31 March 2009

Accidental Seabirds: A Play

The Cast:

Natural Forces, male or female
Thing One, youthful male or female
Thing Two, youthful male or female
A Blacksmith, male
Mom, adult female
Dad, adult male
Junior, adolescent male
Sis, adolescent female
Little Bit, female child
A Booming Voice, male or female
The Crowd, male and female
(certainly, some of these roles may be played by the same actors)

[Pitch black stage. The sounds of movement--whispers, scuffles--grow to become audible but not nearly overwhelming enough to demand attention. Lights snap full on to bare stage with NATURAL FORCES way off to the back at the side. S/he speaks.]


I am called Natural Forces and I will be hovering around the edges of things this evening. As you may recall from what you’ve called your educations, I am usually symbolically and always only dimly understood.

It is easier for your teachers to talk to you with puppets than to tell you the truth. They will tell you the sun is an orange in the sky and it is easier for you to conceive the sun an orange than otherwise. Your teachers will show you a few nuts and seeds; these will be called planets and set to turning around the orange sun. And it is fixed in your heads that you can imagine the solar system. There are so many people who think the sun is an orange surrounded by walnuts glued to thread and that is how they live.

They have shown you filmstrips about anthropomorphic subatomic particles, and have fixed in your heads the notions of emotive protons and neurons with subatomic attractions and repulsions and uncontrollable excitments and personal subatomic names on their subatomic sweaters. A molecule is conceived of as an arrangement of teeny weenie Styrofoam balls and toothpicks. And there is a glimmer in your heads of how the world is bent and stopped and started again every fraction of every instant and that glimmer is wrong.

There is no more comfortable way to see disease, the way in which the body falls apart to senselessness and rot, than to make it a cartoon, grimacing animunculus under Van Louenhook’s glass, little Disney germs in army helmets fighting against the little good guy germs of health and hygiene.

These illusions are better, make life much easier, than it would be facing the workings of my machinery. You may not perceive my motives; you are not equipped to see my consequences.


Anyway, ‘nuff said. Check it out.

[Music of some sort. Nothing cheesy--a small ensemble of woodwinds or a gamalon or talk radio tapes played backwards.

THE CROWD filters onto the stage and NATURAL FORCES blends in with their activity, is quickly lost from sight. THE CROWD works in a friendly, cooperative fashion to construct a modular set that, at first, resembles some sort of medieval village. As the set is quickly completed, THE CROWD begins to assume roles within the context of the actions to follow; i.e. in one sequence, a particular CROWD member may assume the role of cafe patron while the principals emote and strut and, in another sequence, slip into the role of policeman. Etc.

THE CROWD breaks into small groups and begins to arrange itself in the manner of townspeople--shopping, selling, gossiping.

Enter two youths wearing THING ONE and THING TWO sweatshirts.]


Oh, Thing Two. This whole Middle Ages stuff is absolutely terrible. I am getting absolutely, terribly sick and tired of alchemy and astrology. I ache for chemistry and astronomy. I need physics and biology. I want to read books written in a vernacular tongue. I want to grind lenses so that we can see some different things. I need to send and receive messages over great distances. I’m tired of talking to priests


I’d like to go to Italy and sit in the sun and invent a machine, a machine mind you, that could fly. I would use it to find Prestor John in his Asian kingdom. I would fly to Africa and see the palace of She Who Is To Be Obeyed. I would like to visit the moon.


Okay. That’s the idea. I think you’re on the right track. But rather than posit a future, I would rather take this time to dwell on the misery of the present.

You know. Cathedrals. Crusades. The Plagues. No cable. I really think we were born in the wrong century.


Oh, yes, Thing One, I must agree. If we had lived in the Age of Philosophy or with the Noble Romans, think how we might have flourished! Think what possibilities for change may have existed for us. With what we know now, we could have constructed Pliny’s zoological garden. With the machines I may invent from linen and bronze, we could collect the griffen and giraffalope and those little pygmy guys with one eye in their tummies. We could do it, Thing One. We really could.


Well, yeah. We could do that, too. But I thought more to think of things more new. To try to think of things not yet imaginable, to name a color unseen, to watch a sun blaze a dawn that is yet to be novaed into existence.

I was lamenting, Thing Two, our place in history when so much past and so much future weigh so heavily on this feeble slip called our present.

And we here, Thing Two, we rot in an Era of Closed Minds when change of any nature is viewed as heresy.


Or the future! When things untold exist yet still in the minds of men unborn. Some earthly heaven yet to be terrestrial. The future time when all humors become equal within the tides of men; when angels return to earth to guide our hands upon the plows of Utopia.

[A member of THE CROWD steps slightly forward to insinuate his role into the consciousness of the audience. Things like this should happen periodically throughout the play; i.e., it would not be untoward for a member of THE CROWD to go offstage to retrieve, open, and drink a beverage. However and for sure, this time, THE CROWD member steps forward to announce...]


I am a character in another play altogether written by a friend of the author of this play and his name, the guy who wrote the little play within a play that I am in, is named Perry Novelli. I don’t know what the name of the play within a play is but I am the Blacksmith. I have a little part and it goes something like this:

[clears throat; THING ONE and THING TWO have become secondary, at least, and tertiary if possible. They fade while the BLACKSMITH takes his place]

[music/chorus/revolutionary opera]

Turkey and ham
Turkey and ham
The wind don't grow no
Turkey and ham

[lather, rinse, repeat]

[THE CROWD retreats to pantomimed applause as THING ONE and THING TWO casually wander back to their prominent marks]


Ahem. Harumph.


Have you ever even thought about economics? I mean real economics, something beyond a tangible barter, something more than trading an animal’s skin for a bag of corn? About buying on credit? About the possibility of buying on a margin? About bankruptcy and rollovers and mergers and stock splits?

I’m just asking...

[THING TWO looks downright puzzled.]

And what about knowledge? What if everyone could read? What, Thing Two, if you can imagine, what if everyone could write? What new stories would we hear? What new languages would we learn? What kingdoms lie there dormant in those yeomen’s brains waiting to be structured and expressed through syntax? What empire of mind and soul is destined for some other aspirant’s grasp? And here we languish, dear Thing 2, in the Land of the Iron Sausage, under gentle dukedom’s hand, while even our poor local library has been sealed as tightly as the fists of our merchants and the knees of their glassy-eyed daughters.

[Some townspeople have begun to throw the two sidelong glances as the content of their conversation has become clear.]


Perhaps our mouths should mimic our fellows’ minds and fists and knees. This broadcast of such sentiments might quickly be misunderstood.


Hmm? Oh, piss on these, on these, on these...people!

[People have really started to notice now, have stopped what they are doing to listen, have even taken a few steps toward the two.]

Oh, God in Heaven, if only some wheel would turn; if only there did exist a lever and for that lever a fulcrum from which to start this dear world turning once again. And in which direction would such rolling take? I swear to you, Thing 2, that I would not care if this darkened rock climbed up toward some brighter light or teetered even further back toward the dung-heap from which it surely was once plucked. I wouldn’t give two snaps as long as we were moving.


I beg you stop this speculation and stop it in such a public manner in such a public place.

[THE CROWD is seriously interested in the conversation now and has begun to comment amongst itself. They mumble, “Peas and carrots. Peas and carrots.”]


If there could only be a cleansing rain, a deluge of baptismal waters--or, of fire, if needs be must--to wash or burn or somehow scour these rusted armors of idiocy from the limbs of the brains in our heads. I crave the giddy liquor of potential, of chance, of uncertainty, and of transformation! I would drink most deeply from the cup of he who would offer me an unfamiliar draught.


Would you just shut the fuck up....

[As THE CROWDbegins to move in a concerted and menacing manner toward THING ONE and THING TWO, NATURAL FORCES steps forward to high visibility.]


Pardon me; excuse me. The Mongol hordes are here.

[Stage goes to deep black. A single voice says “Oh, shit.” Again, there is the sound of shuffling. The lights slowly rise.]

[The village has been slightly modified and now looks more or less like a theme park. Fakiness is somehow emphasized, commercialism and product marketing can be reflected in the type and nature of visible advertising, souvenir-oriented “Shoppe” names, etc. Shopping type “musak” grows to an audible but unobtrusive level. THE CROWD settles into roles of park-goers, big animal characters, concessionaires, etc.]

[A family unit--DAD, MOM, SIS, JUNIOR, and LITTLE BIT enters. Costume cues should read tourist without screaming. Please no cliché Bermuda short, camera snapping, hideous sunglasses, etc. They are on vacation but they are more or less realistic.]


Okay? Where exactly are we now? Who’s got that map. The one with all the zones in different colors. What zone is this?

[MOM pulls LITTLE BIT closer to her side and begins to dab at the child’s face with a tissue.]



[LITTLE BIT emits muffled, whining grunts of discomfort and embarrassment.]


For Christ’s sake, who’s got the map? Junior? Come here, son.


I don’t know. I gave it to Sis.

[SIS is suddenly aware of the action and she freezes for an instant. Quickly though increasingly frantically, she inventories her pockets, bag, and immediate surroundings. No map.]

[quiet, yet extremely menacing.]

Goddamn it. I gave it to you. Come here, son.


Honest, Dad. I gave it to her and she said she’d give it back and she didn’t and it’s not my fault, Dad. Honest.

[MOM looks up sharply at the sound of her son’s urgency and glances at her eldest daughter. LITTLE BIT has turned stiff.]

[taking a hesitant few steps toward her father, a step back, another forward]

No, Dad. He’s right. It’s my fault. I used it to sit down on the curb and forgot to pick it up. I can get another.

[doesn’t turn around, still stares calmly at JUNIOR]

Stay out of this, missy. Now, son, where is the map I gave you?

[a gesture of reaching aborted; a glance at each of her children]


[as calmly as you please]

I said that all bitches should back the fuck off.

[They do, glancing at each other and at LITTLE BIT.]


No, dad, really, I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry dad oh please I’m sorry I’ll go get another one right now.

[Passersby have begun to notice that something is wrong with the scene but it is not clear what the tension the family generates might mean]


Frank? Please.


I asked you a question, son. Where’s the map?

[NATURAL FORCES emerges from amongst the other park-goers. She looks at the family, the rage on one face, the fear on another, the loathing both self- and otherwise upon another. She gestures first to the audience and then to the family itself, an introduction of sorts.]


An aneurysm, I think.

[S/he waves his/er finger around until it stops on MOM who drops like a rock, boom, as the lights go pitch black. A single voice says, “Whoa. Did you see that lady pass out?” More shuffling as the sets are once again modified. After a while, the small noises fade as the sound of rain rises. After sufficient duration, a lightning flash and a peal of thunder should startle everybody. The lights grow though only enough to simulate a dark, windy, rainy, thunderstorming night.]

[Dark. Wind. Rain. Thunder. And a figure against what we can now see is the parapet of a castle. Another figure carrying a flashlight or a lantern or a torch or something approaches from behind.]

[sotto voco]

Thing Two! Thing Two! Is that you?


Of course it is. Be quiet!


Thank God! I’ve been out here for hours.


Oh, Thing One, be serious. You’ve been out here for fifteen minutes at the very most.


Well, it sure seems a lot longer than what you just said.


Are you sure they’re asleep?


They were. If you keep making so much noise, they’ll probably wake up.


Okay,. okay. I’m sorry.

[They move together closer to the edge of the stage and off to one side.]


There, now. Do you feel any better.

[drawing his jacket or cloak or space blanket or what ever closer about himself]

Yeah. A little.


Okay. You start.


All right.

[pause; deep breath]

All right. I like to pull the plug on the bathtub but then stay inside laying as flat as I possibly can and feel the sensation as the water drains away and the temperature changes and the texture of the change between bath water and air feels heavy like the gravity that follows the waterline to surround my limbs again with their own weight.


Ooo. I like that. Do another. Do another.


Very well, but just one. I like it when I am far away from the ocean, miles inland, days inland, with no trace of salt mingled in the atmosphere and I see a gull. There, somewhere near some pile of garbage, to see an ocean bird...it’s like being two places at the same time. The sound the bird makes.


That was even better than the first. I like the ones about water. Do another one. Do another one with water in it.


No. It’s your turn. You do one now.


But you do them so well. I want to hear another of yours.


I think not.

[Lightning crashes and strikes THING TWO dead. The stage, of course and once again, goes pitch black.]


That’s it, you two. I want you back in bed and asleep in five minutes or I’m coming down there.

[Again and of course, there is the usual scuffling and shuffling. The sounds of set rearrangement, so familiar and so comforting, again insinuate themselves throughout the theater.]

[Eventually, the house lights go up and everyone (audience, actors, staff) goes home.]