Sunday, March 13, 2016

Word Temples ~ a poem

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


Compassion is more
than a noun.
More than emotion,
a passing distress
for another's distress

That slyly escapes the ache
of insistent Bodhichitta ~
that great spirit of compassion
that yearns ever to cherish others.
Eluding, instead, through the loophole
of misdirected non-attachment.

But in the beginning,
compassion was a verb,
A bell clarifying, calling the heart to attend.
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,
but 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

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ashes Wednesday ~ a short drama

, mid-20s Gay male. Preppy.
Ron, mid-20s Gay male. 80s Clubby.
Dorothy, any adult age. Caregiver, unambiguously Lesbian.
1983, New Orleans
  • 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).

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

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?!

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

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?

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

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.

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

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)

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

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.)

Jon Robichaux, Carl Espinoza, Alex Ransom...

Hunky Alex! What the fuck!?

I told you. Drop. Like. Flies.

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

Freddie Guess is Alex's best friend.


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

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

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

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

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.)

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.)

But what is it?

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.

AIDS killed Rock Hudson?

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

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.)

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

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

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!

Hey Buddy. Glad to see you walking around.

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

Yeah, they might want to reconsider their brand.

Either way, you're sure to lose weight.

Do you need anything from the store? Any errands?

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.)

Didn’t know you were Catholic.

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

I hope you found comfort.

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.

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

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

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.

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?

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.

He left me before he left me!

He was terrified.

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.

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

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.

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

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!

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.

So many. So fast.

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.

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

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.)

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 ~ a dramatic monologue

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 or night.

Typed manifesto, heavily edited by hand.
Frayed wire.
Smart Phone (either on a tripod or held by hand.)

(Jess Tendrup, a slim young man, dressed like a small town Metal Head, adjusts the video feature of his Smart Phone. 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.)

SOUND: off-stage battering ram, which Jess tries to ignore.
We take electricity for granted. Flick up the switch. There is light. We don't ask how. We simply will it. And it is. Like sorcerers, we bend electrical power to our own purposes. We harness wild current, direct its flow over long-distance cables right up to our own houses. Right up to the supermarket—where electricity, our ever faithful wizard's apprentice, keeps our pizza bagels frozen. Right up to the hospital, shopping mall, multinational conglomeration. Right up to the prison, where we depend on electricity for searchlights, sirens, electric fences and electronic locks. The humble light bulb is merely the physical form of Wired Society's combined will power. Flick up the switch. There is light.
(Forgets the prepared statement, speaking impromptu.)
So don’t tell me we can't do nothing about it. Don't tell me it ain't nobody’s fault!
“Well Brother Jess, that’s what to expect from God-forsaking, Hell-bent, Secular Humanist modern society.”
“But it just keeps on happening! Nobody can stop it. People lack the power. Politicians lack the guts. And the perps are the police themselves! Oh dear! The military!”
“That is because not enough righteous citizens are armed! Without more guns in the hands of heroes, nobody can stop this tragedy (that keeps on happening.) So nobody is to blame.”
Oh really? Well, I blame me! I blame all y’all! Blame us all for what happened. What keeps on happening! Only difference is, I am the only one with the will power to do something.
(Removes a frayed wire from his pocket.)
We can be humbled. In a single stroke, we can be made to tremble before the torrent of wild electrical current. I promise, I will stop the insanity. With more 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!

SOUND:  Off-stage battering ram.

Yes, yes. I hear y'all!

Homeland Security soldiers are outside the building right now, banging away at my barricades. Sounds more like they're banging at my brain. 

Sorry soldiers! Y'all will just have to wait! You can have the Power Station back when I'm done.
At the very least, these words spoken on this video blog, I want them to exonerate my family and defend other innocent folk from blame. Except for you, Pastor Roloff. You accept your blame, then go right ahead and die. Go to Hell, jump into the molten lake of eternal brimstone, and burn right up--Brother.
Hello, YouTube! This is Jess Tendrup. Howdy. 
(Attempts to read prepared statement again, but often digresses.)
I, Jesse Tyrelle Tendrup, being of sound body, as y’all can see (flexes muscles for camera). 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.

SOUND: battering ram.
I, Jesse Tyrelle Tendrup, son of Mister and Missus Travis Tendrup, and a recent graduate from Maranatha Christian Academy, 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—I 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. That's for sure. 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, Jesse Tyrelle Tendrup, accept full responsibility for my own destructive actions. I know folks will get hurt. Some folks 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 Power Relay Station can bring down the whole region. Imagine the Gulf dark. Actually, in 10 minutes, y'all won’t need to imagine. Hospitals will go dark. Critical-care and life support machines shut off. Heart monitors stop beeping, beep, beeeeeee... Hearts stop. At the prisons, no more electricity for search lights, sirens, or electric fences. What good are electronic locks with no electricity? All the prisoners will escape, run amok, maraude the lowlands and the high ground, and savage the citizenry. But worst of all, at the supermarkets—where we are most vulnerable—pizza bagels will thaw.
Then there’s me! I’m a sacrifice too. A willing sacrifice, for sure, in order "to bring illumination to the masses." Right, Pastor Roloff? “Shine a bright light. So that the Righteous, groping in the dark, may see the uphill path to the Pure Land.” I am a martyr for the cause. Perhaps even, if you will allow, a victim? As much a victim as anybody else. That is, if y’all are willing to accept that a person can be both the victim and the villain in the same story, especially when he tells the story his own self.
Villain? Victim ? Martyr? Nah, what I truly am is Resistance. Over at the Autobody, Sal's been teaching me about a car’s electrical system. Sal taught me that Thomas Edison, the electronic scientist, proved that we need Resistance to make light visible. 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 feel those sirens whining inside my ears. My eyes still wince at the memory of strobe lights, blue and red, rotating on the rooftops of cop cars, fire trucks, a SWAT wagon, two ambulances. Was all that show of force really necessary for one terrified Black kid clutching a water pistol for dear life?
Where did all that smoke come from? Emerging from-out the smoke, TV news crews walked and talkedit seemed at the timein slow-mo. Everything in slow-mo. Click-click of Smartphone cameras echoing in the smoke. Click-click, click. (Turns phone toward audience.) Onlookers filmed Video Selfies in a slow arc, scanning the horror. 

Fucking gawkers! Uploading the Event from their Smart Phones directly onto Social Media, separating the actual Event in space and time from its truth. All via the alchemy of electricity—for us to Share and Like later on, at our leisure.
(Turns phone camera back toward self.) 

The Event completed my education in disillusionment, showed me the utter, moral bankruptcy of our Wired Society. To murder a child, film it, and say nothing. We are all nothing but a mountain-heap of dead batteries. Our potential expended. Useless and toxic.
The Event re-wired my brain's micro-circuitry. It radicalized me. Knocked free some electrons from their usual orbit. “This shit ain’t right!” I screamed at the cops, at the TV crews, the gawkers. “Stop this stupid fucking insanity!” And when the TV news and the gawkers turned their cameras on ME, that’s when it struck me. Sometimes it takes an act of stupid fucking insanity to stop stupid fucking insanity. To restore Order. Yank off the bandage, so the wound can breathe and finally heal.
(Reading manifesto.)
My act of resistance shines a bright light onto our collective, national passivity. Calls attention to the strangle-hold of 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, insane—advocates for sanity. For good sense. Deprived of our electric light, may we see the true light of God’s judgment!
Most importantly of all, my resistance stands witness to violence. I am a lighthouse casting my beacon onto the rocks below, onto atrocities committed against us by those we trust!
(Directly to camera.)
I, Jesse Tyrelle 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 is frozen forever in my mind in a mask of 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, same age as my sister, clutching his plastic, water pistol to his heart.
I was only at the Pump-Dump-and-Go to buy a Scratch ticket and a PBR when I saw this cop gun down this kid over a toy gun painted safety orange! Other cops looked on. Said nothing. Turned a blind eye. Why are cops afraid to call out one of their own? Not even for murder? Of a kid? Too embarrassed, I guess. Nobody did nothing except take more Selfie photos and Selfie 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 violence, safe from Daddy.
Now Melly, I don’t want you never 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, Jess 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, Jess 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!

Jess 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 hit 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 ashamed, even though you got plenty to be shameful for.

All y’all watching this YouTube video, I want it publicly known that Travis Tendrup, my father, didn’t just beat me up over and over 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 up 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. Nuance 'em, only hint 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 Roloff! Because your mind is sick! Your values are sick! Your hateful attitudes are what makes it ok for cops to kill Black children, for fathers to kill…to kill their sons. And you said nothing, Pastor. Turned a blind eye. 

The ones we trust to protect us don't. I am Baltimore Ferguson too!

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 for me and tried to do.

One final word:  To the Homeland Security soldiers outside my barricade. I know your long silence means pretty soon y’all are planning to escalate to explosives. Right about the time I make the world go dark, BOOM! Y’all will bust into this Power Station and stumble upon my charred remains, smoldering between the negative and positive terminals. Fellas, I am truly sorry to spoil y’all's day. You ain’t the cop who shot Baltimore Ferguson. Sorry about the smell too. Burnt hair and yeah, burnt poo.

Big Sal told me, when the Electric Chair first was invented, scientists protested. The whole scientific world up and protested. God's truth. Because they believed that the Electric Chair degrades "the mysterious dignity of electricity," while mocking the very science that makes it possible to electrocute killers to death.

At the very least, we can all agree I spared taxpayers the expense of frying me in the Electric Chair. These days, the high cost of electricity is shocking! 
(Removes the frayed wire from his pocket.)
(chants like “om”) Ohhhhhhhmssss…. Hope I don’t really go poo.
(Puts the frayed end of the wire into his mouth.)
SOUND:  Pfzzt.


SOUND:  BOOM! and then rubble falling as soldiers bust in.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Next of Kin ~ a short drama


Patient’s same-sex husband.

Patient’s middle-aged aunt.

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


Hospital room.


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.)

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.

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

Then where the crapola is James' doctor?

Excuse me, may I come in?

(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!

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.

And who the hell are you?

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

A Resident? We want a real doctor!

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…

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?!

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.


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

Sir, what is your relation to Mister Catalano?

Jimmy is my husband.

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

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.

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

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

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?

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

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

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.

Ma’am, your relationship to Mister Catalano?

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

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

Caldwell. Chuck…Charles Caldwell.

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

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

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?

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!

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?

Is it that serious?

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

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

Mrs. Alfaro…

Please, include us both.

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

He said Caldwell!

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

Is it a coma?

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

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

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.

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

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

Is he in a coma now?!

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.

Oh my god.

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.

A what?

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

His heart stopped beating? Why?

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

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

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.

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

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.

But Jimmy doesn’t have heart problems!

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

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

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.

His brain? For how long?

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


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.

People wake up from comas all the time.

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

What do you mean more severe than coma?

We don’t believe Mister Catalano will wake up.

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

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.

He will die?!

I’m so sorry.

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?

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.

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

I’m so sorry.

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

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.

Help us by waking up my nephew!

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.

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

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

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.

God in Heaven! Are you kidding us?

Bella, please. Let her continue.

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

What do you mean?

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.

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

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

My nephew wants to live! Tell her, Charles.

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

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

(Long beat.)

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!


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.

(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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Terry Schiavo! No! No!

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

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

Isn't there any hope?

I can assure you he's in no pain.

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

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

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.


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

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

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

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)

Jimmy is my husband!


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The First Thespian ~ a short comedy

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!


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 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: 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.)