Sunday, March 13, 2016

Word Temples

The Chinese symbol for "poem" is made of two characters that mean "word" and "temple". Hence, a poem is a word temple.

WORD TEMPLES

In the beginning is
action. For compassion
is more than a noun,
more than emotion,
a passing distress
for another's distress

That yet escapes the ache
of insistent Bodhichitta ~
that great spirit of compassion
yearning ever to cherish others ~
eluded through the loophole
of misdirected non-attachment.

Instead, let compassion become
a verb, a clarifying bell
calling the heart to action.
Or a gaze penetrating through
to a more pure land ~ the new Jerusalem
where sympathetic action is
the true measure of righteousness.

For faith without works
is dead faith, a lifeless statue
erected in the posture of faith,
worshiped inside a temple
made of words.

Oh, let compassion fly!
Let compassion become
the winged horse,
carrying us forward, all of us,
to our mutual salvation. All of us
co-arising.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ashes Wednesday ~ a short play

Characters:
Eliot
, mid-20s Gay male. Preppy.
Ron, mid-20s Gay male. 80s Clubby.
Dorothy, any adult age. Caregiver, unambiguously Lesbian.
Setting:
1983, New Orleans
Props:
  • Black overcoat
  • Black umbrella
  • Black grease paint (to simulate a cancerous sarcoma)
  • Gray grease paint (to simulate an Ash Wednesday mark)
  • Oversized sport coat (with broad 80s shoulder pads and sleeves rolled up near elbows) to make Ron look gaunt.
  • Backpack
A note on the staging:
The events of this short play take place over several weeks. Each time characters exit the stage, time passes. Quick-changes (a different shirt, bandana, or jacket) help indicate the passage of time. Make the costuming as 80s as possible.




At lights up, 
2 young, Gay friends are walking
to a popular French Quarter bar.
Their clothes scream 1980s, 
preppie (Eliot) and clubby (Ron).


Eliot
Ron, I swear to God, this year for Lent I am totally giving up dick.

Ron
Dick! Ha. Not much of a sacrifice. What’s it been, like 8 months, a year, since you’ve even seen dick? Held it? Smelled it? (*gasp*) Oh my God, Girl, did your hymen grow back?!

Eliot
Shut up. Whatever is killing Gay guys has something to do with Gay sex.

Ron
Ok Eliot! Here we go again! President Reagan and Jerry Falwell are in cohoots to systematically kill off all the fags with some un-named, mystery plague. Right?

Eliot
You’ve seen the flyers. We saw one just a couple nights ago, outside the Golden Lantern. "Gay Plague Infects New Orleans."

Ron
That flyer was handwritten! Hardly a missive from the Board of Health. Some amateur, home-made bullshit. I can still smell the mimeograph chemicals! I love mimeograph chemicals. Gets me high.

Eliot
Fine. Don't take death seriously, Ron. While more and more of us drop like flies.

Ron
Oh Eliot, you dear, dear worry-wart, can we puh-lease lighten up the conversation and get to Bourbon Pub already? Hunky Alex is dancing tonight. I heard last week he danced totally naked on the bar and a Saudi Arabian prince ate his ass.

(Eliot exits singing)

Eliot
(singing from Disney’s Cinderella) Some day, my prince will come...

Ron
That’s more like it. Give up dick for Lent! Sister please.

(Ron exits.)
(When they return, their outfits are different enough 
to denote that 2 weeks have passed.)

Eliot
Jon Robichaux, Carl Espinoza, Alex Ransom...

Ron
Hunky Alex! What the fuck!?

Eliot
I told you. Drop. Like. Flies.

Ron
Not two weeks back, we just saw Alex dancing at the Pub! How can that happen to someone so beautiful? So fast?

Eliot
Freddie Guess is Alex's best friend.

Ron
Was.

Eliot
Uh, right. Freddie told me that Alex lost all this weight all of a sudden, from non-stop diarrhea.

Ron
I have to sit down. (Collapses on floor.)

Eliot
Then Alex collapsed at Freddie's studio. They rushed him to the ER at Charity Hospital. Some kind of pneumonia. Within 2 days...

Ron
Alex Ransom was a Greek God! Eliot, what the fuck is happening to us?

Eliot
I don't know. Maybe there is some kind of right-wing conspiracy. Something definitely is killing Gay guys. Fast. So fast! Hey, didn't you and Alex Ransom...?

(Ron stands and exits without answering.
(Eliot follows.)
(Dorothy enters speaking.)

Dorothy
Oh, I’ve heard all the rumors. It’s a mutated form of cat leukemia. It comes from fucking monkeys. And my personal favorite:  It’s a government conspiracy to use biological weapons against the Gays first, then anyone else the right-wing deems “unsavory”.

(Eliot enters.
His clothes indicate time 
has passed, a few more weeks. 
He carries a backpack.)


Eliot
But what is it?

Dorothy
The French named it AIDS. Acquired Immumo-deficiency Syndrome. Actually, they have a French word for that. SIDA or SILA? Something Frenchy. But in American it’s AIDS. Basically, that means the body’s natural immunity is deficient, weakened. Our defenses are down. A patient with AIDS can't fight off infection that a healthy person ordinarily could. A common cold can be a death sentence.

Eliot
AIDS killed Rock Hudson?

Dorothy
Technically, Rock Hudson died of ARC. AIDS-related complications. AIDS suppressed his immunity, but Rock Hudson died of pneumocystis pneumonia.

Eliot
Shit. How's he doing today?

(Ron enters slowly, walking with a cane. 

He wears an over-sized sport coat with sleeves
rolled up to his elbows, 
which makes him look gaunt. 

On his forehead is a large, black kaposi sarcoma ~ cancer.)



Ron
How’s my Mardi Gras costume coming together? I'm going as the Grim Reaper and Rock Hudson’s butt baby.

Dorothy
(to Ron) Oh yay. More gallows humor.
(to Eliot) My money’s on government conspiracy.

Ron
Don’t worry, Darling. Butt babies never live. And look (indicating his forehead), I already got my mark for Ash Wednesday. No need to go to Mass. Thank Gawd!

Eliot
Hey Buddy. Glad to see you walking around.

Ron
Isn't AIDS the name of a diet candy? Caramel cubes laced with speed?

Dorothy
Yeah, they might want to reconsider their brand.

Ron
Either way, you're sure to lose weight.

Eliot
Do you need anything from the store? Any errands?

Ron
Dorothy dearest, can you help me back to bed? I feel the need to lie down. Let me know if I have any visitors.

(Dorothy helps Ron exit, looking back apologetically 
to the stunned Eliot.

(Turning his back to the audience, Eliot opens the backpack. 
From inside, he puts on a black overcoat, 
rubs gray ash on his forehead, 
and then opens a black umbrella, ready to visit a grave.

When he turns back to the audience, 
Dorothy re-enters, 
protecting herself from the rain with a shawl. 

She wears warm, outdoor clothes 
(but not black. Her color palate is optimistic.) 

She slips her arm into Eliot's and they share the umbrella.)



Dorothy
Didn’t know you were Catholic.

Eliot
Haven’t been to Mass since my Confirmation. But once a Catholic, always Catholic. It’s like a scar.

Dorothy
I hope you found comfort.

Eliot
Yesterday I couldn’t do Mardi Gras at all. The craziness, the revelry. It’s been two weeks since Ron’s funeral, but I still just can’t. I closed my curtains and stayed in the dark. But this morning, I woke up antsy, restless, like I want to scream. I totally needed to be around other people. But like, serious-minded people, singing hymns about noble things.

Dorothy
I get it. Then after Mass, it made sense to visit him again?

Eliot
It’s odd they call this a grave. Who buries ashes then puts a marker on the spot?

Dorothy
People need somewhere to grieve. A place to go and reflect. Since funeral homes in New Orleans refuse to accept “ AIDS bodies”, that leaves the cremation folks, the Neptune Society.

Eliot
I don't understand why Ron shut me out, Dorothy! He wouldn't talk to me, look at me, acknowledge my presence! Why was he angry at me?

Dorothy
I'm sorry, Eliot. Yes, Ron was angry. At the world. At me sometimes. At you. But deep down, you know he was mad at death. Everyone confronts death in a different way.

Eliot
He left me before he left me!

Dorothy
He was terrified.

Eliot
At least you were with him…in the final moments. Thank you. Seems like all the dykes are taking care of sick Gay boys. You’re the only ones who will touch us.

Dorothy
Jill, my wife—Over there. We’re visiting another fella she was caring for—together we’ve been caregivers to 9 guys, so far.

Eliot
His own bitch mother wouldn't even visit him in the hospital. At the funeral, I couldn't look at her, or I would scratch her face.

Dorothy
There's a lot of fear around AIDS, and a lot of mystery. I mean, we don't even know what causes it.

Eliot
Sex is killing us! At least, the Gay kind. At Mass, I vowed to give up sex for Lent. Easiest decision of my life. I haven’t had any kind of sex in a year. Ron made fun of me, but I'm scared if I have sex, I'll die too! Death chases after folly!

Dorothy
It’s not folly to enjoy sex. It’s not folly to feel and express love. But protecting yourself, yeah, I think that’s a good idea right now. Until we know better what’s going on.

Eliot
So many. So fast.

Dorothy
While our glorious President won't even say the word AIDS. 40,000 deaths, and Reagan sits back in his Oval Office ignoring our cries for help. Because Gays dying is convenient to his political agenda. Fuck Reagan! Fuck. Reagan.

Eliot
I just want it to stop. I wish it all wasn't happening!

Dorothy
I know, Honey. I wish it wasn’t happening too. But now is not the time to bury our heads in the sand or pretend—along with the Leader of the Free World—that AIDS is not happening. If Reagan won't say the word AIDS, we have to scream it. Until we know how it’s caused. AIDS! How it spreads. AIDS!
(Eliot looks around, 
nervous other mourners will overhear.)

Dorothy
Until we cure it, and untold lives are saved. Until then, Eliot, silence equals death.

(The word "death" wounds Eliot. 

Dorothy takes the umbrella and protects them both.)


Lights fade to zero.

The End

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ohms of Resistance


Setting:  Can be a bare stage. Action takes place in the Gulf South, inside a barricaded Power Relay Station.

Time: Current, any time of day.

Props:
A hand-written or typed manifesto, heavily edited by hand.
A frayed wire.
A Smart Phone on a tripod (or can be imagined.)

(Jess Tendrup, a slim young man, dressed like a small town Metal Head, adjusts the video feature of his Smart Phone (either real or imagined) mounted on a tripod. He often speaks directly to the video camera.
When ready to begin, Jess steps into the camera frame, composes himself, musses-up his hair, and reads a prepared statement.)
In this Wired Society, we take electricity for granted. Flick up the switch. There is light. We don't ask how. We will it. Like sorcerers, we bend electricity’s power to our purposes. The combined force of society’s willpower harnesses wild electricity, directs its flow along currents, over long-distance cables, and snakes it through complex micro-circuitry right up to our own home addresses. Right up to the supermarket—where electricity, the wizard's apprentice, keeps our pizza bagels frozen. Right up to the hospital, the shopping mall, the multinational conglomerate. Up to the prisons, where we use electricity for sirens, searchlights, electronic fences and locks. Society wills it. It is. Electric light is the physical form of  our combined willpower!
(Forgets the prepared statement, speaking impromptu.)
So don’t tell me it’s nobody’s fault!
“That’s just modern Society for ya. God-forsaking, Hell-bent Secular Humanist modern society.”
“Oh dear! It just keeps happening, but nobody can stop it. Politicians lack the guts. People lack the power. And the perps are the police themselves, the military!”
“Well, that’s because not enough citizens are armed! Without more guns in the hands of heroes, nobody could have stopped this tragedy (that keeps happening.) So nobody is to blame.”
Well, I blame me! I blame all y’all! We are to blame for what happened. What keeps happening! Only difference is, I am the only one willing to do something about it.
(Removes a frayed wire from his pocket.)
In a single stroke, we can be humbled. We can be made to tremble before electricity’s awesome power. I promise, I will stop the insanity.
But first, hoo! I should take a breath! Aw man, I get ahead of myself!
(Puts wire back into his pocket.
 Adjusts the camera angle.
Musses-up his hair.)
I still need to record my final thoughts for posterity, my last Will and Testament, my video suicide note. My manifesto!
At the very least, I want my words spoken on this video to exonerate my family and to defend other innocent folk from blame. Except Pastor Roloff. You can go right ahead and die, Pastor. Go straight to Hell, jump into the molten lake of eternal fire, and burn right up.
Hello, Youtube! This is Jess Tendrup. Hi.
(Attempts to read prepared statement again, but occasionally digresses.)
I, Jess Tendrup, being of sound body, as y’all can see (flexes muscles). And of sound mind. Yes, I do know who I am—Jess Tendrup. Where I am—barricaded inside the Gulf South Power Relay Station. And what I plan to do.
I, Jess Tendrup, son of Mister and Missus Tyrelle Tendrup, a recent graduate from Maranatha Christian Academy, and currently employed as a car detailer down at Big Sally’s Autobody—Hey Sal! As you can see, I won’t be coming into work today—do herein and forthwith solemnly accept full and sole responsibility for my actions. Nobody but me needs to carry any blame on this. Not my useless mama. Not my sister, (her name chokes him) Melissa Grace. Not even my daddy, who really is to blame. Really, if y’all only knew. But not even my asshole daddy needs to carry any blame on this. And even though Pastor Roloff loaded up my head with hateful fantasy lies, I, Jess Tendrup, accept full responsibility for my own destructive actions. I know many folks will get hurt. Folk might, probably, die.
Sacrifices are expected with an Armageddon, a disruption of this magnitude. Not just the local grid, Folks, our town—we are the hub of the entire Gulf South. This Relay Station can bring down the whole region. Imagine the whole Gulf dark. Actually, in 10 minutes, y'all won’t need to imagine. Hospitals dark, electricity for critical-care and life support machines gone. Heart monitors stop beeping. Hearts stop. At the prisons, no more electricity for sirens, search lights, or electronic fences. What’s the good of electronic locks with no electricity? Prisoners will escape, run amok, marauding the lowlands and the high ground, savaging the citizenry. But worst of all, at the supermarkets—where we are most vulnerable— our pizza bagels will thaw.
Then there’s me! I’m a sacrifice too, a willing sacrifice, in order to “advance the Great Work”, Right Pastor Roloff? To bring illumination to the masses. Like you always say, “Shine a bright light so that the Righteous, no longer groping in the dark, may find the uphill path to the Pure Land.” I am a martyr for the cause, Perhaps even, if you will, a victim? That is, if y’all are willing to accept that a person can be both the villain and the victim in the same story, especially when he tells the story himself.
Villain? Victim ? Martyr? What I truly am is Resistance. At the Autobody, Big Sal has been teaching me about a car’s electrical system. Sal taught me about Thomas Edison, an electronic scientist who proved there can be no light visible without Resistance, measured in Ohms. Love that word! (chants like “om”) Ohhhhms.  I am the tungsten filament inside the bulb that resists the current, halts the mindless march-step of electrons, and makes them reveal their incandescence!
“But why now, Jess? What changed?”
Well, the Event changed…everything, changed me. I still hear and feel those sirens whining inside my eardrums. My eyes wince at the memory of strobe lights, blaring on the rooftops of cop cars, fire trucks, a SWAT wagon, two ambulances. Was all that show of force really necessary for one Black kid clutching a water pistol?
And where did all the smoke come from? Emerging from-out the smoke, TV news crews walked and talked in slow-mo—it seemed at the time. Everything in slow-mo. Clicks of Smartphone cameras echoing in the smoke, click-click. Click. Video Selfies, filmed by onlookers  in a slow steady arc, scanning the horror—gawkers! uploading the Event from their Smart Phones directly onto Social Media, separating the actual Event in both space and time from its truth. All via the alchemy of electricity—for us to Share and Like later on, at our leisure.
The Event completed my education in disillusionment, showed me the utter, moral bankruptcy of our Wired Society. All of us, we are nothing but a mountain-heap of dead batteries. Our potential expended. Useless and toxic.
But at the very same instant that the Event re-wired my brain circuitry, it also radicalized me. Knocked some of my electrons free from orbit. “That ain’t right!” I shouted at the cops, at the TV crews, the gawkers. “Stop this stupid fucking insanity!” And when the TV news and gawkers turned their cameras on ME, that’s when it struck me. Sometimes it takes an act of stupid fucking insanity in order to restore Order. Yank off the bandage, so the wound can breathe and finally heal.
(Reading statement.)
My act of resistance shines a bright light onto our collective, national passivity. Calls attention to the strangle-hold of the special interest groups over Congress, such as the NRA, ACLU, NAACP, and probably NASA for all we know. My sacrifice—although it might seem senseless, nonsensical, and insane—advocates for sanity. For good sense. Deprived of your electric lights, may you see the true light of God’s judgment!
Most importantly, my resistance stands witness to violence. I am the lighthouse casting my beacon onto atrocities committed against us by those we trust!
(Speaking directly to camera.)
I, Jess Tendrup, witnessed a police officer gun down a child, a little-little kid, outside the Pump-Dump-and-Go gas station and convenience store. Just a kid, his small Black face, frozen forever in my mind in a grimace. Terror! Y’all never want to see terror like that on a boy’s face! No, I’m just a boy. He was a little-little kid, like Melissa Grace, clutching his plastic, water pistol.
I was only at the Pump-Dump-and-Go to buy a Scratch ticket and a PBR when this cop gunned down this kid—could have been my own kid sister—over a toy gun painted safety orange! Other cops looked on, embarrassed, I guess. Did nothing. Nobody did nothing except take Selfie photos and videos. So I guess all y’all are right. Nobody is to blame.
And Nobody has been investigated for this mur-der. Nobody tried. Nobody convicted. Nobody brought to justice. But a kid died, all the same. A kid with a name, Baltimore Ferguson.
Mama, I am talking to you right now! Keep Melissa Grace safe, you heard me? You know exactly what I am talking about. Since you don’t care nothing about yourself none, don’t even stand up to protect your own self, ever, you have only one job. Simple. Keep Melissa Grace safe from Daddy.
Now Melly, don’t you ever to watch this video until you’re a grown adult woman. Mama, don’t let Melissa Grace watch YouTube! Melly, you don’t need to see your older brother, Jess, like this, in his last minutes alive on this Earth. But when you do grow up and you do watch this, he loves you. Sister. try to forgive him.
Please understand, Melly. It’s better he leaves now. Before he hurts somebody again, before he hurts you. No, he would never hurt you! But he did already punch Mama. Punched Mama right in her dumb, useless face, the same way Daddy punches her. She didn’t do nothing to defend herself—from her own son!
He thought he inherited the family curse, the family disease. The Tendrup appetite for violence. But now, after Mama and Daddy and all their shit, after the Event, after the murder of Baltimore Ferguson, now he believes it’s the whole world’s disease. The strong hits the weak.
You, Daddy. What the fuck, old man, you’re a mean asshole. I hope this video breaks your heart, Fucker, but we both know you don’t got one. I hope my action today chokes you with shame. Be the first time in your goddamn life you felt shame, even though you got plenty to be ashamed for.
All y’all watching this YouTube video, I want it publicly known that my father, Tyrelle Tendrup, didn’t just beat me up to prove he's stronger than a kid. He touched me too. TOUCHED me. There, I said it! 

And if you EVER touch Melissa Grace, I will claw my way back from Hell with a demon army to drag you, ass-fucker, down into damnation with me!
As for you, Pastor Roloff, only good thing I ever learned from all your sermonizing was eloquence; how to string together pearls of pretty words. Nuanced, only hinting at deeper meanings. So here comes some eloquence. Brother, fuck you. Ain’t no such place as the “Pure Land” except in your bigoted, mother-punching imagination. Lay off the Apostle Paul’s hate-gospel for a while, huh? Get back to Jesus. Less righteousness and a lot more love. Amen…Pastor?
Fuck eloquence. I blame YOU, Pastor! Because your mind is sick! Your values are sick! Your hateful attitudes are what make it ok for cops to kill Black children, for fathers to kill…to kill their sons.
And uh, Big Sally—Sal, by the time you see this, guess you already figured out I won’t be coming into work the rest of this week. Sorry about leaving y’all short-handed at the Autobody. You deserve better. Thanks, Sal. For everything you done and tried to do for me.
One final word:  To the Homeland Security soldiers outside my barricade right now. I can hear y’alls battering ram banging away. Pretty soon, I know y’all’ll escalate to explosives. Probably right about the time I make the world go dark, y’all’ll break into this Relay Station and stumble upon my charred remains smoldering between the negative and positive terminals. Fellas, I am truly sorry to spoil y’alls day. You ain’t the cop who shot Baltimore Ferguson. Sorry about the smell. Burnt hair and yeah, burnt poo.  
At the very least, we can all agree that I spared the taxpayers the expense of frying me in the Electric Chair. These days, the cost of electricity is shockingly high!
Did y’all know, when the Electric Chair was first invented, scientists and the whole scientific community protested? God’s truth. Because the Electric Chair degrades the mysterious dignity of electricity, while mocking the very same science that makes it possible to electrocute criminals to death.
(Removes the frayed wire from his pocket.)
 (chants like “om”) Ohhhhhhhmssss….
(Turns off the video camera.)
Hope I don’t really go poo.
(Puts the frayed end of the wire into his mouth.)
SOUND:  Pfzzt.

Blackout.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Next of Kin

CHARACTERS

CHUCK
Patient’s same-sex husband.

AUNT BELLA
Patient’s middle-aged aunt.

RESIDENT
Fourth-year Medical Student, part of the patient’s care team. Female. Very young in comparison to other cast.

SETTING

Hospital room.

TIME

Early evening, during visitor hours.



(A hospital room, during visitor hours. A family is gathered around the unconscious body of Jimmy Catalano. Chuck, Jimmy’s husband, is comforting Aunt Bella.)


AUNT BELLA
Why don’t someone tell us something?! We been here 45 minutes and nobody will tell us nothing. Where is James’ friggin’ doctor? That nurse at the front desk won't tell us a damn thing.


CHUCK
She can’t. Nurses are forbidden from discussing a patient’s prognosis with family members. That’s the doctor’s job.


AUNT BELLA
Then where the crapola is James' doctor?

RESIDENT
Excuse me, may I come in?


AUNT BELLA
(Charging the Resident.)
Where the hell is Doctor LeDoux? We been waiting here one hour. I want James’ doctor to get in here and explain to us what the hell is going on!


RESIDENT 
I’m sorry you’ve been waiting so long. Doctor LeDoux is not available right now. She’s in the O.R. That’s why I’ve come in.


AUNT BELLA
And who the hell are you?


RESIDENT
My name is Veronica Melbourne, I’m a Resident. I’m part of the team that’s taking care of Mister Catalano.


AUNT BELLA
A Resident? We want a real doctor!


RESIDENT
I assure you I am a real doctor. I’m in my last year of Medical School, and residency is the final step in my training. As I said, I’m part of the team who’s been caring for…


AUNT BELLA
This is how Tulane treats families? We find James unconscious, unresponsive, with a tube down his throat. But no! The doctor makes us wait and nobody tells us nothing! Except that orderly. He walked by here, looked in and muttered “Oh, that coma guy”. Holy Mother of God! A coma?!


RESIDENT
I am so sorry that orderly said that. That is grossly inappropriate. I will personally follow-up with the orderly staff to find out who said that and make sure it never happens again.


AUNT BELLA
Appalling.


CHUCK
Is that what’s going on? Is Jimmy in a…a coma? Why is he in a coma?


RESIDENT
Sir, what is your relation to Mister Catalano?


CHUCK 
Jimmy is my husband.


RESIDENT
(beat) 
I have some difficult information to discuss with Jimmy’s…Mister Catalano’s legal next of kin. Does Mister Catalano have a…um, wife?


AUNT BELLA
Do you hear what Charles just said, young woman? He and James are married. Just as married as I was to my dear, departed Alonso.


RESIDENT
I understand that. Unfortunately, the State of Louisiana does not yet recognize same-sex marriage as legal. I mean no offense, but..


AUNT BELLA
We are offended! How would you like if YOUR husband was in a coma…


RESIDENT
I did not say coma. And my hands are tied on this matter. As a medical professional, I do have to work within legal guidelines. Does Mister Catalano have any adult children?


CHUCK 
No. We don’t have kids. Jimmy doesn’t have kids.


RESIDENT
I see. Are his parents alive? Does he have adult siblings?


AUNT BELLA
Charles and me are James’ only family. His parents kicked him out when he was 16 for being Gay. Then they died in a house fire—God have mercy on their souls—in their own bed. Now I am James’ only blood relative.


RESIDENT
Ma’am, your relationship to Mister Catalano?


AUNT BELLA
I am his aunt. James’ mother is my sister. James and Charles are practically my own sons.


RESIDENT
Then that makes you Mister Catalano’s legal next of kin. As I said, I mean no disrespect to you, Mister…??


CHUCK
Caldwell. Chuck…Charles Caldwell.


RESIDENT
(to Aunt Bella) And how may I address you?


AUNT BELLA
Mrs. Isabella Lorraine Alfaro. The boys, they call me Aunt Bella.


RESIDENT
Mrs. Alfaro, hello. Again, my name is Veronica Melbourne. Before we begin our discussion about Mister Catalano’s care, what would you like to happen right now? Should I discuss with you alone, or would you prefer Mister Caldwell to also be present?


AUNT BELLA
Are you retarded in the head? Of course I want Charles present! He is James’ husband! You have the moral responsibility to discuss James’ healthcare with James’ husband!


RESIDENT
Alright. As long we all understand that any decisions regarding Mister Catalano’s care can only be made by his legal next of kin. Please, may we sit down?


CHUCK
Is it that serious?


RESIDENT
What I came to discuss is difficult. Sitting down is a good idea.


AUNT BELLA
Sit here, Charles. No thank you. I will stand.


RESIDENT
Mrs. Alfaro…


AUNT BELLA
Please, include us both.


RESIDENT
Yes of course. Mrs. Alfaro and Mister…??


AUNT BELLA
He said Caldwell!


RESIDENT
Excuse me. I’m so forgetful with names when I feel nervous. Mrs. Alfaro and Mr. Caldwell, please prepare yourself for difficult news.


CHUCK
Is it a coma?


RESIDENT
Before I answer that question, can you explain to me what you understand about Mr. Catalano’s condition?


AUNT BELLA
James came here this morning to Tulane for knee replacement surgery. Now he won’t wake up. Got that tube down his throat.


CHUCK
I dropped Jimmy off myself. Bella and I came back now, together, to check on him. Assumed he would need to rest up a couple days, then we’d take him to our home. But we don’t understand why he won’t wake up.


AUNT BELLA
And that chooch in scrubs looked in and called him “the coma guy”!


RESIDENT
Again, that was inappropriate. Mister Catalano’s surgery did go well. Only a couple hours ago he was alert and speaking.


CHUCK
Is he in a coma now?!


RESIDENT
Not a coma, Sir. Please allow me to continue. I promise I will answer all your questions after I give you complete information. As I said, Mister Catalano was alert and speaking. Then the Charge Nurse informed the medical team that he was complaining of shortness of breath.


CHUCK
Oh my god.


RESIDENT
I was part of the team that rushed into the room to help Mister Catalano. By the time we arrived, he was unconscious and non-responsive. We started CPR and then requested a Code Team.


AUNT BELLA
A what?


RESIDENT
An emergency trauma team. They confirmed that Mister Catalano’s heart was not beating, and they took over the CPR.


CHUCK
His heart stopped beating? Why?


RESIDENT
After knee surgery, it’s common for a deep-vein thrombosis to form.


AUNT BELLA
Missy, you better start speaking English. We have every right to understand this. And we can. If you speak language we understand.


RESIDENT
Of course. I apologize for my word-choice. Let me back up a little. After Mister Catalano’s surgery, a blood clot formed in his leg. The clot broke away from the site of the surgery, and travelled in his blood stream to Mister Catalano’s lungs.


CHUCK
You said his heart stopped beating. He had a heart attack?


RESIDENT
Not exactly. The blood clot blocked the major artery between Mister Catalano’s lungs and his heart. We call that a pulmonary embolism. Because of the blockage, his heart could not receive oxygen, and that’s why he had a cardiac arrest. His heart stopped beating.


CHUCK
But Jimmy doesn’t have heart problems!


RESIDENT
It was the clot, Sir. One possible risk of this kind of surgery is the formation of blood clots.


CHUCK
So why is he unconscious? Why the tube in his throat?


RESIDENT
The Code Team did CPR to get his heart beating again. After numerous attempts, they were finally successful. But although his heart did start again, in the meantime, Mister Catalano’s brain was also deprived of oxygen.


CHUCK
His brain? For how long?


RESIDENT
We don’t know for sure. Long enough that his brain suffered anoxic brain damage.


AUNT BELLA
English!


RESIDENT
Brain damage due to the lack of oxygen. That tube you see is helping Mister Catalano breath. The brain controls breathing. But because of the brain damage, Mister Catalano’s body cannot breath on its own.


CHUCK
People wake up from comas all the time.


RESIDENT
This is not a coma, Sir. The damage is more severe than that.


AUNT BELLA
What do you mean more severe than coma?


RESIDENT
We don’t believe Mister Catalano will wake up.


AUNT BELLA
He’ll wake up. Look, he’s breathing. I see him breathing!


RESIDENT
I’m sorry to tell you this bluntly, Ma’am. But what you see is a machine breathing for him. If we remove the machine, his body won’t breath on its own.


CHUCK
He will die?!


RESIDENT
I’m so sorry.


AUNT BELLA
James chose Tulane! He didn’t have to come here for surgery. He did the research. Tulane is supposed to be the best in Orleans Parish for this kind of knee replacement surgery. How could you let this happen?


RESIDENT
We are investigating right now how this happened. The best we can tell, after surgery, Mister Catalano should have received an anti-coagulant medication to prevent blood clots. He wasn’t.


AUNT BELLA
Wait, what? You were supposed to give Charles medicine to prevent THIS! And you didn’t? This is your fault!


RESIDENT
I’m so sorry.


AUNT BELLA
Sorry?? Sorry won’t feed a mockingbird! Sorry won’t wake up my nephew!


RESIDENT
Of course you’re shocked, angry, and grieving. I don’t claim to understand exactly what you’re feeling. But I am here to help you any way I can.


AUNT BELLA
Help us by waking up my nephew!


CHUCK
Bella, please. It’s not her fault. She’s the bearer of bad news. (to the Resident) You tried to save him. You gave him CPR. Thank you for that.


RESIDENT
I did everything I could, everything I know how to do.


CHUCK
And now Tulane rewards you by making you give us the bad news. You’re a very fine young doctor, Miss Melbourne.


RESIDENT
Oh! Thank you, Mister Caldwell. It’s my duty and my honor to be with your family at a difficult time like this. (beat) There’s more for us to discuss.


AUNT BELLA
God in Heaven! Are you kidding us?


CHUCK
Bella, please. Let her continue.


RESIDENT
Mrs. Alfaro, did Mister Catalano ever discuss what he would want if something like this ever happened?


CHUCK
What do you mean?


RESIDENT
How would Mister Catalano, James, want us to care for him? For example, we can keep him on the ventilator. And if he has another cardiac event, I mean, if his heart stops again, we could resuscitate him.


AUNT BELLA
Of course we want that. We want him to live!


RESIDENT
Is that what James would want? If his quality of life is compromised like this?


AUNT BELLA
My nephew wants to live! Tell her, Charles.


RESIDENT
Even knowing that he probably won’t ever wake up? Or if he did, he would not be the James you know?


CHUCK
I understand what you’re saying. Bella, she means withdrawing care. Withdrawing the breathing tube, letting Jimmy…

(Long beat.)


AUNT BELLA
Well, I want him to live! You said I’m his next of kin. His legal next of kin. You have to do what I say. I want him to stay alive!


CHUCK
Bella!


AUNT BELLA
I'm sorry, Charles! But I can't just do nothing. Let them pull the...I can't stand by and watch James... He's my boy! You're both my boys.


CHUCK
(to the Resident)
We cannot possibly make a decision like that. Not minutes after you just walked in here and dropped a bomb on us.


RESIDENT
Of course not. Mrs. Alfaro, you do not have to make any decisions right now. I’m introducing the topic. Begin to think about what I’ve said.


AUNT BELLA
Don’t ask me! You should ask his husband! Charles! Charles is his husband!


RESIDENT
Morally I agree with you. But you are the legal next of kin. Discuss it together then. Decide as a family the best course of action for Mister Catalano. What he would want. What the two of you together think is best.


CHUCK
Jimmy and I watched that whole Terry Schiavo fiasco in disgust. We never imagined it could happen to us.Never talked about what we would want. We both thought the real tragedy was that family’s grief put on display, held up to public scrutiny. Judged by Fox News and Facebook.


AUNT BELLA
Terry Schiavo! No! No!


RESIDENT
I know this is unthinkable, terrible news. But is there anything I can explain better? Do you have any questions for me right now?


CHUCK
No, not right now. Bella, Dear, any questions?


AUNT BELLA
Isn't there any hope?


RESIDENT
I can assure you he's in no pain.


CHUCK
My God! Oh my God! I don't want Jimmy to be in pain! Bella, I don't want him to feel pain!


AUNT BELLA
(Rushes to comfort Chuck) How can you assure us that?


RESIDENT
The most honest answer I can give you is Mister Catalano does not feel any pain. The part of his brain that experiences pain is not active.


CHUCK
Jimmy!


RESIDENT
Mister Caldwell, we also have medications we can give Jimmy to ensure he does not feel pain. Medication and other forms of palliative care...to ease his transition.

(long beat.)

Perhaps I should give you some time to talk and absorb this. I can come back any time you need me. If you do think of other questions, ask for me by name, Veronica Melbourne.


AUNT BELLA
Thank you, Miss Melbourne. We need time alone now, to talk...to grieve as a family.


RESIDENT
Of course. Again, I’m so sorry, Mrs. Alfaro. Mister Caldwell... (Attempts to touch Chuck's arm, hesitates, then exits)


AUNT BELLA
I don't understand what just happened to our family!

(The dam breaks, and Chuck finally has the break down he has struggled to hold back. Bella embraces and comforts him)

CHUCK
Jimmy is my husband!

_________________________________________________________________

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The First Thespian

Characters:
Thespis of Icaria, a Leading Man
Glaucus, a member of the Greek Chorus
Jerkus, a rival member of the Greek Chorus

Time:          6th century B.C.
Location:    Ancient Greece. On stage at Athens Amphitheater. 10 minutes until Curtain.
Props:         Sword. Sword belt. A mask of Tragedy and 2 masks of Comedy (Optional. Actors may pantomime those faces instead.)
Costume:    Matching togas. Thespis’ toga is too short. Glaucus’ toga is baggy and too large. Jerkus’ toga is just right.

__________________________________

Glaucus:     (Enters from wing, calling off-stage) Thank you, Ten!

Thespis:     (Enters from opposite side of Glaucus, doing vocal warm-up exercises...culminating with) DRACH-mah. drrrrach-ma. drach-MAH!

Glaucus:     Thespis, stop worrying. Tonight you will give an Olympian performance. If your voice fails, you can always rely on your lovely face.

Thespis:      But I'll be wearing a mask.

Glaucus:     Even wearing the mask of Tragedy, your unique talent shines through, my boy. Like a star in the heavens! No doubt, after tonight’s performance, Zeus himself will reserve a spot in the night sky for your soul to sparkle when you ascend.

Thespis:      Does my face look lovelier when I speak in this direction, (turns head in profile to audience) or speak in this direction?

Glaucus:     Where will your audience be seated? Speak in the direction of their ears.

Thespis:      But what if I misspeak, Glaucus?! What if tonight, in front of all the free citizens of Athens, I, Thespis of Icaria, flub history’s first line?

(Groups of ladies and men are arriving for the show.)

Glaucus:     Welcome to Athens Amphitheater, Senators, Ladies. Have you come to see tonight's Choral performance? Most excellent. We have a very special treat for you tonight. Very special indeed. (to Thespis) See how the nymphs look longingly upon you, and even the satyrs...

Thespis:     Satyrs! (Leading man smile.)

Glaucus:     ...much admire your comely good looks.

Thespis:     But tonight, Glaucus, will god-like beauty be enough?

Glaucus:     I said good looks.

Thespis:     I don’t want to be known merely as a glorious physique, an Adonis.

Glaucus:     (under breath) Narcissus more like.

Thespis:     I want to be remembered—nay Glaucus, celebrated down through history for my skill as …as an…what do we call this? Is it choric refrain anymore? With only one singer? We don’t have a word for this in Greek. Am I really the first...ever…to try this?

Glaucus:     To my knowledge, dear Thespis, which admittedly is not so vast as your own, I never before heard of a Chorus member who attempted a solo.

(Jerkus enters)

Jerkus:        Nor should it be attempted.

Thespis and Glaucus in chorus: (intense dislike) Salutations, Jerkus!

Jerkus:        Since the dawn of Chronus, there has always been a Chorus. We are the necessary foundation of a story well told. How else would the audience understand the playwright’s meaning? Without the Chorus to explain it to them? In song.

Glaucus:     But never before has a single member of the Chorus stepped forward by himself, under his own spot of torchlight, and spoken in the voice of another man or acted out the deeds of another man or pretended to be another. Indeed Thespis, what you are attempting is the birth of a new kind of theater.

Jerkus:        Don’t break a leg stepping under that spot of torchlight.

Thespis:     (acid) Why thank you, Jerkus, for your too kind words. (Stage whispering to Glaucus) But Glaucus, how does one person pretend to be another?

Glaucus:     Uhhh…alright, let's start with your name.

Thespis:     Surely you know me, Glaucus. We have sung together the stories of gods and heroes in wild, dithyrambic refrain for 8 years. Thespis. Of Icaria.

Jerkus:       Genius!

Glaucus:     Dear Zeus. Yes, I do know you, Thespis, my lovely boy. Now introduce yourself as the person you pretend to be.

Thespis:     Oh! Of course. Right! (grabs Glaucus by the forearm in a Greco-Roman handshake. Casually introduces himself as if to a business associate.) I am Pericles.

Glaucus:     You are? Really?! This is how an orator, a statesman, a general of Thrace greets his warriors?!

Thespis:      I am Pericles?

Glaucus:     Mean it. Again!

Thespis:      I am Pericles!

Glaucus:     More authority! Again!

Thespis:      I am Pericles! I am Pericles!

Glaucus:     (tents fingertips together and nods) Goooooood.

Jerkus:       That was good?

Thespis:     (to Jerkus) I shall instill fear and respect for Pericles in the audience.

Glaucus:     Not the audience. The armies of Thrace! If you pretend to be Pericles, then pretend to stand where Pericles stands. (Turns Thespis by the shoulders toward audience.) On a hilltop, above the valley where Thracian warriors have assembled to receive your command.

Thespis:     Yes, I see. And then, I shall roar like a fearsome lion. (Roars!)

(Jerkus roars in laughter, mocking Thespis.)

Thespis:     (ignoring Jerkus) To instill fear and respect in the audience...(catching on) the armies of Thrace!

(silence)

Glaucus:     (beat) I like where you are going. Choose something else.

(Thespis struggles to come up with a new idea.)

Glaucus:     For example, draw your sword, thus. Instead of roaring like an actual lion, speak your name…with a roar in your voice!

Thespis:     (draws sword) I…Am…Pericles!

Glaucus:     You make me shudder. You are so real. Honestly, Thespis, there should be a word, a name, for what you can do. Let us see...you pretend to be another person. You imitate or mimic the words and actions of a character in a story...

Jerkus:       Thus you are a pretender? An imitator? History's first mimicker?

Glaucus:     No, I don't like the implied guile of pretender. Imitator sounds cheap.

Thespis:     And mimicker? I can’t even pronounce mimicker without tripping. What about charmer? Because I charm the audience into believing that I am indeed Pericles.

(More guests arrive at the amphitheater.)

Glaucus:     Good evening, ladies. Oh yes, many good seats left. Just beyond the urinals. Upwind, I assure you! (calling after them as they pass by) Thank you for supporting local theater!

Jerkus:       Charmer sounds like spells and magic, a snake charmer. A charlatan.  

Glaucus:     (to Thespis) My dear boy, you are the leading man of the Chorus.

Jerkus:       Leading man? (beat) No, that will never catch on.

Thespis:     Will the audience accept me, Glaucus? Are they willing to accept that I, Thespis of Icaria, humble singer…

Jerkus:       Humble!

Thespis:     …of the Athens Amphitheatre Choral Company, speak for Pericles? That I truly am the Great Pericles?

Glaucus:     (ruminates) That depends on your motivation.

Thespis:     My what? What in the name of Melpomene is motivation?

Jerkus:       This I gotta hear.

Glaucus:     Motivation...is...uh? Ah! Motivation is “why are you talking? Why are you doing such-and-such?” In real life, when we talk or do something, it's because we want something. We are motivated to talk because we want something. What does your hero want that motivates him to say "I am Testicles!" (pronounced Testa-cleez)

Jerkus:       (raucous laughter) Oh Glaucus, the hero in this play is named "Pe-ri-cles". Good thing Thespis is history's first "Leading Man".

Thespis:     (movie star smile to more passing nymphs and satyrs) Thank you for coming tonight. Stay after the performance. I would be happy to autograph your papyrus. (rakish wink)

Glaucus:     Quite true! I have no mind for memorizing lines. I would flub history’s first line for sure if I were standing in your sandals. Instead of a Leading Man like you, Thespis, I am merely your follower. Perhaps I could be called history's first…uhh… Thespian?!

Jerkus:       History’s first…uh…Th-th-th-theth-pian. Malarckus!

Glaucus:     And here's Jerkus, history’s first critic! 

Jerkus:       Well I, for one, need the Chorus to back me up, to keep me in step with the group mind, to keep me in line!

Glaucus:     What you do, Thespis, is Art.  And Craft. It requires Art, Craft, and a courageous heart to step forward into the torchlight and stimulate our intellects, arouse our emotions, stir our psyches with only your words and actions.

Thespis:     Brother, you should be directing this whole show.

Glaucus:     What would that make me then? A Director?

Thespis:     No, a tyrant.

(All 3 share a knowing laugh. Pause. Laugh again.)

Glaucus:     Speaking of tyrants, (indicating Jerkus) Pericles wants to defeat a tyrant. That is his motivation. He stands above the battlefield, (indicating the  audience) addressing archers, spearmen, charioteers, and common soldiers, trying to rouse them to righteous indignation against an evil tyrant. Pericles appeals to their clan pride as Thracians! He wants to motivate them into fighting and dying for Thrace. When he says “I am Pericles!”, he is declaring, “Pericles has arrived! Let the fight begin!”

Thespis:     And this is motivation?

Glaucus:     If your motivation is true to real life, Thespis, if we recognize and sympathize, then yes, I believe the audience will accept you as the hero.

Jerkus:       They are lighting the torches. The flutes will start soon.

Thespis:     How is my hair?

Glaucus:     Tousled. Like a hero. Sword belt secure? (Thespis tightens his sword belt) Loins girded? (Thespis flashes his underwear under his toga) Good and good. Ok, here goes. Let us each don our mask.

Jerkus:       Don’t flub your precious line.

(They face audience side-by-side, with Thespis in the middle. All 3 solemnly pull down a mask from atop their heads. Thespis is Tragedy. Glaucus and Jerkus are Comedy. Actors may pantomime if no actual masks are available.)

All 3 in chorus:  Ahhhhhhh…. (Glaucus and Jerkus repeat chant over Thespis’ line.)

Thespis:     (with a roar in voice) I…Am…(draws sword)...Testa-cleez!

(Glaucus chokes on chant. He pulls up his mask. Now his face has become Tragedy. Jerkus pulls up his, but remains Comedy under his mask. Fade to blackout as the panting Thespis, oblivious of his flub, turns to Glaucus for approval.)