E. Y. Smith’s work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and Thoughtful Dog and is forthcoming in The East Bay Review.
Ariella Carmell is a third-year student and writer at the University of Chicago. She has had prose and poetry published in Maudlin House, Spry, Words Dance, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Souvenir, Cleaver Magazine, Burningword, Alexandria Quarterly, and other places. In the past, she has also been named a 2014 Foyle Commended Poet of the Year and a 2015 and 2016 winner of the Blank Theatre Young Playwrights Festival.
Emma Johnson-Rivard is a Masters student at Hamline University. She received her undergraduate degree in Film Studies at Smith College in Massachusetts and currently lives in Minnesota with her dogs and far too many books. Her work has appeared in Mistake House, Moon City Review, and the Santa Ana River Review.
Rachel Joseph’s short stories and plays are published in journals ranging from North American Review to Kenyon Review Online. Her novella “The Man in the Trees” was a shortlisted finalist for the William Faulkner-William Wisdom competition. Additionally, she was a finalist for the 2017 Arts & Letters Drama Prize, a semi-finalist for the 2017 Elixir Press Fiction Award, and a finalist for the Black Lawrence Press 2017 Hudson Prize. She is an assistant professor at Trinity University.Joseph_Oh_wondrous_day_submission
Mark Burrow is a writer from the UK. His work has appeared in various publications in England, Ireland, the US, and in the French Riviera-based Côte Poets magazines.Transformation Perfection M L Burrow November 2017 edit
Singer Joy is a playwright and composer who splits her time between New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Singer has produced her own written work for the stage independently and the Sacred Circle Theater Company. Singer has also written music for stage productions.
L.A. Play is a movement-and-poetry piece inspired by Los Angeles flora.
Monet Hurst-Mendoza is an accomplished NYC-based playwright from LA. Rising Circle Theater Collective, Looking Glass Theatre (NYC), Amios, Playwright’s Playground at Classical Theatre of Harlem, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and many others have developed her plays. She is a current member of the 2017 Emerging Writers Group at The Public Theater and is a 2016-2018 Van Lier Fellow at New Dramatists. Monet was a 2014-2016 WP Theater Lab Time Warner Foundation Fellow and has held residencies with The Other Mirror, The MITTEN Lab, and SPACE on Ryder Farm.
Hurst-Mendoza debuted her play, Veil’d, at the Astoria Performing Arts Center in November. Just before the premiere, Hurst-Mendoza spoke with The Brooklyn Review’s Cherry Lou Sy about playwriting, Veil’d, fighting xenophobia in the age of Trump, pie, and the Dodgers. An excerpt from Veil’d follows.
Cherry Lou Sy: Why theatre? Why are you so passionate about it?
Monet Hurst-Mendoza: I am passionate about theatre because it is an in-your-face, moment-to-moment experience that can’t be replicated the same way twice. Theatre can be entertaining, but it can also call for brutal honesty and introspection. I love that theatre can be a political act just by its existence. But what compels me most about theatre is that it is a communal gathering, at once vivid, volatile, and necessary — and it can spark inspiration that can change the course of someone’s life.
CLS: What would you like people to know about you?
MHM: I love to bake pies, but I rarely ever eat a pie I’ve made myself. I really revel in the baking process and then enjoy watching others eat this dessert I’ve made with my own two hands. I guess it’s very similar to playwriting.
CLS: What do you think makes a “good” play?
MHM: I always say, “I know it’s a good play if I’m afraid to show it to my grandmother.”
CLS: You’ve had so much success with developmental programs in NYC: the Van Lier at New Dramatists, the Public’s Emerging Writer’s Group, and the WP Playwright Lab, to name a few. How were these programs helpful to you as an artist? Do you have any advice to other playwrights who would like to apply?
MHM: I’ve been very fortunate to have been admitted to these wonderful programs — I absolutely think they’ve helped me grow as an artist. Each group is unique, but they have all provided me with a sense of community that I think is so vital to what we do.
Artists need other artists to survive. Community provides opportunities and a wealth of resources you may not have previously had access to.
I got in to all of the fellowships I’ve been accepted to after several rounds of denials. When you’re starting out, it can feel like you have to apply for everything all the time. You don’t have to put that momentous pressure on yourself, That is absurd.
I constantly have to remind myself that it’s better to submit a quality application than a rushed one, and that it’s okay to wait to apply if I don’t have a play or personal statement (hate those) that is quite ready for what is being asked for in the application guidelines. Keep working, keep marinating, and set a goal to apply the following round. If you’re passionate about a program and you get denied, keep reapplying for as long as you deem it useful to you. In the meantime, find opportunities to create work and build community close to home. Start your own writer’s group, participate in one-off play festivals, etc. Stay tenacious — you got this.
CLS: Congratulations on Veil’d, your world premier production at Astoria Performing Arts Center in New York. Why is this work important now?
MHM: Thank you! I thought the production was very exciting. Veil’d was the first full-length play I ever wrote, so it’s poetic that it was also my first world-premiere.
The play is a modern-day twist on the Rapunzel fairy tale. It focuses on an Afghani couple that immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan at the height of Taliban rule to create a new life for themselves. After difficulty conceiving, they gave birth to a daughter, Dima, with a rare allergic reaction to the sun. As a result of her illness, the young girl becomes more sheltered and finds safety and comfort in wearing her mother’s old burqa. Though her parents worry about her future and are dismayed at her choice to wear the burqa, as it symbolizes the life they escaped, we as the audience get to watch how Dima grows into young adulthood with the help of some secret friends.
As much as this play is about first love, friendship, and self-actualization, it also examines what it means to be an American in today’s climate. Trump’s Muslim Ban is just one of numerous examples of the caustic effects of xenophobia that impacts the lives of many wonderful people in our communities. That is not the America I want to live in. So, as a playwright, I pick up my pen to engender understanding, hope, and empathy through truth in my storytelling. During our rehearsal process, we emphasized the importance of upholding the narrative of a Middle Eastern family that was not rooted in fear, judgment, or alienation. The Mansour family is just like any other you might encounter, grappling with questions of parenting and identity as they work to create the stability and happiness we as Americans promote and strive for. If the American dream is meant to belong to all, then it is our responsibility to set places at the table for everyone.
CLS: Can you talk about one defining moment that influenced you as an artist?
MHM: I saw Soho Rep’s production of Blasted by Sarah Kane in college. Sarah Benson exquisitely directed the production. I rushed an evening performance without having any knowledge of the play beforehand, except that it came highly recommended by my playwriting teacher. I was seated in the front row, which was a really intense seat location for Blasted. There is a moment in the play where the setting of the first scene, a nice hotel room, collapses. When it happened, a piece of prop ice from a champagne bucket hit my foot. After that, I knew this play wouldn’t be like anything I had ever experienced before. After the show was over, I was shaking, inspired, and in tears; I couldn’t physically move from my chair. That play, that production, changed my entire perspective of what theatricality is and can be. It blew my mind.
CLS: Anything else you might want to add?
MHM: I’m a Dodgers fan so I gotta shout out my boys for all the hard work they put in this past season. #GoBlue
Read an excerpt of Veil’d here: Veil'd
The Psychedelic Tragedy of the Donner Party
The Five of Coins
(Gale-force winds blow, swallowing sound and blasting snow across rock. Everything is an endless field of white.)
(From the whiteness emerge a few dark shapes. They yell at each other.)
Stanton: I CAN’T SEE!
Stanton: I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING!
Eddy: I CAN’T HEAR YOU!
Luisa: We should find shelter.
Eddy: WE NEED TO FIND SHELTER!
Luisa: THE TREES!
(The gaggle of shapes ducks behind a thick grove of trees and bushes.)
Eddy: Stanton, where is the path?
Stanton: I can’t . . . I don’t . . .
Eddy: Charles, we’re relying on you! Look, man! Look!
Stanton: I CAN’T SEE!
Margret: Oh dear.
Stanton: I think I’ve gone blind!
Luisa: Snowblindness. It comes of staring into the snow.
Stanton: Am I blind? Tell me I’m not blind.
Luisa: It will pass.
Stanton: Thank the Lord above.
Eddy: Luisa, where are we?
(Luisa stares into the white for a moment. She shakes her head.)
Eddy: You don’t know?
Luisa: Can you see the path?
(Eddy looks around the trees. He cannot see the path.)
Eddy: Well I’ve never come this way.
Sarah: Perhaps we should camp here.
Eddy: No, we press on. The storm will blow over.
Sarah: Did it send you a letter detailing its plans?
Eddy: It should be obvious to anyone with eyes!
Sarah: Which at the moment excludes our guide.
Stanton: Luisa knows the way.
Stanton: I can walk.
Luisa: The storm will not soon pass. It is not wise.
Eddy: Is it wiser to freeze to death in this shrub?
Margret: Mr. Eddy, please. We cannot continue. I cannot continue!
Eddy: Fine. Fine! Let’s all freeze.
(They shiver for a moment. Then Luisa reaches out and holds Stanton to her. The others see this, and one by one, join the pile. Eddy stays on the sidelines until Margret reaches out and brings him in. They huddle together, shivering as one while the wind picks up.)
(The gusting wind blows Landrum through the entrance of the Graves-Reed cabin, where a cozy fire flickers gently.)
Virginia: Landrum! What are you doing here?
Landrum: Oh, whew, I just, uh, I just – had some found some jerky at the bottom of my bag, I thought you might be hungry or…
Landrum: Oh, well, uh, here you go.
Virginia: Thank you. (She eats.) Share with me?
Landrum: I really should make my way back, Mother gets a / little sharp when it rains
Virginia: In this? You can’t walk home in this.
(The wind blows like it means something serious.)
Landrum: Well. . .
Virginia: Sit. Eat with me.
Landrum: For a minute. Maybe.
(They sit and eat.)
Virginia: You’re so nice.
Landrum: It’s just . . . It’s not really . . . I said I’d look out for you.
Virginia: People say things all the time.
Landrum: I don’t.
Virginia: How’d you get so nice?
Landrum: I’m not . . . I don’t think I’m . . .
Virginia: You are.
Virginia: You’re going to find the prettiest wife in all California.
Virginia: When we get there. The girls will swoon!
Landrum: Oh. Right. Yes. (Pause.) Swooning is good, right?
Virginia: Yes, silly.
Landrum: Oh. Yes. They’ll swoon.
(Virginia sighs and lays back.)
Landrum: . . . What are you going to do when we get to California?
Virginia: Well, first I’m going to become a Catholic.
Landrum: . . . .Really?
Virginia: Because! I’ve been praying, like you taught me, and I like it. It’s fun.
Virginia: You don’t believe me?
Landrum: No, I believe you.
Virginia: I’ll swear to you, right now. I’ll swear on my life.
Landrum: You don’t need to do that.
Virginia: I want to. Okay – If God sees us out of this place alive, I swear I will become a Catholic and be one until the day I die.
Landrum: Wow. Okay.
Virginia: So first, I’ll become a Catholic. And then I’ll probably get married.
Landrum: . . . Right away?
Virginia: I don’t know. Maybe.
Landrum: That’s . . . who are you going to marry?
Virginia: Someone strong. And handsome.
Landrum: But . . . right now?
Virginia: Well, not now, dummy, but soon.
Landrum: Do you know what happens when you get married?
Virginia: I know what happens.
(From beneath a massive pile of snow, Margret Reed awakens with a gasp.)
Margret: . . . Is it Christmas!?
(The pile stirs, slowly.)
Margret: Sarah! Sarah, is it Christmas yet?
(One by one, the snowshoers pop their heads out of the pile.)
Margret: I’ve been saving something special for the children. For Christmas. Is it Christmas?
(The snowshoers look at each other. No one knows if it’s Christmas.)
Sarah: I don’t know.
Margret: Oh please, I have to know – someone must know!
Stanton: . . . Christmas is tomorrow, Mrs. Reed.
Margret: Oh thank you, Mr. Stanton. We’ll finally have a proper meal.
Sarah: Margret . . . we ran out of food three days ago.
Margret: No no, I’ve been saving some for Christmas.
Sarah: What? Where?
Margret: It’s right here. I’ve got rice, beans, some dried apples, a bit of tripe, oh, and bacon . . .
(Margret digs in her pack. She finds no food.)
Margret: Or . . . it was . . .
Sarah: Do you know where you are?
Margret: . . . No.
Eddy: You and the rest of us alike .
Sarah: We’re in the mountains. We’re on our way to Sutter’s Fort.
Margret: No no. This is all wrong. I’m not supposed to be here. I’m so sorry, Sarah. I lied to you. I didn’t mean to lie.
Sarah: What are you talking about?
Margret: I must be with my family on Christmas. I’m going back.
Eddy: That’s preposterous.
Sarah: You’ll never make it. The cabins are days – weeks – away, and how will you find the path?
Margret: I’ll follow my children’s voices.
Sarah: Margret. I fear you have taken leave of your senses.
Margret: Godspeed Sarah, all of you. I hope to see you again one day.
(Margret turns and walks into the snow.)
Guide: Christmas came, and the last morsels of preserved food left at the cabins – a handful of beans, two dried apples, a half-cup of rice, a bit of tripe, and three strips of bacon – were boiled into a stew for the children to enjoy. Those who partook later described it as an extraordinary feast, an unforgettable oasis amidst the endless freezing desert of that winter.
(In the Graves-Reed cabin, Tamzene Donner huddles over a pot, stirring and humming a little Christmas tune. Virginia and Landrum sit next to it, barely able to contain their anticipation.)
Virginia: You’re drooling.
(He sucks some drool back into his mouth.)
Tamzene: It’s almost ready.
Landrum: Mrs. Donner, how can I ever thank you?
Tamzene: Oh, don’t thank me, thank Virginia’s mother.
Virginia: If you ever get the chance.
Tamzene: Come now. You’ll see her again.
Landrum: Didn’t you tell me those prayers were working?
Tamzene: That’s the spirit. Trust in the Lord’s grace. He works in mysterious ways.
Keseberg: I must disagree, Mrs. Donner.
(They all start. Virginia squeaks a little. In the entrance stands Lewis Keseberg, a tall, severe, expressionless man with hollow eyes. He speaks with a German accent.)
Tamzene: Mr. Keseberg. What a pleasant surprise to see you up and ambulatory. How fares your foot?
Keseberg: Poorly. I think I am going to cut it off.
Keseberg: It will make a fine stew.
(Silence. Keseberg enters the cabin, limping. With difficulty, he begins to sit.)
Tamzene: . . . Yes, please join us. What brings you around, Mr. Keseberg?
Keseberg: Merely the hope of some good Christmas company.
Tamzene: Well, who could deny such a hope? Merry Christmas to you.
Keseberg: And a Merry Christmas to you, Mrs. Donner, Virginia, um. . .
Landrum: Landrum. Murphy.
Keseberg: Merry Christmas, Landrum Murphy.
(They sit in silence for a moment. The pot bubbles. Landrum coughs.)
Virginia: Back in Illinois, we sang songs on Christmas.
Tamzene: That’s lovely, Virginia. Would you like to sing one for us now?
Virginia: I don’t . . . I don’t remember the words. Papa always knew them best.
Landrum: Well see, he’s not so bad, is he?
Tamzene: What about you, Landrum?
Landrum: Oh, um, I don’t know any songs.
Virginia: Did you never sing on Christmas?
Landrum: We sang at mass. My father never liked us singing at home. He used to say it upset his ears.
Virginia: What was wrong with his ears?
Landrum: Nothing, Ginny. Nothing was wrong with his ears.
Tamzene: What of you, Mr. Keseberg? Do you know any Christmas songs?
Tamzene: Would you share it with us?
(He begins to sing “Silent Night” in German. His voice is surprisingly clear.)
Keseberg: Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!
(As the others realize what he’s singing, some join in, either with the English words in bits and pieces, or else humming. Together, they sound pretty decent.)
(The wind picks up in the mountains. The snowshoers huddle together, trudging over the deepening snow. Sarah and Eddy hold Margret between them.)
Margret: Can’t you hear that? James is leading the children in Christmas carols. Oh, he so loves to sing. Sarah! Let me go to them! Please, I must be with my family!
Eddy: How long is she going to keep this up?
Sarah: Your guess is as good as mine.
Margret: Oh, and now James is lighting the fire. The glazed duck is nearly finished. And the gifts! Virginia doesn’t know that James got her a pony of her very own. It’s waiting out in –
(Stanton collapses in the snow. The others rush to him.)
Luisa: Stanton. Stanton.
Eddy: Let me through. Get up, man! Come on, get up.
Stanton: . . . I can’t . . . I can’t stand . . .
Eddy: We can’t stop here.
Stanton: I just . . . I can’t . . . I’m worried . . . I
(They try to lift him. He balances between Eddy and Luisa. They take a few steps with him, grunting with exertion.)
Stanton: . . . Why is there so much water? My house is going to flood.
(Margret books it in the other direction. Sarah notices and goes after her.)
Sarah: Margret! Margret!
Margret: No no. No no.
Sarah: Margret, you cannot leave!
Margret: Must. I Must. God forgive me.
Stanton: Get my tools out of the basement. Quickly! The whole house is coming down.
Margret: God forgive me.
Sarah: Margret! MARGRET!!
Eddy: EVERYONE SIT DOWN.
(Eddy digs in his pack.)
Eddy: Eat. Now.
Sarah: Where – what is this?
Eddy: The last of the bear I shot.
Sarah: . . . You’ve had this all along?
Eddy: What business is it of yours?
Sarah: When were you going to tell us?
(He passes out the jerky.)
Eddy: Now. Mrs. Reed, please. You’ll need your strength.
Margret: Yes . . . You’re right. You’re right.
(Margret walks back, sits, and eats. Relief washes over them all.)
Margret: I . . . I don’t know how to thank you, Mr. Eddy. I was somewhere else.
Stanton: You weren’t the only one.
(The snowshoers look at each other.)
Margret: Well isn’t this a Merry Christmas after all.
Virginia: Did you sing that song back in Germany?
Keseberg: Not often.
Virginia: Why not? It’s so pretty.
Keseberg: Christmas was not a time for celebration.
Landrum: Why wouldn’t you celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior?
Keseberg: Reflection is often more prudent than celebration, young Master Murphy. Have you ever truly considered the story of Jesus Christ?
Landrum: Of course.
Keseberg: I doubt it. Think with me: it begins with God making a son. A son in his own image, perfect and divine. He could have given Jesus the wings of an angel, but instead He gave His Son the flesh of a man. Why?
Landrum: Well . . . so that he could give us the Holy Communion of His body and His blood and save our souls.
Keseberg: Incorrect, Master Murphy. He gave His son the flesh of a man because His son was created for one purpose and for one purpose alone: to suffer.
Virginia: That’s not true.
Tamzene: Mr. Keseberg, please. This is hardly suitable conversation for Christmas morning.
Keseberg: It is true, Miss Reed. And if a discussion of our Lord is unsuitable for Christmas, Mrs. Donner, then when might it be suitable? Think back to the God of the Hebrews. What did He require above all else? Sacrifice. The sacrifice of a lamb, the sacrifice of the Garden, the sacrifice of all the wicked things on Earth. You say that God loves you and works for you in mysterious ways. But I say there is nothing mysterious in God’s ways. Why else would he have bound us here, in these mountains, at this lake, with our bodies, our minds, our very souls seeping into the ice? Because here, we have no choice but to give Him exactly what he requires: a sacrifice.
(Tamzene stands, walks to the door.)
Tamzene: . . . Well Mr. Keseberg, thank you for joining us for this Christmas morning. I hope the rest of your day is as pleasant.
(Keseberg stands, with difficulty.)
Keseberg: I do not suppose the stew is ready?
Tamzene: No. It is not.
Keseberg: As I expected. Merry Christmas.
(Keseberg limps out the door.)
Tamzene: Well. Eat up!
Guide: Of all the members of the Donner-Reed party, perhaps the most notorious was German immigrant Lewis Keseberg. On the trail, he was reviled for cursing and beating his wife. After the ordeal, he became a sort of side-show fascination: decades later, articles about his exploits were still appearing in local papers. Take this one from The San Francisco Bulletin, dated February 6, 1862, titled “A SEQUEL TO THE THRILLING DONNER STORY!”
(Reality tears straight down the middle, cords fraying as Keseberg is sucked downward through the snow, suffocating and disorienting him until finally depositing him inside a variety-show version of his cabin. As the Guide recounts the story, the scenes advance like slides in a ViewMaster.)
Keysburg alone was found alive by the final relief party… Mrs. Donner was nowhere to be found, and horrible suspicions were entertained as to her fate, from the circumstances in which Keysburg was discovered. Mr. Fallon, who conducted the relief party, found him reclining upon the floor of his cabin, smoking his pipe. Near his head a fire was blazing, upon which sat a camp kettle filled with human flesh. His feet were resting upon skulls and dislocated limbs, denuded of their flesh. A bucket partly filled with blood was standing near, and pieces of human flesh, fresh and bloody, were strewn around. He was ragged, filthy and ferocious in his aspect. He was charged with the murder of Tamzene Donner, for her flesh and money. He denied it, but when under the tree with a rope about his neck, as he supposed about to be summarily hung, he discovered a portion of the money.
(The cabin becomes a sparsely-stocked, poorly maintained bar. The Guide sits on a stool.)
Guide: Though heavily sensationalized, at least part of this article is true: Tamzene and Keseberg were undoubtedly the final two survivors left at the cabins. Unfortunately, history’s fog has forever obscured their final exchange. All we know is that Tamzene never left Donner Lake while Lewis Keseberg did. And in case you doubted that history has a sense of irony, you should know that Keseberg made his way to Sacramento, where he opened – you guessed it – a restaurant.
(Keseberg picks himself up.)
Keseberg: Last call! Pony up, cowboys.
(No one purchases a drink from Keseberg. The single drunk in the bar picks his face up off of a table and stumbles out the door. Keseberg half-glances at The Guide.)
Keseberg: You drinking?
The Guide: What?
Keseberg: What. Do. You. Want?
The Guide: Oh uh. . . Whiskey? I guess?
(Keseberg fills up the glass.)
The Guide: Thanks.
(The Guide slides Keseberg a ten-dollar note. Keseberg takes it, gives it a sidelong glance, and stashes it beneath the bar.)
(The Guide drinks in silence for a moment. Keseberg looks at him and stops. He turns away, uncorks a bottle, and takes a deep swig. The man joins him.)
The Guide: It’s a nice place you have.
Keseberg: . . . A pile of excrement is more pleasant than this place.
The Guide: The whiskey’s good enough.
Keseberg: Some small comfort.
The Guide: Do your past associations give you much trouble?
Keseberg: The past is dead.
The Guide: It must dampen your business, no?
Keseberg: I do not know what you mean.
The Guide: I read the article in the Bulletin.
Keseberg: You and everyone else, it would seem. Let us dispense with the pretense: is there a purpose to your visit, or have you merely come to gawk, James?
The Guide: . . . What?
Keseberg: Fifteen years is a long time, but it will be fifteen lifetimes before I forget your face, James Reed.
(A heavy-metal hole opens beneath The Guide/James Reed, and he falls into it, tumbling through clear blue sky before slamming into the hard, dusty desert ground.)
(James Reed is back on the trail, arguing with a faceless man. The argument quickly grows heated and the man swings at Reed. Reed ducks, pulls a knife, and stabs the man in the side. He dies, rots, decomposes.)
(All of the emigrants appear. A silent trial is held. Keseberg raises his wagon tongue, offering up a gallows for a hanging. He is voted down. Reed is expelled from the group, his wife and daughter weeping as he rides off alone.)
(In fast-forward, he emaciates, becoming weaker and hungrier by the second. He crawls across the ground until a structure emerges in the distance. A fort. A faceless man gives him bread and he regains his strength.)
(A cannonball soars through the air and explodes into bits beside Reed. He is thrown off his feet. The faceless man helps him up and thrusts a rifle into his hands.)
(James Reed charges into the fray, cannons blasting, hooves pounding the dirt. He fights valiantly, shooting faceless Mexicans with aplomb. As the cannons and the rifle shots die down, his comrades raise him up in celebration.)
(From a long way away, his wife and child stare at him, ghostlike. He notices them, and begins to make his way to them, slowly. But his comrades hold him back, dressing him in a fine suit, coming his hair, his beard, wiping the dirt off his face. All the while, his wife and child recede into nothingness.)
(Then all but one of his compatriots melt like warming snowmen. The one reveals himself as Keseberg, who sets Reed on a bar stool.)
Keseberg: Another whiskey?
(Keseberg pours him a tall glass. Reed drinks it down in silence.)
(Reed attempts to give Keseberg another ten-dollar note. Keseberg waves it away.)
Reed: Take it.
(Keseberg takes it.)
Reed: Do you ever think about it?
Keseberg: Money? All the time.
Reed: I mean, do you ever think about that winter?
Keseberg: . . . Never.
Keseberg: Truly. Buried things do not trouble me.
Reed: Funny. I’d argue that buried things trouble us most of all.
Keseberg: Well, James, you were not exactly there, so I would appreciate you keeping the details of those troubles to yourself.
Reed: I was there.
Keseberg: Why are you here, James?
Reed: . . . Margret died a few months ago.
Keseberg: I am sorry.
Reed: She went in bed, surrounded by family.
Keseberg: Good for her.
Reed: There’s just something . . . so strange about it. Everything we endured, everyone we lost, and she dies in bed.
Keseberg: I believe it is called “a happy ending.”
Reed: I suppose. I just wonder. . .
Keseberg: What do you wonder, James?
Reed: Do you truly never think about it? The lake?
Keseberg: No, James, I think about it all the fucking time.
Reed: What do you think about?
Keseberg: I think about cutting out their livers, and their kidneys, and their loins, and spitting them over the fire. That perfect sizzling. I think about the taste, like the finest young veal. I think about them inside of me, their little thoughts bubbling to the surface. I think about their flesh entwined with mine – guts in guts in guts. (Keseberg finishes the bottle.) Is that what you wanted to hear, James?
Reed: . . . No, Lewis.
Keseberg: Then what do you want? Spit it out.
Reed: . . . I want to give you a loan.
Reed: I would like to give you a loan. Terms negotiable. You could fix this place up.
Keseberg: Why would you do that?
Reed: I’m a damn good investor, Lewis. There’s a lot of potential here.
Keseberg: And people claim that I am mad.
Reed: No, really. What would you say?
Keseberg: I would say no thank you. I want nothing to do with this place. I would sooner return to Germany. Maybe there, I could live a quiet life.
Reed: So why haven’t you?
Keseberg: You wouldn’t understand.
Reed: Try me.
Keseberg: It’s all money, James. Money and I have never been on good terms.
Reed: (Pause.) What if I bought it?
Keseberg: I do not follow.
Reed: What if I bought this place outright? I’d give you a fair price. Hell, I’d give you a better than fair price.
Keseberg: A joke.
Reed: Have you known me to be a frivolous man?
(Keseberg opens a new bottle, drinks.)
Reed: What would you say, Lewis?
Keseberg: I would say that you should take your guilty conscience elsewhere.
Reed: Come on. An offer like this doesn’t come around often.
Keseberg: No thank you, James.
Reed: Lewis. Take some time. Think about it.
Keseberg: I would sooner burn this place down.
(Reed collects his things.)
Reed: Well. This was pleasant.
Reed: . . . I’ll send the papers over, Lewis.
Keseberg: I will burn it down, James.
Reed: Suit yourself.
(The channel changes.)
(In the woods, something roars.)
(Three hip twenty-somethings run through the snow. Behind them, far in the distance, a shape. They duck for shelter in the remains of a dilapidated old shack.)
Backwards Cap Dude: What the hell is that thing?
Shaved Sides Of Her Head Chick: I don’t know! I don’t know!!
Lanky Nerd: What if . . . what if it’s Carly?
SSOHHC: WHAT?! NO!
BCD: That’s totally whack, dude!
LN: Think about it . . . that old Indian scroll we found. It said that anyone who consumes the flesh of another person upsets the balance of nature and becomes a monster . . . becomes . . . the Wendigo.
BCD: But . . . how could Carly have eaten people?
SSOHHC: The burgers . . .
BCD: But that would mean . . .
LN: We ate them too.
SSOHHC: ARE WE BECOMING WENDIGOS?!
(At that moment, something monstrous comes crashing through the trees and into the wall of the cabin. The three twenty-somethings scream.)
BCD: RUNNNN!!!! RUNNN!!!!!
(The sun shines dimly in the clear winter sky. A not-quite-full moon sits just atop the trees. The snowshoers huddle around Charles Stanton, who kneels in the snow, bracing himself with one hand against a stump.)
Stanton: I just . . . I just need a moment.
Eddy: These moments seem to stretch ever longer.
Stanton: Go on ahead.
Sarah: Without our guide?
Stanton: I’ll catch up. I just need a minute to collect myself. You needn’t worry.
Margret: I am worried, Mr. Stanton.
Stanton: No no, please, I’ll join you presently. I promise. There’s no sense in losing good time over me.
Eddy: He’s right. We can’t afford to wait any longer. Weather like this, we might even come by something edible.
Sarah: So we leave our own man to die alone in the snow?
Eddy: There’s no time for this. I take Mr. Stanton at his word.
Sarah: All well and good, but unfortunately I am not a fool.
Eddy: Then stay behind! Stay all day if you’d like! I have mountains to cross.
Luisa: I will stay with him.
(The others look at her.)
Eddy: . . . Good, then it’s decided. We’ll see you shortly, Mr. Stanton.
Stanton: Of course.
(Eddy walks away. Sarah and Margret follow, grudgingly. Margret looks back, but keeps going.)
(Stanton and Luisa look at each other for a long time.)
(Then Stanton goes to give her his pack, struggles.)
Stanton: I want . . . I want you to have this. There’s some money in it. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.
Luisa: You will need it.
Stanton: I think you’ll find more use for it than I will.
Luisa: It’s for you. For California.
Stanton: Take it. Please. Just take it. For me.
Luisa: No. Come on. Let’s go.
Stanton: I never even got to milk a cow. Isn’t that funny? I was going to have a farm. I was going to have a whole herd. Would I have been a good farmer? I think I would have been a good farmer. Maybe chickens, too. For eggs. Every morning, I’d get up. Collect the eggs. A real farmer. I could have sent something back to my brother. He could use it, he’s got children, you know. I could’ve sent him eggs. No, that’s ridiculous, they’d never make it that far, but I could’ve sent him – I could’ve sent him some money at least or or or some steaks or
Stanton: . . . Wait.
Stanton: Will you . . . do something for me? When I’m gone?
Luisa: . . . Anything.
Stanton: Bring them back here.
Luisa: I do not . . .
Stanton: There’s no virtue in waste. Bring them back here and make use of me.
Luisa: . . . I cannot.
Stanton: They’re going to starve. You’re going to starve. You have to live.
Luisa: Not that way. Not you.
Luisa: I will not.
Luisa: Charles, stop. It is enough. You have done enough.
(Stanton gasps for breath. Luisa holds him to her. Stanton weeps.)
(Eventually, Stanton pulls himself together. He looks at Luisa.)
Stanton: Go on. Don’t let Eddy lead ’em in circles.
(Luisa nods. She picks up Stanton’s pack and walks away. She glances back only once.)
(Stanton looks around. His mouth does something halfway between a smile and a grimace. He leans back against a stump.)
(With great difficulty, he pulls out his pipe and packs it with a little bit of tobacco. He strikes a match, but it dies. He tries again. Again, it dies. The third time is the charm, and the match flares to life.)
(Shivering, he shakily lights the pip, and begins to smoke. Around him, silence reigns, but he doesn’t hear it: he’s back at Thanksgiving, dinner party raging.)
(After a few drags, he struggles to bring the pipe to his mouth, his hands weakening by the second. Eventually he can’t help but give in. He rests his head against the stump, alone in a crowd. Himself.)
(His head lolls. The pipe falls. No one notices.)
(A train whistle echoes through the mountains.)
(Twilight settles in, and the sky darkens. Somewhere, Virginia Reed wanders through the woods, alone and lost. She follows the sounds of something – she’s not sure what – deeper and deeper.)
(She looks up at the branches, scanning. Only the moon, not-quite-full, greets her, its soft white light catching the snow on the branches.)
(In the silence, the train whistle sounds again, closer this time. Virginia hears it, and looks around. Nothing presents itself.)
Virginia: Is anyone there?
(The train whistle sounds again, louder. Virginia frantically scans the horizon.)
(A crow lands on a branch. It looks down at her.)
(She notices it. They lock eyes.)
(Then, the roar of a highway crashes through the stillness. Cars go honking, blazing past. The crow flies away. Virginia covers her ears and huddles down in the snow.)
(And as quickly as it started, it stops. Hesitantly, Virginia uncovers one ear, then the other. She looks up. She’s alone again. She looks around.)
(Yards away, she sees something. A figure. She walks toward it.)
(The figure comes into focus. Tamzene Donner stands over an ironing board, her eyes closed, mechanically ironing a button-down shirt with an electric iron.)
Virginia: Oh. Mrs. Donner. (Pause.) Mrs. Donner? What are you doing out here?
Virginia: Aren’t you cold?
(Tamzene opens her eyes. Her pupils are all white.)
Tamzene: Hello Virginia.
Virginia: Um. Are you okay?
Tamzene: You shouldn’t be here.
Virginia: Oh. I’m sorry.
Tamzene: How did you get here?
Virginia: I don’t know. I think I’m lost.
Tamzene: Did you see them?
Virginia: Um . . . who?
Tamzene: This is the place they come to.
Virginia: Who comes to?
Tamzene: They’re just passing through.
Virginia: I don’t think I saw them.
(Tamzene looks up. The shadows in the folds of her dress fill up with stars.)
Tamzene: It’s time for you to go.
(Hands burst out of the snow, grabbing at Virginia from all directions.)
(They grasp her dress, her hair and arms. She struggles at first, but is soon overcome as the hands find purchase on her body. Arms extend out of snowdrifts, becoming humanoid shapes: white and earthen, corpulent, faceless but for gaping mouths.)
(Virginia can do nothing as the snow golems march her over to Tamzene. Tamzene silences the golems with a wave of her hand. She examines Virginia as one would a horse or pig. She nods.)
(Tamzene steps aside and reveals a figure in the distance, walking forward. It’s Keseberg. His limp is gone, his expression purposeful.)
(The golems thrust her into his arms, and he leads her in a waltz. The golems make way for them as they kick up snow in their path.)
(At the end, he dips her, and goes in for the kiss. He drops her into the waiting arms of the snow, which lifts her up. The golems carry her above them to an altar, where they lay her down.)
(Their hands and heads explore the contours of her body. Virginia allows it, her eyes closed. A half-moan escapes her lips.)
(Keseberg reaches the table and conjures a massive knife. Virginia sees it, becomes terrified. Keseberg places one hand on Virginia’s cheek, gently caressing her. She stops struggling. She smiles.)
(She offers him her hand. He kisses it. He turns it over.)
(Lovingly, he cuts into her palm. A rivulet of blood runs down her arm. He presses it to his lips, drinking deeply. Virginia arches her back.)
(The golems grab her from all sides. Keseberg rips open her dress. Virginia struggles as he lifts the knife high above her.)
(The knife comes down into her chest. Virginia screams and blood explodes out of her mouth. Everything is static.)
Landrum: Ginny? Ginny. Ginny. Wake up.
(Virginia’s eyes open. She sees Landrum. She sits up and throws her arms around him.)
(She clings to him. Landrum holds her. Eventually, he lets himself relax into it. His hands move across her body.)
Virginia: You’re warm.
Landrum: Come on. Let’s get you inside.
(Landrum helps Virginia stand. This begins a coughing fit, and he doubles over. Virginia grabs him, helping him to stand.)
Virginia: That sounds bad.
Landrum: It’s nothing. I’ve just (cough) I’ve been out here (cough) with the wood (cough). Let’s get you by a fire, okay? C’mon.
(Landrum picks up the bundle of sticks he’d collected, almost keeling over in the process. Virginia steadies him. She puts her arms around him, keeping him upright. He breathes deeply.)
Virginia: I’m very lucky you found me.
(Landrum smiles. They head for the cabins.)
Adam Scott Mazer is an Alabama-born, Brooklyn-based theater artist, illustrator, and bon vivant. In 2011, he co-founded AntiMatter Collective, which has produced three of his original plays: Death Valley, Motherboard, and The Tower. He also illustrated the “graphic poetry” collection The Bones of Us, published by YesYes Books in 2014, and wrote and illustrated a comic book adaptation of The Tower, available on Amazon/ComiXology. He’s currently working on a new play set in 45,000 BC. In his free time, he enjoys long walks on the beach, pizza, and nightmares.
From Preludes, a musical fantasia set in the hypnotized mind of Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Dave Malloy is a composer/writer/performer/sound designer. He has written eleven musicals, including Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, an electropop opera based on War & Peace headed to Broadway this fall. Other shows include Ghost Quartet, a song cycle about love, death, and whiskey; Preludes, a musical fantasia set in the hypnotized mind of Sergei Rachmaninoff; Three Pianos, a drunken romp through Schubert’s “Winterreise”; Black Wizard/Blue Wizard, a philosophical escapist fantasy; Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage; Beardo; Sandwich; Clown Bible; and (The 99-cent) Miss Saigon. He has won two OBIE Awards, the Richard Rodgers Award, an ASCAP New Horizons Award, and a Jonathan Larson Grant, has been a Guest Professor in music theater at Princeton and Vassar Universities, and is the composer for Banana Bag & Bodice. Future projects include adaptations of Moby-Dick and Shakespeare’s Henriad. He lives in Brooklyn. davemalloy.com
The Unfinished Eye
Written and designed by STEPHEN KAPLIN,
Based on artwork and texts by EVE KAPLIN.
First performed at Arts at St. Ann’s, Brooklyn, 1998.
Direction and Puppet Design: STEPHEN KAPLIN
Lighting, Sets and Sound: BILL BRADFORD
Costumes: JANE CATHERINE SHAW
Stage consists of two screens. Large Rear Projection screen is Stage left. A smaller paper screen is stage right. An overhead projector on a low table is set up in front of the Paper Screen.
The characters of CHAVAH, THE SERPENT and the PROJECTIONIST are played by masked actors. EVE is a bunraku-style puppet that can be manipulated by one, two or three operators.
EVE KAPLIN- Artist and designer in many mediums, graduated from Rhode Island School of Design. She produced works in glass (studying with Dale Chahuly), ceramics, handmade books, puppets, toys, clocks, plus a line of costume jewelry and accessories that sold across the U.S., Europe and Japan under the name “Eve Kaplin Design”.
During the 1984 Christmas holiday season she travelled to Brazil with members of her Capoeira circle under the leadership of Meistre Jelem. They traveled between Rio and Bahia in a minibus, staying at friends’ houses, meeting other capoieristas and taking part in the end-of-year festivities. She died of a severe viral infection early January 2, 1985, in a hospital in Salvador, Bahia. Her sketch journal from this trip and a stack of postcards, written but never sent, are the source of most of the text for this show.
This project was initiated by Eve’s brother, Stephen about the time of the 10th anniversary of her death. It was workshopped and produced at the Arts at St Ann’s as part of their first Puppet Lab.
Capoeira Dance. Shadows of musicians and fighters in front of Screen, SERPENT and CHAVAH’ s silhouettes battle and separate over and over.
Image of TREE OF LIFE on large Rear Projection Screen.
Berimbau da fez chamada.
Berimbau has called
Ja e hora de lutar
It is the hour to play (it is time to play)
Quem mao luta fica longe
Who does not play, stay away
Quem luta pode chegar
Who plays can come
A Ogun que e Santo Forte
To Ogun, who is a strong saint (powerful)
Capoeira pede sorte
Capoeria asks for luck
Que essa danca e de matar
Because this dance can kill (is that which can kill)
Ie-e-e de matar
SERPENT and CHAVAH unwrap EVE puppet. Her eye sockets are empty. Chavah unburies an APPLE from the foot of the TREE. She slices it open and takes out two eyes. She starts to paint them blue, but SNAKE intrudes. The result is that one eye is painted blue the other is half blue, half brown, CHAVAH inserts the EYES into EVE’s face. EVE comes alive.
PROJECTIONIST crosses with candle. Sits by overhead projector in front of small paper screen. With a mirror, she flashes OP light into EVE’s face. EVE walks over, looks into the hood and is blinded by the light. PROJECTIONIST makes her sit to one side and begins to instruct her. Draws a fish in sand tray. Gives Eve a marker and has her trace it’s projected image onto the paper screen. Puts more object on the OP table and EVE traces them onto the screen.
A list of symbols–
Water fire ice fish boat house.
A knife, a boat, and an airplane.
A solid domed building rests on glass walls. or, the opposite case. We see what is inside.
Black drops of rain. red drops of rain.
inside we see mechanisms of control:
the pillar stands alone.
The water floats in midair.
10 x 10 10 of each
a fiery wheel with 10 spokes
where voice spoke from the depths
This wheel would become a funnel, a tunnel, a channel to the future. There would be light in the distance (gravitation)
JACOB’S LADDER appears on Large Screen. A vision of the Universe in the form of four colored disked linked by a perpendicular axis. EVE tries to draw this vision VISION onto the paper screen.
Everyone has gone in search of
’ ’ [yod, yod]
floats on the page
EVE COLADA [CHAVAH]
O NOME DE DEUS E (QUE)E?)
A Snake’s shadow slithers behind paper screen. Eve tries to pin the SNAKE’s shadow on the PAPER SCREEN. SERPENT’S HAND reaches up with matte knife and cuts the PAPER SCREEN. He bursts through the PAPER SCREEN and grabs EVE by the throat. EVE faints.
Snakes as in Chinatown-
the dry snake coil.
The snake became a wheel. The wheel became a wheel of fire. The wheel of fire spun across the sky. It seemed like a comet. it straightened out. Its tail stretched out across the sky. It traversed the sky in an instant. Again and again with the dawn, a strange, stinging sleet. the snake eats me, because of my name.
Name as destiny.
Destiny as luck.
as luck would have it.
any thing can be a snake. anything can be anything.
EVE PUPPETEER and PROJECTIONIST undress puppet. CHAVAH’s blue skirts become OCEAN WAVES. EVE swims and floats on her back. Swimming Dance. CHAVAH bathes EVE tenderly and redresses her.
As a daughter of the Sea, I can learn from my origins,
lesson of a wave crashing,
and a flowing, interaction crashing acceptance of
each renewal into oneself within oneself.
EVE puppet lounges on front edge of stage, picking through POSTCARDS and reads the back of them. She hands them off to SERPENT.
Resolutions do Novo Ano Dec. 31
believe that I can learn to do anything.
(Capoeira, handstands, play music, etc.)
The “eye of mercy”- Keep open.
Be curious and not afraid.
Be listening, and learning-
If I know something, teach that-
Gather in, give out.
CAPOEIRA BATTLE between SERPENT and EVE.
SERPENT knocks off first one than the other puppeteer.
CHAVAH lays her out on O.P. TABLE. and covers her with blue shawl.
TREE OF LIFE on the Large RP Screen.
FELIZ ANO NOVO
A good place to live and work
I would send these
wishes to the sea
in hopes of their
full fillment in the
CHAVAH removes EVE’S EYES and plants them beneath TREE.
CANDLE pulled across stage on strings.
Blackout except for slowly moving candles and photo of Eve, on large RP screen, subtitled: “Eve Karen Kaplin, Chavah Gittel, Colada 1956-1985”
Stephen Kaplin studied puppetry at UCONN under Dr. Frank Ballard and graduated in 1979. He received an MA in Performance Studies from New York University in 1989. Since 1981, he has lived in New York City, working in all aspects of puppet theater. Mr. Kaplin has been the co-Artistic and Technical Director of Chinese Theatre Works since its founding in 2001– designing sets and puppets, as well as co-directing and performing all major CTW productions. Mr. Kaplin is a co-founding member and co-artistic director of Great Small Works– a collective of theater artists dedicated to stretching the boundaries of live and puppet theater in New York City since 1995.
MAC WELLMAN’s recent work includes 3 2’s; or AFAR at Dixon Place in October 2011, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field (with composer David Lang) at Montclair in the fall of 2006 (and elsewhere more recently), and 1965 UU for performer Paul Lazar, and directed by Stephen Mellor at the Chocolate Factory in the fall of 2008. He has received numerous honors, including NEA, Guggenheim, and Foundation of Contemporary Arts fellowships. In 2003 he received his third Obie, for lifetime Achievement. In 2006 his third novel, Q’s Q, was published by Green Integer, and in 2008 a volume of stories, A Chronicle of the Madness of Small Worlds, was published by Trip Street Press as well as a new collection of plays The Difficulty of Crossing a Field from Minnesota Press. His books of poetry include Miniature (2002), Strange Elegies (2006), Split the Stick (2012) from Roof Books, and Left Glove (2011), from Solid Objects Press. His novel Linda Perdido won the 2011 FC2 Catherine Doctorow Prize for Innovative Fiction. He is Distinguished Professor of Play Writing at Brooklyn College.
CAST (IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE)
KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER
ROGER THE CAMERAMAN
JOE, ROGER’S BROTHER, AN ACTOR, AN APE, A TOTAL FUCK-UP
COMMUNITY COLLEGE PROFESSOR
TERRY THOMPSON, OWNER/PROPRIETOR, ZANESVILLE WILDLIFE EXPERIENCE
KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER
“I’M GONNA DIE. Coming Outside.” I wrote these two sentences in long hand in a café in the tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. I am Kathy Acker. MEOW. Oh, this old thing? My bullet wound was cancer. This life, it’s a bullet wound. Reincarnation. We die over and over. For this go round the ferris wheel, I thought I’d be a growly bear. That’s how I imagined it, though a poetic fact can sometimes get lost in transcription. In 1990, my crystal ball needed polishing. Clearly. That’s not a euphemism. I’m not stressing it, at least I was kind of close. Animal, mineral, vegetable. Growly bear. Tiger. It came to me in a vision, in the Pussy Pirate book. “I’M GONNA DIE. Coming Outside.” A growly bear. This is better. LOOK AT ME! I have an awesome tiger haircut, and a cock! MEOW. When I was just a cub, I used to crawl down to the man-made pond, stare at my reflection and laugh and laugh and laugh. If they could see me now! OHIO!!! What a trip!
I polish my crystal ball twice a day now. Maybe next time I’ll come back as a PULITZER PRIZE. I traced that into the linoleum with my pencil claws. I’m dead in the kitchen. Here goes my soul. It’s dribbling out my eye-socket. Up up and away, again. Over and over. The policemen are holding hunting rifles, some are smoking and dropping ashes onto the tiles. Terry Thompson’s feet are prone, his skin purple. I can’t believe they haven’t removed his corpse yet. A photographer flashes over and over, he’s from the ap or reuters. I wonder if we’ll all go to the morgue together. Terry set us free this morning, two am. Most of us crept through the pre-dawn darkness toward a wilderness that doesn’t exist. I stuck around to see what Terry was up to. He put the hunting rifle between his legs, took off his shoes and socks. It was all so Hemmingway-esque. Bang. The body fell to the floor, I pushed the screen door open with my bulk and put his head in mouth, crunching down just a bit. I must have left a mark because they wrote about it in the paper. What they didn’t realize is that I wasn’t trying to eat him. I performed emergency brain surgery, using my tongue to scoop his brains back into his skull. Terry was brilliant. A healer, really. Misunderstood. The cops came in to investigate, saw me with my mouth around Terry’s body, and shot me on the spot. Right through the eye. Yet another hunting rifle.
This moment takes longer than I remember. Dying stops time, for a second. I can hear the television anchorman. He is at a safe distance. My leg jolts in a rigor mortis spasm. His eye twitches. The anchorman is THIS CLOSE to doing a queeny-correspondent-on-the-spot-viral-video-OH-SHIT-IT’S-A-SPIDER-IT’S-A-TIGER routine. An instant youtube sensation. Let’s laugh while he screams. 4 million hits. Every time a clip is liked an angel gets its wings. Hooray Amerika. We are united in our cruel humor.
Kathy takes her place on the ground, prone, the newscaster is holding a microphone, approaches her, stands at a somewhat risky distance to her pencil claws. The Kathy/Tiger corpse is still, and then, BANG, a claw darts out in another spasm. the newscaster loses it, screaming to the cameraman.
(closeted as fuck but the door swings open)
Oh my gawd
Oh hell no
It just moved
It just moved its paw
Its not dead
Roger what did i say
We should have done this shot
From the driveway
Not the kitchen
Its gonna eat me
I’m not scared of snakes or the dark or nothing
Great big pussy
Cats oh shit
Its gonna eat me
It’s gonna bite my fucking head off!!!!
Pussy cat pussy cat fuck fuck fuck.
ROGER THE CAMERAMAN
Relax dude, the floor is covered in his brains, man, the animal is dead as a doornail.
Uh-hem. Can we, uh, cut tape. Let’s do that again, thank god this isn’t live. Roger, destroy that tape. Let’s try that again. Is my hair okay? Give me that hanky. Make up. MAKE UP! Ok, Roger. Ready? Let’s do this thing. FUCK!
“There were 13 or at least 10 tigers according to reports. 50 animals in all, valued at over one million dollars. Rest easy, residents of Zanesville. Every wild animal has been shot, killed, tagged and will be carted off to the community college science lab for testing. There isn’t room enough in the morgue.”
CUT. I guess we should get on that story, the one about the assholes who tried to steal a carcass. Roger. Did we get the shot? THE SHOT? Roger? Roger? Earth to Roger.
ROGER THE CAMERAMAN
Don’t call my brother an asshole.
KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER
Joe is Roger’s brother. This is Joe. He’s hot. I would like to fuck him with my tiger cock.
JOE, ROGER’S BROTHER, AN ACTOR, AN APE, A TOTAL FUCK-UP
Ricky, Bobby, Johnny and Duck drove the truck. The bodies were lined up, right there, along the highway. We thought we’d make venison. I don’t know why we did it. I still have my ankle bracelet on from the last time I got caught up in their bullshit. But there was a lot of whiskey involved. I’ll do anything for a sip. They call me the party animal.
I tried to pick the tiger up myself and threw my back out. I thought it’d be stuffed like a beanie baby, a bean bag, you know. His fingernails were giant pieces of pencil lead. The guys laughed and got me laughing and I just about pissed my jeans. It was dark out and our breath made clouds in the flashlight streams. Duck and Ricky moved the tiger’s arms like it was a giant puppet, TIGER, MEOOOOOW, swung it around like that, one guy on the front one guy on the back. Heavy as a refrigerator, trying to swing it up into the back of the truck. The body kept hitting the bumper with a thud. Boom. Boom. The damp air held the sound like a lover. The brown cat eyes rolled around googly, catching glint from our torches. The other two guys stumbled over to grab handfuls of hide, the ribs slippery underneath protecting organs that didn’t play no more. I guess we should have moved quicker, cuz all of sudden Duck drops his side of the tiger and starts running for the woods. That’s when I seen the red and blue lights and Johnny shouts, OH SHIT. The cops came, they snagged me first on account of my bad back, and the ankle bracelet makes it hard to run. It makes a clinking noise when it shakes. My brother Roger used to call me Jacob Marley…THOSE CHAINS, THOSE CHAINS.
Now I’m in this cage. I’ll probably do 18 months. It goes by quick. I like to masturbate. I pretend I’m a gorilla and the warden is an old man who visits me at the zoo. One day some shit’ll go down. That’s what I always think. There’s a park bench with his name on it. Edward Albee told me so. I read about it in Zanesville High. AP honors – the whole nine yards. I was gonna be an actor before I realized I’d need money to do that. It’s cheaper to work here, keep a motorcycle, drink for fun, do dumb shit like this, write poems. My favorite sound in the world is a cage being closed. Just call me monkey. I wonder what that venison would have tasted like. Tiger jerky. We could have made a fortune. I’d sell it on e-bay, use the cash for acting lessons. Then I’d go to hb studios and do the real “Zoo Story.” Off-broadway. Maybe find a boyfriend too, though I always do in the clink, so it’s not so bad. Enough so that my arms grow hairy, my chest sprouts, and sometimes I bang it with both fists. When I cum, the warden looks up from his paper in disgust. Sometimes they pass a mop through the bars and make me clean it up myself. I like the smell, like bleach. It feels like the cell is clean when I do that, even though it just gets sticky. It feels wet on my bare feet. I wonder when my TERRY will set ME FREE? Or will I get shot? Or maybe an acting award? An obie? The boyfriends never talk to me on the outside. I see them at the food lion and they look right through me. Sometimes their skin flushes, I guess that’s a compliment. HEY WARDEN WHAT’S FOR FUCKING DINNER?
Terry Thompson is unreliable. Like this bistro table. He wobbles when he walks, his voice tremoloes when he talks. He is rough around the edges, as we like to say around here. Gruff. Sometimes his mouth is painted a deep purple like the top of a wine jug. Kool-aid man. This is usually on Sunday. He never goes to church. He’s not a man I care too much for, and now I don’t really have to, but I needed to be here, today, at his wake, because he gave me my little boy back. You see my son’s autistic…
Mondays and Wednesdays provide a steady stream of field trips at the Muskingum County Animal Farm. Terry coordinates visits with the local school districts, a flat rate, paid up-front. Teachers write permission forms to be filled out, asking parents for a few of ten bucks, about the price of two happy meals, but the experience is worth it. Children are allowed an up close view to exotic animals they have only seen before in books. The trip is the equivalent to going to Jurassic Park for these kids. These fields might as well be the jungle. These are children raised on concrete playgrounds, fed on happy meals and piss, like we all are.
The baby animals are dosed with a mild sedative. Nothing too altering, but enough to keep them docile and dew-eyed. One autistic fourth grader speaks for the first time in several years as he holds a tiger cub in his lap. He strokes the animal and cries, I love you, I love you. His mother is a chaperone. She writes Terry a letter disclosing that she had forgotten the sound of her own child’s voice until that day. He tapes this letter to his refrigerator. There is a brown spot stain on the letter now. It is a skull fragment.
My son has that spirit in the sky crimson and clover type of voice. Shiny like a brass trumpet but tremoloed or early electronic sounding. Something at once old-timey and from outer space. Not steampunk, mind you. More like an angel.
COMMUNITY COLLEGE PROFESSOR
I teach psychology and sociology and criminology and the fine art seminar and the poetry seminar and finally remedial reading at Moskingum CC. This whole thing has an air of Greek myth, or sociopathology. Did you hear one of the animals ate Terry’s head, or tried to, after he’d fallen to the linoleum in the kitchen?
KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER
He’s talking about me.
COMMUNITY COLLEGE PROFESSOR
Most of the beasts had used the opportunity to get as far away from the ranch as possible, seeking out new territories and hopeful for a wilderness that just doesn’t exist anymore. They had been microchipped. And everyone has a cellphone now. There’s no escaping the gaze.
KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER
Hey newscaster, you take a picture with your iphone.
A picture of me with a bullet through my eye.
It is elegantly cropped.
You upload it to your profile, seeking assurance of its beauty.
The picture gets seven LIKES. This is satisfactory.
Three friends comment with these phrases:
ROT IN HELL
OH NO HE DIDN’T!!!!
You read this thread and laugh out loud while you check your profile in the tgifridays.
A nest of baby robins has been found in the rain track outside the restaurant. A cleaning person is batting at it with a straw broom. A child watches from its booster seat. One of the birds falls from the gutter and lands on the concrete. It waddles on jelly legs into some shrubbery, where a radio speaker has been hidden.
“Born To Run”
blares from the restaurants’ speakers.
WITH TRAMPS LIKE US, BABY WE WERE BORN TO RUN.
Why don’t you go fuck yourself again with that tiger balm? I heard it has soothing power. WHY AM I NOT A PULITZER PRIZE YET? WHY AM I STILL HERE IN THIS HAIRY BODY WITHOUT AGENCY? IS THIS SOME KIND OF TEST?
ROGER THE CAMERAMAN
(to the QUEENY CORRESPONDENT)
The conversation you could have with your lover disappears, and a buffalo burger is consumed in silence. You each edge further from the other like magnetic force in reverse and slowed down to imperceptibility. Your hiccup is an earthquake. You check your grindr account. Another missed opportunity.
KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER
The last living rhino in Vietnam was killed today by poachers. Unhappy face emoticon.
The weather turned on the protesters in Zuccotti Park. Thousands of dollars in equipment is destroyed by a sudden rainstorm. Now they use the desktop casings as table legs and place hot meals on a piece of plywood for the occupiers. The homeless who used to sleep in the park are gone. They all are in jail now, 50 zoo animals. I saw a young man holding this sign: Gentrify the homeless! It got seven likes. They get one meal a day and no phone call. Rights are read willy-nilly. Who cares when your brain is scrambled eggs? They are lazy. I can’t pay my student loans.
JOE, ROGER’S BROTHER, AN ACTOR, AN APE, A TOTAL FUCK-UP
I beat my chest chimpanzee style and stick my tongue out, too. Hand me a cigar and a slogan. I’m not homeless. I am occupied. The homeless were pre-occupied. Now they are caged. AT HB STUDIOS I PRETEND I AM JAMES DEAN. Endlessly talented and pre-Stonewall queer. Can someone take this bracelet off my ankle? I want to drive my roadster at top speed, dreaming of topping Sal Minneo.
KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER
Oh, Joe. You look better with my glasses off. The light here is softer than I remembered. I can hear the two children crying from their window in the backyard. What were you thinking with your wild jerky? The animals are splayed out like on a scale at a butcher’s counter. From the window it looks like an overturned toybox. The brothers watch guts spill slowly from the tiger’s side, one of my pride. Their mother is playing a church service over the radio and the music mingles with their racing minds. One brother smells incense. The other, older one, smells cum. Joey if you’re hurtin’ so am I.
There is a zoo and it is free now, if only in spirit. I know why the caged bear shits itself. This is a suicide note.
KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER
(writing in a notepad with her pencil claw)
I am dying in a field outside of Zanesville. A river of blood bubbles up from the place where my eye used to be. My heart is telling a story very slowly, in whispers. The whispers sound like bird calls and more animals come, thinking I am friendly. Their guns go up to the sky. On a clear day you can see Columbus. Did you know it is the gay capital of the Midwest?
A baboon stalks the horizon looking for trash to eat. Maybe some old sliced ham with mold on it, smashed egg shells tarnished from the dye of a jcp circular in the Sunday newspaper. He pulls the pieces from a ripped garbage bag and puts them in his mouth. This is called survival.
Joe, that’s the way I describe you. Do you like it? Or does it make you seem too submissive?
The lion looked right at me in the grocery store parking lot. The food lion, from the sign. It was seated like an obedient dog. Fetch, Leo. I got in my escort and called the police from the iphone. Then I took a picture and uploaded it and it got seven likes.
A DEAD LLAMA
I thought the cops would bring elephant guns but instead they used pepper spray and guess what? It worked. We cried ourselves to death. Four dead in Ohio? More like forty plus. Why would you shoot me, a llama? But you did, and I cried and then I died.
It is Noah’s ark in reverse. I build the ship and then we are shipwrecked. The flood is in my wet brain. The cops take turns with their crosshairs. It is a team building exercise. They ask to have the carcasses stuffed. There’s a guy in town who does it for free as a gesture of good will for the men, he calls them heroes. The force. The animals are mounted on wooden plaques. They make a noise in the back of the truck. It is the sound of objects. They are delivered to each officer, wrapped in butcher paper. The funny thing is, I sold them these elephant guns three years ago, out of my barn, running guns on the black market. I used the cash for more birdseed and meal for the animals. Now I’m dead, the cops use my black market guns to kill my children. Oh the irony.
KATHY ACKER THE BENGAL TIGER
Danger. Wild animals.
If you see something, shoot something.
(stroking dead Kathy Acker the Bengal Tiger)
If you see something, it is yours. You are a lord of it. It is for you. This is the law of the land. As far as you can see, Simba, this land is your responsibility. You are a king in captivity. You were born with your crown (and your student loan debt). All you have to do is put it on (and wear it to your funeral).
Maybe this is possession. I climbed a hill this morning, before I shot myself, and at the top of this hill I found a pigeon. It was eating a turd. A human turd in the park, The bird was picking out the chunks that hadn’t lost their nutrients. It can’t all be waste, what our bodies throw out. It could be called impatience.
Johnny Appleseed wasn’t tossing seeds, he was shitting them. Everyone has this idea that he was an altruistic young man. Really he just loved apples and had irritable bowel syndrome.
There is no such thing as a middle class. There’s a beginning and an end, but no middle. No autistic tiger left behind. At Community College, I GAVE MY ZOOLOGY TEACHER AN APPLE. My toe catches the trigger, Occupy Zoo Story. BANG.
Terry falls to the floor.
Kathy becomes a pulitzer prize.
Autistic Sonny clutches the pulitzer prize, stroking it.
I love you. I love you.
Queeny Correspondent makes out with Joe the Ape.
Roger uploads the newscast outtake to youtube and likes it seven times.
Autistic Mommy admires her pencil claws.
Autistic Sonny eats a handful of animal crackers. His mouth is mic’d and amplified with delay. The crunching commingles with the first few bars of “Spirit in the Sky.” The rock and roll music rises and rises and rises and rises.
END OF PLAY
Brian Bauman is a poet, playwright and the artistic director/founder of Perfect Disgrace Theater. His plays include: Atta Boy (HERE Arts Center, Wild Project, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Broad Art Center/UCLA), BUCKSHOT: A Rashomon (CounterPULSE), A Crucible (Wild Project, La Mama Galleria), Elegy for A Midshipman (Dixon Place), and Porridge (Dairy Center for the Arts). He is currently developing Rosebud, an adaptation of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby that tackles gentrification and gay marriage. He earned an M.F.A. in playwriting from the California Institute of the Arts.