Category Archives: Writing

HOWLING IN THE DARK: LEE BREUER AND ‘THE GOSPEL AT COLONUS’, ‘PATAPHYSICS PENYEACH’, AND ‘LA DIVINA CARICATURA, PART 1: THE SHAGGY DOG’ ·

(Photos: Mabou Mines)

By Bob Shuman

Some of us had never seen Lee Breuer, who died January 3, working without a stocking cap—but what is probably most surprising is that we saw a playwright, this hands-on, at all.  In 2010, upon early audience entry, at New York Theatre Workshop, he clarified tech, behind a huge plywood board, for his double-bill of monologues Pataphysics Penyeach (Summa DramaticaandPorco Morto”).  In 2013, with La Divina Caricatura, Part 1: The Shaggy Dog, at La MaMa, there was a question as to whether he might even be seen, as press performances were canceled due to his illness.  He appeared, hustling through the impersonal subway tracks of the set, though, where a dog had been abandoned.  That animal, Rose, a puppet, also the star of the show, caused a visceral reaction, when she began eating “poop,” a polite way of naming the grotesque situation—one this reviewer categorized as an aberrant absurdist element, while still shuddering.  Much later, now the owner of two Jack Russell terriers, one who had been deserted on a highway in South Carolina, the truth of the writing emerged.  Although our dogs are now ensconced in Massachusetts during the pandemic, for several years, Breuer remained on my mind often, his visual observation about pets acute, disgusting, and pervasive.

He was part of the East Village zeitgeist—I should say he was our Peter Brook. Mabou Mines offered performance based on hard theatrical theory and experience, not simple propaganda, although clearly leftist. Breuer volunteered at the Berliner Ensemble, under Communism, worked with Grotowski, adapted Beckett, and more, to give his work an international edge. It’s impossible to think of the American avant-garde, without him.  Tracking our way back from the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, along Seventh Avenue to Forty-Second Street, in 1988, someone, talking about the chorus, was saying how you weren’t “going to ask those big, mature Black women to do a lot of choreography,” as we understood musicals then, when someone noted the stately stage progressions, in The Gospel at Colonus.  The voices moved the audience, and caused them to dance, instead.  Lee Breuer was, almost inarguably, America’s finest theatre practitioner at the end of the twentieth century and early twenty-first, mainstream or otherwise. His aesthetic was so fully formed, centered, and grounded, in fact, that it seems an injustice to say that he was an experimental director. It’s better to describe him as a seminal one.

In a July 2020 Zoom interview from Segal Talks, hosted by Frank Hentschker, with Maude Mitchell, Breuer macrocosmically talked about playwriting, music: 

“I wanted to get this feeling of everyone contributing their melody to a larger whole, and that there would be a form that would arise from it.  I think music is the key to it.  I think if we can feel that all the currents–political, aesthetic—are joining together to make a statement–and if you can discern what that statement is–that you will have achieved a tremendous revelation about what our times and what our lives now are all about.”

Breuer’s statements could expose internal horror about the American and human condition, combining humor with the monstrous, as he did with Pataphysics Penyeach, which used children’s storybook  and cartoon characters facing contemporary political and sociological existence.  Back in 2010, he seemed to pinpoint how we had been overwhelmed by the technological: “Reality is not real,” a distinguished professor, a cow, tells us “—it’s virtual.”  The play demonstrated a “spin” on French symbolist writer Alfred Jarry’s pataphysics (a “send up of metaphysics”). 

According to Breuer, in a 2007 video conversation at Towson University,  theatre only exists half the time on the stage; the other half takes place in the head.  The viewer is choosing the play’s message after “balancing the work’s thesis and antithesis.”  The synthesizing process is apparent in a work like Pataphysics Penyeach because, through the ridiculous and cerebral, one attempts to decipher the meaning, to make sense of the divergent inputs, holding on in the hope of unmasking the secret of the piece.  Steadily looking for metaphor, in “Porco Morto,” the second one act in the evening, Breuer turned the concept of “capitalist pigs” into a playlet about a piglet, who talks like Porky Pig.

For those drawn to the stage of Lee Breuer, part of its appeal must be his interest in the viewer as thinker, not simply as blank page—he was an intellectual theorist himself, not only a defender of theory, whether Marxist, Feminist, Market, or other.  Breuer’s is a formidable intelligence to be openly missed; irreplaceable, still to be reckoned with, and learned from. 

Don’t cover it up.

© 2021 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Visit Mabou Mines.

 

Two Breuer Reviews from Stage Voices:

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LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES): “IN THE WOODS” (8)  ·

By Bob Shuman

SCENE: In the woods. A small clearing, off a parking lot–hardly more than a triangle where two parallel felled logs act as benches.

MARY JANE, early 70’s, sits on a log.  As at the dog run, using a launcher, SHE plays fetch with the dogs.

 CHRISTIE, late 50’s (male), is walking fast to catch up with JUNO, one of his two Jack Russell terriers (the other is Jasper) who has gotten out of her harness. Both JASPER and JUNO drag their leashes on the wet earth.  

Both MARY JANE and CHRISTIE wear gloves—CHRISTIE’s are surgical gloves.  CHRISTIE is also wearing a mask. MARY JANE leaves hers down—she only pulls it up when a stranger appears.

Beginning of May, still chilly and wet.

CHRISTIE: (About Juno.) Come on Jasper, help me get her.

MARY JANE: Did she go off?

CHRISTIE: Come on, Juno.  I’ve got to go get her. 

MARY JANE: Can you see her?

CHRISTIE:  Excuse, me I’ll be right back.

MARY JANE: I know someone who’s going to “prison.”

CHRISTIE:  Jasper, help me get her.

(Jasper runs with CHRISTIE to find Juno.)

MARY JANE: Lantern’s been a bad dog himself, running off.

CHRISTIE:  (Off.) Not too far.  Come on back, Juno.   Come  on.  Come back.  

(There is a clamor in the background.  Muted car horns and yells—shaking, pounding, rattling of kitchen utensils.)

CHRISTIE:  That’s it, that’s a good girl.  Thank you for listening.  That’s it.

MARY JANE: Lantern must be doing the loop.

CHRISTIE:  Let’s all go see Mary Jane.  Jasper, you come too.   (To MARY JANE.) Have they been sending people to the hospital ship?

MARY JANE: No, it was sent back—the ship wasn’t even half filled.  They were sending patients back to the nursing homes to infect others.

(Silence.)

CHRISTIE: (CHRISTIE makes a whooping sound for the hospital workers. About the clamor.) I think today’s Nurse Day.

MARY JANE: Nurse week.  Hello, Juno.

CHRISTIE:  (CHRISTIE gives another whoop, taking Juno to a tree branch.)  A sign was posted in our building about it.  I have to watch Juno because she can break out of her harness.

MARY JANE: Here she is.  Straight to “jail.”

CHRISTIE:  She was just like Dorothy, toodling down the yellow brick road. 

(Christie takes Juno to a tree branch of a fallen tree and loops the leash handle over it.)

MARY JANE: There’s one nurse, who walks her dog here in the woods.  She helped me, after I got out of the hospital seven years ago.  I had a sore on my back–I couldn’t reach it.  She came to my apartment and changed the bandage every other day,  so I wouldn’t have to go to a clinic.  She’s helping Covid patients now.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE: He’s been gone longer than fifteen minutes.  I don’t like it when he takes so long.

CHRISTIE:  (Calling.) Lantern! (To Jasper.)  Come on Jasper, stop bringing the ball to Mary Jane.  Bring it over here to me.

MARY JANE: I don’t mind.

CHRISTIE:  You might be tired of throwing it to him.

MARY JANE: What else would I be doing, since Juno’s been put in the “penitentiary”–and I don’t see Lantern? 

CHRISTIE:   (About Juno.) Juno was howling at something today.

MARY JANE: Probably critters.

CHRISTIE:   Junie, don’t pull on that harness too hard—she broke out of it on the way down here.

MARY JANE: (Calling.) Lantern!  His medication must be starting to work.

CHRISTIE: (Calling.)   Lantern! 

MARY JANE: This breed is supposed to live to fourteen years.  That’s why I bought him, because I knew he would be my last dog–but I don’t know if he’s going to make it much longer.  He’s eleven and a half.

CHRISTIE:   He gets his shots every two and a half weeks.

MARY JANE:  His arthritis is giving him a lot of pain.

(Silence.)

(CHRISTIE is playing fetch with Jasper.)

CHRISTIE:  (Recalling a previous conversation.) Wouldn’t the nurses be taxed anyway?

MARY JANE: Yes, in their own states, but this is in New York—we’re the ones who asked them to come help us. (Pause.) They should have protected the elderly first, but they didn’t know.  A 40-year-old can get over the symptoms in a few days.  

CHRISTIE: (Going to Junie, to look at her harness.) We’re going to have to get Junie a new harness—she can slip out of it, too.

MARY JANE: At my age if you wake up without something hurting you, you’re dead!

(CHRISTIE begins laughing.)

CHRISTIE: Did you hear about the llama?

MARY JANE: What was that about?  I saw something. In Belgium? 

CHRISTIE:  It’s this llama, in Belgium.   Named Winter.  In Ghent, Belgium.  She produces antibodies—two kinds of antibodies. 

MARY JANE:  I just saw the picture on the Web. Dark brown.

CHRISTIE:  Humans only have one antibody.   So this other one can stick to the virus.

MARY JANE:  I wondered why they were talking about a llama.

CHRISTIE:  This antibody gets into the spikes–you seen those pictures of the coronavirus? Those spikes?  And makes them . . . I guess it can wad up in there.

MARY JANE: At least they’re trying.

CHRISTIE:  Makes it less effective.  

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  I looked up that show.  It was first made as a movie in 1943, with Roddy McDowall.

CHRISTIE:   My Friend Flicka.

MARY JANE:  It only lasted a season in the late Fifties.

CHRISTIE:   I knew there had to be a serious horse show.

MARY JANE:  1957.

CHRISTIE:   Mr. Ed was more popular—it was comic.

MARY JANE: (Imitating Mr. Ed.) “Will-burr.”

CHRISTIE:   (Suddenly.)  You watch it, Jasper.  I saw you try to eat that poop—you’ll be next (to go to jail). You stop that, you hear me?

MARY JANE: The Post said that the number of deaths at Hebrew Home have been under-reported.

CHRISTIE:   When?

MARY JANE:  A friend sent it to me yesterday.  192 deaths.

CHRISTIE:  (Stunned.) I worked right there,

MARY JANE:  The highest in the state.

CHRISTIE:  Next to it.  Until March. 

MARY JANE:  I know.

CHRISTIE:  I didn’t hear about this.

MARY JANE: They were piling the corpses in the old retreat center.

CHRISTIE:  We know someone who works there.

MARY JANE:  Yes, from the dog run.  Her mother also lives there.  Ruff-Ruff’s owner.

CHRISTIE:  One of my students worked as a waiter there.

MARY JANE:  There are infections among the staff.  The paper said that.

CHRISTIE:  I think people from my church (also work there). 

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  I always used to, I was trying to pray.  I went to Catholic School with French nuns.  I looked up to them.  But I stopped. Something always seemed to be happening, so I didn’t pray anymore and never started again—and now things are so chaotic—and I can’t pray now.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  I’m afraid for people going into hospitals.  You go in and you might never come out.  Families can’t go to visit.  People are dying  and they’re alone. 

(Silence.)

CHRISTIE:  (Juno breaks out of her harness.) She broke out of her harness. She can snap the holder on the harness.  Juno you come back here.  I don’t want her running away.

MARY JANE:  Juno, you come back.

CHRISTIE:  (Suddenly.)  Don’t you run, Juno.  Junie, you come back here.  I don’t want her going down to the swamp.

(CHRISTIE runs after JUNO.)

MARY JANE:  You’re not going anywhere—you come back with us.

CHRISTIE:  Jasper, you stay here with me. 

(Juno is running off. Silence.)

CHRISTIE:  Come back, Junie.

MARY JANE:  She’s had enough of being tied up . . . 

CHRISTIE:  Come on back.  Don’t go anywhere. 

MARY JANE:  She’s tired . . . of everything . . .

CHRISTIE:  This leash comes off.  This leash comes off.  It slipped over her head.

MARY JANE:  . . . and the pandemic.  She sees what it’s doing.

(JUNO begins howling.)

CHRISTIE:  Stay right there.  That’s a good girl. I’ll come get you.

MARY JANE:   I’m glad an animal is helping us solve this.

(The howling gets louder.)

(End of Scene)

Copyright (c) 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved. Photos: Winter, the llama, Straits Times; Jasper and Juno in “jail.”

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES): “IN THE WOODS” (7) ·

By Bob Shuman

SCENE: In the woods. A small clearing, off a parking lot–hardly more than a triangle where two parallel felled logs act as benches.

MARY JANE, early 70’s, sits on a log.  As at the dog run, using a launcher, SHE plays fetch with the dogs, primarily with her spaniel, LANTERN (who is missing at the beginning of this scene). CHRISTIE, late 50’s (male), stands, holding the leashes of his two Jack Russell terriers, JASPER and JUNO. He is wearing a mask, which itches, so he pulls it up and down on his face.  Chilly April. Both MARY JANE  and CHRISTIE wear gloves—CHRISTIE’s are surgical gloves.  MARY JANE does not wear a mask.

MARY JANE:  I’m usually on this bench or the next one over, and there’s another, after that, that I can still get to.

CHRISTIE:  (Joking, after a long walk with his dogs.)  Very . . . sylvan.  I just wish it didn’t take a helicopter to get here.

MARY JANE:  Lantern is reverting to his two-year-old self.  He disappears—and then I don’t see him again for half an hour.  It’s very frustrating.   He’s started ranging.

CHRISTIE:  I wondered where he went.  

MARY JANE:  After a while, he’ll come check to see if I’m still here and then go off again—usually dragging back some disgusting thing from the swamp.  (Pointing.)  It’s right down there.

(Pause.)

CHRISTIE:  Natan says the run should be open again in a few weeks. 

MARY JANE:  It will be longer than a few weeks.  More like two months, if they open it again at all.    

CHRISTIE:  Dogs can go without leashes at the park until 9:00 in the morning—I think the same thing happens at night. 

MARY JANE:  That doesn’t do me any good.

(Pause.)

MARY JANE:  (Zipping up her coat, because she is cold.) Doesn’t anyone know it’s April 22? Maybe the people  upstairs still think we’re in the middle of March, too.

(CHRISTIE drops his leashes and begins throwing a ball to Jasper.  He continues to hold JUNO’s leash, and she sits by him.)

CHRISTIE:  Jasper.  Don’t you go too far away.  I don’t want you going to the swamp.

MARY JANE: They can still ticket you here, if a dog isn’t on a leash—but what are they gonna tell me?  I can’t have one?

CHRISTIE: (Muttering.)  My wife will kill me.

MARY JANE:  If these dogs were left to go wild, we’d be seeing some serious food.  

CHRISTIE: (Joking.)  Squirrel.  Rabbit.

MARY JANE:  Chipmunks. 

(Pause.)

CHRISTIE:  (Surveying.) I wondered where you took Lantern (during the last week).

MARY JANE: I used to walk here all the time when I was younger.   The only problem is it gets really dark at 7:30—all of a sudden it’s pitch black.  

CHRISTIE: Come on back, Jasper.  Don’t you go over there.

(Jasper trots back to CHRISTIE.)

MARY JANE:   I’m going to have to get Lantern an e-collar to shock him, when he goes too far, like when he was little.  I’ve been putting off ordering it. (Pause, noticing one of the dogs.Hello, Juno.

CHRISTIE:  Welcome to the Bronx.  Epicenter of the coronavirus in the city.

MARY JANE:  And the state–and the country.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  Are they going to give you your job?

CHRISTIE:  Six are enrolled and they need eight to run the course.  Not having enough students in the winter was a blessing in disguise because I would have been taking five mass transit buses a day, back and forth to White Plains.

MARY JANE:  (Meaning the virus.) You would have gotten it.

CHRISTIE:  We’re lucky we don’t live farther south now. (About Jasper.) He still wants to put the ball between my feet.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE: I was watching Dark Victory, with Bette Davis last night. 

CHRISTIE: I don’t even know if I’ve ever seen it.  This mask is really itchy.

MARY JANE: That’s the way I want to go.  Three months.  Won’t be painful. She lies down on the bed–and dies.  Nice and neat.  

CHRISTIE: I should really see that.

MARY JANE: (Mary JANE is interested in the Spanish flu)   With the Spanish flu, they turned blue. Lungs filled with fluid.  Wilson didn’t do anything.  He wasn’t expected to. The only thing good about it was that you went fast. Twenty-hour hours.  But then people stopped researching it when it was over.  Let me see what time it is. (MARY JANE checks her phone.)   7:08.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  People don’t understand how much stress there is.  I was cooking dinner and when I was cleaning up I accidentally turned on the gas on the stove.  My next-door neighbor came over to see if I smelled anything. I had fallen asleep. I’ve never done that in my life.  Then I did it again the next night.  I’d been out with Lantern. Now the Super is at my door.  He thought I was trying to commit suicide.

(Silence.)

(Suddenly, Lantern rushes in carrying something in his mouth and drops it near MARY JANE.  Overlapping: )     

MARY JANE: Oh, my God.                                CHRISTIE: Jesus        

 

MARY JANE: What does he have?         CHRISTIE: That is so gross.

 

(Pause.)    

 

MARY JANE: It’s a bat.                           CHRISTIE: It’s a banana.

 

MARY JANE :  Bird’s wing.                 CHRISTIE: Piece of rotting meat.          

MARY JANE:  It’s a scalp! (Upset.) Get it away.  Get it away from me.   Christie, take it away.  Get it out.

(End of Scene)

Copyright (c) 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES): “AT THE DOG PARK” (6) ·

By Bob Shuman

SCENE: A dog park in the Bronx. 

NARRATOR:  As Mary Jane suspected, the dog park was closed, on 4/6/2020, along with all runs throughout the city.  Fearing Coronavirus infection, and a fine of one thousand dollars, if caught keeping a social distance of less than six feet from one another, people, out of home isolation, seemed to act silently and in slow motion. The public pathways, where Juno and Jasper were taken, were often uncrowded, especially in the April mists and rains, although this could change when there was sun.  Lantern was glimpsed, one morning, looking out a back window, rolled down, as Mary Jane’s car drove by the elementary school and slippery fallen magnolia blossoms, heading south. In the afternoons, Christie walked his dogs by the Hudson, and he recalled a little-known, sometime playwright of the archaic, who had composed, years before, a one-act on themes similar to those voiced now, during the pandemic.

 

TRAVELERS

 Based on and adapted from Shakespeare and Boccaccio, a companion piece to As You Like It

 

CHARACTERS:

DUKE SENIOR: His royal’s possessions included land in the Ardennes, where, after being exiled, he now lives in dense woods. (50’s) 

JAQUES:  A melancholy lord and follower of Duke Senior. (40’s)

FORESTER I:  A lord and follower of Duke Senior. (30’s)

FORESTER II:  Another of Duke Senior’s men. (40’s)

TOUCHSTONE:  A court fool of Duke Frederick, brother of Duke Senior.  The clown followed Rosalind and Celia to the Forest of Arden after banishment, although he knows little of country ways. (20’s)

AUDREY:  An unsophisticated country wench. (20’s)

MARTEXT:  A country vicar. (50’s)

The forest setting includes rough-hewn benches and a table—a stone ring to make a fire.

Suggestion for introductory music: Huun Huur Tu “Sixty Horses in My Herd.”

 

 

SETTING:  In the forest.

PLACE: Duke Senior’s encampment.

TIME: The plague years.

 

AT RISE: DUKE SENIOR and MEN are putting out a fire, preparing to hunt deer.  JAQUES enters with excitement.

 

JAQUES:

(Entering.) A fool, a fool!  I met a fool I’ the forest.

 

FORESTER I:

(About Jaques.) Must herbs need.

 

JAQUES:

A motley fool; a miserable—

 

FORESTER II:

Valerian.

 

HUNTER I:

Will only make him more melancholy.

 

JAQUES:

Drawing a dial from his poke.  And, looking on it with lack-lustre eye—

 

FORESTER I:

Perhaps saffron and . . . eye of newt.

 

JAQUES:

It’s ten o’clock says the fool very wisely; Thus we may see, ‘quoth he, ‘how the world wags; ‘tis but an hour ago since it was nine—

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Without jerkin?

 

JAQUES:

Without gabardine.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Next to venison?

 

JAQUES:

On its path.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Come shall be retrieved.

 

JAQUES:

And after one hour more ’twill be eleven, he says . . .

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Perhaps shall we see your clown.

 

JAQUES:

And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot.

 

(JAQUES laughs. Silence. A note of sadness—the joke is not as funny as Jaques intended.)

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Dost think that jocund?

 

JAQUES:

More there was.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Doth not of patched amusement seem.

 

JAQUES:

If ladies be but young and fair, They have the gift to know it.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

‘Tis better.

 

JAQUES:

And hereby hangs a tale.

 

DUKES SENIOR:

(Ignoring.)  Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile . . .

 

JAQUES:

I am ambitious for a motley coat.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Then you shall have it.

 

JAQUES:

I thought thou wouldst delight.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

(Returning to his speech.) Old custom hast made this life sweeter than painted pomp.

 

JAQUES:

(Thinking of the clown.) Oh, worthy fool.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Are not these woods more free from peril than the envious court?

 

JAQUES:

As I do live by food.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Like Robin of old England, who ’tis said we live like . . .

 

JAQUES:

Motley’s the only wear.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

From the rich he steals–givest to the poor.

 

JAQUES:

Grant me leave To speak my mind, and I will through and through Cleanse the foul body of the’infected world.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

(Noticing that JAQUES has not been paying attention.) I can tell what thou wouldst do.

 

JAQUES:

If they will patiently receive my medicine.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Fie on thee!

 

JAQUES:

To expose the hypocrisy of the world.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Most mischievous foul sin, in chiding sin.

 

JAQUES:

Why, who cries out on pride? 

 

DUKE SENIOR:

If you cans’t earn your keep and help our endeavor instead of souring.

 

JAQUES:

That can therein tax any private party?

 

DUKE SENIOR:

There are spies from the court!

 

(Silence.)

 

JAQUES:

He is but a coxcomb, my lord.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Something more than that.

 

JAQUES:

A merry man of the woods.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Thinkest he hast no objective?

 

JAQUES:

To give mirth.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

For thyself has been a libertine. As sensual as the brutish sting itself; And all th’embossed sores and headed evils.

 

JAQUES:

(About himself.) Hast been a traveler.

 

DUKE SENIOR:

(About Touchstone.) When you have robbed him, pillaged for our company, shall you find him and strip his clothes as demonstration!

 

(Silence.)

 

DUKE SENIOR:

Come, shall we go shoot us venison?

 

FORESTERS:

Yes, my Lord.

(Silence.)

 

DUKE SENIOR:

(Waving negative thoughts away, as he exits.) It irks me the poor dapple fools being native burghers of this desert city should in their own confine with forked head Have their round haunches gored.

 

(DUKE and HUNTERS exit.)

 

(Silence.)

 

JAQUES:

(Thinking of the deer that has been felled earlier.) Poor deer, thou makest a testament as worldlings do, giving thy sum of more to that which had too much.

 

(ROSALIND enters as a man, as if from a dream.)

 

ROSALIND:

They say you are a melancholy fellow.

 

JAQUES:

I am so.  I do love it better than laughing.

 

ROSALI ND:

Those that are in extremity of either are abominable fellows, and betray themselves to every modern censure worse than drunkard.

 

JAQUES:

Why, ‘tis good to be sad and say nothing.

 

ROSALIND:

Why then, ‘is good to be a post.

 

JAQUES:

‘Tis a melancholy of mine own, composed of many simples, extracted from many objects, and, indeed, the sundry contemplations of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness.

 

(Pause.)

 

ROSALIND:

Have you perpended tranquil canals in soft-hued Venice?

 

JAQUES:

Death.

 

ROSALIND:

The stately Nile on her course from south to north?

 

JAQUES:

Styx.

 

ROSALIND:

Woulds’t swim through the threadlike Hellespont?

 

JAQUES:

Drown.

(Silence.)

 

JAQUES:

Did’st not see the years wane, or calculate the height of waves.  Yet plagues I’ve seen . . . a pestilence so powerful that it attacked robust and vigorous strength–the way dry or oil close to fire will catch aflame.  Was’t living among the dead but dids’t not recognize it . . .  Just from the touching the clothes of those of the sick or anything felt or used by them.

 

ROSALIND:

(To herself.) Must pray harder think I often, if knowest how to.

 

JAQUES:

Fear filled us so complete that no one cared about the other.   Dost thou know what it’s like to in terror quake?—no, thou are still too young.  Brother abandoning brother, uncle abandoning  nephew, sister left brother and very often wife abandoning husband, and—even worse, almost unbelievable—father and mother neglecting to tend and care for their children, as if they were not their own.

 

ROSALIND:

You have great reason to be sad.

 

JAQUES:

Yes, I have gain’d my experience, boy.

 

ROSALIND:

I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s; then to have seen much and to have nothing is to have rich eyes and poor hands.

 

JAQUES:

I have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician’s, which is fantastical; nor the courtier’s, which is proud; nor the soldier’s, which is ambitious; nor the lawyer’s which is politic; nor the lad’s which is nice; nor the lover’s, which is all these.

 

(ROSALIND has exited; TOUCHSTONE enters.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Come apace, good Audrey; I will fetch up our goats, Audrey.  And how, Audrey, am I the man yet?  Doth my simple feature content you?

 

JAQUES:

Shh, shh.  The jig-maker.  It is him.   (Jaques believes that Rosalind is still nearby.)

 

AUDREY:

Your features! Lord warrant us! What features!

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I am here with thee and thy goats, as the most capricious poet, honest Ovid, was among the Goths.

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.) O knowledge ill-inhabited, worse than Jove in a thatched house!

 

TOUCHSTONE:

When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child Understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room. Truly, I would the gods had made thee poetical.

 

AUDREY:

I do not know what ‘poetical’ is: is it honest in deed and word? Is it a true thing?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No, truly; for the truest poetry is the most feigning; and lovers are given to poetry, and what they swear in poetry may be said as lovers they do feign.

 

AUDREY:

Do you wish then that the gods had made me poetical?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I do, truly; for thou swearest to me thou art honest: now, if thou wert a poet, I might have some hope thou didst feign.

 

AUDREY:

Would you not have me honest?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No, truly, unless thou wert hard-favoured; for honesty coupled to beauty is to have honey a sauce to sugar.

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.) A material fool!

 

AUDREY:

Well, I am not fair; and therefore I pray the gods make me honest.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Truly, and to cast away honesty upon a foul slut were to put good meat into an unclean dish.

 

AUDREY:

I am not a slut, though I thank the gods I am foul.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Well, praised be the gods for thy foulness!  Sluttishness may come hereafter. But be it as it may be, I will marry thee, and to that end I have been with Sir Oliver Martext, the vicar of the next village, who hath promised to meet me in this place
of the forest and to couple us.

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.) I would fain see this meeting.

 

AUDREY:

Well, the gods give us joy!

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Amen. A man may, if he were of a fearful heart, stagger in this attempt; for here we have no temple but the wood, no assembly but horn-beasts.

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.) I must have liberty withal, as large a charter as the wind, To blow on whom I please, for so fools have.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

But what though? Courage!

 

JAQUES:

They that are most galled with my folly.  They most must laugh.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

As horns are odious, they are necessary. It is said, ‘many a man knows no end of
his goods:’ right; many a man has good horns, and knows no end of them.

 

JAQUES:

He that a fool doth very wisely hit Doth very foolishly, although he smart,

Not to seem senseless of the bob.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Well, that is the dowry of his wife; ’tis none of his own getting. Horns?
Even so.

 

JAQUES:

If not, The wise man’s folly is anatomized

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Poor men alone?

 

JAQUES:

Even by the squand’ring glances of the fool.  Invest me in my motley.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No, no; the noblest deer hath them as huge as the rascal. Is the single man
therefore blessed?

 

JAQUES:

By how much defence is better than no skill, by so much is a horn more precious than to want.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No: as a walled town is more worthier than a village, so is the forehead of a
married man more honourable than the bare brow of a bachelor; Here comes Sir Oliver.

 

JAQUES:

Doth pride not flow as hugely as the sea Till that the wearer’s very means do ebb?

(SIR OLIVER MARTEXTenters.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Sir Oliver Martext, you are well met:

 

JAQUES:

(Aside.)What woman in the city do I name When that I say the city-woman bears

The cost of princes on unworthy shoulders?  Who can come in and say that I mean her. . . .

 

TOUCHSTONE:

(To Martext.) Will you dispatch us here under this tree, or shall we go with you to

your chapel?

 

JAQUES:

When such a one as she such is her neighbor? Or what is he of basest function That savest his bravery is not on my cost, Thinking that I mean him—But therein suits his folly to the mettle of my speech?

 

SIR OLIVER MARTEXT:

Is there none here to give the woman?

 

JAQUES:

Then he hath wron’d himself; if he will be free.

 

SIR OLIVER MARTEXT:

There then!  How then?  What then?  Let me see where in

My tongues hath wrong’d him: if it do him right

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I will not take her on gift of any man.

 

SIR OLIVER MARTEXT:

Truly, she must be given, or the marriage is not lawful.

 

JAQUES:

(Advancing.)  Proceed, proceed I’ll give her.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Good even, good Master What-ye-call’t: how do you,  sir? You are very well met: God ‘ild you for your last company: I am very glad to see you: even a
toy in hand here, sir: nay, pray be covered.

 

JAQUES:

Will you be married, motley?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

As the ox hath his bow, sir, the horse his curb and the falcon her bells, so man hath his desires; and as pigeons bill, so wedlock would be nibbling.

 

JAQUES:

And will you, being a man of your breeding, be married under a bush like a beggar? Methinks you’re more than that.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

(Aside, but AUDREY overhears.) I am not in the mind but I were better to be
married of him than of another: for he is not like to marry me well; and not being well married, it will be a good excuse for me hereafter to leave my wife.

 

JAQUES:

Dost not intend to stay?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Now am I in Arden; the more fool I; when I was at home I was in a better place.

 

JAQUES:

This fellow will but join you together as they join wainscot; then one of you will
prove a shrunk panel and, like green timber, warp, warp.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

By my troth, we that have good wits have much to answer for.

 

JAQUES:

Go thou with me, and let me counsel thee.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

‘Come, sweet Audrey: We must be married, or we must live in bawdry.
Farewell, good Master Oliver: not,– O sweet Oliver, O brave Oliver,
Leave me not behind thee: but,– Wind away, Begone, I say, I will not to wedding with thee.

(Exit AUDREY.)

 

SIR OLIVER MARTEXT:

‘Tis no matter: ne’er a fantastical knave of them
all shall flout me out of my calling.

(MARTEXT exits.)

 

JAQUES:

Brazen enough to wear motley among bumpkins?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

My weeds, sir.

 

JAQUES:

Think they wouldst not suspect thine purpose?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

To be married.

 

JAQUES:

Wilt see the duke again?

 

(Silence.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Doth thou know him?

 

JAQUES:

What wilt thou tell him of a rustic’s life?

 

 

TOUCHSTONE:

If thou never wast at court thou never saw’st good manners; if thou never saw’st good manners, than thy manners must be wicked; and wickedness is sin, and sin is damnation.  Thou art in a parlous state.

 

JAQUES:

Why wouldst examine?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

It is a good life, in respect of itself; but in respect that it is a shepard’s life, it is nought.  In respect that it is solitary, I like it very well; but in respect that it is private, it is a very vile life.

 

JAQUES:

Must be companion to others from the court.

 

(Silence.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Come Audrey, let us make an honorable retreat.

 

(But AUDREY is gone.)

 

JAQUES:

Are you not solitary?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Single, to this day.

 

JAQUES:

A base, countryman and wife.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Am here to wed.

 

JAQUES:

Courtiers in disguise.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Wouldst not presume–

 

JAQUES:

Methinks you know something more.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Nothing, Sir.

 

JAQUES:

Know thou the look of informants?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I’m looking for naught.

 

JAQUES:

What does the Duke want?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I know not.

 

JAQUES:

Hey, fool?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

He wants his duchy peaceable.

 

JAQUES:

You know then.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

What else could he want?

 

JAQUES:

More!

 

TOUCHSTONE:

I know not more, I tell thee.

 

JAQUES:

Hast betrayed thyself.

 

(Jaques attacks Touchstone, tearing off his clothes.)

 

TOUCHSTONE:

No, sirrah.

 

JAQUES:

Live to be watched, not live to be free. Canst not tell woman from man?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Thinkest so, Lord.

 

JAQUES:

Think we’re daft?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Players is all.

 

JAQUES:

Spies.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Conceit in lusting spring.

 

JAQUES:

Shalt show thine major-domo?

 

TOUCHSTONE:

Nothing is wrongly done.

 

JAQUES:

Give me thine garb.

 

TOUCHSTONE:

We’re travellers.  Travelers– young.

 

JAQUES:

Then thou shalt know the cost.

 

(Touchstone has been stripped naked, exhausted.)

 

(JAQUES flees with the clown’s clothes.)

 

(END OF SCENE)

(“Travelers”: (c) Copyright 2016  by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved. This free adaptation of As You Like It includes material from Shakespeare and Boccaccio’s Decameron.

(c) 2016, 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES): “AT THE DOG PARK” 4 ·

(Photo of Jasper)

SCENE: A dog park in the Bronx.  Today, it is warmer—and there is sun.  

(MARY JANE, early 70’s, sits on a bench in the dog park. Using a launcher, SHE plays fetch with her spaniel, LANTERN. Today, CHRISTIE (male), late 50’s, is standing at the beginning of the scene, but because of social distancing, he will be sitting on a second bench in this part of the run. JUNO and JASPER are CHRISTIE’s two Jack Russell terriers.)                        

(LANTERN is digging a hole to lie in; JUNO and JASPER are at the far end of the run.)

 

MARY JANE:  What are these dogs eating? Mud?

CHRISTIE:  Jasper you come over here!

MARY JANE:  What are they eating? Lantern was eating mud yesterday.

CHRISTIE:  You come over here, Jasper.  You, too, Junie.

MARY JANE:   I don’t mind if he eats a little mud.

CHRISTIE: (Suspecting Jasper is going to eat poop.)  Jasper, you get away from there.  

MARY JANE:   If he’s eating a lot of it, I care.  Is it poop?

CHRISTIE: I don’t know what it is.

MARY JANE: (Standing.)   I’ve heard about a powder for dogs who eat their own poop—makes it taste bad and they stop. But that wouldn’t help your dogs, because they eat other dogs’ poop.

CHRISTIE: Probably mud. (CHRISTIE kicks the ground where Jasper has been.)

MARY JANE:  (About a small piece of dog poop on the ground.) See, that’s the kind of thing I wouldn’t normally pick up.

(CHRISTIE picks it up anyway.)

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  Uh-oh.  Lantern’s going. (Lantern is pooping.)

CHRISTIE: (Moving straight into action.) JASPER!

MARY JANE:  Do you have a bag?

CHRISTIE: I have a bag. (Chasing Jasper.) No!

MARY JANE:  Come on, Jasper, you come up here by me.

CHRISTIE: (Yelling at Jasper, running after him, trying to get him away from the poop.) Drop it! You drop that! You drop that! You drop that, Jasper!  Drop that.

(Pause. JASPER does not listen.)

MARY JANE:  Did he get it?

CHRISTIE: I don’t think so.  Junie, you get up there, too.

(Silence.  CHRISTIE cleans up LANTERN’s poop.  JUNO sits by Mary Jane.)

MARY JANE:  Thank you for picking it up.

CHRISTIE: No problem.

MARY JANE:  I don’t think he’ll go again, but you never know–he’s been going a lot lately.

CHRISTIE: (To Jasper.)  No eating.  You know full well you’re not supposed to be eating that!  The last thing I need is a sick little dog.

(LANTERNsettles down with his ball and begins “woofing” seven or eight times.)

MARY JANE:  (About the barking.) Lantern.  Stop being so loud!

(MARY JANE coughs and uses her launcher to play fetch.)

MARY JANE:  I’ve been coughing for four weeks. (since) March 1.  I take my temperature every day—I’ve never had one.  Cuomo says this is going to peak in 21 days—he changed it from 45. 

(Pause.)

CHRISTIE: Prince Charles has Caronavirus. (CHRISTIE is throwing balls to the dogs, as well.)

MARY JANE:  He does?  That must have just happened.  I listen to the news when I’m getting ready in the morning.   

CHRISTIE: Junie, don’t you go down there.  I don’t want you eating mud. 

MARY JANE:  A lot of people around here say they’ve already had Coronavirus. Coughing, headaches, sniffling, diarrhea, they’ve been doing that all winter. They have chapped hands from washing so much.   They need to put hand cream in the bathroom, and use it. If not, they’ll forget. 

(Pause.)

MARY JANE:  This cold I have–I think it saved my life. My friend Jerome tested positive—after waiting two weeks to receive the results. He texted me he’s getting better, but he’s still in quarantine.  If I didn’t have this (cold) Jerome and I would have been going out a few times a week. He has money, doesn’t mind paying. Getting lunch at Smashburger, riding up to Dobbs Ferry for drinks on the water. I would have gotten it. 

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  Jasper always puts the ball between feet, like croquet.  Lantern learned that from him. Now he does it too.  Is it the game called croquet where they aim the ball through a (she curves her arms and hands.

CHRISTIE:  (Seeing that JASPER has done this to CHRISTIE’s feet.) Yes.  Croquet.

MARY JANE:  (To LANTERN.) Now you want the orange ball.

CHRISTIE:  I don’t know what this is.  Last week everybody wanted the green ball.  Now it has to be orange.

MARY JANE:  (Lantern’s coloring is orange.) An orange ball for an orange dog.

CHRISTIE:  Trends can change at a moment’s notice.  Turn on a dime.  Everyone was fine with the green bacon ball until 11:17 this morning.  Then you couldn’t give it away. They got tired of it. No one will touch it. 

MARY JANE:  More and more I notice Lantern doesn’t like me leaving him.

CHRISTIE:  (Still talking about balls for dogs.) Jasper won’t even pick it up. Look at him. It’s right next to him. 

MARY JANE:  (About LANTERN.) He gets restless at night, can’t make himself comfortable.  Doesn’t want to be petted very long—and only when he’s lying down.  

CHRISTIE:  Lantern never likes to be petted.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  He has arthritis of the spine. He’s getting old fast.  He’ll be my last dog. He’s already eleven. 

(Pause.)

MARY JANE:  Uh-oh.

CHRISTIE:  (Yelling at Jasper, running after him, trying to get him away from the poop.) Drop it! You drop that! You drop that! You drop that!

MARY JANE:  Do you have a bag?

CHRISTIE:   (Running to pick up poop.) How long do you say you’ve been doing this?

MARY JANE:  I’ve had dogs since I was sixteen.  That’s when my father felt he could trust me to take care of one–when I wouldn’t mind cleaning up after them and taking them outside.  But I wanted one longer than that—I have the dog gene.

(End)

(c) 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES) “AT THE DOG PARK”3 ·

By Bob Shuman

SCENE: A wet dog park in the Bronx.  

(MARY JANE, early 70’s, sits on a bench in the dog run. Using a launcher, SHE plays fetch with her spaniel, Lantern—although CHRISTIE (male), late 50’s, is throwing most of the balls today (to LANTERN and one of CHRISTIE’S two Jack Russell terriers, JASPER. The other, JUNO, sits on the ground near MARY JANE. ) 

CHRISTIE: Come on, Lantern, come back.  Don’t go down so far.

MARY JANE: Lantern, come back.

CHRISTIE: Jasper got it.

MARY JANE: He knows not to go very far when I’m throwing the ball!

CHRISTIE: (To Lantern.)  I’m trying to get it to you.

MARY JANE: I used to think he was smart.

CHRISTIE: I can’t throw it that far.

MARY JANE: Lantern, Christie’s wearing two pairs of gloves and has the ball in a plastic bag!

CHRISTIE: He missed it.

(Silence.)

CHRISTIE: Lantern, come back this way.

MARY JANE: A hospital ship is being sent to the East Coast.

CHRISTIE: (Explaining to Lantern.) Jasper will intercept it if you go too far downfield.

MARY JANE: Another one is going to the West Coast.

CHRISTIE:  I don’t have the arm for that.

MARY JANE: The problem is they only have 5,000 ventilators in New York.

CHRISTIE: How many do they need?

MARY JANE: 30,000.

(Pause.)

MARY JANE: Do they give one to the 40-year-old—or do I get it, with underlying conditions?

(Silence.)

CHRISTIE: (To Lantern.) Stay up here.

MARY JANE:  It used to be a disease would wipe out segments of the population—but we’re not used to that.  We got too smart in eradicating disease.

CHRISTIE: (To Lantern.) Forget it, Lantern—I’m not a professional quarterback!

MARY JANE: They were looking at the people who died in Italy.  The largest group had cases in the elderly population with three or four underlying conditions.  The second group had two–

CHRISTIE:  It’s like fires out West.

MARY JANE: Exactly. 

(The dogs suddenly begin to bark at children outside the fence.)

CHRISTIE: (To the dogs.) That’s enough, that’s enough. (About the dogs, to the children.

MARY JANE:  Lantern, stop barking.   

CHRISTIE: (To the children and nanny.) They’re just saying good morning.

MARY JANE: All the children are off from school.

CHRISTIE: (To the children, about the dogs.) They’re just saying hello.  You don’t have to be scared of them.  They’re just big talkers.

(The nanny and children move on and the dogs stop barking. Silence.)

MARY JANE: How is your son?

CHRISTIE: Still in Edinburgh. Going on lockdown.  He doesn’t want to come home. Says it’s as bad over here as it is there.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE: You know in Venice, without all the tourists there, the canals are like glass.  Crystal clear. Blue. You can see all the way to the bottom.

CHRISTIE: Lantern, you got the ball!

(End)

(C) Copyright 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES): “AT THE DOG PARK” (2) ·

By Bob Shuman

SCENE: A dog park in the Bronx. There are two benches. The first is near the entrance to the run—the second it toward the opposite end.

MARY JANE, early 70’s, sits on one side of the second bench in the dog run. Using a launcher, SHE plays fetch with her spaniel, LANTERN. CHRISTIE, late 50’s, is sitting on the far side of the bench and throwing a ball to one of his two terriers—the other dog sits near MARY JANE. A sunny day)

CHRISTIE: (Calling, to one of his dogs.) Come on Jasper, stop taking Lantern’s ball.

MARY JANE: What to do? I wait for this all year long–I’m not sure if  anything will change by May or June. 

CHRISTIE: I saw, on the Web, that the worst should be over by the end of  April–not that it might not recur . . .

MARY JANE: I get the same ABT tickets in the parterre–with my friend.

CHRISTIE: (To Jasper.) You have your own ball! Leave Lantern’s alone! (CHRISTIE stands.) Come on Jasper, put the ball over here!

MARY JANE: That’s all right. Just leave him. He’ll put it down when he’s ready.

CHRISTIE: Jasper!

(Jasper finally puts down the ball.)

MARY JANE: I told you. He always puts down the ball if you leave him alone.

CHRISTIE: Natan said we should just nuke New Rochelle—then our problems would be solved.

MARY JANE: And cancel 2020.

CHRISTIE: That will get rid of corona virus.

MARY JANE: The National Guard is taking food and medical supplies to the elderly.

CHRISTIE: How far away is New Rochelle? I’ve never been there.

MARY JANE: Depends on where you’re going. New Rochelle is a big place. Six schools. Two closed. Twenty-five minutes, maybe. That’s where my vet is and where I get my car repaired. We used to go to New Rochelle for the best pizza.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE: They closed Fordham. Columbia.

CHRISTIE: Saint Xavier. Courses go online Thursday.

MARY JANE: Was anyone at the school found to be infected?

CHRISTIE: Three.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE: What does that mean for you?

CHRISTIE: I can’t tutor because you have to work with the student face to face. (Pause.) They’re going on spring break anyway—it doesn’t matter.

(Pause. We hear the entry gate open and close. A small black and white dog, like on the old RCA records comes up to CHRISTIE—and he lightly begins petting the dog.)

CHRISTIE: (Changing the subject.) At least the weather’s better. That would stop the virus. That’s what happens with the flu. Knock it out. One of the workmen in our building said: “You want some Coronas? I got some.”

(Silence. CHRISTIE stops petting the dog.)

MARY JANE: (Speaking quietly.) You know Natan?

CHRISTIE: (Not hearing.) What?

MARY JANE: You see that man over there?

CHRISTIE: (To one of the terriers.) Come on Jasper—you can let Lantern have his own ball.

MARY JANE: He lives in Natan’s building.

CHRISTIE: Why is he holding a white handkerchief in front of his face?

MARY JANE: Natan often knows things about people.

CHRISTIE: (Throwing a ball.) The New Rochelle line was only a joke, you know that, right? I never know if people take things the wrong way. (Looking over at the man.) Maybe that guy is sick.

MARY JANE: His son is in quarantine.

(Silence.)

CHRISTIE: I was just petting his dog–lightly on top.

MARY JANE: Can you get it from animals?

(Pause.)

CHRISTIE: I don’t know.

MARY JANE: He seems sick. (The man is blowing his nose.)

CHRISTIE: I don’t want to wait to find out.

(The dog jumps up on the bench.)

CHRISTIE: I think I’m going to go in the other run.

MARY JANE: I’ve never gotten along with him. He takes up too much of a bench.

CHRISTIE: I want to wash my hands.

MARY JANE: I’m going to the doctor in a few minutes.

CHRISTIE: Let’s get out of here.

MARY JANE: (Suddenly.) Lantern! We’re leaving!

(End)

(C) Copyright 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES): “AT THE DOG PARK” ·

By Bob Shuman

SCENE: A dog park in the Bronx.

(MARY JANE, early 70s,  sits on a bench in the dog run. Using a launcher, SHE plays fetch with her spaniel, LANTERN. CHRISTIE, male, late 50s, is standing and throwing a ball to one of his two terriers—the other sits near MARY JANE.) 

MARY JANE: I don’t think it can be coronavirus because I don’t have a temperature.

CHRISTIE: Is that one of the symptoms?

MARY JANE: That’s one of the symptoms. I was checking every fifteen minutes, when I was home, and I don’t have a temperature. 

CHRISTIE: Plus you’ve had this for a while–

MARY JANE: About three or four days.  Four days. And I’ve never had a temperature. So I don’t think it can be coronavirus.

CHRISTIE: (Relieved.) Well, that’s good. (To one of the dogs.) Good catch, Jasper.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE: You know Crosby, Stills, and Nash—from the sixties?

CHRISTIE: Sure.

MARY JANE: I was going to see Nash.

CHRISTIE: You were?

MARY JANE: But I told my brother I couldn’t go—he didn’t have a problem, he completely understood.  If I was on the aisle, that would be one thing, so I could get up, if I had to. But I didn’t want to be in the middle of a row in case I started to cough. 

CHRISTIE: My wife thinks she has norovirus

MARY JANE: I wouldn’t want people to think I had coronavirus.

(Silence.)

CHRISTIE: Where is S. A. R.?

MARY JANE: Over by the railroad tracks.

CHRISTIE: Yeshiva is closed, too.

MARY JANE: And the academy.

CHRISTIE: The man lives in New Rochelle. It’s affected over a thousand people.  They can trace it. 

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  I don’t think this can be the flu because I don’t have chills.

CHRISTIE:  Early in the morning I think I must be getting sick—under my left eye feels all puffy. But I am fine by the time I get up. 

MARY JANE: I was reading about the common cold—and this should peak in the next two days.

(Pause.)

CHRISTIE: There’s no one else here—not even the schoolkids.

MARY JANE:  It’s like we’re the last two people on earth.  (To her dog.)  Lantern, find your ball!

CHRISTIE:  We’ll meet up with another group of survivors from . . . Italy.

MARY JANE:  (To herself.)  I’m not contagious.

(End)

© 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

DAVID RABE:  “UNCLE JIM CALLED” (FICTION FROM THE NEW YORKER) ·

UNCLE JIM CALLED

(Rabe’s story appeared in the 7/8 & 15 New Yorker.)

A week ago Thursday, my uncle Jim called. When I picked up the phone and said, “Hello,” he said, “Hello.” The voice was familiar and yet I didn’t recognize it. “Who is this?” I said.

“Jim,” he told me. “Uncle Jim.”

“What?” I was very surprised, because I thought Uncle Jim was dead. “Who is this?” I wanted to know. I really wanted to know.

“I just told you. Jim. I’m here with Hank. Is your mom home?”

“No,” I said. I thought Uncle Jim had been dead for years.

“Where is she?”

Now, the Hank he’d just referred to was probably his older brother, and my mom was their sister, Margie, and the thing of it was, the bewildering thing of it was that I thought they were all dead. “Is this some kind of joke?” I asked.

“We’re not laughing,” he said.

“Look,” I said, “I was in the middle of something here.”

“Oh, yeah? What?”

“Well, cooking. Dinner.”

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DE NIRO AND THE 2018 TONY AWARDS/‘IVANOV’ FROM MOSCOW’S STATE THEATRE OF NATIONS (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

In a week where Robert De Niro’s curse out of Donald Trump received a standing ovation at the 2018 Tony Awards, Russian actor Evgeny Mironov, who immerses himself in the title character of Anton Chekhov’s Ivanovat New York City Center from June 14-17–notes, in a Playbill interview with Katie Labovitz, that “Art is above politics.” The two actors, who were not reacting to one other’s comments, emphasize a cultural distinction between the aesthetics of the two countries and raise a tortuous, ugly subject for both—the degree to and ways in which censorship is employed.  American theatre, where politics is a marketing hook (Trump as Julius Caesar at the Delacorte last summer, for example) does silence through marginalizing and ignoring even important work and artists, admonishing or condemning them for mistakes in liberal thinking—recall the careless lack of perspective in the title for The New York Times review of the Pearl’s 2016 A Taste of Honey; “She’s Having the Baby.  How Quaint.” Or consider the roughly half of American voters who would not concur with Mr. De Niro or even want their children to have to listen to him on such a subject on a night which largely celebrates musicals.  Maybe Russians are more accustomed to abrupt changes in the political climate than those in the West, which may help explain why De Niro has had trouble accepting a free election that happened over a year and a half ago.  Or is he just emissary of the unofficial censorship from the left?  Here’s a simple observation:  Why do reviews of plays, books, art, concentrate so heavily on divining an author’s politics, real or imagined—and passing judgment on them, instead of discussing the work itself?  Have we become a nation not of art aficionados, but of inspectors patrolling the slippery slope of political correctness?  Within the last year the BAM production of the Flemish director Ivo van Hove’s conflicted dramatic interpretation of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, a novel he shamefully admires—but without him, without his standing in the artistic community, without his being native to another country, where would Objectivism, akin to Conservatism, have a chance to be contemplated on stage in this country?  Chekhov, of course, talks about the need to shift cultural perspectives through his character Konstantin, in The Seagull.  Perhaps, he is right to impute that a cultural collision is necessary to shake up prevailing artistic norms.

Ivanov (Mironov), the title character in the new Theatre of Nations production, brought to the U.S. as part of the Cherry Orchard Festival, would never be deemed politically correct, much less producible, if written by an American playwright, although the current settings and costumes are contemporary. This may upset the paradigm of understanding the playwright’s work in terms of needing to see him as part of Old Russia: fading, if grandiose; but Ivanov himself, plagued by financial crises and alcohol abuse, a dying wife he doesn’t love (Chulpan Khamatova), and a young woman he is attracted to (Elizaveta Boyarskaya) would also not win him much sympathy with the #MeToo Movement or raise much interest in the shrinking men’s market (a work with similar themes by Derek Ahonen of the Amoralists, The Qualification of Douglas Evans, did not make much impact in 2014).  Such a character is not unknown in the American vernacular, however; he’s just more akin to others who have had their day, like those in the writings of John Updike and John Cheever.  All of the actors—part of Ivanov’s family and social circle–need mention, though, because of their stamina throughout the evening (three hours and ten minutes, performed in Russian with English surtitles) and the complexity of their performances: Viktor Verzhbitskiy, Igor Gordin, Natalya Pavlenkova, Dmitry Serdyuk, Alexander Novin, Marianna Shults, Olga Lapshina, Aleksey Kalinin, Ilya Orshanskiy, Irina Gordina, and Andrey Andreev

Oleg Golovko’s settings for the play also inadvertently recall the American 1970’s—his decor is at first heavy, unmatched patterns and drywall, perhaps brutalist, reminiscent of paneling and prefab, pre-Martha Stewart. Elsewhere he recreates a dacha lit by candlelight (and sparklers), a utilitarian doctor’s office devoid of personality, except overseen by a large kitschy painting of a German Shepherd, and the back room of a wedding hall—the amplified lighting, using fluorescents, is by Denis Solntsev. Chekhov shows that Ivanov is despondent (“When I’m depressed, I fall out of love with you”), but that seems like a bad excuse for his transgressions.  Audiences are not asked to ascertain a minimal production, though; a current, cost-effective mode. The cast has also apparently been given time to move beyond telegraphing and shortcuts, to think past the next line or plot point.  They work naturalistically to achieve independent characters, arriving at fullness: the condition of entropy just before chaos.  Whether the credit should be given to the actors or to the director, Timofey Kulyabin, or all, the emphasis rests on accumulations of behaviors, quite detailed. Examples include the twirling of a plate on a tabletop or clapping the hands of a partner in a birthday dance, or doing chin-ups, or kissing hands—the depth of specific touches may be missed by the audience and some might never be known.  Whether they have been improvised or consciously blocked, Stanislavski is noting them.

Evgeny Mironov’s appraisal of art as above politics registers with a purity to American ears who have come to believe that art is only politics.  Internationally, there is much to be learned regarding fine art from other cultures, beyond the American status quo.  Domestically, though, art is not politically balanced and has been appropriated propagandistically.  There is work to see, but the American theatremaker has largely been abandoned by the right—to the point where his or her art can be demonized, if it can even be visualized at all.  During the time of year where lists are compiled about winning dramatic works, accolades are one-sided and incomplete.  Theatre does not have a Regnery, the publisher of Conservative books, to provide any kind of balance.  To a liberal, that may come as a relief on different levels, but it does not show the world the true range of possibilities for finding our own Chekhov, no matter his or her political affiliation.  One way Americans can start to confront this matter, as the #MeToo Movement raises its voice, is to allow someone, like Jon Voight, who, incidentally, played Trigorin in The Seagull on Broadway, to be part of the Tony ceremonies next year.  Part of becoming nonpartisan regarding the arts–and coming to a reckoning with the past–is to acknowledge how partisan they actually are.  

Update, 6/18:  In an apparent answer to Robert De Niro’s Tony performance,  Chris Perez, in The New York Post reported, on June 18, that a Trump supporter tried to disrupt the curtain call of the musical Bronx Tale, directed by Mr. De Niro, on June 16, by standing to display a  Trump 2020 campaign flag.

© by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

(Photos by Sergei Petrov–from top: Ensemble;  l. to r. Chulpan Khamatova and Dmitry Serdyuk; Elizaveta Boyarskaya and Evgeny Mironov; Ivanov Evgeny Mironov at table.)