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All in the timing: six one-act comedies. Essay

(No response. She sees the blackboard, reads:) “He. She. It. Arf.” (She notices the numbers around the walls, and reads:) “Wen–yu–fre–fal–fynd–iff–heven–waitz.” (Noticing the empty chairs, she practices her greeting, as if there were people sitting in them) Hello, my name is Dawn. It’s very nice to meet you. How do you do, my name is Dawn. A pleasure to meet you. Hello. My name is Dawn.

The door at left opens and Don appears.

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DON: Velcro!

DAWN: Excuse me? About the Playwright David Ives was born in Chicago and educated at Northwestern University and Yale School of Drama. Besides the plays included in All in the Timing, he has written, among other things: Lives and Deaths of the Great Harry Houdini (Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1983); Seven Menus and Foreplay, or the Art of the Fugue (Manhattan Punch Line Theatre, 1989 and 1991); Mere Mortals and Long Ago and Far Away (Ensemble Studio Theatre, 1990 and 1993); The Secret Garden (Pennsylvania Opera Theatre, 1991); and Ancient History (Primary Stages, 1989). The Red Address, which premiered at Magic Theatre in San Francisco in 1991, was circulated as part of TCG’s Plays in Process series. Ives has written for television and Hollywood, and teaches at New York University.

About the Play The premiere production of All in the Timing opened at Primary Stages in New York City on December 1, 1993, under the direction of Jason McConnell Buzas, and moved to the John Houseman theatre in March. Five of the six one-acts composing All in the Timing had been previously produced: Manhattan Punch Line Theatre first presented Sure Thing; Words, Words, Words; Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread and Variations on the Death of Trotsky; The Philadelphia premiered at the 1992 New Hope Performing Arts Festival in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The Universal Language, which premiered with this production of All in the Timing, will be included in Best American Short Plays: 1993-1994, to be published by Applause Books in September.

No Comparisons

An interview with the playwright by Stephanie Coen

David Ives and I met in a New York restaurant not unlike the cafe where Bill and Betty work out their future in Sure Thing, the first play in this collection. Our conversation initially seemed like a parody of his signature piece; a bell didn’t ring, but the 43-year-old author called for the check anytime he wanted to change the subject. Ives has been writing for more than 20 years: plays, screenplays, an opera, fiction and journalism. He describes his early, full-length works as “terrible plays that nobody even knows about anymore,” but the short comedies collected here have sent critics to their thesauri for variations on the word hilarious.

When the New Criterion reviewed All in the Timing, the reviewer used words like “Ivesian” and “Ivesland.” How would you define Ivesland?

Oh my God. What’s your next question?

I’m not equipped to answer that. I’ve been reading all these reviews and critiques of my work, and being wonderfully enlightened about what these plays are actually about. I thought they were just harmless little skits, and here they are saying “Ivesland” and “Ivesian.” For me to consider what these plays are about would probably cripple me irredeemably in trying to write any more of them. You have to write innocently, up to a certain point. What does Ivesland mean to you?

Well, for one thing, the ordinary seems fantastical and the fantastical somehow seems ordinary.

I’ve never known the difference between those two things. I don’t honestly try to be fantastical. I don’t honestly try to be anything.

I write these things so that someone will write the sort of play that I’d like to go and see. Too much in theatre to me is literal and boring and unimaginative and untheatrical. My own interest in going to the theatre sort of slackened off when I finally started writing plays that I liked.

I think Ivesland is also a place where, if people try hard enough, or simply stick around long enough, they can get things right. Are you as much of a romantic as your plays?

I’ve heard that word bandied about me, and I want to stop this rumor immediately. I am a dark, troubled, angst-ridden, misanthropic writer about the dark side of the human condition.

Am I a romantic? Seeing all of these plays together surprised me. The one thing that I learned was how weirdly optimistic they are. Something that audiences must find so appealing about them is that people overcome the most insuperable difficulties in these plays: Trying to write Hamlet when you don’t know what Hamlet is, or learning a language that you’re creating as you go along, or living with a mountain climber’s axe in your head for 36 hours. I don’t know if romantic is the word. But a lot of guys do end up getting the girl, and vice versa, so there must be something there.

There is, in all of your work, a sense of possibility. Do you think that’s true of theatre as an art form?

I think of theatre as an arena for communal empathy. To write for the theatre, you have to have a kind of imaginative empathy for people in order to understand how and what they feel. You then bring that to an audience. The audience has to empathize with what you’re saying, and the actors have to empathize with what you’ve written, and all the people who put a production together have to empathize with each other for the space of four or eight weeks. I think of theatre as this great civilizing arena where people find a common ground. It’s where, in one way or another, we realize that we’re in the same leaky boat, and we realize it in person.

You’ve been compared to Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter, Stoppard. In a not-unimaginable Ivesian situation, what would you say to them?

What could I possibly say to them–little did you know you were like me. Do you mean, what would I say to them about their plays?

Anything. Let’s say you’re in a room, and in walks Beckett.

I’d tell him, You’re dead, Sam, go home. Then I’d say, Oh, by the way, lighten up.

I’m abjectly grateful to these people for writing the good plays they have, but I don’t really see the justice of the comparison. I don’t know why people say Harold Pinter. And Samuel Beckett? Three monkeys typing in a room trying to write Hamlet–does that sound like something Beckett would write? Maybe I’m just resisting being compared to anybody. I don’t take these plays as seriously as these reviewers have. I’m just trying to make good jokes.

What would you do if you weren’t a playwright?

At last, an easy question. I’d not be a playwright. Wittgenstein would approve of that answer.

What would I do? I’d spend all my time in museums looking at paintings. Much more fun than being a playwright. To me the theatre is about necessity, and painting is somehow or other, in a way that I can’t define, about freedom. I think that my resistance to Beckett, Pinter, Ionesco, Stoppard, that nonsense–I think that resistance actually comes because I don’t think that I’m influenced by those people, even though I somehow seem to be like them. The effect that I want these plays to have isn’t a theatrical effect; it’s about painting and music. The best theatre I’ve seen in years was the Lucian Freud exhibit.

Is there anything you want to ask me?

Are you paying for this meal?

ALL IN THE TIMING

SURE THING

The Characters

Sure Thing

Bill: late 20s

Betty: late 20s

Words, Words, Words

Milton: a boy monkey

Swift: a boy monkey

Kafka: a girl monkey

The Universal Language

Dawn: late 20s; plainly dressed, very shy, with a stutter

Don: about 30; charming and smooth; glasses

Young Man: as you will

Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread

Philip Glass: the composer; intensely serious

Baker: genial and large

First Woman: a vivacious friend

Second Woman: beautiful and mysterious

The Philadelphia

Al: 20s or 30s; California cool

Mark: 20s or 30s; frazzled

Waitress: 20s or 30s; weary

Variations on the Death of Trotsky

Trotsky: the great revolutionary in full flourish; bushy hair and goatee; small glasses; dark heavy suit and black string tie

Mrs. Trotsky: grandmotherly and sweet; ankle-length dress, high-button shoes and shawl

Ramon: young and handsome; sombrero, serape, huaraches and guitar

Playwright’s Note

Essentially Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread is a musical number in three sections which are demarcated by the ringing of a bell. The brief first and third sections are spoken, while the longer middle section is to be recited in Philip Glass-like rhythms. (Glass’s Einstein on the Beach provides a fair model of such rhythms.) Different performers and directors may create different rhythms (and jokes), but a score of the original “music” is available for a token fee from the author’s agent.

A cafe table, with a couple of chairs. Betty is reading at the table. An empty chair opposite her. Bill enters.

BILL: Excuse me. Is this chair taken?

BETTY: Excuse me?

BILL: Is this taken?

BETTY: Yes it is.

BILL: Oh. Sorry.

BETTY: Sure thing.

A bell rings softly.

BILL: Excuse me. Is this chair taken?

BETTY: Excuse me?

BILL: Is this taken?

BETTY: No, but I’m expecting somebody in a minute.

BILL: Oh. Thanks anyway.

BETTY: Sure thing.

A bell rings softly.

BILL: Excuse me. Is this chair taken?

BETTY: No, but I’m expecting somebody very shortly.

BILL: Would you mind if I sit here till he or she or it comes?

BETTY: (Glances at her watch): They do seem to be pretty late…

BILL: You never know who you might be turning down.

BETTY: Sorry. Nice try, though.

BILL: Sure thing. (Bell) Is this seat taken?

BETTY: No it’s not.

BILL: Would you mind if I sit here?

BETTY: Yes I would.

BILL: Oh. (Bell) Is this chair taken?

BETTY: No it’s not.

BILL: Would you mind if I sit here?

BETTY: No. Go ahead.

BILL: Thanks.

He sits. She continues reading.

BILL: Every place else seems to be taken.

BETTY: Mm-hm.

BILL: Great place.

BETTY: Mm-hm.

BILL: What’s the book?

BETTY: I just wanted to read in quiet, if you don’t mind.

BILL: No. Sure thing. (Bell) Every place else seems to be taken.

BETTY: Mm-hm.

BILL: Great place for reading.

BETTY: Yes, I like it.

BILL: What’s the book?

BETTY: The Sound and the Fury.

BILL: Oh. Hemingway. (Bell) What’s the book?

BETTY: The Sound and the Fury.

BILL: Oh. Faulkner.

BETTY: Have you read it?

BILL: Not…actually. I’ve sure read about it, though. It’s supposed to be great.

BETTY: It is great.

BILL: I hear it’s great. (Small pause) Waiter? (Bell) What’s the book?

BETTY: The Sound and the Fury.

BILL: Oh. Faulkner.

BETTY: Have you read it?

BILL: I’m a Mets fan, myself.

Bell.

BETTY: Have you read it?

Bill: Yeah, I read it in college.

BETTY: Where was college?

BILL: I went to Oral Roberts University.

Bell.

BETTY: Where was college?

BILL: I was lying. I never really went to college. I just like to party.

Bell.

BETTY: Where was college?

BILL: Harvard.

BETTY: Do you like Faulkner?

BILL: I love Faulkner. I spent a whole winter reading him once.

BETTY: I’ve just started.

BILL: I was so excited after ten pages that I went out and bought everything else he wrote. One of the greatest reading experiences of my life. I mean, all that incredible psychological understanding. Page after page of gorgeous prose. His profound grasp of the mystery of time and human existence. The smells of the earth…. What do you think?

BETTY: I think it’s pretty boring.

Bell.

BILL: What’s the book?

BETTY: The Sound and the Fury.

BILL: Oh! Faulkner!

BETTY: Do you like Faulkner?

BILL: I love Faulkner.

BETTY: He’s incredible.

BILL: I spent a whole winter reading him once.

BETTY: I was so excited after ten pages that I went out and bought everything else he wrote.

BILL: All that incredible psychological understanding.

BETTY: And the prose is so gorgeous.

BILL: And the way he’s grasped the mystery of time–

BETTY: –and human existence. I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to read him.

BILL: You never know. You might not have liked him before.

BETTY: That’s true.

BILL: You might not have been ready for him. You have to hit these things at the right moment or it’s no good.

BETTY: That’s happened to me.

BILL: It’s all in the timing. (Small pause) My name’s Bill, by the way.

BETTY: I’m Betty.

BILL: Hi.

BETTY: Hi.

Small pause.

BILL: Yes I thought reading Faulkner was…a great experience.

BETTY: Yes.

Small pause.

BILL: The Sound and the Fury…

Another small pause.

BETTY: Well. Onwards and upwards. (She goes back to her book)

BILL: Waiter–? (Bell) You have to hit these things at the right moment or it’s no good.

BETTY: That’s happened to me.

BILL: It’s all in the timing. My name’s Bill, by the way.

BETTY: I’m Betty.

BILL: Hi.

BETTY: Hi.

BILL: Do you come in here a lot?

BETTY: Actually I’m just in town for two days from Pakistan.

BILL: Oh. Pakistan. (Bell) My name’s Bill, by the way.

BETTY: I’m Betty.

BILL: Hi.

BETTY: Hi.

BILL: Do you come in here a lot?

BETTY: Every once in a while. Do you?

BILL: Not so much anymore. Not as much as I used to. Before my nervous breakdown. (Bell) Do you come in here a lot?

BETTY: Why are you asking?

BILL: Just interested.

BETTY: Are you really interested, or do you just want to pick me up?

BILL: No, I’m really interested.

BETTY: Why would you be interested in whether I come in here a lot?

BILL: Just…getting acquainted.

BETTY: Maybe you’re only interested for the sake of making small talk long enough to ask me back to your place to listen to some music, or because you’ve just rented some great tape for your VCR, or because you’ve got this terrific unknown Django Reinhardt record, only all you really want to do is fuck–which you won’t do very well–after which you’ll go into the bathroom and pee very loudly, then pad into the kitchen and get yourself a beer from the refrigerator without asking me whether I’d like anything, and then you’ll proceed to lie back down beside me and confess that you’ve got a girlfriend named Stephanie who’s away at medical school in Belgium for a year, and that you’ve been involved with her–off and on–in what you’ll call a very “intricate” relationship, for about seven YEARS. None of which interests me, mister!

BILL: Okey. (Bell) Do you come in here a lot?

BETTY: Every other day, I think.

BILL: I come in here quite a lot and I don’t remember seeing you.

BETTY: I guess we must be on different schedules.

BILL: Missed connections.

BETTY: Yes. Different time zones.

BILL: Amazing how you can live right next door to somebody in this town and never even know it.

BETTY: I know.

BILL: City life.

BETTY: It’s crazy.

BILL: We probably pass each other in the street every day. Right in front of this place, probably.

BETTY: Yep.

BILL (Looks around): Well the waiters here sure seem to be in some different time zone. I can’t seem to locate one anywhere…. Waiter! (He looks back) So what do you– (He sees that she’s gone back to her book)

BETTY: I beg pardon?

BILL: Nothing. Sorry.

Bell.

BETTY: I guess we must be on different schedules.

BILL: Missed connections.

BETTY: Yes. Different time zones.

BILL: Amazing how you can live right next door to somebody in this town and never even know it.

BETTY: I know.

BILL: City life.

BETTY: It’s crazy.

BILL: You weren’t waiting for somebody when I came in, were you?

BETTY: Actually I was.

BILL: Oh. Boyfriend?

BETTY: Sort of.

BILL: What’s a sort-of boyfriend?

BETTY: My husband.

BILL: Ah-ha. (Bell) You weren’t waiting for somebody when I came in, were you?

BETTY: Actually I was.

BILL: Oh. Boyfriend?

BETTY: Sort of.

BILL: What’s a sort-of boyfriend?

BETTY: We were meeting here to break up.

BILL: Mm-hm… (Bell) What’s a sort-of boyfriend?

BETTY: My lover. Here she comes right now!

Bell.

BILL: You weren’t waiting for somebody when I came in, were you?

BETTY: No, just reading.

BILL: Sort of a sad occupation for a Friday night, isn’t it? Reading here, all by yourself?

BETTY: Do you think so?

BILL: Well sure. I mean, what’s a good-looking woman like you doing out alone on a Friday night?

BETTY: Trying to keep away from lines like that.

BILL: No, listen– (Bell) You weren’t waiting for somebody when I came in, were you?

BETTY: No, just reading.

BILL: Sort of a sad occupation for a Friday night, isn’t it? Reading here all by yourself?

BETTY: I guess it is, in a way.

BILL: What’s a good-looking woman like you doing out alone on a Friday night anyway? No offense, but…

BETTY: I’m out alone on a Friday night for the first time in a very long time.

BILL: Oh.

BETTY: You see, I just recently ended a relationship.

BILL: Oh.

BETTY: Of rather long standing.

BILL: I’m sorry. (Small pause) Well listen, since reading by yourself is such a sad occupation for a Friday night, would you like to go elsewhere?

BETTY: No…

BILL: Do something else?

BETTY: No thanks.

BILL: I was headed out to the movies in a while anyway.

BETTY: I don’t think so.

BILL: Big chance to let Faulkner catch his breath. All those long sentences get him pretty tired.

BETTY: Thanks anyway.

BILL: Okay.

BETTY: I appreciate the invitation.

BILL: Sure thing. (Bell) You weren’t waiting for somebody when I came in, were you?

BETTY: No, just reading.

BILL: Sort of a sad occupation for a Friday night, isn’t it? Reading here all by yourself?

BETTY: I guess I was trying to think of it as existentially romantic. You know–cappuccino, great literature, rainy night…

BILL: That only works in Paris. We could hop the late plane to Paris. Get on a Concorde. Find a cafe…

BETTY: I’m a little short on plane fare tonight.

BILL: Darn it, so am I.

BETTY: To tell you the truth, I was headed to the movies after I finished this section. Would you like to come along? Since you can’t locate a waiter?

BILL: That’s a very nice offer, but…

BETTY: Uh-huh. Girlfriend?

BILL: Two, actually. One of them’s pregnant, and Stephanie–

Bell.

BETTY: Girlfriend?

BILL: No, I don’t have a girlfriend. Not if you mean the castrating bitch I dumped last night.

Bell.

BETTY: Girlfriend?

BILL: Sort of. Sort of.

BETTY: What’s a sort-of girlfriend?

BILL: My mother. (Bell) I just ended a relationship, actually.

BETTY: Oh.

BILL: Of rather long standing.

BETTY: I’m sorry to hear it.

BILL: This is my first night out alone in a long time. I feel a little bit at sea, to tell you the truth.

BETTY: So you didn’t stop to talk because you’re a Moonie, or you have some weird political affiliation–?

BILL: Nope. Straight-down-the-ticket Republican. (Bell) Straight-down-the-ticket Democrat. (Bell) Can I tell you something about politics? (Bell) I like to think of myself a citizen of the universe. (Bell) I’m unaffiliated.

BETTY: That’s a relief. So am I.

BILL: I vote my beliefs.

BETTY: Labels are not important.

BILL: Labels are not important, exactly. Take me, for example. I mean, what does it matter if I had a two-point at– (Bell) –three-point at– (Bell) –four-point at college? Or if I did come from Pittsburgh– (Bell) –Cleveland– (Bell) –Westchester County?

BETTY: Sure.

BILL: I believe that a man is what he is. (Bell) A person is what he is. (Bell) A person is… what they are.

BETTY: I think so too.

BILL: So what if I admire Trotsky? (Bell) So what if I once had a total-body liposuction? (Bell) So what if I don’t have a penis? (Bell) So what if I once spent a year in the Peace Corps? I was acting on my convictions.

BETTY: Sure.

BILL: You just can’t hang a sign on a person.

BETTY: Absolutely. I’ll bet you’re a Scorpio.

Many bells ring.

BETTY: Listen, I was headed to the movies after I finished this section. Would you like to come along?

BILL: That sounds like fun. What’s playing?

BETTY: A couple of the really early Woody Allen movies.

BILL: Oh.

BETTY: You don’t like Woody Allen?

BILL: Sure. I like Woody Allen.

BETTY: But you’re not crazy about Woody Allen.

BILL: Those early ones kind of get on my nerves.

BETTY: Uh-huh.

Bell.

BILL: Y’know I was headed to the–

BETTY (Simultaneously): I was thinking about–

BILL: I’m sorry.

BETTY: No, go ahead.

BILL: I was going to say that I was headed to the movies in a little while, and…

BETTY: So was I.

BILL: The Woody Allen festival?

BETTY: Just up the street.

BILL: You like the early ones?

BETTY: I think anybody who doesn’t ought to be run off the planet.

BILL: How many times have you seen Bananas?

BETTY: Eight times.

BILL: Twelve. So are you still interested?

Long pause.

BETTY: Do you like Entenmann’s crumb cake…?

BILL: Last night I went out at two in the morning to get one. (Small pause) Did you have an Etch-a-Sketch as a child?

BETTY: Yes! And do you like Brussels sprouts?

Small pause.

BILL: I think they’re gross.

BETTY: They are gross!

BILL: Do you still believe in marriage in spite of current sentiments against it?

BETTY: Yes.

BILL: And children?

BETTY: Three of them.

BILL: Two girls and a boy.

BETTY: Harvard, Vassar and Brown.

BILL: And will you love me?

BETTY: Yes.

BILL: And cherish me forever?

BETTY: Yes.

BILL: Do you still want to go to the movies?

BETTY: Sure thing.

BILL AND BETTY (Together): Waiter!

Blackout.

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

Lights come up on three monkeys pecking away at three typewriters. Behind them, a tire-swing is hanging. The monkeys are named Milton, Swift and Kafka. Kafka is a girl monkey.

They shouldn’t be in monkey suits, by the way. Instead, they wear the sort of little-kid clothes that chimps wear in circuses: white shirts and bow ties for the boys, a flouncy little dress for Kafka.

They type for a few moments, each at his own speed. Then Milton runs excitedly around the floor on his knuckles, swings onto the tire-swing, leaps back onto his stool and goes on typing. Kafka eats a banana thoughtfully. Swift pounds his chest and shows his teeth, then goes back to typing.

SWIFT: I don’t know. I just don’t know…

KAFKA: Quiet, please. I’m trying to concentrate here. (She types a moment with her toes)

MILTON: Okay, so what’ve you got?

SWIFT: Me?

MILTON: Yeah, have you hit anything? Let’s hear it.

SWIFT: (Reads what he’s typed): “Ping drobba fft fft fft inglewarp carcinoma.” That’s as far as I got.

KAFKA: I like the “fft fft fft.”

MILTON: Yeah. Kind of onomatopoeic.

SWIFT: I don’t know. Feels to me like it needs some punching up.

MILTON: You can always throw in a few jokes later on. You gotta get the throughline first.

SWIFT: But do you think it’s Hamlet?

MILTON: Don’t ask me. I’m just a chimp.

KAFKA: They could’ve given us a clue or something.

SWIFT: Yeah. Or a story conference.

MILTON: But that’d defeat the whole purpose of the experiment.

SWIFT: I know, I know, I know. Three monkeys typing into infinity will sooner or later produce Hamlet.

MILTON: Right.

SWIFT: Completely by chance.

MILTON: And Dr. David Rosenbaum up in that booth is going to prove it.

SWIFT: But what is Hamlet?

MILTON: I don’t know.

SWIFT (To Kafka): What is Hamlet?

KAFKA: I don’t know.

Silence.

SWIFT: You know–this is really stupid!

MILTON: Have you got something better to do in this cage? The sooner we produce the goddamn thing, the sooner we get out.

KAFKA: Sort of publish or perish, with a twist.

SWIFT: But what do we owe this Rosenbaum? A guy who stands outside those bars and tells people, “That one’s Milton, that one’s Swift, and that one’s Kafka”–? Just to get a laugh?

KAFKA: What’s a Kafka anyway? Why am I a Kafka?

SWIFT: Search me.

KAFKA: What’s a Kafka?

SWIFT: All his four-eyed friends sure think it’s a stitch.

KAFKA: And how are we supposed to write Hamlet if we don’t even know what it is?

MILTON: Okay, okay, so the chances are a little slim.

SWIFT: Yeah–and this from a guy who’s supposed to be smart? This from a guy at Columbia University?

MILTON: The way I figure it, there is a Providence that oversees our pages, rough-draft them how we may.

KAFKA: But how about you, Milton? What’ve you got?

MILTON: Let’s see…

(Reads)

“Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste Brought death into the–”

KAFKA: Hey, that’s good! It’s got rhythm! It really sings!

MILTON: Yeah?

SWIFT: But is it Shakespeare?

KAFKA: Who cares? He’s got a real voice there.

SWIFT: Does Dr. Rosenbaum care about voice? Does he care about anybody’s individual creativity?

MILTON: Let’s look at this from Rosenbaum’s point of view for a minute–

SWIFT: No! He brings us in here to produce copy, then all he wants is a clean draft of somebody else’s stuff. (Dumps out a bowl of peanuts) We’re getting peanuts here, to be somebody’s hack!

MILTON: Writing is a mug’s game anyway, Swifty.

SWIFT: Well it hath made me mad.

MILTON: Why not just buckle down and get the project over with? Set up a schedule for yourself. Type in the morning for a couple of hours when you’re fresh, then take a break. Let the old juices flow. Do a couple more hours in the afternoon, and retire for a shot of papaya and some masturbation. What’s the big deal?

SWIFT: If this Rosenbaum was worth anything, we’d be working on word processors, not these antiques. He’s lucky he could find three who type this good, and then he treats us like those misfits at the Bronx Zoo. I mean–a tire-swing? What does he take us for?

MILTON: I like the tire-swing. I think it was a very nice touch.

SWIFT: I can’t work under these conditions! No wonder I’m producing garbage!

KAFKA: How does the rest of yours go, Milton?

MILTON: What, this?

KAFKA: Yeah, read us some more.

MILTON: Blah, blah, blah…”whose mortal taste Brought death into the blammagam. Bedsocks knockwurst tinkerbelle.”

(Small pause) What do you think?

KAFKA: “Blammagam” is good.

SWIFT: Well. I don’t know…

MILTON: What’s the matter? Is it the tone? I knew this was kind of a stretch for me.

SWIFT: I’m just not sure it has the same expressive intensity and pungent lyricism as the first part.

MILTON: Well sure, it needs rewriting. What doesn’t? This is a rough draft! (Suddenly noticing) Light’s on.

Swift claps his hands over his eyes, Milton puts his hands over his ears, and Kafka puts her hands over her mouth, so that they form “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

SWIFT: This bit.

KAFKA (Through her hands): Are they watching?

MILTON (Hands over ears): What?

KAFKA: Are they watching?

SWIFT: I don’t know, I can’t see. I’ve got my paws over my eyes.

MILTON: What?

KAFKA: What is the point of this?

SWIFT: Why do they videotape our bowel movements?

MILTON: What?!

KAFKA: Light’s off.

They take their hands away.

MILTON: But how are you doing, Franz? What’ve you got?

KAFKA: Well… (Reads what she’s typed) “K.K.K.K.K.K.K.K.K.K.K.K.K.K.K.”

SWIFT: What is that–postmodernism?

KAFKA: Twenty lines of that.

SWIFT: At least it’ll fuck up his data.

KAFKA: Twenty lines of that and I went dry. I got blocked. I felt like I was repeating myself.

MILTON: Do you think that that’s in Hamlet?

KAFKA: I don’t understand what I’m doing here in the first place! I’m not a writer, I’m a monkey! I’m supposed to be swinging on branches and digging up ants, not sitting under fluorescent lights ten hours a day!

MILTON: It sure is a long way home to the gardens of sweet Africa. Where lawns and level downs and flocks grazing the tender herb were sweetly interposed…

KAFKA: Paradise, wasn’t it?

MILTON: Lost!

SWIFT: Lost!

KAFKA: Lost!

MILTON: I’m trying to deal with some of that in this new piece here, but it’s all still pretty close to the bone.

SWIFT: Just because they can keep us locked up, they think they’re more powerful than we are.

MILTON: They are more powerful than we are.

SWIFT: Just because they control the means of production, they think they can suppress the workers.

MILTON: Things are how they are. What are you going to do?

SWIFT: Hey–how come you’re always so goddamn ready to justify the ways of Rosenbaum to the apes?

MILTON: Do you have a key to that door?

SWIFT: No.

MILTON: Do you have an independent food source?

SWIFT: No.

MILTON: So call me a collaborator. I happen to be a professional. If Rosenbaum wants Hamlet, I’ll give it a shot. Just don’t forget–we’re not astrophysicists. We’re not brain surgeons. We’re chimps. And for apes in captivity, this is not a bad gig.

SWIFT: What’s really frightening is that if we stick around this cage long enough, we’re gonna evolve into Rosenbaum.

KAFKA: Evolve into Rosenbaum?

SWIFT: Brush up your Darwin, baby. We’re more than kin and less than kind.

MILTON: Anybody got a smoke?

KAFKA: I’m all out.

SWIFT: Don’t look at me. I’m not going to satisfy those voyeurs with the old smoking-chimp act. No thank you.

MILTON: Don’t be a sap, Swifty. You gotta use ’em! Use the system!

SWIFT: What do you mean?

MILTON: Watch me, while I put my antic disposition on.

He jumps up onto his chair and scratches his sides, screeches, makes smoking motions, pounds his chest, jumps up and down–and a cigarette descends.

MILTON: See what I mean? Gauloise, too. My fave. (He settles back to enjoy it)

SWIFT: They should’ve thrown in a kewpie doll for that performance.

MILTON: It got results, didn’t it?

SWIFT: Sure. You do your Bonzo routine and get a Gauloise out of it. Last week I totaled a typewriter and got a whole carton of Marlboros.

MILTON: The trouble was, you didn’t smoke ’em, you took a crap on ’em.

SWIFT: It was a political statement.

MILTON: Okay, you made your statement and I got my smoke. All’s well that ends well, right?

KAFKA: It’s the only way we know they’re watching.

MILTON: Huh?

KAFKA: We perform, we break typewriters, we type another page–and a cigarette appears. At least it’s a sign that somebody out there is paying attention.

MILTON: Our resident philosopher.

SWIFT: But what’ll happen if one of us does write Hamlet? Here we are, set down to prove the inadvertent virtues of randomness, and to produce something that we wouldn’t even recognize if it passed right through our hands–but what if one of us actually does it?

MILTON: Will we really be released?

KAFKA: Will they give us the key to the city and a ticker-tape parade?

SWIFT: Or will they move us on to Ulysses?

The others shriek in terror at the thought.

SWIFT: Why did they pick Hamlet in the first place? What’s Hamlet to them or they to Hamlet that we should care? Boy, there’s the respect that makes calamity of so long life! For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely–

MILTON: Hey, Swifty!

SWIFT: –the pangs of despised love, the law’s delay–

MILTON: Hey, Swifty! Relax, will you?

KAFKA: Have a banana.

SWIFT: I wish I could get Rosenbaum in here and see how he does at producing Hamlet… That’s it!

KAFKA: What?

SWIFT: That’s it! Forget about this random Hamlet crap. What about revenge?

KAFKA: Revenge? On Rosenbaum?

SWIFT: Who else? Hasn’t he bereft us of our homes and families? Stepped in between us and our expectations?

KAFKA: How would we do it?

SWIFT: Easy. We lure him in here to look at our typewriters, test them out like something’s wrong but! we poison the typewriter keys!

MILTON: Oh Jesus.

SWIFT: Sure. Some juice of cursed hebona spread liberally over the keyboard? Ought to work like a charm.

MILTON: Great.

SWIFT: If that doesn’t work, we envenom the tire-swing and invite him for a ride. Plus–I challenge him to a duel.

MILTON: Brilliant.

SWIFT: Can’t you see it? In the course of combat, I casually graze my rapier over the poisoned typewriter keys, and– (Jabs) –a hit! A palpable hit! For a reserve, we lay by a cup with some venomous distillment. We’ll put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the pestle!

MILTON: Listen, I gotta get back to work. The man is gonna want his pages. (He rolls a fresh page into his typewriter)

KAFKA: It’s not a bad idea, but…

SWIFT: What’s the matter with you guys? I’m on to something here!

KAFKA: I think it’s hopeless, Swifty.

SWIFT: But this is the goods!

MILTON: Where was I…. “Bedsocks knockwurst tinkerbelle.”

KAFKA: The readiness is all, I guess.

MILTON: Damn straight. Just let me know when that K-button gives out, honey.

SWIFT: Okay. You two serfs go back to work. I’ll do all the thinking around here. Swifty–revenge! (He paces, deep in thought)

MILTON: “Tinkerbelle…shtuckelschwanz…hemorrhoid.” Yeah, that’s good. That is good. (Types) “Shtuckelschwanz…”

KAFKA (Types): “Act one, scene one. Elsinore Castle, Denmark…”

MILTON (Types): “… hemorrhoid.”

KAFKA (Types): “Enter Bernardo and Francisco.”

MILTON (Types): “Pomegranate.”

KAFKA (Types): “Bernardo says, ‘Who’s there?'”

MILTON (Types): “Bazooka.”

Kafka continues to type Hamlet, as the lights fade.

THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

A small rented office set up as a classroom. In the room are: a battered desk; a row of three old chairs; and a blackboard on which is written, in large letters, “HE, SHE, IT” and below that, “ARF.” Around the top of the walls is a set of numerals, 1 to 8, but instead of being identified in English (“One, Two, Three,” etc.) we read: “WEN, YU, FRE, FAL, FYND, IFF, HEVEN, WAITZ.” There is a door to the outside at right, another door at left.

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All in the timing: six one-act comedies. Essay
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(No response. She sees the blackboard, reads:) "He. She. It. Arf." (She notices the numbers around the walls, and reads:) "Wen--yu--fre--fal--fynd--iff--heven--waitz." (Noticing the empty chairs, she practices her greeting, as if there were people sitting in them) Hello, my name is Dawn. It's very nice to meet you. How do you do, my name is Dawn. A pleasure to meet you. Hello. My name is Dawn. The door at left opens and Don appears. DON: Velcro! [i.e., Welco
2021-07-12 23:39:29
All in the timing: six one-act comedies. Essay
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