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Constance

By Daniel Mufson

Synopsis:

Constance examines two contrasting reactions that people have traditionally had following the death of a loved one, or of a not-so-loved one: the refusal to be comforted, and the subsuming of sorrow in the comfort of religious ritual. The former is embodied here by the character of Constance in Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King John, while the latter is suggested by the Talmudic story of Rabbi Akiva and the origin of the Kaddish prayer. Constance wants to explore not only the friction between the two portraits themselves but also the degree to which both these ways of mourning have grown more and more alien to the values of contemporary society. The staging of Constance’s monologue and the Akiva story will be constantly interrupted by cellular phones ringing, digital watches beeping, the serving of food, and a chorus of ridiculous, monotone “comforters.” The play depicts various manifestations of an inability to mourn; it ends with both Constance’s monologue and the attempt to say Kaddish being totally drowned out by the noise of the phones and the beeping watches and a chorus of clichés.

The tempo should begin slow but then oscillate sharply between rushing and lingering.

Constance

Characters:

constance, from Shakespeare’s “King John,” mother of Arthur, Duke of Britain.

philip, King of France, from Shakespeare’s “King John,” doubles as stage director.

plant, doubles as the son of dead akiva

Rabbi Akiva, a prominent figure in the Talmud and Jewish folklore

Dead Akiva, a tax collector in hell, no relation to rabbi akiva

packer, packing the belongings of someone deceased

extras, if available

(The set is spare. Light bulbs hang by wires at different lengths, some brighter than others, though as the play starts the levels are generally low. constance enters and stands near hanging light bulb just down from center stage. philip, unseen by the audience, seated in a large, high-backed chair turned away from the house, taps on a music stand to cue her to prepare the beginning of her speech.)

philip: (sounding bored, reciting by rote) Patience, good lady, comfort, gentle Constance!

constance: (with feeling) No, I defy all counsel, all redress,
But that which ends all counsel, true redress:
… Line.

philip: Death, death.

constance: Oh yeah yeah yeah. Death, death. Right.

(mutters:) O amiable lovely death! (more in earnest:)
Thou odoriferous stench! sound rottenness!
Arise forth from the couch of lasting night,
Thou hate and terror to prosperity,
And I will kiss thy detestable bones,
And put my eyeballs in thy vaulty brows,
And be a carrion monster like thyself.
O that my tongue were in the thunder’s mouth!
Then with a passion would I shake the world,
And rouse from sleep that fell anatomy
Which cannot hear a lady’s feeble voice,
Which scorns a modern invocation.

phiilip: Lady you utter madness, not sorrow.

constance: Thou art not holy to belie me so,
I am not mad. This hair I tear is mine,
My name is Constance, I was Geffrey’s wife,
O, if I. Shit.
Line.

philip: Young—

constance: Young Arthur… Li—

philip: My son—

constance: Young Arthur is my son, and he is lost.

philip (taps on the music stand.) Patience, good lady, comfort, gentle Constance!

constance: No, I defy all counsel, all redress,
But that which ends all counsel, true redress: (Long pause.)
O amiable lovely death!
Thou odoriferous stench! sound rottenness!
Arise forth from the couch of lasting night,
Thou hate and terror to prosperity,
And I will kiss thy detestable bones,
And put my eyeballs in thy vaulty brows,
And be a carrion monster like thyself.

(A cellular phone begins to ring in the backpack or briefcase of an audience member, plant , who takes a second or two to realize that it’s his phone that is ringing. He answers it, and hastily tries to conduct his conversation during constance‘s monologue almost but not quite sotto voce. If no actual members of the audience start to “shush” him, then a second audience plant will do so. A short, loudly whispered argument ensues, climaxing in the plant 1’s angrily storming out of the theater. As he finishes his call, he says to the person on the other end: “Are you ok? I’ll be right over.” Hearing the theater door slam, constance, who has actually maintained her focus throughout this distraction, finally fizzles out on the delivery of her monologue.)

O that my tongue were in the thunder’s mouth!
Then with a passion would I shake the world,
And rouse from sleep that fell anatomy.
I am not mad, I would to heaven I were!
For then ’tis like I should forget myself.
O, if I could, what grief should I forget!
Preach some philosophy to make me mad,
And thou shalt be canoniz’d, Cardinal;
For, being not mad, but sensible of grief,
My reasonable part produces reason
How I may be deliver’d of these woes,
And teaches me to kill or hang myself.
If I were mad, I should forget my…
My son….
Madly think…

(By this time, plant has exited. constance starts to exit USR, goes 3/4 of the distance , stops, turns and raises her arms as if embracing someone. She imagines herself dancing with her son. There is no music.

(Three performers nonchalantly enter the theater: akiva, packer, dead akiva. They become more animated when they speak. akiva, dressed in Hasidic garb, enters with violin and positions himself on a small raised platform at SL, packer just right of UC, dead akiva, carrying axe, stands DSR facing audience, examining audience members. The packer heads upstage. Throughout most of the performance, the packer will be upstage, taping cardboard boxes together, taking clothes out of a dresser, re-folding them, packing them into the boxes, finally dusting off an odd picture or two and putting them into a box as well. Occasionally, the sound of the tape being torn from the role will be amplified with reverberation and serve as a punctuation for some of the lines. The packer‘s physical gestures will be small and subtle, not distracting from the central action, but he/she will provide a counterpoint image to whatever is happening.)

(When akiva and dead akiva stop speaking, they relax their body posture and movement to a non-performative mode, the way dancers in the works of Pina Bausch or William Forsythe will sometimes suddenly stop dancing and walk or hold themselves as they do on the street, breaking character but without ad-libbing dialogue.)

(dead akiva occasionally swings his axe through the air; we hear the sound of wood breaking. His face and body are darkened with soot.)

(The pace of the dialogue should be brisk, even rushed. For any patch of lengthy speech, the actor’s delivery should shift with the different thematic strands, ranging from presentational speech mode to more intimate and psychologically subtle tones.)

dead akiva: It’s all written down in the Mahzor Vitry. A father. “Suuuuh, up Nawth we fuhgot the waw.” We looked young once. We looked young once. We looked young once we looked. Once we looked, we looked young. The paradox of life: Everything was possible. For a few minutes more away from the flames.

akiva: Who are you, and what have you done?

(plant re-enters. His entrance should be ambiguous, so that people are not certain if the actor is an actor or not until he delivers his lines. From this point on, the plant takes the role of dead akiva’s (living) son. His movements are violent, halting, abstract, in contrast to the relative stillness and grace of the two akivas.)

dead akiva: The man you address is dead; every day they send me out to chop wood. In the house of the Merciful One, even His oven needs fuel¾fuel to pour on infertile souls.

plant: (high voice) Where is Father? (low voice) Looking down on us from stars with a history of kings.

dead akiva: There is not an evil or a sin in the world that I neglected to commit.

all but dead akiva (in unison): May his bones be ground to dust.

constance: My life, my joy, my food, my all the world.

dead akiva: It seems probable, if not inevitable, that traits deemed mildly annoying at age 25 by self-proclaimed lifelong partners will at age 60 appear to be evidence of evil incarnate. I was a tax collector, and I would favor the rich and kill the poor.

constance: My widow-comfort, and my sorrows’ cure.

dead akiva: Afterwards, I would drive to the deli for a ham on rye and a carton of milk.

plant: (high voice) Where is Father? (low voice) Sheol! Gehenna! Buried in Jersey. Between 144 and 145.

constance: My life, my joy, my food, my all the world.

plant: We passed it en route to the hospital. Graves on the Parkway to Valley.

dead akiva: I threw myself on the mercy of the court, but those Orange County juries are a bitch, unless you’re a cop.

akiva: O, the sudden fabrication of excuses, like the sudden fanning out of umbrellas at the start of a storm. (hums a few bars from the movie Love Story’s theme song until he has to say his next line.)

dead akiva: Save me, I said, but not yet, for my paradise lies beyond the city of God.

plant: (high voice) I can’t find father. (low voice) Are you all right? I’ll be right over.

akiva: Have your superiors told you nothing about how you might relieve your condition?

dead akiva: Please, sir, do not detain me, for you will irritate my tormentors. For such a man as I there can be no solace, no comfort. Three strikes, and yer outta here. Though once they did say¾but no, it is impossible. Or? No. But yet? And, well, um. (looks around as if suddenly aware of something he wasn’t aware of, but then realizes he’s not aware of anything at all.) Shit. What was the question? They said that if this poor man had a son, and his son were to stand before the congregation and recite the prayer “Bless the Lord who is blessed!” and the congregation were to answer amen, and the son were also to say “May the Great Name be blessed!”, then, and only then, might he be released on his own recognizance and sentenced to 20 hours of community service. But this man never had a son. He left his wife pregnant and he did not know whether the child was a boy. And if she gave birth to a boy, who would teach the boy Torah? For this man did not have a friend in the world.

plant: (high voice) Where is Father? (low voice) Benny, Benny, stop asking me these questions. (yet a different voice) Part B of Medicare covers charges for radiation therapy. It’s a good idea to talk with the hospital business office about your policy and how expected costs¾

akiva: What is your name?

dead akiva: My name is Akiva, the tax collector. [All spit on the floor.] And you?

akiva: (with ludicrous fanfare:) You address the rabbi… called… AKIVA!!! (Ecstatic Fiddler-on-the-Roof-ish music kicks in. packer tosses two small boxes of phylacteries to the two Akivas who catch them and begin a lively dance with one another, using the phylactery boxes as tambourines The akivas hand off the phylacteries again to the packer, who tries to help them put on the phylacteries. . The music grows quieter and begins to feed into a loop; in turn, the akivas’ dance grows slower; while the two akivas recite the Kaddish as a round, they get tangled in the phylacteries. The following corruption of the Kaddish mourning prayer is spoken over a tape loop of stereotypical Mideastern music that breaks off abruptly on his last line.) Yit-gadel ve-yit-kadesh by the great name of sh’may raBA throughout the world which Yit-gadel ve-yit-kadesh hath created v’yom-LEECH mal-chu’TAI His will. Yit-gadel ve-yit-kadesh establish His kingdom during the days of your life and u-vi-zeMAN ke-REEV the house of Israel, speedily, yea, soon; and say ye, Amen. ve-i-me-ROO a-MAIN. Exalted and honored Exalted and honored Holy One the name of, blessed by He be He, whose glory transcends exalted, yea, v’yom-LEECH is beyond all blessings and hymns, praises and consolations uttered in the world praises yit-gadel ve-yit-kadesh consolations praises and praises consolations; and say ye, Amen. Abundant peace. In the heavens, peace. Israel. Who establisheth peace? Who establisheth peace? Who establisheth peace? (Music out.)

constance: Grief!

philip: Ai-yoy-yoy. Still harping on your Arthur? Patience, good lady, peace gentle¾

constance: Grief fills the room up of my absent child,

Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,

Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words¾ (Her digital watch beeps, fumbles about to turn it off.)

plant: La petite seconde d’éternité / où tu m’as embrassé. (Beat. Checks to see if it’s his watch that’s beeping.)

philip: Repeats his words, the absent children, always looking pretty covered in absentia.

During following speeches by akiva and philip, the other actors move akiva‘s platform from spot to spot while Akiva speaks; after repositioning and while philip gets his chance to speak, akiva plays a short bit of Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G minor (for violin). constance puts on a fat suit. The respective speeches are also cued to end by the beeping of a digital watch. When this happens, it takes a second or two for the speaker to realize that it is his watch that is beeping. They keep trying to outdo each other in rhetorical flourish.

akiva: And what about the children, my fellow Americans? My fellow Americans, isn’t it time for a change. Fear not change, fellow Americans. The children, our national treasure, will lead us. Er. We will lead them. We fellow Americans doing it for our chil¾. We want rugged individuals, not just rugged. Or just individuals. (hoarse and wheezing:) I would never leave you like this, Benny, how could you do this to me? I don’t belong here. I’m not like this I’m not like this I’m not like (stops wheezing) We cannot turn our backs on this. I believe that children are our future. Give them a sense of pride. To make it easier. My fellow Americans. Will we turn people-in-need out into the cold. Will we crucify ourselves on a cross of gold? Will we let such darkies into the fold?

philip: My fellow Americans. Personal responsibility. I vaguely remember the Alamo. My fellow Americans. I like your skin, its tremors and still. You have a natural musk. The pain. My fellow Americans. Stay out of my fucking yard. My fellow Americans. Somebody keyed my car last week. My fellow Americans. What have we become. We came on a ship they called the Mayflower. A Christian nation. Shining city on a landfill. I’m not afraid of a long-term commitment. No, I’m ready. Yeah. Of course you’re still pretty. Merry Christmas, my fellow Americans. When will the Japanese recognize the rape of Nanjing? And buy Chevrolets? My fellow.

akiva: (Brief sound sample from movie, Casualties of War, under first part of speech) Fellows, we. The children are in debt. And you are mine. My Americans. Numbness, my fellows American fellows. Numbed purchases of chevrolets fading into feelinglessness. What? And the empty cities, we shan’t forget them. Ask not what your count¾. Can do… You…. Do…. For your. Third. A third. Ill clad, ill-something else, and uh. (wheezing and hoarse:) Benny, Benny, the day mother passed on, I did a terrible thing, a terrible th¾don’t go, Benny, you have to hear¾ (wheezing and hoarseness end). They did not die in vain. Neutrality. We are all Democrats, we are all. And for my next trick, an era of good feelings. For the children. Not for me. I don’t care about me. You won’t have me to kick around anymore, no sirree. I do not recall. Mr. Senator? Are you ok? Do you want me to come over? We make too much waste. But should the government interfere? For the children, if for no one else, I think….not. Or yes. This is an era. I regret what happened to the Cherokees. But the Turks did a lot worse to the Armenians, a proud tribe from which both Cher and Cary Grant are descendents. But whereof speaking would endanger NATO, thereon must we fall silent.

philip: (suddenly shifts the tone down to a quieter intensity) When I was loved, youth was a tinkling cymbal. When I grew to be unloved, I tossed all youthful things away. The transient gripping. An object in motion cannot linger at the center of anything. Therefore, classics are mandatory reading, NOT optional. (wheezing, hoarse, angry:) I am not superfluous! A man deserves more, he deserves, what he deserves¾(shifts out again.) Dunde esta la playa? Habla ingles? What is it about the way intentional obscurity absolves us from ignorance? The child’s impulse to grasp is brief; letting go of his sick father, the child becomes a sinful demon. How can you intend obscurity when all intentions are inevitably obscure? Why can’t the French think of a better name for their “very fast train”? We can spread awareness of strokes by calling them “BRAIN ATTACKS!” Hot diggity dog. Y’know, all this other shit aside, I’ve been emotionally labile for the past fifteen minutes, and I want you to know: It’s not you. It’s me. It’s all all me, and it doesn’t mean I don’t love you.

Deafening sample of early Star Trek red alert sequence ending with Mr. Spock saying, “The area of penetration will no doubt be sensitive.” At sound of sample, akiva and philip clutch ears and run to different sides of the stage. Sample ends. Philip, frazzled and grouchy, walks to center, cues next section with a film clacker, walks back to the side. Nothing happens. More frazzled, grouchier, he walks to center and slams the clacker repeatedly, in a frenzy; when the frenzy exhausts itself, he throws the clacker on the floor. Goes to sound booth and pushes button that starts the soft playing of Allegri’s “Miserere.” Slides of sufferers from famine projected diagonally, distorted, on side wall . constance slowly emerges as an (obese) caricature of Sally Struthers, eating a massive bag of potato chips, at first nonchalantly, then at an escalating pace as she delivers the speech. Her line delivery throughout most of the monologue is manic.

constance: Hello. I’m an important celebrity who is socially conscious. Do these pictures look familiar to you? Seen’em a few too many times to care? (overlapping with this monologue, philip: Patience, good lady, comfort, gentle Constance!) I know the answer to the first question is yes, but I refuse to think “Yes” is the answer to the second question. Or the first question. The first. No. “No” is the answer to one of the questions.  Our operators are standing to stand for¾(Row of phones situated on a thin board is carried in; the phones give short rings periodically. constance keeps trying to answer them, but they stop ringing before she reaches them. Allegri’s “Miserere” has by this point faded out.) You! I saw that, I know what you have in that bag, you little you little¾little¾It’s the little children, people. Children. Oh, yes, adults, too, but we’ll be sure that all of your money goes to CHILDREN. (imitates wheezing and hoarseness riff done earlier by akiva and philip:) Benny, Benny, I could’ve saved your mother but¾(the actress becomes herself for a moment and laughs, and then, smiling to herself:) Aw, shit. (sings:) Let me entertai¾ (speaks:) Y’know, so, like, um. The Big Mac Index is forecasting a decline in the Euro for the quarters preceding (she interrupts the word “preceding” to hiss, snakelike, for five seconds) Naming a charitable organization as beneficiary  (breaks “beneficiary” with a prolonged “shhhhh,” sings first words of “Satisfaction,”) I can’t get no ¾ (Finally she answers a phone, and grows ashen as she softly delivers the following lines:) What? O God. O God. (She slams down the phone and resumes her previous tone.) Yes. So. Right. (phones start ringing again) For the price you pay for a cup of coffee every day, do you know how many human beings man men whose beings being being what you might call what you might call what you what you might call in and pledge just the teeniest tiny sum to make the wow! really life and death difference in so far as you would postpone the agonizing death of a terminally miserable person for an indeterminate length of time. HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF YOUR CHILD WERE DYING (laughs hysterically)??? (The packer comes forward with a serving tray of hors-d’oeuvres and snacks, which Constance now becomes aware of. Enter akiva as constance runs to food and begins ravenously, noisily, bingeing; he starts to lay tefillin.) The problem is apathy. The problem is cynicism. The problem is a lack of infrastructure. (Lay in: “Officer Krupke” segment from West Side Story, “the problem is he stinks,” etc.., during which constance really starts shovelling the chips into her mouth in earnest. She speaks the following lines while chewing.) The problem is living in the immense wake of the rapid and clumsy retreat of colonialism, what you might call the white man’s, what you might call, what you might, you might, call, you might call, call call me! Gee! What a difference a day makes. 24 little hours brought the sun AND the flowers. You might-A CUP OF COFFEE, PEOPLE, HELLO!?! (speaks the following in a thick southern drawl:) It’s easier’n lett’n’em come HERE, (stereotypical uneducated African-American accent:) where day be takin’ ah jobs’n’shit (stereotypical intellectual accent:) and creating structural instabiliity in the labor market (shouts in her ‘normal’ accent:) so KEEP’EM OUT KEEP’EM OUT KEEP’EM¾(finally, she answers phone before it stops ringing.) Oh! This just in. Another 212 massacred. Civilians. (southern drawl:) The raw ground discard of the riiiiiight to self-determination. (previous speech mode:) Grief fills the room up of my absent child, / Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me, / Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words, /Remembers me of all his gracious parts, / Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form¾

(All but constance turn to face the back of the stage, motionless while following lines are spoken.)

all but constance speak in unison: The United States is mortified by this use of violence. The United States implores all parties to the conflict to cease hostilities and stop acting like jerks. O can’t we all just get along. (Pause.) No, really.

(constance runs back to her food.)

akiva:  Ladies and Gentlemen: A correction must needs be made. No one dast blame this man. A second correction: No one dast blame her. A third correction: No one dast blame…you. In short, no one dast. Dig? Because indeed, through her spokeswomperson-hood-ness-shipitude, not to mention your generosity with coffee money, millions and millions have blah blah blah. Hundreds of thousands of blah blah blah. The difference you’ve made, the difference America has made, not to mention the international blah, has been, well, blah. Ladies and gentlemen, let no one tell you that we are an apathetic cynical nation of blah. Blah blah blah is perhaps the most insidious lie, problem, encroaching atrophying blah blah facing our nation today. Blah. We are the alpha and omega, and the blah blah blah that comes in between. Blah blah blah millenium. Blah blah blah compassion. (The next three fragments are spoken as if the words have just suddenly dawned on him, for the first time, with great significance:) Infrastructure. Free trade. FAIR trade. A nation divided cannot. The peace process must go o¾. A cease fire, thanks to your generous donation, has been called by the very megalomaniacs who bombed their own country back to the Stone Age. And now, for the price of a cup of coffee, you can feed a starving UN peacekeeper. (Sighs.) Blaaaaah blah. Aesthetics and politics make strange bedfellows. Bed fallows. (constance collapses, exhausted from her binge.) Blah.

(Audio of artillery, while we hear voiceover by Archie Bunker imitator🙂 Edith? EDITH?! Will you get in here? Look-will you LOOK AT DAT?!? DOOOOO some-ting, Edith!

Edith-Imitator Voiceover: Well, what do you want me to doooooo, Archie?

Edith and Archie repeat lines, “Dooooo some-ting Edith” and “What do you want me to doooo, Archie?” overlapping one another for about ten seconds, abruptly stop. Hold. End projections/video. Ten seconds canned laughter. Silence. Pale light up as constance de-Sally-Struther-ifies, re-Constance-ifies, and stagehands clean up for a minute or so, presumably sweeping away all the food crumbs that constance has dropped or spit up.

Someone in the cast sings the Revolutionary War song, “Mama,” a cappella.

packer: (in Korean, to person who has just sung) When I am deserted, I want to be left alone so I can wish, in peace, that I were not alone. Singer and packer exit.

philip taps the music stand again and calls constance to attention. He picks up phone, dials it. constance realizes her cellular is ringing. She hesitates a while out of fear (that the call will be news of a death) as the volume of the ringing increases, then answers the phone. In the following conversation, both speak in subdued tones, but constance invests a lot of emotion in the lines and philip delivers the lines in an almost throwaway manner.

constance: (speaking into her cellular) Hello?

philip: (speaking into his cellular) Hi. Is this Constance?

constance: Yes.

philip: It’s me. Philip.

constance: I know.

philip: Y’know, dear, the one constant in life is change.

constance: Yes. Yes, I suppose that’s true.

philip: I think if your day had more structure to it, you wouldn’t mope around quite as much.

constance: (gasping indignantly, or perhaps shocked) I¾I¾but¾

philip: Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa. I’m just talkin’ here, I’m just jawbonin’, honey. (clears throat to speak in grand Shakespearean voice.) Patience, good lady, comfort, gentle Constance!

constance: (very low key) No, I defy all counsel, all redress,

But that which ends all counsel, true redress:

Death, death. O amiable lovely death!

Thou odoriferous stench! sound rottenness! (the sound of a call waiting click)

Arise forth from the couch of lasting night,

Thou hate and terror to prosperity,

And I will kiss thy detestable bones,

And put my eyeballs in thy vaulty brows¾ (the sound of a call waiting click)

philip: Ugh, I’m really sorry, Constance, can you hold on a sec? I’ve got another call.

constance: Umm…

phiilip:  It’ll just be a sec. (Phone clicks. Long pause.)

akiva: (approaches slowly, inexorably, while constance waits awkwardly on the phone. Speaking through bullhorn, about a foot away from constance‘s right ear:) You must be devastated.

constance: Umm, yes.

akiva: To lose a child. Devastating.

constance: Yes.

akiva: At least he went peacefully.

constance: I, um…

akiva: Terrible, terrible, terrible. I’m so sorry. You must be absolutely devastated.

constance: (Profoundly, sincerely:) Für wen sonst schreiben wir / Als für die Toten allwissend im Staub. (Suddenly quite full of herself and impressed by her own display of erudition:) For whom do we write but for the dead, omniscient in the dust.

akiva: (Pause.) That’s beautiful. (Pause.) Who wrote it?

constance: (coy🙂 A German writer.

akiva: (slips into a progressively thicker East European Jewish accent) Oy! Figures. Talk about a culture with a death complex. Bunch a NAZIS. (Somewhere in here, he’ll stop talking through the bullhorn.) And dey got da chutzpah to compare da Palestinian ting ta da Holocaust, da bastads. Nu? Bulldozing a few houses and shooting a few demonstrators? Hunh? Oy da chutzpah. Hello, six million, hello? Never forget never forget never foget never exalted never transcendent never Yit-gadel ve-yit-kadesh by the great name of sh’may raBA¾

(akiva stands facing forward, all others face upstage.)

all but akiva:  You must be devastated.

akiva: You don’t know the HALF of it.

all but akiva:  Sad, sad, sad. I feel for you. Really.

akiva: Vell, it’s nice to know someone cares.

all but akiva: At least they went peacefully. (Pause.)

constance: (for this line, she turns out briefly to the audience:)

Preach some philosophy to make me mad,

And thou shalt be canoniz’d, Cardinal.

all but akiva: So what are you going to do now?

akiva and constance: (akiva mutters the line to the audience in Russian while constance, directing herself to akiva, says the line in English) When I am deserted, I want to be left alone so I can wish, in peace, that I were not alone.

packer: Mixed emotions are a natural part of the grieving process. After the loss of a loved one, expect alternately to feel numbness, anger, sadness, guilt, loneliness. Do you have trouble sleeping at night? Are you eating more or less than usual? Do you have trouble concentrating? You might be clinically depressed. Therapy has helped many people through the grieving process. Now, coupled with progress made in the realm of psychopharmacology, we can remain productive inside the workplace and sociable outside the workplace, healing our souls as efficiently as possible.

Somewhere, a phone rings twice. No one moves. philip turns to audience.

philip: Hello. Thinking too much to feel? Feeling too much to think? Or just bored out of your FUCKING MINDS?

Cellular phone rings. akiva answers it. philip continues his little speech underneath the exchange between akiva and plant. As he does so, philip retreats upstage, eventually exiting.

philip: Just because it’s all been done before doesn’t mean you can’t continue to support the arts with your presence and your (winks) support, for which we will gladly give you this Channel Thirteen tote bag and coffee mug. (sings🙂 They say that I won’t last too long on Broadway. (Pauses, continues singing🙂 They say there’s always magic in the air. (Speaks:) Magic, baby. I want to be rejuvenated. In wooing sorrow let’s be brief, for, having woo’d, she’ll be won, but once won, why woo? (sings softly:) But they’re dead wrong, I know they are, cuz I can play this here guitar…. (finishes his exit.)

akiva: Hello?

plant: Akiva?

akiva: Speaking.

plant: It’s ben Akiva.

akiva: Huh?

plant: The son of Akiva. Y’know, Sheol, Gehenna, hell, whatever.

akiva: Oh, yeah yeah yeah, I got it.

plant: You were supposed to help me learn the Kaddish today, Rabbi. So my father could go to heaven. So I could be and feel a part of what is constant in human existence. (While speaking, plant takes away akiva’s phone and gives both phones to another actor, who takes them off stage. plant begins to use akiva’s phylacteries to tie him to the platform akiva stood on when playing Bach. After tying him, plant begins to paint akiva’s face with smiling clown makeup.) So I could understand that death and birth are part of the cycle of existence. (While being tied with his phylacteries, akiva  repeatedly mutters under plant’s lines, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace. The day of the Lord is darkness.) So I could feel a part of a great thousand years old tradition of life and death and recognition of God, magnified and sanctified be He. Constants of human existence. So there would be mercy on my father, the tax collector.  Mercy for my father, who favored the rich and killed the poor. Mercy for my father, a Protestant who burned three Catholic boys sleeping in Dublin. (turns around and operatically sings to the tune of the Peter Gabriel song:) Mercy Street, where you’re inside out, looking for mercy, in your something-or-other. (Speaks:) Mercy for my father, the Roman who gave vinegar to Christ. Mercy for my father, who killed Malcolm X. Mercy for my father, who shot Gandhi. Mercy for my father, the recidivist child molester and serial killer. Mercy for my father, the Hutu militia man. Mercy for my father, the Soviet pilot who bombed the village of Pishtik in the Yaftal valley, paralyzing a 12-year old girl with shrapnel and killing her family. My father, the Iranian revolutionary, who, before killing the unclean bitch who was Minister of Higher Education for the Shah, made her get in a sack so as not to come in contact with her unclean bitch’s skin.

akiva: You expect resolution?

plant: Time doesn’t heal wounds, it just covers them.

akiva: I resent your prima facie assumptions about the sine qua non of our little quid pro quo.

plant: My faith goes no higher than the roof.

akiva: “I still believe in the basic good of humanity.” Anne Frank.

plant: “You complete me.” Tom Cruise.

akiva: (weeping) You had me at “hello.” You had me at “hello.”

all. (moving in closer together, edging downstage center while they speak, led by philip, who conducts them as if they were an orchestra. philip conducts them with ridiculously exaggerated gestures🙂 Of course, the idea of mercy for criminals highly controversial. Although we of course favor mercy after death on the Day of Judgment¾um, maybe¾we certainly do not advocate the repeal of the death penalty, which I’m sure all of us support, as I’m sure most of us have felt threatened by niggers recently. Oops. Shouldn’t have said that. Our words come from a sinful demon. Sorry. But just so’s you know: We are repeating certain stylistic conventions here. Repetition implies purpose implies we are a non-profit organization seeking to. Who knows, maybe use the same three or four stylistic conventions for the next forty years or so. We got it from somewhere. We’re a 501(c)(3) organization, by the way. Did the guy from the talent agency come tonight? Yo, don’t laugh. Hey! (singing line from A Chorus Line) If Troy Donahue can be a movie star. (stop singing) Just don’t bitch us out if we take money from Philip Morris. You’d do it, too, so I don’t even wanna hear about it. Don’t push me. Cuz. I’m. Close. To. The. (They pause, sigh, and disperse.)

plant: (to philip) I haven’t said what I meant to say.

philip: And what was that?

plant: (shrugs) V’yitgadal. V’yitkadesh. Sh’may… (looks around forlornly, exits)

philip: (Pause. Suddenly turns to audience) Did you get the tote bag and coffee mug?

packer:  (to philip, as if conducting a TV interview) So tell me, Philip, why do you work in the arts?

philip: (smiling maniacally) The true artist does art out of need, little one. I couldn’t do anything else. There’s no choice involved here. Something inside me DRIVES me to be an artist. People don’t understand that. It’s not something to do because you want to do it. It’s something you do because you HAVE to do it. For the children. Yes, yes, that’s it, I do it for the children.

packer: So, if we lived in a fascist country and the government banned you from doing theater, you’d risk death or imprisonment to produce your art?

philip: No question, little one!

packer: Three Sisters in the Gulag?

philip: Sure!

packer: Enemy of the People in a reeducation camp?

philip: For the children? Why not?

packer: Your next project, my liege?

philip: For my next trick, I will stage Glengarry Glen Ross in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, in blackface. FOR THE CHILDREN!

packer: You are a courageous man.

philip: And so are you my friend. And so are we all.

packer: Any parting words?

philip: I just want everyone to know, I know how you feel. (Increasingly ominously, mixing contempt and hatred:) I know how you feel. I know how you feel. And I know how you feel. (Laughs lightheartedly) Yadda yadda yadda.

(philip taps the music stand, calling Constance to come stand center. akiva is still tied to his platform.)

philip: One last time, with feeling. Glycerine?

constance: No. Yes. No. Yes. No. NO! (Momentary beat. She grabs the glycerine dropper from a tray being held by packer/server. She shakes it.) Wh…wh… there’s no glycerine in here. I. There was glycerine in here last night. There was GLYCERINE in this container. (She begins to weep for real.) I just bought some last week. Everything I touch turns ridiculous and vile.

(The dresser used by the packer is turned horizontal, suddenly looking more like a casket. The akivas and packer carry the coffin out and hold it downstage of constance; eventually they set it on the ground in front of her, where it stays for the duration of the play.)

philip: Beautiful, baby. Use it. Annnnnnnnnnnnd GO!

constance: (raw:) When I am deserted, I want to be left alone so I can wish, in peace, that I were not alone.

philip: (Pause, correcting her and getting her back into the “performative” mode she’s supposed to be in.) Uhh… Patience, good lady, comfort, gentle Constance!

(We get about thirty seconds now where constance can deliver the following lines in peace, without distractions. After about thirty seconds, a digital watch beeps. Then another. And another. Then phones start to ring. Different voices repeat the line, “Constance¾are you ok? I’m coming over.” constance at a certain point begins to beat the casket with her fists, the sound of which also gradually reverberates, amplified. constance and philip raise their voices to be heard over the din, but by the end, they can’t be understood anymore.)

constance: No, I defy all counsel, all redress,

But that which ends all counsel, true redress:

Death, death. O amiable lovely death!

Thou odoriferous stench! sound rottenness!

O that my tongue were in the thunder’s mouth!

Then with a passion would I shake the world,

And rouse from sleep that fell anatomy

Which cannot hear a lady’s feeble voice,

Which scorns a modern invocation.

phiilip: Lady you utter madness, not sorrow.

constance: Thou art not holy to belie me so,

I am not mad. This hair I tear is mine,

My name is Constance, I was Geffrey’s wife,

Young Arthur is my son, and he is lost.

I am not mad, I would to heaven I were!

For then ’tis like I should forget myself.

O, if I could, what grief should I forget!

Preach some philosophy to make me mad,

And thou shalt be canoniz’d, Cardinal;

For, being not mad, but sensible of grief,

My reasonable part produces reason

How I may be deliver’d of these woes,

And teaches me to kill or hang myself.

If I were mad, I should forget my son,

Or madly think a babe of clouts were he.

I am not mad; too well, too well I feel

The different plague of each calamity.

And, father Cardinal, I have heard you say

That we shall see and know our friends in heaven.

If that be true, I shall see my boy again;

For since the birth of Cain, the first male child,

To him that did but yesterday suspire,

There was not such a gracious creature born.

(lines from German translation of the speech:)

Aber nun wird der Krebs des Kummers meine Rosenknospe fressen,

und die angebohrne Schönheit von seinen Wangen jagen

er wird aus holen Augen wie ein Gespenst schauen,

so düster und hager wie ein vom Fieber ausgezehrter Kranker,

And so he’ll die; and rising so again

When I shall meet him in the court of heaven

I shall not know him: therefore never, never

Must I behold my pretty Arthur more.

philip: (In Korean) You hold too heinous a respect of grief.

(In English🙂 You’re more fond of grief than your child.

(The sound of the din now increases sharply until constance can no longer be heard.)

constance: Grief fills the room up of my absent child,

Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,

Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,

Remembers me of all his gracious parts,

Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;

Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?

Fare you well! Had you such a loss as I,

I could give better comfort than you do.

O Lord, my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!

My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!

My widow-comfort, and my sorrows’ cure!

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.

(Lights out while cacophony continues for about ten seconds before cutting out. Then for about fifteen seconds, we hear only the sound of constance beating the coffin with her fists. Then quiet.)

End

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