Here are a couple of scenes from one of my plays, written a few years ago.
As the curtain opens, CHORUS enters and assumes position center stage. The stage lights are low, and a spot follows CHORUS. He pauses, looking off into the wings expectantly, then turns to the AUDIENCE.
CHORUS: Strangled by the definitive, in its last great hope, the word begins its slow descent. Alone, its sentence yet to be served in some once upon a future time, it crawls on scabbed and bloody knees to make its mark, to pass itself off as a living being.
As CHORUS is speaking, SELF enters from stage left and begins to circle curiously around him. When CHORUS is finished speaking, SELF begins, turned half to CHORUS and half to the AUDIENCE, within the circle of the spot on CHORUS.
SELF: You don’t begin to think about a noun until it verbs. Until and unless you see, notice, or run into a tree, does the tree have meaning or even existence? Likewise, unless you give yourself attention, do you exist or even matter? The hypocrisy of Hamlet’s church …
MAN (enters and walks across stage): “…its canon raised ‘gainst self-slaughter…”
CHORUS: A ha!
SELF: …lies in the fact that the church/state wants no one to take its birthright from it – its claim to ownership of self. Yet, once the individual begins to come into their own, to recognize that it has no debt to be repaid, no original sin, that is has worth in and of its self, separate and equal to its worth to the state, then the self’s usefulness to the Heavenly Host is no more. In fact, the self-martyred soul is a reproach. The church has failed, the walls of its Jericho crumbling onto its crimson-stained feet – feet marked with the stigmata from the shattered stained glass field where angels fear to tread. Indeed, as may be surmised, Judas was the only disciple strong enough to serve the Messiah as was required.
MAN: Let ye be judged in the last days by your works!
SELF: By your verbs, in other words – by the motion in your sentence.
CHORUS: Only the verb “to be” has not definable action. If I am “being” a tree, what action is taken? What visible, outward action, that is?
During SELF’s last monologue, the stage lights have come up slowly. MEMORY enters, slowly, twirling around and self-absorbed. She bumps into CHORUS, who has not seen her approach. They both jump, startled.
MEMORY: Am I a tree?
CHORUS: Don’t you remember?
MEMORY: I am not what is, you know, only what has been.
SELF: The ticking clock slows with being, its senses dulled into ecstasy. Ecstasy! That mud-brown nightingale song that completes itself in the ending of the sermon, while Father Status Quo (and the Buddha) languish speechlessly in the corner, cracked lips foaming with a murmur.
MAN: Love me, tinder box; strike your match against my heart, and level this body-house of nothingness and false promise to ashes!
CHILD comes skipping across the stage, singing. His song begins before he is seen on-stage and ends after he has left it.
CHILD (singing and skipping): Sixpence, sixpence, a pocket full of rye / Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie / When the pie was opened the birds began to sing / Wasn’t that a lovely dish to set before the King?
CHORUS turns to look wistfully at the child, now off-stage, then looks off into the distance beyond the
CHORUS: Oh, you of four-and-twenty, youthful and exuberant, sing from beyond your graves! You blackbirds and ravens, crows with harsh croaking laughter, feed upon the corpse of your grandfather’s memory, taunting the kings of this world to turn you into pastry filling or cannon fodder, and thereby preserve your immortality through their churning bellies. The goldfish and the rabbit will devour their young to prevent them from experiencing their own fear and sin. Like the jackrabbit confronted with the unknown, we absorb the unborn into our own flesh before they are free from the womb. Indigestion is the prize of parenthood, its glory. What mother doesn’t yearn to wake the sleepless night with her cry!
WOMAN (from the side of the stage): My children, now departed, how you cause your source to suffer! How you feed my disappointment with your merciless beaks and ungrateful claws!
CHORUS: While her haggard, tear-stained cheeks are illuminated by the light of a candle forged from the tallow of the tender babe’s flesh! Rise, oh mothers, and drink your purgative forgetfulness! Remember not the cries of youth that broke the morning still of your husband’s table when first you thrust in the knife! The first wound: Responsibility. The second: Conformity. The third: Obedience. The fourth, and most hurtful: Respectability.
MEMORY slips quietly beside CHORUS and begins to speak softly and firmly.
MEMORY: The dream of history is a wellspring of amnesia. Drink deep, then, oh mothers, from the fountain of continual youth – let the waters from this well smooth the worry-lines from your ancient eyes and gift you the illusion of endless childhood. For if you yourselves are newborns, there is no need for history, its hard lessons and the hateful memory of your own evils. Age without sign, and reap your just desserts, content and smug in Housman’s temple …
WOMAN (quietly, reverently): “..Alone and afraid – in a world we haven’t made …”
CHORUS: Feeble senility in your conquering smile.
WOMAN begins to weep; she moans, grieving.
WOMAN: I was right all along! After all I’ve done for them, they leave me alone to die. I am vindicated in my sorrow – there is no justice in this world! Woe is me!
CHORUS (to AUDIENCE): Justice? Oh, mother, let your moral view of justice perish and return to the dust made mud from your children’s tears! Let it end with you, return it to the bosom of your martyred prophets, where it may seep and burrow into the rotting flesh of your Heaven like maggots into an unwashed bowl of half-eaten soup. It is not the times, perhaps Godless and slipping headlong into change though they may be, dear Matriarch, nor the decay of civilization, unless you consider the time from birth part of the cycle of decay. It is civilization itself, now sprawling beyond its cradle-cage, gangly-limbed and clumsy, the globe that once hung peacefully spinning above its infant head crushed in between two sets of curious and grubby fingers. It is your own child that grips your heart with fear, mortifying you as it grasps your wrinkling hand with its miniature clamp, greedy and unable to voice its true needs with its untrained voice. Through the centuries you have watched it grow, first to cut its teeth upon your suckling breast, then to throw its gruel upon the walls and murmur satisfied to itself, as the thin paste you mixed together to hold its sides in stretched floorward to the threshold where conception was begun. ‘Tis a shame you never coaxed it to speak except in cooing, slobbering nonsense intended to quiet its inquisitive mind. Now you marvel, aghast, as its tongue begins to work against temporary teeth and from the words it learned from the milk and its maker …
INFANT: No! Want that! Me, me, me!
CHORUS: And more, the reproachful, sly drool of …
INFANT (slowly, sweetly): Ma ma.
CHILD enters quietly from offstage and stands looking at WOMAN.
CHILD: Each child knows well the face hidden behind the mask of its executioner. At four-and-twenty, the young rebel whispers …
MAN (in a hoarse whisper): Mother!
CHORUS: As the rope stretches his neck and the hangman’s daughter lets him through her trapbox into the pleasures of her timeless womb.
WOMAN (weeping, yet smiling triumphantly): He was a good boy – always thinking of his mother.
CHILD: Yes, mother, with every waking breath …
MEMORY: …and every inhaled dream…
SELF: …and every exhaled ejaculation!
CHORUS: So we confront the mother with her sin at the breakfast table, in the presence of her husband. For the king, the father, the government, is constantly in need of the service of his wife, the Mother Church. When the king becomes apostate and turns to the charms and beckoning void of the harlot Godlessness (or Freedom), when he realizes that the ring holding his hand, the band that chafes at his sex when he takes matters into his own hand for a brief moment of peace, is held in place by the cement that once was gruel sticking to his ribs, then he becomes desolate and angry. With this anger and the seed of his life, he takes his wife, Religion, and breeds sleep’s tiny monsters. For if the mother’s crime is amnesia, the father’s is a lack of wakefulness. Where the mother forgets, the father sleeps.
FATHER and CHILD: The king is in his counting house / Counting out his money …
MOTHER and CHILD: The queen is in the parlor / Eating bread and honey.
CHORUS: But the father does not know where the money comes from, and in fact has no idea where it goes. He rises each morning, sleepwalking through meals and traffic and endless transactions, paying little regard to the consequences and even less to the promises he made his wife.
MEMORY: Promises she only pretends to have forgotten.
CHORUS: She is married to a ghost, and only allows their union to produce children, since she knows he will not recognize them as his own. She knows the children belong to her, a hateful legacy that will provide her with little but an excuse to be forgotten.
SELF: Heaven on earth is the last thing a parent wants. To perpetuate the myth is the sole desire; and yet, the truth will out, as evidenced in our prayer …
MOTHER, FATHER, CHILD and INFANT: Our Father, who Art in Heaven.
CHORUS: In the Heaven of dreams that is sleep, the King can remember the knife of his own mother, and slip beyond the chains of respectability to which she has him consigned. The King, his pocket full of rye, sleeps on. How else could the stepmother of his children, the harlot Religion and her ill-favored breed of Churches, torture his true children and fear no reprisals from the court of his Reason?
All exeunt quickly except CHORUS, who lingers for a moment after the others have left, then spins on his heel and slowly exits stage right as the stage lights fade to black.
ACT ONE: MOTHER NATURE & FATHER TIME
Scene 1 – The Shoe Drops in For Tea
A downtown apartment.
MAN, WOMAN and CHORUS are sitting casually around the room, in chairs and on the sofa. They hold drinks, and a bowl of pretzels is present on a coffee table conveniently located between them. MEMORY, SELF and CHILD are leaning against the backs of chairs and the sofa. MAN and WOMAN do not notice their presence, but each time they speak, CHORUS tilts his head to listen.
MAN: My earliest memory? Let’s see – oh, yes! I was hungry …
SELF: Lost in a world of overwhelming light and sound!
MAN (continuing as if not interrupted): …and wondering where I could find the pantry.
MAN looks at WOMAN, leeringly. WOMAN turns her head and looks to CHORUS.
WOMAN: He’s like that, you know. I often wonder how his mother put up with him, always thinking of the dirty joke in everything.
CHORUS (takes a drink and sits back, thoughtfully, then speaks to AUDIENCE): Already, they’re disagreeing. Masks within masks, the bear and the honeypot, the bee and the hive, the arrow and the bullseye …
MAN (continuing his conversation with WOMAN): Actually, I’ve never really thought about it.
CHORUS: Ah, for the simple bliss of childhood! All your needs seen to, a place to slee
p and laugh and explore, regular meals, the warmth of mother’s naked breast.
CHILD: A cage! An uncoordinated tongue! The warmth of shit!
INFANT walks on-stage and takes CHILD’s hand.
INFANT: It will be all right, you’ll see. Somehow, the tongue will learn to move against these gums and I will learn to push the air from my lungs. The words will come soon enough …
CHORUS: And with them, identity.
MEMORY: And with that, pride.
SELF: And with that, loneliness.
MAN (talking as if he enjoys the sound of his own voice): I think the most important thing a man can do is stand up for what he believes in. Pride, damn it! That’s what’s missing from people these days. Anyone with an ounce of backbone would be fighting mad to see the shape the world’s in right now – and I’m not just talking war, and poverty, and all this crime and whatever else you see when you turn on the tube! It’s a spiritual crisis, you know. There’s no sense of dignity left a man at the end of the day. He comes home, tired, fed up with the rat race, and does he get sympathy and understanding? No!
WOMAN stands up and goes to the door, opening it as SHADOW comes in.
WOMAN: How was your day, dear?
SHADOW walks past, ignoring her, takes off his cloak and hangs it behind the door. He walks over to the chair where CHORUS is sitting, and sits down after CHORUS hastily gets out of the way. Once seated,
SHADOW closes his eyes and goes to sleep.
WOMAN (speaking to CHORUS): Just like his father!
CHORUS (inquisitively): Isn’t that what you wanted?
As WOMAN begins to speak, MAN crosses and exits out the apartment door, closing it behind him.
WOMAN (looks longingly after MAN exiting, then turns indignantly to CHORUS): No! Not at all! That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, you know. There’s supposed to be communication and common interests and life goals and shared experiences and …
SELF (shouts joyfully): Joy!
There is a knock on the apartment door. WOMAN goes to answer it. As she opens it, MAN enters, takes her in his arms, and gives her a kiss.
MAN: I’m so glad you’re home!
MAN (excitedly, out of breath): I forgot my keys at the office – but that’s not why I’m glad. Let me tell you what just happened! You’re not going to believe it …
As they turn from the door and walk to the couch, arms around each other’s waist, the lights begin to dim. MAN and WOMAN sit on the couch and pantomime talking excitedly to each other, as CHORUS steps to the front of the stage and addresses the AUDIENCE.
CHORUS: But the real man sleeps, his life a shadow world. Pride? The revenge of shame. His frantic longing for peace keeps his nose to the grindstone. He thinks the world owes him a living, sometimes – and her? When she asks about his day, she doesn’t want to know. What’s there to know about that? She hears him snoring at night, his breath caught in his throat, fighting to escape the mortal coil his lack of faith won’t let him see beyond.
MEMORY: I won’t let her remember any more…
CHORUS: Deny your self, the voices scream – from the television and movie halls, from the covers of magazines! You cannot keep fighting, the priests and the charlatans both recommend. There is nothing to do but surrender and smile.
SHADOW (rising from his chair, eyes still closed, he reaches blindly for CHORUS): There is nothing to be afraid of!
SELF: There is the lack of everything.
All lights to black. All exeunt, quietly.
Scene 2 – Nature vs. Nurture
The same apartment as in Scene 1, except the chairs and couch are arranged to resemble a psychologist’s home office. SHADOW is seated with a pad of paper and pen, writing, and MAN is reclined on the sofa.
SHADOW: What is it I can help you with?
MAN: I feel sometimes as if my life is not my own. I have trouble keeping track of money, and being organized – but I feel it’s all tied in with a lack of self-esteem and low self-confidence…in fact, I seem to have lost my sense of self altogether …
SHADOW nods, making notations on his pad, but says nothing. After a brief silence, MAN continues speaking.
MAN: And I’m sure it’s all tied together somehow. I feel as if I’m sleepwalking through life, as if it’s just passing me by, and I just can’t seem to jump on, you know.
SHADOW: You say that you feel lost, and at the same time, that you’ve got no self-esteem. Hmmm…and yet, when you talk, it’s like you find it amusing, in a way, like you’re above it, looking at yourself like an observer. Your mind is in complete control, and it is telling you it is who you are. You’re not, you know. The you that you are is not your mind, not your body. You have a mind and a body, but you are not your mind, not your body.
SHADOW: In fact, and I’m just picking up on this now, you know, you’re whole attitude is one of smugness, of knowing, intellectually, that is …
MAN: I consider myself an intellectual snob.
MAN gives a short laugh.
SHADOW (laughs, then speaks seriously): Yes, I think you do. If I had a checklist, though, and intellectual snob was listed, I would check ‘proud’ rather than ‘ashamed’ or ‘saddened.’
MAN: That’s right.
SHADOW: An intellectual snob, and proud of it, by God. That’s your mind talking. It has convinced you that it is all there is to you…and that can take you to a certain point, but no further. Now you’re beginning to see that the world it has created for you is falling apart, coming in at the seams, so to speak. You’re confused, because you can’t operate without the masks your mind has built for you to stand behind. I would venture to say you’ve never finished anything – is that correct?
MAN (sadly): That’s right.
SHADOW: I’d like to try to little experiment, if it’s OK with you. I’d like to try to get you to relax, to let down your shields a bit – to notice a little of the nothing that’s going on all around you.
SHADOW: I’d like you to sit comfortably, as symmetrically as you can – wait, why don’t you sit in this chair here by me. You’ll be much more comfortable.
MAN gets up from the sofa and goes to sit in the chair next to SHADOW. SHADOW turns his chair to face MAN. As MAN sits up in the chair, hands on his knees, SHADOW begins speaking slowly and calmly.
SHADOW: Now, close your eyes and relax. Breathe normally, and listen to the sound of my voice. This is just relaxation – I’m not going to deep trance you or anything of that nature. Just relax and enjoy the exercise.
As SHADOW beings the next monologue, he gets up slowly and quietly from the chair and goes over and lies down on the sofa, still speaking gently and calmly.
SHADOW: There. Now feel your skin. Let it relax. If you can, relax your eyes, keeping them closed but quiet. Now feel your neck and shoulders. Let them hang loose and relaxed, the tightness slipping away. Let that warm relaxation move to your chest, your belly. Relax your belly, your genitals, your anus, your legs. Breathe slowly, quietly, surely…there is nothing to do…nowhere to go…no one to see…
SHADOW relaxes into the sofa, closing his eyes as MAN breathes slowly and deeply. They sit in silence for a minute or so, then MAN sits up and peers intently at SHADOW.
MAN (in the role of the analyst): Tell me about your childhood.
SHADOW: Well, my father was a strong-willed man. He ran the house with an iron fist, so to speak. There were two ways of doing things – the wrong way, and his way.’
MAN (pantomiming note-taking): I see – and your mother?
SHADOW: She was quiet and subdued – well, that’s not entirely true. I suppose one would like to say she lived a life of “quiet desperation” in submission to the will of my father, but that’s not the way it was. She was controlling, negative, always look to stir up …
MAN (interrupting): To stir up – feelings?
SHADOW (annoyed at the interruption, continues): Yes – but that’s off the point entirely. I always felt like my father was a loose cannon, unpredictable – almost out of control. One minute he’d be jovial and laughing, and next minute – crack! That slap to the face or bellow that scared the shit out of me.
MAN: Was there physical violence?
SHADOW: Yes. I was beaten for minor infractions as well as larger ones. But the physical pain was never as bad as the threat of violence. It was a world of non-reality, I suppose. I’ve often said I learned not to lie because the beatings would come whether I lied or told the truth. It made no difference, so why not tell the truth? It required less cleverness, less thought, less intelligence to be truthful.
MAN: Do you think Truth is a relative term? That it changes depending on the situation or circumstance?
SHADOW: I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to think about it as a constant, unchanging thing…a beacon of light in an otherwise clouded and dark world.
SHADOW gets up from the sofa and returns to his chair and begins taking notes on his pad. As he begins speaking, MAN resumes his relaxed position, hands on knees, closed eyes. SHADOW begins to speak in a slow, calming manner. As he begins, CHORUS enters from stage right and takes a position at the edge of upstage right, listening to the conversation between the other two and nodding thoughtfully.
SHADOW: Now, once more. Take another breath, whenever you’re ready, even deeper than the last one. Slowly take in the air and as you exhale, relax your eyes, tongue and belly. Then, when you’re finished, open your eyes and come back. Take as much time as you need.
CHORUS (speaking as lights fade on MAN and SHADOW): You want to learn about someone else’s personal problems, their solutions, their failures and victories? Try analysis. The best way to find out what you’re not, of course, is to ask yourself what you are. Want to find your best qualities? Ask someone else – your boss, your ex-lovers, your parent, your brothers and sisters.
MEMORY enters from stage left and takes a position at the edge of upstage left, turned half to the
AUDIENCE and half to CHORUS.
MEMORY: I suppose people you are orally-fixated, who fantasize about their mothers, who want to kill their fathers, who operate at best at the gut level all want to become Freud …
CHORUS: And those that dream of commonality, of archetypes and fairy tales, symbols and chakras split from Vienna and move to Zurich. But the truth is, archetypes and common mythologies aside, all that Freud really explained was the way that Freud’s mind worked. All that any psychological or psychiatric theory unravels is the mind of its creator – and the mind is not in control. There is no such thing as control. There is no “out of control.” There just is. Further, one might go so far as to say that people who say you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution are part of the problem.
CHILD enters through the door of the apartment and walks slowly to front center stage. As he passes SHADOW and MAN sitting in the darkness, he turns to smile gently at each one, then as he reaches front center stage, looks out at the AUDIENCE, laughs joyfully and begins to speak.
CHILD: We experience each other experiencing each other. We experience the experience of the other experiencing us experiencing them. We experience the experience of the other experiencing our experience of them experiencing us experiencing our experience of their experience of …
CHILD suddenly starts laughing, giggling, aware of the continuing loop of his own statem
CHILD: Humpty dumpty sat on a wall …
CHORUS: But he wasn’t just sitting idly watching the world go by. He was sitting, catching his breath, after having climbed out of the castle he found himself inside. The walls of his perception, of his experience, of his education …
CHILD: Humpty dumpty had a great fall …
MEMORY: And suddenly, seeing the world outside, on the other side of the wall, he realized that once on the other side, he was no longer safe, no longer sane …
CHORUS: According to popular belief.
CHILD: And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men …
MEMORY: Our dreams and heroes, the unicorns and knights, the saviors and saints.
CHORUS: The recollected justifications of the conqueror.
CHILD and MEMORY exit. All stage lights to black. A spot comes up on CHORUS.
CHORUS: Indeed. Once the individual loses its sense of self-importance, it becomes …
ALL CHARACTERS except CHORUS, from offstage: Unique but not special!
CHORUS: Once the man-boy, woman-girl, child-infant can see that it is what it is because the mind passes judgment on what it is not, then the self is free to be itself, to be nothing, to be everything. There is an end to endings.
Spot goes to black. CHORUS exits stage left.