Rare Earth

Slide17

31 PLAYS IN 31 DAYS: Play 14, Day 14 – Rare Earth

A SPECIAL UP on a beautiful orange ceramic bowl,
sitting on a pedestal. A MAN in a black suit approaches it,
stops, regards it, then takes out a pair of heavy gloves
and puts them on. He reaches into his pocket and
brings out a small hand-held device, which he passes
slowly over the object. We hear the rise and fall of
the distinctive static of a Geiger counter, keyed to
each pass of the device. The MAN takes a step back
and stares at the bowl, then exits as LIGHTS CROSSFADE.

Enter OLIVER BOLIVAR, purveyor of fine art, wearing
a brown three piece suit and florid painted tie under
an artist’s smock which trails behind him as he whisks in,
also trailed by lovebirds LEON and VERONICA Chatchka,
art collectors dressed in 1940s splendor, he in a gray flannel
double-breasted suit, she in one of the odd designer dress
of the period.

BOLIVAR:
Now this piece, Veronica Chatchka, you simply must see. It’s really         very unique.

VERONICA:
You can’t say very unique, Ollie.

BOLIVAR:
Ah, but your own name is Veronique.

VERONIA:
Oh Oliver-Bolliver!

LEON:
Bolivar. But you haven’t heard the story of this piece, Veronique.            This bowl, it’s quite remarkable.

LEON:
It’s a bowl.

BOLIVAR:
Your powers of observation, Leon, exceed all that the lady claimed for you. What else do you see?

LEON:
It looks like a Sitz bath.

BOLIVAR:
Look deeper.

LEON:
It’s orange.

BOLIVAR:
Mango, yes.

VERONICA:
Sounds exotic. Where’s it from?

BOLIVAR:
Hard to say, my Veronushka. Mysterious provenance. It’s whispered that a genius may have died for it, I’ll tell you that much. Smuggled from south of the border, of that I am certain.

VERONICA:
It’s shiny.

BOLIVAR:
Shiny, yes, it has a beautiful sheen to it, doesn’t it, darling? A patina, that’s called. Very special.

LEON:
So they lacquered it. Gave it a good shellacing.

BOLIVAR:
Lacquer itself is special, Leon, made from boiling urishiol oil, obtained from a rare Asian Sumac. And shellac actually comes from She – lac, as       it is obtained by drying the wings of female lac bugs from faraway Siam. No, really.

LEON: (to VERONICA)
He’s making this up.

BOLIVAR:
On my honor as a boy scout. (tee-hee-hee!)

LEON: (to VERONICA)
I’d like to give him a good shellacing.

BOLIVAR:
But no, this glow is no mere veneer, Leon. This luminous vessel is actually made of the rare earth element, Ur-anium.

LEON:
What the hell is that?

BOLIVAR:
Rare earths are elements, found in miniscule quantities only at the far corners of the globe. This particular one, Ur-anium, is an element so rare, the United States government has recently impounded all of it as a war material.

LEON:
What the hell for? Can’t see what good a glow-in-the-dark rock would do for the war effort.

BOLIVAR:
Top secret. The say it may be the source of some secret weapon. Very, very powerful, this Ur-anium.

LEON:
Flash Gordon comic-book nonsense. Still, maybe they’ll find a way to give those Japs a good shellacing.

BOLIVAR:
And so this bowl, made from the last shipment of Ur-anium from deep in the mines of remotist Latin America, is quite a rare object indeed.

VERONICA:
You said it had a story.

VERONICA waits for the story. BOLIVAR is compelled to supply one.

BOLIVAR:
Yes. Supposedly this one came out so beautiful, the foreman it ordered back to the shop as a model. By mistake, it got re-glazed with Ur-anium again. A third time when the foreman found it and got mad and sent it back and told them to restore it to the original glaze. So, all-in-all-, it’s  been triple-glazed with Ur-anium.

VERONICA:
Oooh. “Mysterious Provence.” (she pronounces it well, but wrong word)

BOLIVAR:
“Provenance.”

VERONICA:
Provenance.

BOLIVAR:
Oh, wear gloves, dear. It’ll make your hands glow in the dark.

VERONIQUE and BOLIVAR share a laugh.

LEON: (to VERONICA)
You like it?

VERONICA:
It has a story behind it. I like art with a story behind it.

LEON:
How much?

BOLIVAR:
Fifty K.

LEON:
Forty G.

BOLIVAR:
Forty-five.

LEON:
We’ll take it. How’s it shipped?

BOLIVAR:
Swathed in actual parachute silk. Also withheld from the war effort.      Very special.

LEON:
Splendid. Wrap it up and have it shipped to our home, just outside of Albequerque.

VERONICA:
Take a left at Albequerque!

BOLIVAR lifts butcher paper that the bowl was sitting on
and bundles the bowl as he exits. LEON takes VERONICA
by the arm as LIGHTS CROSSFADE and they stroll until
confronted by a suited AGENT in dark aviator glasses,
who has just entered with a clipboard.

AGENT1: (checking the clipboard)
Mister…?

LEON:
Leon Chatchka. Chatchka Industries. Government contractor. Here to see General Groves and Dr. Oppenheimer about replacing all Los Alamos widgets with chatchkas.

AGENT1:
Of course sir, but there are security measures. Los Alamos is a top secret facility.

LEON:
The password is “Linoleum.”

AGENT1:
I didn’t ask you for the password.

LEON:
Sorry.

AGENT1:
Secuity breach. A second AGENT has appeared with a Geiger counter,
which he waves at the Chatchkas.

AGENT1:
Standard procedure.

The clacking sound, loudest when it approaches LEON’s groin.

AGENT2:
Could be they’re Russian agents. Smuggling fissionable materials. They’ve both been in contact with contraband radioactive materials.

AGENT1:
Could you come with  me, sir?

LEON:
What? No, wait. I can explain.

The two agents lift LEON, who kicks his legs and hollers as they             carry him away.

AGENT2:
You can explain in Sing-Sing, Comrade Chatchka!

VERONICA:
No, wait. You gotta listen to our story!

VERONICA follows them off as LIGHTS CROSSFADE, and
BESSIE and HATTIE enter, carrying the previously seen
butcher paper bundle.

BESSIE :
I just love estate sales.

HATTIE:
Me, too. You see such good stuff. And cheap. And every thing you see has some story behind it.

BESSIE:
If table-ware could talk. These folks had some right pretty dishes and such. You wouldn’t think
they go in for that.

HATTIE:
What you mean?

BESSIE:
They was both atomic spies. Atom-spying for Russia. That’s why they house on the market. Scandal. Prison. Ruin.

HATTIE:
They do got some nice stuff.

BESSIE:
I loves me some crockery. Kind of overpriced, though, when you think about the circumstances.

HATTIE:
What else they gonna do with this stuff? This bowl is the prettiest of the lot. I think I’ll just take it.

BESSIE:
Well, I saw it first, hon.

HATTIE:
Oh, no! I done been carrying it this whole time.

BESSIE:
You? Fool! I had my hands on it the whole time.

HATTIE:
Mine!

BESSIE:
Mine!

The two women wrestle with the bowl between them, right, left.
They let the bowl fly. It catches the air like a Frisbee and flies off.

HATTIE:
You break it, you gotta pay for it! It’s yours!

BESSIE:
Yours!

HATTIE:
No, yours!

They exit, fighting. LIGHTS FADE. Radio is heard.

RADIO ANNOUNCER 1: (VO)
This is station KABQ, The Voice of Albequerque. And now, the news.

STAR-GAZING: Report of flying saucers being dismissed tonight by press release from the Armed Forces Radio Network, confirmed by White House briefings, which attributes the sightings of a luminous disk or dish-shaped object in the skies over Rosewell, New Mexico to a downed Interior Department weather balloon.

POLICE BLOTTER: Atom spies in the news. Convicted industrialist Leon Chatchka and his Russian wife Veronushka, were sentenced to Sing-Sing four years ago, though they never sang for a jury. The couple pleaded no contest to spying in exchange for a reduced sentence that might see the Chatchkas walking the streets again in their lifetimes, but their legal troubles are far from over.

RADIO ANNOUNCER: (VO)
Mrs. Elizabeth L. Jefferson and Henrietta A. Garvey, both of Albequerque, are suing the Chatchkas estate, claiming they became embroiled in a dispute over a piece of an incendiary room furnishing, that ultimately resulted in a melee of crockery and recrimination—

RADIO cuts-out as two Indians hike into the picture
in mystical American Indian music.

INDIAN 1:
What is it, brother?

INDIAN2:
I don’t know. I thought I saw a meteor last night—

INDIAN1:
A what?

INDIAN2:
Shining Ball of Fire, and followed it with my eye. It came down on earth.      In this area.

INDIAN1:
By the Old One’s Place.

INDIAN2:
Here.

INDIAN 2 finds the bowl, wrapped in parachute silk.
He goes to it, removes the silk.

INDIAN1:
Brother, the artifacts of our ancestors should lie with them,              don’t you think?

INDIAN2:
Yes, of course. We stopped whoever proposed to filch it from the dead. Behold, brother. Thus we restore the bowl to its place with the people.

INDIAN1:
Can I have the shiny fabric?

INDIAN2:
I saw it first.

The two Indians exit with the material, fighting.

THOMPSON enters. An anthropologist.

THOMPSON:
Where are you, little fella. Come out, come out, wherever you are? I saw something gleaming from the cliff-face, and once I climb up here, I’ve got a nose for pot-hunting, and you’re my quarry. Ah! Here you are!

THOMPSON kneels and picks up the bowl, turns and hands it to
CARRUTHERS, entering in a lab coat.

THOMSPON:
(to bowl:) How old are you, little beauty? (to CARRUTHERS) How much do you think she’s worth, Doc?

CARRUTHERS:
It’s quite peculiar, Thompson. We’re having great difficulty determining       a date for this particular piece of pottery. I mean, troubles with its provenance.

THOMPSON:
What? But surely it’s unquestionable in situ at a cliff site dwelling. I mean, who would lug a fake that far?

CARRUTHERS:
We’ve had the bowl radio-carbon dated, Thompson.

THOMPSON:
And?

CARRUTHERS:
According to radio carbon dating, it’s either a relic far older than the earliest known civilizations in the Americas…

THOMPSON:
Yes?

CARRUTHERS:
Or won’t be made for another fifty years. In other words, Thompson, it’s a fake. And it calls into question all the other early finds that we credited to you because of the reputation you had as an exceptional field archeologist.

THOMPSON:
“Had”?

CARRUTHERS:
You’re finished, Thompson. You’re now just a lunatic who talks to crockery. Good day, sir.

THOMPSON:
But—

CARRUTHERS:
I said good day.

CARRUTHERS hands the bowl to THOMPSON as he exits.

THOMPSON: (to bowl)
So, it’s a crime now, to talk to crockery?

RADIO ANNOUNCER 2 should be the same voice as
RADIO ANNOUCER 1, but more hip. Almost every line
could be punctuated by a “Morning Zoo” sound effect.

RADIO ANNOUNCER 2: (VO)
Radio KABQ,* and that ABQ’s Albequerque, baby, * as in “*Take a left ‘toin’ at!” * Not Alberquirck, jerk! Albequerque’s number one booster, Hello, Albequerque, talking back atcha! And now, some news.*

FLASH FROM THE PAST: Hey, remember The Rosewell Incident? * Supposedly, aliens crashed* their very sophisticated and supposedly superior technology* into our rather large planet.* De-bunked. *
It turns out it was just a weather balloon. * An elderly man of the Navaho tribe * recently revealed finding the silken parachute with his brother as    a boy. It has been hanging in their garage for fifty years. * Oh, but get this: Mystery not over yet. Turns out the silk in the parachute was way radioactive. How did that come to pass? Does this reveal alien involvement yet? *

ANOTHER FLASH FROM THE PAST: Hey, you probably don’t remember Leon Chatchka, but in the Cold War, his name became synonymous as with traitor as the name “Edward Snowden” in our day. Chatchka was an industrialist with access to top secrets at Los Alamos, but was accused of being a Russian spy, and spent time in the clink for it. I sat down with him today. Mr. Chatchka.

LEON joins GARY  OF RADIO ALBEQUERUQE on the stage.

LEON:
Thank you for having me on Radio Alberquerue. My wife and I are big fans of your all-talk format.

GARY:
Really.

LEON:
Yeah, there’s not a lot to do in prison. Anyway, we’re out now, and we’ve written a book about our experiences.

GARY:
You mean you’re still together?

LEON:
Yes.

GARY:
You and Mrs. Chatchka?

LEON:
Yes.

GARY:
Even though you discovered—

LEON:
Yes, After we were released from prison, I discovered that Veronica was indeed a KGB major named Veronushka Glagoyovich Ulyanoffski. Something like that. It’s in the book.

GARY:
How did you find out?

LEON rises, VERONICA joins him, they stroll arm in arm
browsing an estate sale.

VERONICA:
Thompson, apparently, was a kind of visionary who saw, long before anyone else, that the age of the earliest habitation sites in America would have to be moved back, perhaps as much as tens if not hundreds of thousands of years.

LEON:
It’s so delightful what working in the prison library did for you, Veronica. You got your high school completion, your college, your master’s degree, your doctorate, a docent’s license, and your appraisser’s license.

VERONICA:
There’s not a lot to do in prison.

LEON:
No, you’ve really redefined yourself.

VERONICA:
People change, Leon.

LEON:
No, Veronique: I admire that.

VERONICA:
Thank you, Leon. You’ve changed too. Much more genteel, well-heeled,      a real cosmopolite.

LEON: (chuckles)
Like –What was his name? Bolivar.

VERONICA:
Who?

LEON:
Your agent South of the Border. What happened to him?

VERONICA:
Bolivar? I haven’t the slightest idea. Manipulative bastard.

LEON:
No, Thompson. The archeologist. What happened to him?

VERONICA:
Scandal. Prison. Ruin. He was accused of faking artifacts he purported to pull from precarious perches.

VERONICA sees the bowl.

LEON:
What? What is it?

VERONICA:
Take a close look at that bowl.

LEON does so.

LEON:
It appears to be just an ordinary—

VERONICA:
Look deeper. What do you see?

LEON registers the realization.

LEON:
It’s… it’s mango.

VERONICA:
Yes.

LEON:
It’s got a mango patina.

VERONICA:
Yes.

Darling, I have a confession to make.

BLACKOUT. END OF PLAY.

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