.D.”

 

DEVEREAUX:

So, then: I’m Devereaux. And you are…?

 

DIXON:

My name is Dixon.

 

DEVEREAUX: (glancing in appointments)

You’ve no appointment with me, Mr. Dixon.

 

DIXON:

No, sir.

 

DEVEREAUX: (pitching appointment book)

I don’t see parents without an appointment.

 

DIXON:

I’m not a parent.

 

DEVEREAUX looks up.

 

DEVEREAUX

No?

 

DIXON:

Well, I am, but—

 

DEVEREAUX:

You seem undecided.

 

DIXON:

I’m—

 

DEVEREAUX silences him, an abrupt hand gesture, then sets his work aside, drawn in by the riddle.

 

Perhaps a step-father. Are you here about your step-daughter, by any chance? Slight overbite, obviously overweight? Pretty enough, but that girl really does need to shed a few pounds. And orthodontics for the overbite. I did tell her nicely.

DIXON stands there, not knowing what to say. DEVEROUX folds his hands and rests his chin on them, staring at his visitor, speculating.

 

Not the fat girl’s stepdad, I see.

 

DIXON:

I have sons.

 

DEVEREAUX:

But not my students. Faulty premise. Begging the question. You’re a parent, yes, but it’s irrelevant to why you’re here. Wait: Dixon. Any relation to… Was it Ted Dixon?

 

DIXON:

My father.

 

DEVEREAUX:

He just died.

 

DIXON:

I know.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Big obituary in the paper.

 

DIXON:

I placed that.

 

DEVEREAUX

Retired ‘restraunteur,’ it said.

 

DIXON:

Yeah, he ran a place downtown. The Saville Room.

 

DEVEREAUX:

I’m sorry for your loss, Dixon.

 

DIXON:

That’s remarkably kind of you, Dr. Devereaux.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Remarkable? I see: That Devereaux was kind.

 

DIXON:

Oh no, sir. I only meant—

 

DEVEREAUX:

I must be cruel, if only to be kind.

 

DIXON is taken aback for only a moment.

 

DIXON:

Hamlet. Act IV, Scene iii.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Well done, Dixon!

 

DEVEREAUX scribbles a grade on the paper, sets it aside. This looks to be more interesting.

 

What got your father? Cancer?

 

DIXON:

A heart attack, then a stroke.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Double whammy.

 

DIXON:

Yes ,sir.

 

DEVEREAUX:

The smoking didn’t help that any.

 

DIXON:

No. It didn’t help.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Puts you at risk, then, doesn’t it? Statistically. You’d be at risk then. Double risk.

 

DIXON:

I don’t smoke, but I suppose so.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Of course so. For a lot of things.

 

DEVEREAUX rises.

 

So, you came back for your father’s funeral, did you?

 

DIXON:

Indeed, my lord, it followed hard upon.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Whoa-ho!

 

DIXON:

Hamlet I/ii.

 

DEVEREAUX:

First rate, Dixon!

 

There is a shared laugh, then an awkward pause.

 

DIXON:

Actually, I came back for this reunion.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Good god, really? Another reunion? Seems like they have them every year. But no one ever comes back for those things.

 

DIXON:

Well, some people do. Clearly.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Who? Small timers who never did anything in college or after, perhaps, but, good god, no one who ever went out and accomplished anything! I never understand. Why do people want to revisit the past?

 

DIXON:

It’s a difficult time, high school. The formative years.

 

DEVEREAUX:

“Formative.” Two-dollar word!

 

DIXON:

Yes, sir.

 

DEVEREAUX stares at DIXON a long moment.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Michael Dixon.

 

DIXON:

Yes, sir. Mike.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Third row, right side aisle.

 

DIXON

That’s right.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Next to the pretty girls.

 

DIXON:

Yes, and near the door.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Ah, yes. ADD. Antsy. Leg-Jiggler. Hyperactive, I have no doubt. Showed all the signs.

 

DIXON:

Anxious, I’d have said. “Appearances versus Realities.” One of your major themes. “Nature versus Artifice.” “Stasis versus Change.” “Individual versus Society.”

 

DEVEREAUX:

Well, well. Even the devil can cite scripture for his purpose.

 

DIXON:

Merchant of Venice. Act I, scene… something. Three?

 

DEVEREAUX:

Three. You surprise me, Dixon. I don’t recall you being nearly that apt.

 

DIXON:

No sir. I wasn’t… I was not one of your “High Achievers.”

 

DEVEREAUX:

Quarrelsome, Michael, as I recall. Liked to argue with your teachers.

 

DIXON:

My betters, you said. “A Problem with Authority.”

 

DEVEREAUX:

I threw you out.

 

DIXON:

Expelled my last semester.

 

DEVEREAUX:

For a smart mouth.

 

DIXON:

That’s right.

 

DEVEREAUX:

You didn’t give me much choice.

 

DIXON:

No sir. I didn’t.

 

DEVEREAUX:

So… What? Now you’ve come back to rub your ancient nemesis’s nose in your present success, is that it?

 

DIXON:

Not at all. I came back to express my gratitude. Without you, my life would have taken very different course.

 

DEVEREAUX:

If you’re trying for irony, Dixon, you’re not catching the proper tone.

 

DIXON:

No, sir.

 

DIXON stands there, no hint of irony.

 

DEVEREAUX:

You’re pleased with the way things turned out, then, are you, Dixon?

 

DIXON:

Well. You once said that any man’s life, deprived of its error and folly, would be missing half the joy as well. My boys. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

 

DEVEREAUX:

And their mother?

 

DIXON:

Out of the picture.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Children don’t do well without a mother, Dixon. You ought to know that.

 

DIXON:

Yes sir, I do. After my mother passed, I decided to get out of town. Start fresh. Omaha, at first. Topeka. All over, really. St. Louis. Chicago. Without a diploma, I washed dishes, scrubbed floors. Swung a hammer for a while. Got some training. Got on somewhere, and worked my way up. Got married. Got divorced. Raised my kids. Got on, anyway.

 

DEVEREAUX:

And you somehow ascribe all this achievement to my tutelage, do you, Dixon?

 

DIXON:

Oh, no sir. You made my life immeasurably more difficult. Crushing. Crippling, if I’d let it. I was angered by it for a long time. I cursed you. I did. You’d made it hard for me to be satisfied with less. You also gave me the tools to get over it. Or “get on with it,” as you used to say. You did that for me. Not my mom. She was so sick. Not my Dad, drinking himself to death at the Saville Room. You.

 

DEVEREAUX is struck silent for a moment.

 

DEVEREAUX:

It’s a pity, Dixon. You had a fine mind. You could have gone to a fine university.

 

DIXON:

That’s true, Dr. Devereaux. And you could have taught at a fine university, yes? We each took a different route.

 

DEVEREAUX:

If you quote “The Road Less Travelled,” I shall be very disappointed in you.

 

DIXON:

No. It’s not so much about the path you chose.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Hallmark sentiment. Perhaps the path chooses you.

 

DIXON:

Either way, it’s just hard to retrace your steps. Understand why.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Then perhaps one shouldn’t try. Not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment.

 

DIXON:

“Emotion versus Sentiment.”

 

DEVEREAUX:

Appreciate the thought, rather. “Intellect versus Emotion”

 

DIXON laughs.

 

What.

 

DIXON:

“Irony versus Sarcasm.”

 

DIXON:

Ah. I’d have thought that lecture came later in the term. After you left school.

 

DIXON:

No sir. I was expelled in May, not long before graduation, so I caught your Sarcasm lectures. And I have a fairly developed sense of irony. I owe that to you, as well. Perhaps that’s one of the things people find in reunions. A keen sense of irony.

 

DEVEREAUX:

I find it ironic that you’ve expressed a certain obligation or indebtedness, that you learned something from me, yet you seem to expect something from me in exchange. What did you come here for? Apology?

 

DIXON:

“Apology: Acknowledgement of injury. Explanation of past bad behavior. Assurances to correct future behavior.” No sir.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Sympathy?

 

DIXON:

“Apology versus Sympathy.” That would have been a great theme.

 

DEVEREAUX:

It’s “Empathy versus Sympathy,” actually. I feel a great deal of empathy for all the misfortunes that befell you.

 

DIXON:

That’s kind of you. Remarkable.

 

DEVEREAUX:

You want acknowledgement? That I had a hand in any of that? Alright. You had no mother to care for you, no father to speak for you. I could have gone easier on you.

 

DIXON:

You could have helped me.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Ah, there it is. Alright. I could have helped you. But you’re here to grant Absolution. You turned out alright. You got on with it.

 

DIXON:

Yeah. We survive. We move on. We’re human. But it wasn’t until I got married, had my boys that I understood.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Understood what.

 

DIXON:

That I understood you. Something hit you like that, once. Some unfairness. Perhaps why a man with an Ivy League Ph.D teaches in a Kansas high school.

 

DEVEREAUX:

That’s why you came back. To figure me out.

 

DIXON:

You’re right.

 

DEVEREAUX:

You haven’t.

 

DIXON:

No sir.

 

DEVEREAUX:

What did you expect?

 

DIXON:

I don’t know, Dr. Devereaux. Nobody really knows why people go for reunions.

 

DEVEREAUX:

I suppose the people who go to them don’t understand the people who don’t.

 

DIXON:

I’m sure that’s true.

 

DEVEREAUX:

“Truth versus Reality.”

 

DIXON:

You said it was “Reality versus Truth.” You could never understand why I preferred Truth to Reality.

 

DEVEREAUX:

I don’t understand it now. But: “Even a blind pig finds an acorn.”

 

DIXON:

So you always said.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Anything else, Dixon? If not, your visit has been interesting, but if you’ll excuse me. I’ve papers to grade. Enjoy your reunion.

 

DIXON:

Thank you, sir.

 

DEVEREAUX:

Door on your way out, Dixon. Thank you.

 

DEVEREAUX goes back to his papers. DIXON smiles, walks out, slowly. They have nothing more to say to each other, so it lays that way as he exits. DEVEREAUX sits there a moment, taking it in. Then he returns to grading papers, marking them as LIGHTS FADE TO BLACK.

END OF PLAY.

The Original of Jaques

Slide1

 

                                            IN THE DARK, sounds of birds in a forest. LIGHTS UP on

                                                two men in hempen homespun garb, Elizabethan c.1590.

                                                WILL, armed with a bow, is moving stealthily into a clearing.

                                                JACK follows, feet sore but eyes alert, stalking a place to rest.

                                                WILL speaks in a hushed undertone as he takes up position

                                                to await his quarry.

 

WILL:

This green’s a place where we can find a deer.

I’ve often come upon them gathered here.

They come to take a drink from yonder brook.

Thirst drives them, they’ve no choice. Last year I took

A great six-pointed stag with just one shot.

He never knew what hit him, poor old sot.

 

                                                A pause as WILL looks for deer. JACK heaves a sigh.

                                               

My Lord of Melancholy sighs, Alack!

You’re keeping awfully quiet, aren’t you, Jack?

What, do you lack for words my silent friend?

 

JACK:

Ah, Will! You talk enough for twenty men.

 

WILL:

I’d play to thousands, if they would but listen!

But the stage is yours, now: Speak, Tragedian!

Recite your text. This rustic comic’s done.

Pray impart unto your audience of one.

 

JACK: (plainly)

I’ve no heart for shooting any buck.

 

WILL:

You lack the heart to shoot a hart? But there’s no lack

Of game here. Why should good men go hungry

Amidst plentitude? God’s blood, it makes me angry

To think our children don’t have food to eat

When there’s enough to feed our families meat

For weeks, from foraging (or poaching, call it)

A single summer’s eve in Charlecote,

With old Sir Thomas Lucy never the wiser.

He sends too few to catch us, the old miser.

An’ if they did, could they begrudge us food

When deer are so abundant in this wood?

 

JACK:

They work for he who swears they’ll pay the price

Who poach upon his lands. You cast the dice,

Yet you’re not gaming with your life alone

But that of your wife and child.

 

WILL:

Ah! Your poor children.

I’m sorry, Jack. How thoughtless I have been.

You’ve had to worry more about them, since—

 

                                                JACK shifts. WILL stops. JACK blinks, fighting back tears.

 

JACK:

It’s not your words alone that make me wince.

I’ll not deny, life’s not been worth a damn

For Ham and Judith, since their mother died.

Poor Judith took it hard enough, but Ham

Has ever been the quiet one who’ll hide

His private grief.

 

WILL:

Just like his father.

 

JACK:

I’m sorry, Will. I don’t mean to be a bother.

But what would they do if ought befell me?

 

WILL:

I would take them, then. If that consoles thee.

 

JACK:

You are a good, true friend, Will Shagbeard.

 

                                                WILL doffs his cap. His hair is thinning, and with the growth

                                                on his lip and chin, we recognize the future poet-dramatist.

 

WILL:

Or ‘Lag-Beard,’ Stratford has it now, I’ve heard.

 

JACK: (chuckling)

No, since Anne Hathaway, it’s shag has stuck.

 

WILL:

Ironic. She the first girl I ever—

 

–Was that a crack of twigs? The birds stop singing. Both men look, but see no deer. After a moment, the birds resume, as do the men,

 

JACK:

Does it not disturb you that her fawns shall starve

If we do take their doe?

 

WILL:

We’ll take a buck.

 

JACK:

Will.

 

WILL:

A nice round haunch for you to carve.

Perhaps a pair of them, with any luck.

 

JACK:

Will.

 

WILL:

The lot of us will feast on venison.

 

JACK:

Will you let me speak? I’ll tell you, I—

It bodes no good, to kill a denizon

Of Charlecote—

 

WILL:

Oh poo! I don’t see why.

You fear Sir Thomas Lucy? For a lark,

I’d nail satiric verses to the gate

Of Charlecote itself. This deer park

Is too large for Lucy’s men to wait

Upon the ample herd of horned lords

Who gather here. What, so he is a friend

Of Walsingham, and all of that. Towards

Such ‘gentlemen’—

 

JACK:

But Will, we do offend,

We do usurp, as much as Thomas Lucy,

Lord Walsingham and all the rest. You speak

Of deer as ‘horned lords.’ Why then, you see

That Nature is its own domain. Why seek

To trespass here? Let’s leave the wood unto

The deer.

 

WILL:

Hm… You speak as if there were

Domains of animals and men, but you

Are making false division. Men rule where’er

Our footprints do appear. That is the way

The Good Lord has arranged our mortal sphere,

With all his creatures, great and small, the prey

To one above them.

 

JACK:

So I fear.

 

WILL:

Predating likewise on the weaker kind

With Man atop a Chain of Being, just

As falcons rule o’er pigeons, wolves oe’r hind

As God himself is set to rule oe’er us.

 

JACK:

You read oe’r much in a great man’s library,

And think thereby to keep pace with the wolves.

A great man you may be one day, but nary

A bloke in Stratford prefers hawks to doves.

 

WILL:

The metaphor’s astray. It’s not as if

I’ve no respect for animals. I swear,

When father’s trade forced me to put the knife

To some poor kid so some rich gent could wear

A better grade of gloves, it grieved my soul.

I used to make a little funeral speech.

 

JACK:

“An ass is good as deaf when bells do toll,”

My grandam always said.

 

WILL:

Mine, too! To teach

Some lesson, though I’m sure I don’t know what.

Though I respect the natural world, I just don’t think

That animals are sensible, that’s all.

 

 

JACK:

No more than men are.

 

                                                There’s a distinct crack of twigs. The birds have stopped again,

                                                but the men, deep in the dialogue, do not heed it. They resume.

 

JACK:

Once, long ago, when I still thought like you,
I chanced to come to rest under an oak

Whose ancient roots drank deep upon the bank

Of this same stream where we do tarry now.

A stag burst forth from underneath the brush

Upon the other bank, an arrow in his breast.

Great sighs he heaved, and though he saw me there,

He lay down on the ground to catch his breath.

Before his armed pursuers could catch up

With him, and bring him to that final sigh

We make on earth, that men call expiration.

So close was I that I could see the tears

He wept. Nay, do not laugh. Tears such as you

Or I would weep were we to find ourselves

Alone, an arrow in our breast, no help

In sight.

 

WILL:

               You made a moral of this, did you?

 

JACK:

A thousand metaphors. The needless stream

Of tears that we call life, it did not need

This augmentation. Leave it to itself.

It will become a Thames of tragedies,

Enough to fill a folio, full up.

This one poor deer, was a testament

To all that sorrow. And there I stood,

The only witness to this testament,
No friends else to stand venireman

To this injustice.

 

                                                Another beat of silence. There are no birds. They’ll not come back.

 

WILL:

My friend, you suck the joy out of a hunt

The way a varmint robs a bird’s nest.

JACK:

Compact of jars, I cannot sing the tune

That you would hear. I fear I am a motley fool

Whose leaden entertainment falls on ears

That would hear better japes to make them laugh

Than jibes to make them op’ their minds and think.

What are you laughing at?

 

WILL:

I smiled perhaps.

I cannot help it. Oh, the image oddly suits:

My Lord of Melancholy as a Jackanapes.

 

JACK:

At best, most men are merely fortune’s fools,
We stumble on, we mouth with sound and fury,

We stumble off the stage again.

 

WILL:

A fool?

Nay, I’d sooner play the lover’s role.

 

                                                WILL turns his back, hugs himself, and makes kissing sounds.

JACK:

The lunatic, mad poet, better suits you.

 

                                                WILL turns around, facing JACK, and regards his friend.

 

WILL:

And you, an honest courtier, sage councilor.

If I should e’er turn poet, I would pen

Just such a featured role for you, my friend.

 

JACK:

Will you be heading back to London, then,

To try your hand at acting once again?

 

WILL:

It’s hard to get your foot in at the door.

London’s mobbed with actors. I did no more

Than hold the patron’s horses at the gate.

 

 

JACK:

Perhaps your destiny is poet, Will.

You even prate in blank verse.

 

WILL:

Not until

A provident God sees fit to make it so.

 

VOICE: (off)

I found the poachers! Over here! What ho!

                                                WILL and JACK look offstage, toward to source of VOICES OFF.

 

JACK:

The Providence of God has spoken, man.

And us here on the bottom of that Chain

You spoke of.

 

VOICE: (off)

What ho, I say! Come quick!

 

                        WILL moves about, fending off panic. JACK remains calm.

 

WILL:

In Lucy livery! They bear pikes.

 

JACK:

Sir Thomas Lucy’s men. One’s got a crossbow.

A couple of recusants, Heaven knows

What they’ll do when they catch us.

 

WILL:

That’s nonsense!

Make for the gate, or else we’ll hop the fence.

 

JACK:

It’s too late, Will.

 

WILL:

It’s not. Make for the gate.

 

VOICE: (off)

Will you come on?

 

WILL:

Why do you hesitate?

JACK:

If I stay here, they’ll stop to take me in.

I’ll take my meals in Lucy’s dungeon.

By all deserts, I’ll not ‘scape being flogged.

But you, you’ll get off clean.

 

VOICE: (off)

                                                Hey, bring the dogs~

 

WILL:

No! You and I, we’ll meet up at that tavern.

You know it well, just down the road in Malvern.

I’ll stand you for a cup or two of sack.

We’ll have a laugh, we two. We’ll toast our luck.

The sign’s the Prancing Stag. You know the one.

 

JACK:

You run. I’ll hold them off for you. I’m done.

 

WILL:

Don’t be a fool!

 

VOICE: (off)

     I’ve got one in my sights!

 

JACK:

You’d better run. They’ve got me dead to rights.

 

                                                We hear the twang of a bow, the whistle of a missile

                                                and the sickening thunk of an arrow as it catches JACK.

                                                He turns, and we see it square between his shoulder blades,

                                                a mortal wound.

 

WILL:

Oh God, Jack! No!

 

VOICE: (off)

     I got one! I got one!

 

JACK:

Don’t be a fool, Will. Run, man, run!

Don’t stop till you get to London –or beyond.

Send money for my children. Go! Begone!

 

VOICE (off)

My bow is broken. Hurry! The other will escape!

 

JACK:

Go, Will, go. Don’t be a Jackanapes.

 

WILL:

No.

 

JACK:

Remember me. Report my cause aright.

Adjust the facts to suit your story. As You Like.

Or What You Will. God bless you, Will, my lad.

You know, young poet, you’re not half-bad.

An’ you should ever write of me, say this:

A poet of a sort your friend Jack was. Jack… is.

 

                                                This last comes out garbled, with the blood rising in his gorge,

                                                sounding more like “Jaques.” It is the last word he speaks.

                                                WILL cradles him a moment, then lets him gently but quickly

                                                 so the ground, then stands. He hesitates only a moment longer.

 

VOICE: (off)

He’s getting away! He’s getting away!

 

 

WILL:

I’ll live to put this right somehow. Someday.

 

                                                WILL exits, leaving the body. We hear the bayings of hounds.

 

 

                                                END OF PLAY.

WIN: a play for radio

Win vertical

 

Win

a play

for radio

 

by

Tim West

 

 

 

 

Win

 

a play

for radio

 

SCENE 1. Parker Pottery, small, struggling studio/shop for the ceramic arts.

Time is just before noon, any day of the week.

 

(SFX of DOOR OPENING)

(SFX of SHOPBELL)

(SFX of DOOR CLOSING)

 

ELLEN: (away from mike) Good morning!

 

MRS. KRUGER: So you say.

 

(SFX of FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING)

 

ELLEN: Can I help you?

 

MRS. KRUGER: Restroom for the boy.

 

WINSLOW: I gotta go now.

 

MRS. KRUGER: You have a public restroom, I suppose.

 

ELLEN: State law requires it if you serve food and beverage.

 

MRS. KRUGER: Well, where is it?

 

ELLEN: In the back. To the right.

 

MRS. KRUGER: Go on, then.

 

WINSLOW: What?

 

MRS. KRUGER: Use the poddy.

 

WINSLOW: Where is it?

 

MRS. KRUGER: Well? Where is it?

 

ELLEN: Back and to the right. It’s marked.

 

MRS. KRUGER: The boy can’t read.

 

ELLEN: Oh. Come on, then. I’ll show you.

 

WINSLOW: Okay.

 

(SFX of FOOTSTEPS TRAVELLING)

 

ELLEN: What’s your name?

 

WINSLOW: Winslow.

 

ELLEN: Winslow. What a nice name.

 

WINSLOW: You’re a nice lady. You can call me Win.

 

ELLEN: Restroom’s in here, Win.

 

WINSLOW: Thank you.

 

(SFX of DOOR OPENING and CLOSING)

(SFX of FOOTSEPS APPROACHING)

 

MRS. KRUGER: He might need me. He manages the toilet alright but doesn’t always manage to button up after. He’s… you know. Not quite right in the head.

 

ELLEN: Oh. I didn’t notice. He just seemed a little shy.

 

MRS. KRUGER: “Shy!” He’s got autism!

 

ELLEN: Oh, I…

 

MRS. KRUGER: I think it’s autism, anyway. What do doctors know. Something odd about that boy, anyway. Very odd.

 

ELLEN: That must be difficult. Are you— Do you—

 

MRS. KRUGER: Well? Spit it out.

 

(ELLEN laughs nervously)

 

ELLEN:Would you care for a cup of coffee? On the house?

 

MRS. KRUGER: Coffee? You serve coffee?

 

ELLEN: We’re trying light food and beverage. To increase the foot traffic.

 

MRS. KRUGER: On the house? Yeah, alright. I’ll take a cup.

 

ELLEN: Coming right up.

 

(SFX of LIQUID POURING)

 

ELLEN: Please, have a seat.

 

(SFX of CHAIR DRAGGED ON FLOOR)

 

MRS. KRUGER: I thought this was a pottery shop.

 

ELLEN: It is. We make and sell ceramics. People rent space. Mostly evenings.

 

(SFX of CUP RATTLING IN SAUCER)

 

MRS. KRUGER: Yeah, I see your little flyer here.

 

(SFX of PAPER RUSTLING)

 

MRS. KRUGER: “Let art put magic in your life.” Magic. Right. They do this at night?

 

ELLEN: You know. People work during the day. My husband thought maybe coffee and muffins would bring in more people, daytimes.

 

MRS. KRUGER: Oh, I get it. It’s a marketing gimmick. “Feed your soul.” More like ‘Buy my stuff. My art!’

 

(MRS. KRUGER scoffs)

 

(SFX of PAPER RUSTLING)

(SFX of CUP SET ON TABLETOP)

 

ELLEN: Here you are. How do you take it?

 

MRS. KRUGER: Cream, no sugar. Unless you have Sucra— Oh, powdered creamer? Never mind.

 

ELLEN: Sorry, that’s the best we can do until we get a refrigerator. My husband’s out now, looking at a used one he found in the—

 

(SFX of CUP CLANKING ROUGHLY ON TABLE)

(SFX of CHAIR PUSHED BACK ABRUPTLY)

 

MRS. KRUGER: Winslow, you done in there?

 

(SFX OF FOOTSTEPS TRAVELLING)

(SFX of POUNDING ON DOOR)

 

MRS. KRUGER: Winslow! I said, Are you done in there?

 

(SFX of TOILET FLUSHING, muffled)

(SFX of DOOR OPENING)

 

WINSLOW: Yes.

 

MRS. KRUGER: “Yes, ma’am.” Wash your hands.

 

(SFX of FAUCET, then RUNNING WATER)

 

MRS. KRUGER: Close the door!

 

(SFX of DOOR CLOSING)

(CUT SFX of WATER RUNNING)

 

MRS. KRUGER: You have to tell him everything.

 

ELLEN: It must be very difficult, being the mother of a special needs child.

 

MRS. KRUGER: Oh, he’s not mine. I mean, I’m not his mother. I’m in foster care.

 

ELLEN: I see.

 

MRS. KRUGER: County pays pretty well for it, if you got room for kids. I got room.

 

ELLEN: How nice for you.

 

MRS. KRUGER: Basement, converted garage. I get paid for referrals. I got a application.

 

(SFX of PAPER RUSTLING)

 

MRS. KRUGER: Winslow, though. He’ll likely go back to County. Don’t think he’ll get adopted. “Special needs.” Pain in the—

 

(SFX of DOOR OPENING)

 

MRS. KRUGER: Buttons! Do up your buttons, Winslow.

 

WINSLOW: I did… I did my buttons.

 

MRS. KRUGER: Then tuck in your shirt-tail! We gotta get a move on. I’ve got a meeting with a man from the County. He’s on my case. What time is it?

 

ELLEN: Almost noon.

 

MRS. KRUGER: Noon! Oh, great. The appointment’s for 12:30, and getting this one from one place to another—

 

ELLEN: You know… uh, we’ve got… a class, yes …a special class for kids starting at…at twelve o’clock. If you’d like to leave Winslow here, he’s welcome to join us.

 

MRS. KRUGER: “Special class,” huh? Oh, I get it. Free coffee, then you try to sell me on pottery classes for a retard.

 

ELLEN: He’s standing right he— um… No. No, there’s charge. We offer free classes. Yes, as part of our… uh, educational outreach program.

 

MRS. KRUGER: Free classes?

 

ELLEN: It’s called… er… POTTERY! Yes. Personal… Opportunity To Teach… and Educate… and Recreate… er, Youths.

 

MRS. KRUGER: That’s the name?

 

ELLEN: We’re still working on it. It’s very new.

 

MRS. KRUGER: Well, I don’t care what you call it if it’s free and it gets Winslow here off my hands for an afternoon. These County people can be difficult to deal with, if you get some do-gooder that’s into a lot of rules and regulations.

 

ELLEN: How long do you need?

 

MRS. KRUGER: They said set aside two hours, but I was going to hit a couple other places downtown. Could I come back, say, four –four-thirty?

 

ELLEN: Sure.

 

MRS. KRUGER: Maybe closer to five.

 

ELLEN: Take as long as you need.

 

MRS. KRUGER: Winslow, this nice lady’s going to take care of you for the afternoon. You be good and don’t give her any trouble. You hear?

 

WINSLOW: Yes, Mrs. Kruger.

 

(SFX of FOOTSTEPS TRAVELLING, DOUBLE-TIME)

 

ELLEN: Well, Mrs. Kruger, I’m so glad to have met you. Don’t worry about the time. I’ll take care of Winslow until you get back.

 

(SFX of DOOR OPENING)

(SFX of SHOPBELL)

 

MRS. KRUGER: Well, that’s great, Miss…?

 

ELLEN: Parker. Ellen Parker. Parker Pottery. It’s right there on the sign.

 

MRS. KRUGER: Sign?

 

ELLEN: The sign outside. Just above the doorway

 

(SFX of THREE QUICK STEPS)

 

ELLEN: See you at five. Bye-bye!

 

(SFX of SHOPBELL)

(SFX of DOOR CLOSING)

 

MRS. KRUGER: (muffled, unintelligible) !

 

(SFX of MUFFLED FOOTEPS RECEDING)

 

(ELLEN sighs heavily)

 

ELLEN: Unreal!

 

(SFX OF THREE SLOW FOOTSTEPS)

 

So… Win. Would you like a muffin?

 

END OF SCENE 1.

 

(MUSIC)

 

SCENE 2. Parker Pottery, later that afternoon

 

(MUSIC FADES)

 

(SFX of A POTTER’S WHEEL: A slight scraping, with two or three tones,

repeated to suggest circular motion. CONINUOUS UNDER DIALOGUE)

 

WINSLOW: What makes the potty wheel turn?

 

ELLEN: “Pottery wheel.” There’s a pedal down here, like the one you have on a bicycle.

 

WINSLOW: Some kids don’t have a bicycle. I’m too small reach the pedals

 

ELLEN: Well, I’ll do this one for you, just for now, until you’re big enough. We could use the electric wheel.

 

WINSLOW: Eclectric?

 

(SFX of POTTERY WHEEL SLOWS and STOPS)

 

ELLEN: Electric. You know, with a motor, like a machine.

 

(SFX of CHAIR PUSHED BACK)

(SFX of FOOTSTEPS RECEDING)

 

ELLEN: (away from mike) This one here

 

(SFX of A SWITCH)

(SFX of ELECTRIC MOTOR)

(SFX of POTTER’S WHEEL, as before)

 

WINSLOW: Wow.

 

(SFX of SWITCH)

(SFX of ELECTRIC MOTOR DIES OUT)

(SFX of POTTER’S WHEEL DIES OUT)

 

ELLEN: When you’re ready. But you start out with this one.

 

(SFX of FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING)

 

WINSLOW: I do?

 

(SFX of CHAIR DRAWN UP)

 

ELLEN: Everybody does. When they’re learning. I did, when I was about your age. My grandmother taught me. She was really good. Famous, in fact. As famous as you get, playing with clay. Lookey here.

 

(SFX of A POTTER’S WHEEL, as before, CONINUOUS UNDER DIALOGUE.

 

See? You spin the wheel, the wheel turns the clay. Then you shape it with your hands.

 

(SFX of HANDS SQUISHING INTO WET CLAY)

 

WINSLOW: Is that how you made all those?

 

ELLEN: Hmm?

 

(SFX of POTTERY WHEEL SLOWS and STOPS)

 

WINSLOW: Those up there. On the shelf. Did you make them?

 

ELLEN: Oh, I made some of them. Tom made some. That’s my husband. Some are from…

 

WINSLOW: Who?

 

ELLEN: You know, other people.

 

WINSLOW: Can you teach me how to do something like that?

 

ELLEN: Like those? Sure, I can teach you. Are you ready to try?

 

(SFX of DOOR OPENING

(SFX of SHOPBELL)

 

WINSLOW: Oh no. Is it five already?

 

ELLEN: No, it’s only— It’s okay, Winslow. That’s my husband. That’s Tom.

 

(SFX of SHOPBELL)

(SFX of DOOR CLOSING)

 

TOM: Hi, honey!

 

(SFX of CHAIR PUSHED BACK)

 

ELLEN: Tom! Ah-ah-ah: Clay on my hands!

 

TOM: I’m wearing overalls.

 

(ELLEN laughs)

 

(SFX of AFFECIONATE KISS)

 

TOM: Well, what have we here? Or should I say, who?

 

ELLEN: Tom, this is Winslow. Winslow, this is Mr. Parker.

 

WINSLOW: Hello.

 

TOM: Well, Winslow. It’s always a pleasure to meet a fellow student of the ceramic arts.

 

WINSLOW: You’re a student?

 

TOM: Well, we’re all learning, aren’t we? Let me tell you, I learned a thing or too about refrigerators today.

 

ELLEN: Did you get one?

 

TOM: In the pick-up.

 

ELLEN: Oh, honey!

 

TOM: Hey! Clay hands!

 

ELLEN: C’mere!

 

(SFX of LONGER, MORE AFFECTIONATE KISS)

 

TOM: Aw, it’s only a mini-fridge.

 

(SFX of A VERY QUICK AFFECTIONATE KISS)

 

(TOM laughs)

 

TOM: But that’ll do for now. We’ll look at it later. After Winslow’s gone home.

 

ELLEN: Well, Winslow is here with us all afternoon.

 

TOM: Oh?

 

ELLEN: Yes. His foster mother dropped him off. She had a meeting with the County.

 

TOM: The County?

 

ELLEN: Yes. I… eh, escue-rayed im-hay.

 

TOM: Hm?

 

ELLEN: Ig-pay atin-lay. Inslow-way’s oster-fay other-may is-yay a-ya eal-ray itch-b—

 

WINSLOW: Pig Latin! I-yay eak-spay it-yay –eal-ray ood-gay! She said,Rescued from Mrs. Kruger.” She’s a foster mother. For kids who don’t have a real mother anymore.

 

ELLEN: You would not believe it. This woman was unreal, Tom. I put in a call while Winslow had some instant cocoa and a muffin. The County said they’d be sending someone before five. Apparently, I’m not the first who called them.

 

TOM: Sounds like you two have had an interesting day.

 

WINSLOW: Mrs. Parker showed me how she makes pottery.

 

(SFX of CHAIR DRAWN UP)

 

TOM: She’s good, isn’t she.

 

WINSLOW: Yep. She’s good. You’re a student, too?

 

TOM: Well, yes. Yes, I am. Good with my hands, but I’d never made so much as a pinch-pot before I met Ellen. And I still have trouble with those. That one up there is the first thing I ever turned on a wheel.

 

WINSLOW: That one there?

 

TOM: Hm? Oh, no. The kind of lumpy thing next to that one.

 

WINSLOW: Did you make that one?

 

ELLEN: Me? Oh, no. I’m not nearly that… that good.

 

TOM: That, Winslow, was made by Ellen’s grandmother, who was a famous artist. That piece should be in a museum.

 

ELLEN: Not for a million dollars. That was the last thing she turned. I watched her make it. When I was about your age, Winslow. She was the one who taught me.

 

WINSLOW: It’s different from the others.

 

ELLEN: It doesn’t have a glaze. After you finish turning something on the wheel, you fire it. Then you glaze it. Only this one never got a glaze. It’s fired, but… but unfinished.

 

WINSLOW: She’s beautiful. Isn’t she.

 

(ELLEN laughs nervously)

 

ELLEN: It is beautiful. Tom, would you…?

 

TOM: Get ‘er down from there? Sure.

 

(SFX of CHAIR DRAGGED ACROSS FLOOR)

 

(TOM grunts with effort)

 

TOM: (away from mike) She doesn’t belong up here with this journeyman work, anyway.

 

(TOM grunts with effort)

 

TOM: (back into mike) This should be in our front window. It’s a museum piece!

 

ELLEN: It’s… it’s unfinished. It doesn’t mean anything to anyone but me.

 

WINSLOW: I like it. It’s special. It sings.

 

(ELLEN laughs nervously)

 

ELLEN: It… it sings?

 

(SFX of FOOTSEPS RECEDING)

 

TOM: (away from mike) On the electric wheel. That’d be a great window display.

 

(SFX of HOLLOW URN SET ON METAL)

 

ELLEN: Careful.

 

(SFX of FOOTSEPS APPROACHING)

 

TOM: (back into mike) Yeah, I see what you mean, Winslow. That’s a good way of putting it. If a pot could talk, the stories that one would tell.

 

WINSLOW: Sing. It sings the story.

 

(TOM laughs)

 

TOM: What an imaginative little boy!

 

ELLEN: He’s— He’s, uh…

 

WINSLOW: Odd. Mrs. Kruger says I’m odd. She doesn’t understand.

 

ELLEN: No. No, Winslow, she doesn’t. Tom, could I talk to you?

 

TOM: Sure, hon. What’s up?

 

ELLEN: Let’s… let’s step outside for a moment.

 

(SFX of FOOTSTEPS RECEDING)

 

ELLEN: (away from mike) We’ll be right back, Win.

 

(SFX of DOOR OPENING.

(SFX of SHOPBELL)

 

ELLEN: (away from mike) Why don’t you show Tom how fast you learned to makea pinch-pot. You know, like I showed you before.

 

WINSLOW: Okay.

 

ELLEN: We’ll be right outside. Tom?

 

TOM: Right behind you.

 

(SFX of SHOPBELL)

(SFX of DOOR CLOSING)

 

(Pause)

( SFX of CHAIR PUSHED BACK)

(SFX of FOOTSTEPS, TRAVELLING)

 

WINSLOW: (whispering, into mike) You’re beautiful.

 

(SFX of HOLLOW URN ON METAL)

 

WINSLOW: (whispering, into mike) But I don’t think she’s heard you sing.

 

(SFX of HOLLOW URN ON METAL)

(SFX of A SWITCH)

(SFX of ELECTRIC MOTOR)

(SFX of POTTER’s WHEEL)

(SFX of SANDPAPER ON SANDPAPER)

 

(GRANDMOTHER, humming a tune)

 

GRANDMOTHER: Why, hello child. I’ve been waiting for you.

 

(SFX of DOOR OPENING)

(SFX of SHOPBELL)

 

ELLEN: Winslow! What are you doing!?

 

(ALL SFX OUT)

                                   

END OF SCENE 2.

 

ANNOUNCER: We’ll rejoin our story in just a moment, but first this brief word from our sponsor.

 

(SFX of CUP SET DOWN HEAVILY IN SAUCER)

 

MAN: Blech!

 

WOMAN: What’s wrong?

 

MAN: Nothing, honey.

 

WOMAN: It’s my coffee, isn’t it.

 

MAN: What?

 

WOMAN: Admit it.

 

MAN: No! I mean, Your coffee’s good. –I mean, your coffee’s great! –I mean… your coffee is the best! I, I, I love your coffee! I want to marry your coffee! I just I couldn’t be happier with… with your coffee.

 

WOMAN: Then what?

 

MAN: It’s… It’s this sweetener. What is this? Equalose? Succraline? Tevia?

 

WOMAN: That’s a character from Fiddler.

 

MAN: Well, I don’t know!

 

(SFX of KITCHEN CABINET CREAKING OPEN)

 

MAN: I like sugar.

 

(SFX of 4-6 BOXES TUMBLING ON COUNTERTOP)

 

MAN: Just plain sugar.

 

(SFX of 6-10 BOXES TUMBING ON COUNTERTOP)

 

MAN: Don’t we have any sugar?

 

WOMAN: We’re trying to cut down. Put that stuff back!

 

MAN: Couldn’t we use honey?

 

(SFX of SQUEEZE BOTTLE SPURTING VISCOUS LIQUID)

 

WOMAN: It’s not really any healthier, chemically speaking. Clean that up!

 

MAN: Chemicals.

 

(SFX of CUP RATTLING IN SAUCER)

 

MAN: That’s what this stuff tastes like. It just spoils the taste of… of your swell coffee.

 

WOMAN: Here, try this.

 

(SFX of LIQUID POURING)

(SFX of CUP RATTLING IN SAUCER)

(MAN slurps liquid)

 

MAN: Hey, that’s not bad. I mean… What is it?

 

WOMAN: It’s coffee, Bob. Just… black… coffee.

 

MAN: Really? Then, no lie: Your coffee’s alright!

 

(MAN laughs heartily)

(WOMAN laughs heartily)

 

MAN: Hey, do we got any creamer?

 

(SFX of CUP RATTLING IN SAUCER)

(SFX of LIQUID SPLATTERING)

 

ANNOUNCER: Cremoron.

 

(SFX of CUP SHATTERING)

 

ANNOUNCER: The tasteless non-dairy creamer.

 

(SFX of SQUEEZE BOTTLE SPURTING VISCOUS LIQUID)

 

WOMAN: (away from mike) You clean that up!

 

ANNOUNCER: It’s nothing to complain about.

 

(HARP PLINK)

 

ANNOUNCER: And now, back to our story. Ellen Parker and her husband Tom have encountered a little boy named Winslow, a ward of the County whose putative guardian, Mrs. Kruger, has parked him in Parker Pottery for the day.

 

SCENE 3. Parker Pottery, moments later.

 

(SFX OF ELECTRIC MOTOR)

(SFX of POTTER’S WHEEL)

 

ANNOUNCER: Winslow has taken an interest in one particular piece of pottery.

 

(SFX of SHOPBELL)

(SFX of DOOR CLOSING)

 

ELLEN: Winslow, you mustn’t touch that. That belonged to my grandmother.

 

(SFX of FOOTSTEPS TRAVELLING)

(SFX of SWITCH

(SFX of ELECTRIC MOTOR SLOWS and STOPS)

(SFX of POTTER’s WHEEL SLOWS and STOPS)

 

WINSLOW: Okay.

 

ELLEN: It’s very special to me.

 

WINSLOW: I know.

 

(SFX of DOOR OPENING)

(SFX of SHOPBELL)

(SFX of DOOR CLOSING)

 

TOM: (away from mike) Ellen? What’s wrong.

 

ELLEN: It’s alright. Win was just taking a look at my grandmother’s…  at grandmother’s—

 

WINSLOW: I wasn’t looking, I was listening.

 

(SFX of FOOTSEPS APPROACHING SLOWLY)

 

TOM: Well, listen, sport: This urn is very special to Ellen. You might have broken it.

 

WINSLOW: I’m sorry. I just wanted to hear her sing.

 

TOM: Hear who sing?

 

(SFX of THREE FOOTSTEPS, SHORT AND SLOW)

 

ELLEN: It’s alright, Win. Hear who sing?

 

WINSLOW: Can I show you?

 

TOM: Winslow…

 

ELLEN: No, it’s alright, Tom. Okay, Win. You can show me. Show me what?

 

WINSLOW: I heard it on the radio. Mrs. Kruger doesn’t let kids watch TV. But I have a radio. A little one, I found in a drawer. Sometimes I listen to it.

 

ELLEN: When Mrs. Kruger goes out?

 

WINSLOW: She goes out a lot. One day, I heard them talking about it. On the radio. About how pots can sing.

 

TOM: Winslow, your imagination’s very strong, but I don’t think—

 

ELLEN: No. I heard that. It stuck in my mind. They found that ancient pottery picked up the sound of an ancient workshop. A stylus in clay on the turntable just like the stylus in vinyl on a recording disc.

 

(TOM scoffs)

 

TOM: That’s a hoax. Gotta be.

 

WINSLOW: No, you have to believe.

 

ELLEN: It’s okay, Win. Show me.

 

(SFX of HOLLOW URN SHIFTING ON METAL)

(SFX of A SWITCH)

(SFX of ELECTRIC MOTOR)

SFX of POTTER’S WHEEL)

 

TOM: See, Winslow? Nothing.

 

WINSLOW: You have to use your hands.

 

ELLEN: //You have to use your hands.// It’s what my grandmother always said.   It’s why she liked ceramics. You have to use your hands. Go ahead, Win. It’s okay. Touch it. Use your hands.

 

(SFX of SANDPAPER ON SANDPAPER, CONTINUOUS UNDER DIALOGUE)

 

(GRANDMOTHER humming a tune)

 

GRANDMOTHER: Why, hello child. I’ve been waiting for you.

 

ELLEN: That’s my grandmother’s voice.

 

TOM: I can’t—

 

ELLEN: Shh!

 

YOUNG ELLEN: Hi, Grandma.

 

TOM: What is it?

 

ELLEN: Oh, my!

 

TOM: What.

 

ELLEN: That’s me!

 

GRANDMOTHER: Come sit by me here.

 

(SFX of CHAIR DRAWN UP)

 

ELLEN: I had to be, what, six?

 

TOM: When was this?

 

ELLEN: Just before she died.

 

TOM: Oh.

 

YOUNG ELLEN: How you doing, Grandma?

 

GRANDMOTHER: Oh, I’m tired, child. You know, the medicine makes me weak. But I wanted to see you. I need your help.

 

YOUNG ELLEN: Like this?

 

GRANDMOTHER: Oh, just like I taught you. Use your hands. Don’t be afraid. Just roll up your sleeves and use the two hands God gave you.

 

YOUNG ELLEN: Aw, I’m no good.

 

GANDMOTHER: Don’t say that, dear. I need your help in another way. This work, it needs to be finished.

 

YOUNG ELLEN: Finished?

 

GRANDMOTHER: You know. When the things we make are fired. And then sometimes, there’s a glaze. You know, when we paint them and bake them in the oven.

 

YOUNG ELLEN: Yeah.

 

GRANDMOTHER: I was always good at glazes. That’s what I’m known for.

 

YOUNG ELLEN: You’re famous.

 

GRANDMOTHER: Yes. The famous ceramicist! Recognized, yes. Acknowledged, anyway. But none of that matters now. My work’s not finished, but… we run out of time. We all run out of time. So I need you to finish it for me.

 

YOUNG ELLEN:Are you going to die, Grandma?

GRANDMOTHER: Oh child, we’re all going to die. But before we do, we have to give something to someone else. We have to do that. With all the success I’ve had, I don’t know that I’ve done that. My work isn’t finished. Ellen, I may need you to do that for me. Will you do that for me?

 

ELLEN: Okay.

 

GRANDMOTHER: Promise me?

 

ELLEN: I promise.

 

(A PAUSE, with only SFX CONTINUOUS from before)

 

(GRANDMOTHER humming a tune)

 

GRANDMOTHER: Why, hello child. I’ve been waiting for you… child, I’ve been waiting for you… I’ve been waiting for you… Waiting for you… Waiting for you…

 

(SFX of SWITCH)

(SFX of ELECTRIC MOTOR SLOWS and STOPS)

(SFX of POTTER’s WHEEL SLOWS and STOPS)

 

WINSLOW: That’s it. That’s her song.

 

ELLEN: It’s beautiful. She was… beautiful

 

TOM: I don’t know what to say.

 

(SFX of A TELEPHONE RING, DISTANT)

 

ELLEN: I don’t know what to say, either.

 

(SFX of 2nd TELEPHONE RING, DISTANT)

 

WINSLOW: Phone call.

 

TOM: I’ll get that.

 

(SFX of FOOTSEPS, RECEDING)

(SFX of 3rd TELEPHONE RING)

(SFX of PHONE PICK-UP)

 

TOM: (away from mike) Hello? Uh… Yes, but… She can’t come to the phone right now. This is Mr. Parker. I see. Uh-huh. Oh.

 

ELLEN: (whispering, into mike) Winslow. Who sent you?

 

WINSLOW: (whispering, into mike) Sent me?

 

ELLEN: (whispering, into mike) Did… Did my grandmother send you?

 

WINSLOW: (whispering, into mike) Nobody sent me, Ellen. Something inside you called. Keeps calling… keeps calling.

 

ELLEN: What are you doing?

 

WINSLOW: You know.

 

(SFX of URN SLIDING on METAL)

 

ELLEN: Win, don’t touch that. Winslow, DON’T!

 

(SFX of POTTERY SHATTERING)

 

TOM: (away from mike) Sorry, I have to go.

 

(SFX of PHONE HANGING UP)

( SFX of FOOTSTEPS, DOUBLE TIME)

 

TOM: Ellen, honey, are you…? Oh, no! Your grandmother’s urn. What happened?

 

ELLEN: It’s broken. It’s broken.

 

TOM: Yeah, I can see that. Honey, what– Where’s Winslow?

 

ELLEN: He’s… He’s gone.

 

TOM: Well, it’s the oddest thing. That was the County, calling back. They checked on Mrs… is it Kruger? The woman you called about. Turns out she had, like, six kids under foster care, crammed into her basement, her garage…. She’s at County lock-up now. But they have no record of her housing any boy named Winslow. No record of any Winslow in their system at all.

 

ELLEN: (whispering, away from mike) There is no ‘Win.’

 

(ELLEN laughs heartily)

 

( SFX of PAPER RUSTLING)

 

TOM: Ellen, honey? Did you hear me?

 

(SFX of PENCIL ON PAPER, UNDER DIALOGUE)

 

TOM: Honey, what are you doing?

 

ELLEN: Designing a new flyer.

 

TOM: “Free classes for kids.” Free classes?

 

ELLEN: Our educational outreach program.

 

TOM: “P-O-T-T-E-R-Y. Personal… “

 

ELLEN: Opportunity…

 

TOM: “To… Educate…”

 

ELLEN: …and Re… Create… Youth.

 

(SFX of PENCIL ON PAPER, FLORISH, then OUT)

 

TOM: That’s the name?

 

ELLEN: I’m still working on it. It’s very new.

 

(MUSIC)

 

END OF PLAY.

Two in the Bush

Slide1

 

I should be very foolish to release the bird I have in my hand to pursue another.   Aesop, “The Nightengale and the Hawk”

 

CHARACTERS:                

NAN, a nature writer, early 30s-late 50s            

ROB, a nature photographer, the same age                     

 

                   LIGHTS UP. ROB and NAN are birders in                         

                   field gear, looking through binoculars.

 

NAN:

Do you see it?

 

ROB:

Not yet.

 

NAN:

You see the large boulder in the middle distance, next to the waterfall?

 

ROB:

Of course.

 

NAN:

And the tree next to it.

 

ROB:

Yes. Is it in the tree?

 

NAN:

No. Behind it. Sight right off the top of it. You’ll see it in the tree line beyond.

 

                   ROB puts down his binoculars.

 

ROB:

I don’t see it. Anywhere. Your sure it’s an eagle? It’s not just a large hawk.

 

                   NAN puts down her binoculars.

 

NAN:

It’s not a hawk, Rob.

 

                   ROB raises his binoculars again.

 

ROB:

I don’t see it.

 

NAN:

Where’s your camera?

 

ROB:

I can’t shoot what I don’t see.

 

NAN:

Not with your camera in its case.

 

                    NAN grabs at the nearby canvas bag.

 

ROB:

Hey!

 

                   ROB puts down his binoculars.

 

NAN:

You’ll miss it. It’ll fly away.

 

ROB:

(loudly) It’s my camera, Nan!

 

NAN:

(quietly) Shh. You’ll spook the eagle.

 

ROB:

If it’s an eagle. I doubt it.

 

                    ROB removes his camera from the bag

                    and fits a telephoto lens to it.

                    NAN looks through her binoculars.

 

NAN:

I don’t see it now.

 

                   ROB sights through the camera, then                           

                   lowers it.

 

ROB:

You can’t photograph what you don’t see.

 

NAN:

It was an eagle.

 

ROB:

Whatever it was.

 

NAN:

It was an eagle.

 

ROB:

Okay.

 

NAN:

It’s gone now.

 

ROB:

I didn’t see it fly away.

 

NAN:

I don’t see it.

 

ROB:

It can’t be gone, Nan.

 

NAN:

I don’t see it.

 

ROB:

It’ll reappear.

 

NAN:

No, it’s gone.

 

                        NAN puts down her binoculars.

 

ROB:

You have to be patient.

 

NAN:

Don’t talk to me about— I did this years before I met you.

 

ROB:

Then you know. It hasn’t disappeared. We just have to wait.

 

NAN:

I’ve got three major magazines interested in this article.

 

 

ROB:

I know.

 

NAN:

But we need pictures.

 

ROB:

And we’ll get them.

 

                        NAN sighs, finds a water bottle and                          

                       drinks. ROB sights through the camera.

 

NAN:

You want some water?

 

ROB:

Naw. Thank you, though.

 

NAN:

You need to hydrate.

 

ROB:

Don’t want to miss the eagle.

 

NAN:

It’s gone, Rob. It’s okay.

 

ROB:

Naw. I’m good.

 

                        NAN takes a drink from the bottle.

 

NAN:

I’m sorry I got—

 

ROB:

It’s okay.

 

NAN:

You don’t have to—

 

ROB:

Shh. Something’s moving.

 

     As NAN raises her binoculars, ROB                                 

                       quickly lowers his camera to drink.

 

NAN:

I don’t see it.

 

ROB:

Over the boulder now.

 

NAN:

I don’t see it.

 

                        ROB sights through his camera.

 

ROB:

Maybe it was the wind.

 

                        NAN lowers her binoculars.

 

NAN:

You’re humoring me.

 

ROB:

I am. But only half the time.

 

NAN:

Half the time?

 

ROB:

More, really. I was humoring you.

 

                        NAN raises, lowers her binoculars.

 

NAN:

You think I don’t know a hawk from an eagle?

 

ROB:

I don’t know how good a look you got of it.

 

NAN:

It was an eagle.

 

ROB:

I believe you.

                        NAN raises her binoculars.

 

NAN:

Three articles I pitched. Me. All you have to do is get us

the pictures.

 

ROB:

You can’t sh—

 

                        NAN holds up a preemptive hand.

 

NAN:

Don’t.

 

ROB:

 

NAN:

Honestly, Rob, would it have hurt you to have your camera out?

 

ROB:

I usually do. But—

 

                   NAN lowers her binoculars, looks at ROB.

 

NAN:

 

ROB:

 

NAN:

That wasn’t my fault.

 

ROB:

I didn’t say anything.

 

NAN:

You thought it.

 

ROB:

I shouldn’t have put the camera where you’d, you know, kick it.

 

NAN:

I didn’t kick it, Rob. I nudged it with my foot. And it… fell.

 

ROB:

Right. That’s all I was thinking. I didn’t want to put my camera where— You know. That might happen again.

 

                        ROB sights through his camera.

 

NAN:

That woman you worked with in Australia. What was her name?

 

ROB:

The Sheila, you mean? Her name was Katherine.

 

NAN:

Was she better than me?

 

                        ROB perhaps reacts subtly, but doesn’t

                        lower the camera.

 

ROB:

Not sure what you mean.

 

NAN:

She was like this big-time Aussie nature writer or something.

 

ROB:

She’d published a couple of nature books, that’s all.

 

NAN:

And there was that woman in Denver. What was her name? With the calendars and the website.

 

ROB:

What about her?

 

NAN:

Are you ever sorry you married me?

 

                        ROB holds his gaze through the lens.

 

ROB:

Some birds mate for life. Some mate seasonally. There’s advantages to both strategies.

 

NAN:

I mean, sorry you married me.

 

                   ROB holds his camera in place, looks at NAN.

 

ROB:

You ever seen a bower bird?

 

NAN:

Not in the wild. I asked you a que—

 

ROB:

The male bower bird goes to absurd lengths to decorate his bower. He’ll drag in leaves, flowers, berries, feathers, shells, pebbles, even coins, broken glass, scraps of fabric, brightly colored candies, shiny pop-tops from beer cans, whatever he can find to decorate the bower and make it attractive for the mate.

 

NAN:

Yeah, I know—

 

ROB:

Then he does a little song and dance to call in prospective mates.

 

NAN:

Rob…

 

ROB:

Then the female bower bird flies in and remakes it. Tears apart his work, and redecorates.

 

NAN:

I know this. So?

 

ROB:

So, it used to bother me that the poor bird worked so hard to please a mate, and then had her come in and re-do all his work. Until I realized that he wasn’t just trying to impress a mate.

He was trying to find one to work with him, who’d work with those materials, who’d see what he was doing and make it better.

 

                   They look at each other for a long moment.

 

NAN:

Bower bird, huh.

 

ROB:

I did a photo-spread on them. This was years ago. Before we were married. The article was terrible. That woman I was working didn’t have your knack for writing.

 

 

NAN:

No?

 

ROB:

 

                   ROB returns to sighting through his camera.

 

Great in the bush, though.

 

                   NAN laughs at this, despite herself.

 

 

NAN:

 

We hear the click and whirr of his camera.

                   NAN raises her binoculars, tracking.

 

Oh my god. Did you get that?

 

ROB:

Both of them. In flight. Above the tree line. You said you wanted a nesting pair.

 

NAN:

A pair of eagles. And you got pictures of them.

 

                        NAN kisses ROB. Then she puts away

                        her water bottle, rises as if to go.

 

I don’t think they were nesting, though.

 

ROB:

No?

 

NAN:

Not the right location. Maybe closer to the lake.

 

ROB:

Might be worth waiting to see.

 

NAN:

The sun’s going down, it’ll get cold soon.

 

 

ROB:

Right. If that is their nest, then they’ll be back.

 

                   NAN starts to say something, then sits.

 

What’ll we do while we’re waiting?

 

                   ROB takes a quick sighting through his

                   camera, then kisses NAN. After a moment,

                   NAN breaks the kiss to ask:

 

How long ago was that article on bower birds?

 

ROB:

Oh, this was years ago. I hardly remember the woman’s name.

 

NAN:

Katherine. What do you think about doing another article?

 

ROB:

On the bower bird? With you? Hmm. We’d have to do some trekking. Australia, New Guinea. Do you think you could sell it?

 

NAN:

“Sitting in the Catbird Seat: Two Bowerbirds Meet Their Match.” Something like that.

 

ROB:

Let’s look into it.

 

                   NAN sees something, raises her binoculars.

 

ROB:

(quietly) Is it them?

 

                   NAN nods excitedly.

 

NAN:

(quietly) Both of them.

 

                   ROB raises his camera and begins shooting.

                   We hear the screetch of an eagle, and

                   another one responding to its call.                         

 

END OF PLAY.

 

 

A True History of Prince Prospero: a variant text from the Isle of Caliban

Slide4

 

SCENE 1: IN THE BLACK, waves and seagulls. LIGHTS UP on a lone, stunted pine.

Enter GONZALO, dressed out of Holbein, laden with over-sized atlas, map and sextant.

He is followed by MATE, a roguish seaman bearing a pennant. Both wear black armbands.

GONZALO speaks Oxford English, MATE has a Latin lilt.

 

GONZALO:

What name is given to this island, mate?

These Southern Seas prove not to navigate

As easily as I have read upon the matter.

 

MATE:

Senor Vespucci never sailed these waters.

You’ll find maps here are difficult to follow,

Senor… Gonzago, is it?

 

GONZALO:

It’s Gonzalo.

 

MATE:

This “island,” sir, is not on any chart,

For it defies the navigator’s art

To steer a wandering bark unto these shores,

Or learn’d astronomer to find it by the stars.

No, you’ll not find this isle on any map.

Serendip-like, we find it by mishap.

 

GONZALO: (aside)

A nameless rock far from a nameless coast, eh?

It’s perfect for the purpose of my master.

 

MATE:

I did not say, sir, that the isle is nameless.

The ancients called this rock Old Setebos.

The mariner’s myth is that it disappears

In fogbanks, then magically reappears

At some other longitude and latitude.

 

GONZALO:

Enchanted, then?

 

MATE 2:

Bewitched’s a better word.

 

GONZALO:

A legend I recall, about a sea-witch—

Like Circe, or the Sirens… Sycorax?

 

MATE:

Exactly. Some say this her island is.

 

GONZALO:

Heraclitus, he called it Caliban, yes?

 

MATE:

And is Heraclitus a name that I should know?

 

GONZALO:

Poet. Third Century BC.

 

MATE:

I didn’t think so.

But Setebos or Sycorax, it’s all the same.

It’s just a rock, and a rock it will remain.

To give the rock a name? Here’s what I think:

I vote for Caliban. It sounds more Greek.

 

MATE plants the pennant. Offstage, a hautboy plays John Dowland’s “Flow My Tears.”

Enter PRINCE PROSPERO, wearing a black Doge’s cap and robes, in either arm

clutching his infant daughter, swaddled in white, and a silver urn, resting on a red pillow.

 

GONZALO:

My good Prince Prospero, I did as I was bid.

You said to find a place remote. I did.

This formal dirge and burial detail owing

Unto the Duchess Ariel notwithstanding,

I must protest that we delay our voyage

When swords are drawn and at an edge

Of readiness, to be brought down upon

Your brother the Usurper.

 

MATE: (with pennant)

“Free the homeland.”

 

GONZALO:

Your Grace well knows the customs maritime

Observable throughout recorded time

That serve in such a melancholy case.

When pressing matters make pressing need of haste,

Sagacious sailors do not make for port.

 

PROSPERO:

Just dump my Duchess’ ashes from the starboard poop,

And put us out to sea in a leaky cask?

 

GONZALO:

A caravel was all I dare to ask

When not an admiral I found but he

Was suspect in your brother’s mutiny.

 

PROSPERO:

Go! Private grief is not for public scrutiny.

My duchess is dead. I have no power.

I’ll never see the son she carried inside her.

Our infant daughter pines for her mother.

I have no power. Tell His Grace my brother

That I wish him well, and leave me here.

What awaits me, awaits me. What’s past is past.

 

 

 

GONZALO:

Is that a command, your Grace?

 

PROSPERO:

My last.

 

GONZALO bows, MATE kneels. Exuent. Manet PROSPERO, who kneels at the foot of the pine, laying both his burdens to either side. He weeps, beats the earth in frustration, and cries to Heaven.

 

Oh Angel, high or fallen, whatsoe’er

By this Rough Magic or by simple prayer

Can be so summoned, come and aid me now.

I’ve lost my love, my light. I do not know

If I possess the strength to raise our child

Alone, without her. I find I am beguiled

By grief, waylaid by woe. Even the will

Is wanting that would have me end it all.

Oh, gladly I’d change place to be entombed

Instead of he who died within his mother’s womb.

Or die he, if in dying he did not take

My dear beloved Ariel in his wake.

                       

                        LIGHTS SHIFT. The wind comes up. We hear the recorder playing Dowland’s

                        “Come again, sweet love.” The urn’s lid flies open, releasing a cloud of ash

                        which materializes into an exotic blue-skinned jinn in a masque by Inigo Jones.

                        This is the spirit we’ll call ARIEL.

 

ARIEL:

I am a jinn, a spirit bound in service

Unto thou, thou who has freed me, Magus.

 

PROSPERO:

What, Ariel?

 

ARIEL:

My history, false or true:

It has been a dozen long and languid years

Since I appeared. What is it that placed me here?

Old Sycorax, they used to call her,

The demons who paraded ‘round her fire,

For generation after generation.

A spell was cast that cleft this pine, encasing

My poor spirit there. Now Sycorax is fled.

 

PROSPERO:

But you are Ariel, my wife who’s dead.

 

ARIEL:

Before the time of Sycorax, I was a maid

Who never aged; at other times, the bawd

Of Setebos, this isle’s ancestral god,

Our father, our son, and our unholy lover.

A slave appears as their master sees them.

What to you, Magus, will I be or seem?

 

PROSPERO:

My Ariel, the wife I thought was gone.

 

ARIEL:

Pity. That will not make you free me soon.

And yet, one day, you’ll see me for who I am.

 

                                    ARIEL kisses PROSPERO. From the place where PROSPERO struck the earth,

                                    a figure sits up –the manifestation we call CALIBAN.

 

CALIBAN:

Oh many years of study it shall take

Before thou shouldst a proper human make.

 

ARIEL:

It lies not in our power, but in his sympathies.

 

CALIBAN:

Damnation ! Oh, we’ll be here centuries!

 

                                    CALIBAN falls back to earth, frustrated. PROSPERO rises appalled.

 

PROSPERO:

What thing is that?

 

CALIBAN:

Yo ho, what thing is this ?

A perfect poesy, all innocence!

 

CALIBAN sees the baby-bundle between him and PROSPERO. ARIEL retrieves it, staring at PROSPERO, shaking her head, and holding a finger to her pursed lips.

 

PROSPERO:

I’ll ask again, what thing are you?

 

CALIBAN:

Ha-HA!

I’m Caliban. Doest thou not know me, Da?

 

CALIBAN hugs PROSPERO, who freezes. ARIEL hugs the baby, who cries. BLACKOUT. END OF SCENE 1.

 

                                    SCENE 2. LIGHTS UP. INTERIOR OF A CAVE. ARIEL stands center, wearing

an apron and nursing the baby, quieter now. In her other hand, she holds a mirror, in which she admires herself. PROSPERO kneels at her feet, consulting a book and working with flash paper. After a poor effect, he checks his text; after a good one, he makes a note. ARIEL flashes reflected light from the mirror on him. 

 

ARIEL:

I could make fire for you easier.

 

 

PROSPERO:

Fire is a man’s work, though I thank you, wife.

 

ARIEL:

Her name was Ariel.

 

PROSPERO:

Yes, Ariel.

 

ARIEL:

What would the boy’s name be, had he seen life?

 

                                    CALIBAN enters, a good boy, eager to help, and deposits a bundle of logs.

CALIBAN:

Caliban! Look, mother, I found firewood.

What, haven’t got the fire started quite yet, Dad?

 

PROSPERO:

No, boy, I lack your mother’s patient skill.

Don’t you have something else to do?

(to ARIEL:) Your son’s a pill!

 

ARIEL:

Isn’t he your son too?

 

                        PROSPERO ignores them, busy with his spells. CALIBAN scowls, now a sullen teen.

 

CALIBAN:

There’s naught but meanness I can see in him.

 

ARIEL:

He’s lost his love. Love is what makes them human.

I know that it is hard to understand.

He loves you, but he thinks he lost you –Caliban!

 

                        CALIBAN exits, muttering to himself. PROSPERO continues with his spells, oblivious.

                        ARIEL flicks the cloth, and the infant disappears, the cloth now a prop for the following

                        —by turns a face-towel and shoulder wrap for MIRANDA, who enters as a petite girl

                        carrying a teddy bear larger than she is. With ARIEL’s help, she transforms before us

                         from toddler to teen.

 

Our children grow –What is she, two?— so quick!

She’s taking solid food, she’s walking, talking.

Before you know it, now she is six.

She’s off to school, she’s eight, she’s ten, a gawking

Adolescent. She’s twelve already. So quick.

To keep them at that age, now that’s a trick!

 

                        ARIEL spreads the cloth on the ground for a picnic. MIRANDA sits with the teddy bear.                                   

                        CALIBAN enters, bearing a tea-service. PROSPERO works with flash paper, oblivious.

 

 

ARIEL:

You really only need the one, you know.

The one spell. I await your bidding.

Where is Miranda?

 

PROSPERO:

Oh, I let her go

Collecting shells with Caliban.

 

ARIEL:

You’re kidding.

 

PROSPERO:

With scores of spells, I’ve got that rascal bound –

Enough to render even Caliban obedient.

 

ARIEL:

Ah! “Give him boundaries.” Haven’t you found

That’s less effective than it is expedient?

 

ARIEL watches as MIRANDA places a bandana on the teddy bear as bib.

                        CALIBAN puts a bandana on his own head and sits cross-legged on the cloth

                        as MIRANDA takes out flash cards, holding them up for CALIBAN.

 

CALIBAN:

“A.” “A” is for At One Ment.

 

MIRANDA:

It’s “Atonement.”

 

CALIBAN:

“Atonement.” What’s Atonement?

 

MIRANDA:

It says the moment

Of Grace that we derive from Worldy Acts.

 

CALIBAN:

Oh. Worldly acts, eh?

 

MIRANDA:

Yes. Of Grace.

 

CALIBAN:

That sucks.

“B.” “B” is for Beat It, Dude.

 

MIRANDA:

“Beatitude.”

 

CALIBAN:

beeby-beeby-beeby-beeb!— “Attitude.”

 

 

MIRANDA:

Cal! Be serious. “C.”

 

CALIBAN:

“C” is for Caliban!

 

                        MIRANDA glares at CALIBAN. It does no good. He does a little dance.

 

Can-Can Caliban! Stole a kiss and away he ran! Can-Can Caliban!

 

MIRANDA:

Cal! You’re not playing right!

 

CALIBAN:

I’m sorry, Randy.

…Not speaking to us now? Oh that’s just dandy!

 

MIRANDA:

My name’s Miranda.

 

CALIBAN:

But you call me Cal!

What’s up with that, Ted? It’s just you and me, pal.

 

MIRANDA:

Don’t call him Ted! Don’t try to make me laugh!

You with your attitude, that stupid scarf!

An artless jackanapes, a tart-tongued knave,

The ape of fashion and a willful slave!

You’re nothing but a— You’re ridiculous!

 

                                    CALIBAN, hurt to the quick, takes this with dignity.

 

CALIBAN:

That doesn’t make you more. It only makes me less.

I’m not your slave, and you’re the one who’s willful.

 

                                    MIRANDA melts into CALIBAN’s awkward arms.

 

MIRANDA:

I’ve not shamed you. I’ve only shamed myself, Cal.

I’m sorry. Cal! I love you so. I do.

 

                                    MIRANDA kisses CALIBAN.

 

CALIBAN:

You hurt me with your words, but kiss me too?

Oh, so that is love. But it’s not sublime.

It’s painful. If that’s what Father feels, I pity him.

 

MIRANDA:

I’m sorry, Cal. I love you.

 

 

CALIBAN:

Do you, Half Sis?

 

MIRANDA:

Why do you call me that?

 

CALIBAN:

Because… of… THIS!

 

                        CALIBAN jumps on MIRANDA and tickles her. Frisky turns amorous. CAL stops.

 

MIRANDA:

It’s alright, Cal. It’s alright. You don’t have to stop.

 

ARIEL:

She’s what, fifteen now? Sixteen? All grown up.

 

CALIBAN:

But me, I can’t. I can’t. If I were human,

Why, I would fill this isle with Calibans.

 

                        Roused by the tussle, PROSPERO discovers the two kids.

 

PROSPERO:

Unhand my daughter, fiend!

 

MIRANDA:

But father, we—

 

PROSPERO:

Be silent, girl! I trusted you, but now I see

You’re not the son I lost! You’re nothing to me!

You’re worse than nothing! You’re—

 

CALIBAN:

I’m Caliban.

 

PROSPERO:

A monstrous fiend! A wretch! A thing! Inhuman!

 

CALIBAN:

You’d rather see her topped by some young gentleman?

 

PROSPERO:

A sharp-tongued monster! Well, monster, learn your place.

I’ll master you! I’ll scar your back and brand your face

To make you look the monster that you are.

 

                                    ARIEL steps forward, holding the mirror. It glints in the light.

 

ARIEL:

With all this smoke, great Magus, where is the mirror?

 

 

PROSPERO:

Mirror? Behold what thou has monstered forth.

 

ARIEL:

Behold what you have brought forth for yourself.

If he’s a monster, I’m a monster, too.

 

PROSPERO:

I don’t know what you’re talking about.

 

ARIEL:

You do.

 

A flash of lightening, no sound yet.

 

If you don’t see it yet, you really ought to know.

I told you when you came here, Prospero.

I’m not your wife, your Ariel.

 

PROSPERO:

Who are you, then?

 

ARIEL:

My name was sometime Sycorax.

 

PROSPERO:

And him?

 

CALIBAN:

Some call me Setebos. But you can call me Cal.

 

MIRANDA:

And I am your grown daughter, your Miranda.

 

                                    There is a distant roll of thunder.

 

ARIEL:

Fate intervenes. The time has come for candor.

A tempest is now rising, which will bring

The past come sailing back to you, to fling

Your enemies upon the rocky verge

You’ve built around yourself. Now Fate will urge

The issue of forgiveness, not just of others,

Of faithless councilors, usurping brothers,

The men who took your kingdom, stole your wealth,

But of that hatred in you –you, yourself.

 

                        Lightning flashes once, again. The mirror glints in PROSPERO’s eyes.

 

PROSPERO:

Myself?

 

 

 

ARIEL:

Your loss was grievous, and it made you hard.

A hermit in a cave, obsessed with an arcane art,

Without a thought to your poor daughter’s love

For strange new worlds that you’ve grown weary of.

 

MIRANDA: (putting her arm around CAL)

Made you deny the boy that you’d called son.

Made you reject a love that you’d once won.

 

CALIBAN: (putting his arm around ARIEL)

Made you neglect the woman you adored.

Made you abuse her, treat her like a chore.

 

ARIEL: (holding the mirror up to PROSPERO)

Made you do terrible things, while you decried

The monster in the glass you darkly scried.

 

Thunder, growing louder. The mirror glints in PROSPERO’s eyes.

 

PROSPERO:

I see a powerful magic raised against me.

But you’ve not reckoned with my potency.

 

Lightning, closer now. PROSPERO pushes ARIEL and CALIBAN.

 

Chant spells, make signs, do what you can.

Do your worst, I’ll stand it, as I am a man.

 

                                    Thunder, closer now. PROSPERO draws a whip from his belt.

 

MIRANDA:

Father!

 

ARIEL & CALIBAN:

No!

 

ARIEL hands the mirror to MIRANDA. She holds it toward the audience,

beyond which she has just sighted something. Thunder and lightning.

 

PROSPERO:

Think you that ought will stay me in my rage?

Bethink you, what can spare you from my whip?

 

ARIEL:

What turns an angry man into a sage?

 

MIRANDA:

A ship!

 

                                    THUNDER. LIGHTNING. RAIN.

BLACKOUT. END OF PLAY.