a commedia in two acts
by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
adapted from Re Cervo by Carlo Gozzi

MAX, the King
TADOK, the Prime Minister
PROVOLONE, the Second Minister
LEONARD, Provolone’s son, a postal clerk
WILEY, an old man, once apprentice to Maledictus
SCRUB, a janitor
CORA, Tadok’s daughter.
ANGELA, Provolone’s daughter, a student nurse
SOPHIE, a waitress

Three Stagehands

A Bear

The White Stag

© 1980 by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller. All rights reserved.
First presented by The Independent Eye, 1980. Revised 1986.
For production rights, contact WordWorkers, 800-357-6016 or E-mail.
Bare stage. In midair, invisibly suspended, a lucite crown.
Lights. Overture. STAGEHANDS appear. They create metallic, mirrored walls, summon clock faces. Clocks run forward and backward. STAGEHANDS set their watches.
Flybuzz whine. Music, clocks stop. Fly stings, they swat, flee.
Music again. An old man, WILEY, looks around edge of wall. Cautiously comes around edge. Sits, leaning on wall. Speaks front.
WILEY: Name’s Wiley. Forgot the rest.
One of those, they say, with magic in my making.
Young, grab for the magic deep, deep in the mirror, the face.
My master. Maledictus.
Squinty-eyed, scrawny, seawater stink.
He was master of magic, and I was to learn the trade, oh boy.
Then the war. So much to do: breakfast, the dishes, body counts. The garbage of magic, old withered tails of things.
And so little time. I spent it, forgot to check the warranty.
Learned only one bit of magic. The cheapest trick. Turning old.
Flybuzz. He swats.
No! Not again! Oh damn! Ahhh!
It flies in one ear.
I will! Give me time! Tiiiiiiiiiiime!
It flies out the other ear, fades. He recovers.
Damn critic. Well. The story.
He poses formally. Behind shadow screen, STAGEHANDS mime.
In a kingdom, this kingdom, a wizard. Black magic, white magic, rainbow puddles of magic: Maledictus.
There came a great war. Hailstones, wizards thunderbolting wizards. The great fires came, and the king and queen were consumed, consumed, you know the way marshmallows burn. . .
He was to blame. The wizard, he made the fires.
They lit a thousand suns, and his own skin fell away, gristle, bones, and all that’s left was the heart.
A fly. Mean little snot of a fly, bloodsucker, buzz in the cinders. . .
Peace came, more or less, but it soured, the fires burnt inside.
Children stopped being born, couldn’t stand it.
And the king’s little boy, little kid seven years old, he became king.
And the wizard took pity, once in his life took pity, sent him a dream, sent him a nightmare parcel post, gave him two secrets, don’t ask me. . .
And a prophecy. Spelled out in flyspecks.
“Twenty years hence, on Friday, a forest shall make us free.”
And he squeezed out some more, three prophecies to Wiley, to me!
“Your heart shall be a flower.”
“Your hands, the hands of a king.”
“You will come through magic to love.”
He’d promised me a pension.
Spits. Scratches.
But today it’s Friday. This is the kingdom. Find the forest.
Oh magic. . .
He conjures a walking stick to appear. Fly returns, stinging. He swats, rails at it as he hobbles off.
Music. STAGEHANDS create castle of neon and plexiglas. Banners, bright lights. They disperse.
SCRUB, a janitor, enters, halts, looks back at entry. SOPHIE, dressed in a cheap attempt at finery, appears, awestruck.
SOPHIE: Is this it? The castle, is this it?
SCRUB: This is it.
SOPHIE: It’s like the postcards. Only the colors aren’t as bright. They make all the colors brighter.
SCRUB: Sophie—
SOPHIE: The great hallway. Don’t you think it needs wallpaper though?
Waxy floors. I’d like to have rugs, lots of rugs—
SCRUB: Sophie—
SOPHIE: Scrub, please. “Cliosophia.”
They hear you, they’ll think I’m common. I am not common.
SCRUB: Sophie, damn it—
SOPHIE: No. That’s all done.
As a waitress I loved you. I said, “Sophie, you know your place. Check the menu, you’ll find a man, plain, well-done, no specials.” I met you.
SCRUB: Gave you the best time you ever had.
SOPHIE: Scrub, it’s all done. I ain’t gonna be like my mom.
Couple good years in the sack, you wind up under five kids, a buncha bills, and a big beer belly.
I got a chance, I’m gonna take it.
You say you love me, then ok: For my own good, should I marry a king or a janitor?
SCRUB: Sanitary engineer.
SOPHIE: Don’t make it hard for me. I’m scared—
SCRUB: You better be.
SOPHIE: Oh, now it’s a threat, is it? Ok. That’s it.
I’m sorry, Scrub. I thought we could be friends.
You’re trying to knock me down. You’re trying to shake my positive thinking.
But I’ve got the Four Secrets of Success or your money back: Think Positive, Assert Yourself, Pray for Success, and Dress Fit to Kill. It’s guaranteed.
SCRUB: You think I need you? Hell, I got women you don’t even know about—
SOPHIE: I’m not even listening—
SCRUB: Simone—
SOPHIE: I’m thinking positive. Queen of all I survey, plus tips.
SCRUB: Trixie—
SOPHIE: I know how you lust for the hot sandwich of my flesh. I know how to raise the puff-puff in a man.
But I have a higher calling.
SCRUB: Shauna—
SOPHIE: The King will interview all maidens, but I’ll melt his heart like lard.
SCRUB: Sophie!
SOPHIE: You talking to me?
SCRUB: You serious?
SCRUB: I don’t believe it.
SOPHIE: You gotta believe it.
SCRUB: I can’t believe it.
SOPHIE: You better believe it.
SCRUB: I won’t believe it.
SOPHIE: Then don’t believe it.
SCRUB: Sophie!
Recovering. Deep breath.
Ok. Fine. There’s only one thing to do. Here and now.
SCRUB: Blow my brains out.
SOPHIE: Watch out for my dress.
SCRUB: Goodbye forever.
Puts pistol to head. Fires. Ricochet. Cuckoo.
SOPHIE: You hit the clock. Oh God, it’s time. I’ve gotta practice.
SCRUB: Ok. I got other ways. I’ll strangle myself.
SOPHIE: Swoop into the room. Alluring glance. Glide along, squat—
He bursts out laughing. Furiously:
SCRUB: I can’t die if I laugh!
Ok, rope. Make a noose.
SOPHIE: I read all the books. “She entered the boudoir. Her throbbing body met the king, who throbbed to meet her, their two throbs fused together in spasms of purple rapture.”
SCRUB: How do you tie this damn thing?
SOPHIE: Lemme see—
SCRUB: That’s my finger!
SOPHIE: Sorry.
SCRUB: That hurt.
Poison! I need poison. Bug spray, Drano, E-Z-Off. What you got in your purse? Something fatal in big doses.
SOPHIE: Just these—
SCRUB: Capsules. Fatal capsules. Ok. You deserve to see it.
(swallowing) It’s gonna haunt you, Sophie. The price you paid. The sell-out.
What’s in the bottle?
SOPHIE: Laxative.
SOPHIE: I’ll miss you. I love you, Scrub. I do. I’m scared.
SCRUB: Scuse me.
Ominous music.
SOPHIE: What’s that?
SCRUB: The Prime Minister. Scuse me please!
He hurries off urgently.
SOPHIE: The Prime Minister! I’m gonna see a Prime Minister!
Omigod. Who woulda thought?
Me, Cliosophia, an only child, almost a semi-orphan, raised by my mother, an alcoholic beautician, gonna meet a Prime Minister. Omigod.
TADOK enters.
Oh your honor, it is really an honor to be so really honored to have the privilege and the honor of this really wonderful, almost a really unbelievable, joyous, very merry—
He stares at her. She panicks.
Scuse me.
Hurries off.
Sound effects. STAGEHANDS cluster about TADOK: components of a hectic office. Disembodied hands. Typewriters. Memos. Printouts.
TADOK: Show her the waiting room, appointments begin at one.
File that. Take a memo. Call my daughter.
Bribery? Hang him. Call my daughter.
Terrorists? Hire them a diaper service, laugh them away.
Proclamation. File a report. Not in triplicate, I don’t have three eyes. Now!
All scatter. He retreats upstage, observing. Music. CORA and ANGELA appear from opposite sides, come together. He watches, unseen.
CORA: Leonard?
CORA: When?
CORA: Where?
ANGELA: Garden.
CORA: Willow?
ANGELA: Hollyhocks.
CORA: Thanks.
ANGELA starts off.
CORA: How are your classes?
ANGELA: Bones, butts, and bedpans.
CORA: Strange. We were never friends. Nothing in common.
And your brother, that mooncalf, what attraction?
ANGELA: The name Leonard.
CORA: Terrible name. Why do I love it so?
ANGELA: We walked into the midst of a magic trick.
“Pick a card and fall in love with it.”
CORA: You a king . . . and I a postal clerk . . . of hearts.
ANGELA off. CORA paces anxiously. TADOK comes forward.
TADOK: Cora.
CORA: Father.
TADOK: That girl.
CORA: Angela.
TADOK: The Second Minister’s daughter.
CORA: Yes.
TADOK: Your friend?
CORA: Schoolmates. One class apart.
TADOK: Fine girl.
CORA: And her brother.
CORA: Leonard.
Silence. He looks after ANGELA, then turns to CORA.
TADOK: My dearest, my daughter, the time has come.
Are you prepared to see the King?
CORA: Of course. But I need new glass slippers. Let’s trade in the pumpkin coach.
TADOK: Cora—
CORA: King Max. Charming name for a child, so silly for a king.
Max. When we were children, I called him Max: his name should be longer now.
TADOK: Joker—
CORA: Oh he wants a politician’s wife, with lots of teeth.
I read raunchy novels and oversleep.
All this nonsense—
TADOK: Cora, no. A queen. It’s in your hands.
The Prime Minister’s daughter, none more trusted, more efficient, indispensable, irreplaceable, ruthless if need be—
CORA: You or I?
TADOK: Oh. Yes. Forgive me. So busy, I’ve hardly seen you.
Remember the old times, bedtime stories, magic, pathways to nowhere, climbing the stairs—
CORA: Yes.
TADOK: Your mother lived and our talk was like singing.
CORA: You’re good to me.
TADOK: You remind me I’m human.
Oh it’s all on my shoulders. Every day.
I’ve pushed him to it. He must take a wife. The war—
CORA: Always the war—
TADOK: The war burnt us barren.
Twenty years of rebuilding, recovery, bloating and belches.
No laughter. Joyless hysterical cackles, no laughter.
No children born.
The wizard left a prophecy: Child for king, children for kingdom.
We shrivel, thirst.
He must have a wife.
CORA: Named Cora. A chorus of Coras. Cora’s coronation, a corrugated corona corralling Cora, of course.
TADOK: Are you serious?
CORA: I’m in love.
TADOK: Oh yes. Yes. To hear you say it. You’ve made me so happy.
My Cora, a queen!
CORA: Father—
Typewriters. STAGEHANDS appear as office staff.
TADOK: Schedule. Ultimatum. Take a memo. Schedule.
Inflation? Tell our economic advisors their salaries will have a cost-of-living decrease proportional to each cost-of-living increase.
Coffee? Buy another pound, must I do everything? Now!
Oh my child!
CORA: Father—
TADOK: I thought you cared nothing for the King.
I’d have told you to miss the interview.
Imagine! I refrained from telling you what it meant to me, your life is your own, I know you’d sacrifice for my sake, but oh I have hoped!
That your spirit, your passion for life, that turbulent, beautiful passion, would find a kindred soul—
CORA: But if there were someone else—
TADOK: What a waste.
My investment, investment of years, your mother’s hope, to find someone who matched your stature—
CORA: But others besides the King—
TADOK: Oh yes, you’ve had your flings, I know, I have eyes.
But that’s springtime, that’s youth.
Oh this troublesome kingdom I’ve spawned: my dearest, my daughter.
What a joy. You love the King.
CORA: I love Leonard.
TADOK: Leonard?
CORA: The Second Minister’s son.
Pause. Then he laughs.
TADOK: Joker! I know your tricks. The postal clerk? Of course, the postal clerk!
Laughs uncontrollably as she speaks.
CORA: I’m in love. I didn’t know how to say it.
I look into that silly, astonishing face and I can’t look away.
I wanted to stand up and shout it, but I’m standing on roller skates.
He recovers, laughing, embraces her.
TADOK: So long since I’ve laughed.
Queen Cora. Oh so deeply happy.
I can tell you now at last, at last.
You marry the King, the King is secure, you are secure, I know the King. No more doubts.
I can retire at last from the role of father, minister, caretaker, drudge, and begin to live.
I might even marry. Oh your mother, dear woman. . .
But I still have life, life in me still, before the capillaries fizzle.
Some quiet young woman. . .
You wouldn’t object, would you, if your father found someone to make him happy again?
CORA: I could never deny your happiness.
TADOK: Then speak your love to the King. Speak, and you are queen.
CORA: I can’t.
TADOK: Never say “I can’t.” Say “I will.”
Our happiness, yours and—
CORA: And yours.
TADOK: “I will.”
CORA: I will.
They embrace.
She rushes out. Typewriters. STAGEHANDS appear as office staff.
TADOK: My speechwriter. Write her acceptance speech.
Memo. Press release.
Where is the Second Minister? Where is Provolone?
Practicing his signature, investigating his wastebasket.
File a report.
And send flowers, flowers, to Angela. In my name.
No. Write “A Friend.”
STAGEHANDS disperse. PROVOLONE appears, lost in endless list.
PROVOLONE: Let me see now, balloons, balloons—
PROVOLONE startles.
Thank you for coming two hours late.
PROVOLONE: No trouble at all.
TADOK: And the cabinet meeting, what a fine pot of coffee you brewed.
None of your regular work was done, but what fine coffee.
PROVOLONE: It’s a matter of timing, you know.
Wet the grounds, and then make them wait.
TADOK: Excuse me. I have to do something violent.
Out, seething.
PROVOLONE: He’s so much nicer to me than he was.
Let me see, I was looking for my son and daughter. Was I? Yes I was.
Why? To find them.
For what purpose? What purpose to children? Check my list.
Lost in list, he moves upstage. LEONARD and ANGELA enter from opposite sides, not seeing him. Whisper together.
ANGELA: Leonard, what happened?
LEONARD: No hope.
ANGELA: Did you propose to Cora?
LEONARD: Well, I went to her and said, “Cora, as you know I am a Postal Service Junior Clerk Third Class, Self-sorted, and I’d like to offer you my ha. . . ha. . . hand is sweaty!”
ANGELA: Leonard—
LEONARD: “Mary, will you Cora me!”
ANGELA: Then what?
LEONARD: I told her a joke.
ANGELA: Leonard—
LEONARD: Two eyes are crossed and can’t get uncrossed. So one says to the other, “Get out of my sight!”
She thought it was funny.
ANGELA: Spare your sister a younger brother’s jokes.
LEONARD: Angela, I feel so helpless.
I love her so, and yet the idea of marriage, of trying to get a night’s sleep lying beside a woman who is absolutely naked—
ANGELA: Leonard—
LEONARD: Life terrifies me. It moves so fast.
I feel at home in the Postal Service.
In the midst of life hurtling into the future, we grind things down to a crawl.
I’m afraid of Cora.
We tell jokes, we nibble fingertips.
But for me she stirs revolutions: my sleeping dogs begin to boil.
Our love will be catastrophic, and I can hardly wait.
ANGELA: Suppose the King chooses Cora?
LEONARD: I’ll cancel myself.
I’ll find a girl like you who does lots of dishes and goes to nursing school and eats peanuts, and then I’ll inherit my father’s belly and spend my life as a jelly-filled doughnut.
ANGELA: She wants you.
ANGELA: You want her.
LEONARD: Oh yes, I want it, I want it, but I can’t say it, I can only want it.
And she was crying.
But she liked the joke.
PROVOLONE comes forward.
PROVOLONE: Ah children.
I have important news. Perhaps you know what it is.
It’s on my list, but I’ve lost my glasses.
ANGELA: You’re wearing your glasses.
PROVOLONE: So I am. I didn’t see them. That’s much better.
Here it is: The King’s Interviews.
All the ladies, oh my. Each comes into his chamber, he asks them a question, and they go home. I give them a souvenir postcard.
But now, Angela, your turn is near—
ANGELA: Father, my heart is troubled!
PROVOLONE: Yes, my heart is troubled.
Today the Prime Minister’s daughter Cora is first, and if she should be chosen queen—
ANGELA: Oh grief!
LEONARD: Anguish!
PROVOLONE: That would be very good.
But then, Angela, he might choose you—
LEONARD: Blessed relief!
PROVOLONE: And we know what trouble that would be.
The Prime Minister would be upset, and he is a dangerous man, and there are spies everywhere—
Looks around in panic, calls out:
A wise man, our Prime Minister, very wise!
ANGELA: Father—
PROVOLONE: A very great minister!
ANGELA: Father, I love the King, I’ve fallen in love with the King, and Leonard loves Cora, and if the King marries Cora our hearts will break—
PROVOLONE: Very very great!
ANGELA: For once in my life will you listen!
PROVOLONE: Oh you listen, but they sneak around.
But my dear, don’t worry. The King won’t choose you.
He’ll choose Cora, and the Prime Minister will be happy, and you know marriage is one of those things, when your mother left me it was inconvenient but I hardly noticed after a while, and you’ll go back to school and be a nurse, because people are always going to die.
ANGELA: I feel sick.
PROVOLONE: That’s what fathers are for.
Now I must prepare for the wedding.
What do you think of anchovies? Are anchovies too radical?
LEONARD: Anchovies are bipartisan.
PROVOLONE: I wish your mother was here, she did very nice things with deviled eggs.
I don’t remember her face, but I remember the deviled eggs.
Rushes out.
PROVOLONE: Oh Leonard. I asked if you could do those reports, that extra work they hand your old father, so busy these days and you have young healthy brains—
LEONARD: Yes Father.
PROVOLONE: Did you finish the statistical abstract?
LEONARD: Yes Father.
PROVOLONE: Inventory of surplus requisitions?
LEONARD: Yes Father.
PROVOLONE: Demographic survey of mean precipitation?
LEONARD: Yes Father.
PROVOLONE: I wonder what all that means.
Very good. I’m glad to see you use your spare time, not all these feelings, urges, physical aggravations—
LEONARD: Yes Father yes Father yes Father!
Rushes out.
PROVOLONE: What a blessing to have a son as old as myself.
Oh children are such a bother.
You’re adding figures, and suddenly they’re there, they want you to count them.
So you debit their credits and depreciate their assets, and that’s what a father does.
But somehow your books never balance, your trial balance tilts, your audit trail is overgrown, and your monthly statement is “Alas!”
He disappears.
Music. Lights change. The King’s chambers: metallic walls, mirrors. Down center, a table with a sculptured BUST, covered by gold cloth. STAGEHANDS appear with improvised musical instruments. Fanfare.
TRIO: Enter the King!
They scatter. MAX appears. Melancholy music.
MAX: Max. The King labeled King. Silly name for a king.
Little boy playing with kingdoms, hope of the future, and now the future comes to call.
Max. He smiles, and his counselors flunkies cooks and cleaning ladies jesters barbers and secret police toss flowers in his eyes, and songbirds crow.
The King, an edifice of happiness, stuffed for exhibit.
My wise minister Tadok, yes, today I must choose a wife, the realm must have its fertility.
But I’ve tried. I’ve been so near.
There have been eyes like fireflies searing my eyes, and shapes beneath flowing silks making love to the silk they wear.
There have been hips to conceive phantom children in phantom coupling phantom stampeding of breath, and female voices so dark I couple with voices, they echo away and I wake, drained of dreams.
The wizard came with his gifts. He saw a child. I saw with my heart, and that was folly for a king.
So he gave me eyes. Dead eyes.
Uncovers the sculptured BUST: a polished metallic head, eyes shut.
A head. No body, no heart. A frozen soul caught by magic.
For years my companion, my teddy bear.
I have seen you scan every face, sniffing out treachery wile perfidy deception duplicity trickery hankypanky chicanery jugglery swindles and lies.
In the face of a lie, you laugh.
You laugh, and your sculptured snicker trapped the lies of a woman whose glance made me gasp.
I hate you.
One after another, I found none to love me, none to meet me in truth without your hideous grimace.
They approach with their smiles thumbtacked to their faces, their eyes glazed with the milky cataracts of power.
And I have come near—
STAGEHAND rushes in, poses with hammer to smash the BUST.
But have not.
STAGEHAND at ease.
You are my secret.
Maledictus, it cuts like razor blades, your cancerous gift of sight!
Fanfare. STAGEHAND departs.
I will try again. Laugh if you must.
Here is the daughter of Tadok, come to test the smirking eye of Truth.
CORA appears.
Well Cora, imagine.
You, like myself, have been a child in these chambers, hallways, hiding in closets, disturbing the solemn councils, playing at kings and queens.
We play at kings and queens again.
CORA: Your Majesty.
MAX: You like the new tapestries? The Highlights of the War.
CORA: Very fine.
MAX: And their keeper, what of him?
They tell me, Cora, I must have a wife. And of course I must.
How say you?
CORA: Why then you must.
MAX: I would treasure the playmate who won every game we played.
I would treasure the daughter of Tadok.
I would treasure one who would never confess to placing a toad in the royal commode.
I might find a seed of love.
But I must ask: Would it please you to play at kings and queens?
CORA: All women would love such a game.
He looks at BUST. No response.
MAX: Proverbs. Let me be blunt. Would you like to be my wife?
CORA: I would be honored.
He looks. No response.
MAX: Honored, yes. But would you like to?
CORA: The affection for my playmate unites with the duty I owe my King.
MAX: Your father is the diplomat. I want to know what you feel.
CORA: Can one predict the weather? Clear days and storms?
MAX: The chestnut filly romps around the knock-kneed calf.
We are man and woman, my dear. Tell me.
CORA: (aside) If I must.
Yes. I love you.
MAX: You do?
CORA: I do.
MAX: No doubt?
CORA: None.
He looks at BUST. Pause. Quizzical smile.
MAX: You speak of your own free will?
CORA: My desire is to be your queen.
Pained smile.
MAX: The child who danced with me, naked in the rain.
Even she.
CORA: How do you unlock a lie?
MAX: The latch doesn’t hold. You may go.
She embraces him, goes.
My hopes melt in laughter.
Even she.
SOPHIE enters.
MAX: Come in.
SOPHIE: Here’s my application.
MAX: Yes.
SOPHIE: Lot of experience.
MAX: As a queen?
SOPHIE: Oh. Well. See, my Uncle Sid was the royal falconer.
Got the sack twenty years ago. All the falcons fried.
But he says times are changing. Checks the mailbox every day.
MAX: And you wait for the falcons to soar?
SOPHIE: Oh. Well, I’m a waitress. For the experience.
Cause the nobility has to know the common people, who are the salt of the earth, which shall not lose their savor, if you ask me.
MAX: And you love the King?
Pause. She tries to remember her planned speech. Takes out paper, reads.
SOPHIE: “Oh. You tiger. You beast in pants. From the first buds of my womanhood, I have stewed for you.”
BUST smiles.
MAX: I have that strong a flavor?
SOPHIE: “You touch me and I quiver like eggwhite.”
MAX: If I died, would you grieve?
SOPHIE: (into her role) Would I grieve? Would I fry in deep fat?
Oh you stretch out my heartstrings like melted cheese.
The thought kills me dead.
Looks for a place to collapse. Collapses. BUST stifles a laugh.
MAX: You love me too much.
SOPHIE: But your voice revives me like hot sauce. I got such a buzz.
MAX: Do your patrons all get the same service?
SOPHIE: Oh they want it, they do, but I have preserved my maiden modesty.
BUST, mute, guffaws.
Oh I got it all planned.
The walls, you know they got this wallpaper you can peel off if we ever have to move, and venetian blinds, and Armstrong tile on the floor, I’ve always dreamed of Armstrong tile.
MAX: You may go.
SOPHIE: And you know about Tupperware?
People think it’s just for the kitchen, but they got ashtrays, little plastic tops that keep the ashes fresh, I can sell that.
And theme cakes, they call them decorator cakes, you make a lot of money.
My mother gave me all her cake pans, these different shapes, Pink Panther, Donald Duck, the Crucifixion—
MAX: Yes.
SOPHIE: Oh I got surprises, but you gotta wait till I come dressed in my gown of virgin white to make you soar—
I don’t mean sore. I mean jump up beyond your wildest dreams.
And I’ll tell Poopoo. Poopoo’s my teddy bear, I tell him everything, secrets that make me blush like roast beef.
Oh honey, don’t make me wait!
To door. Aside:
He’s mine. I got him. I’m queen.
Runs into door. Curtsies. Collides again.
Damn door.
MAX: Laughter: nourishment and acid.
No hope, and yet I hope.
Here is Angela, and I hope.
Impulse to cover BUST. Halts.
I must see with true eyes. Do your worst.
ANGELA enters.
ANGELA: Your Majesty.
MAX: Angela. Come in.
Your father tells me you’ll be a nurse.
MAX: Do you study good morning smiles?
ANGELA: I have no wish to be here.
MAX: I’m sorry.
ANGELA: I too.
MAX: Tell me.
ANGELA: Why do you force girls to offer their hearts?
Why do you make us come like beggars, to beg, to hope?
You don’t know what it is to hope.
MAX: Angela, no.
I have looked to be loved, I have loved.
But I have a strange gift to see what I’d rather not see.
ANGELA: How can you know?
MAX: I have a gift. I see with their eyes.
ANGELA: You see!
MAX: Angela. Do you love me?
ANGELA: Laugh. Laugh me to death. Tell all your friends. So what?
He looks at BUST. No response.
MAX: Is it true?
ANGELA: Don’t ask me that!
I do. I dream of it. Stop talking! I do.
Don’t laugh! I do.
Looks. No response.
MAX: Angela—
ANGELA: I fall in love with celebrities.
In high school I was in love with my algebra teacher, staring at him, I made such a fool.
The class president, he always wore a tie, this really smelly aftershave, and he walks up, and says hello, and smiles, and calls me Agnes.
Forget it. Let me go.
MAX: Angela. I stare at you, and smile, and I say the right name.
I speak to Angela.
ANGELA: You’d never notice me in a crowd.
MAX: I don’t like crowds.
ANGELA: You don’t know me. You’ve never said a dozen words.
MAX: No. We don’t know each other yet.
ANGELA: Same question: Do you love me?
MAX: I am King. It takes longer for a king.
Will you have this hand?
ANGELA: But . . . I have a test on Tuesday.
MAX: Ministers, friends, come in.
Here is your queen.
ANGELA: I’ve gotta blow my nose.
Flurry of activity. Fanfare. They embrace.
MAX: In each generation, at the sound of wedding chimes, within the forest a white stag appears.
On the wedding eve, a festive hunt.
The stag is killed, the marriage made fruitful.
Since the dawn of my parent’s love none could penetrate the forest.
Open the gates!
Activity. Music. CORA and LEONARD meet.
CORA: We meet again.
LEONARD: It’s good to put the return address.
CORA: You’re shaking.
LEONARD: Words pushing to get out. They clog the conveyor.
CORA: Grease the gears.
LEONARD: I lose track of the language.
CORA: Make up our own.
Music. SCRUB and SOPHIE.
SOPHIE: I could die. I could really die.
SCRUB: Need help?
SOPHIE: It’s your fault. If you had more masculinity, you’d attract me stronger and I wouldn’t go astray.
SCRUB: I got masculinity—
SOPHIE: Let’s set our wedding date.
SCRUB: Let’s save time and go straight to the divorce.
SOPHIE: Oh my Tupperware. . .
Music. KING embraces TADOK.
MAX: Tadok. I have you to thank.
If you had not urged me on, I would have lived an embittered king, drained of hope.
You gave me new life.
TADOK: Very happy.
MAX: I had thought to choose your daughter, but she loves another.
TADOK: Of course.
MAX: What do you think of my bride?
TADOK: Fine girl.
MAX: All my thanks.
And to the wizard Maledictus, giver of two great gifts.
One gift, the gift of sight, I need no more. Its mission is done. I have my own eyes.
Our kingdom lives now in truth and trust.
STAGEHAND smashes BUST. Streamers, celebration, music. Spectacular wedding masque.
Sudden change. TADOK alone. Darkness.
TADOK: Angela gone. My daughter lost to the Postal Service. All the years.
Tadok, prepare the hunt. All my thanks.
No. Did the light change? I saw more color once.
Change in the eyes.
My tongue t-tangled, my childhood st-tutter.
Prepare the hunt.
Buzz of deerfly. Lights change. The forest, tangled, crystalline, breathing. PROVOLONE hurries in, picking his way through the tangle, consulting list.
PROVOLONE: Let me check my list. Memoranda. Have I done the memoranda? Can’t remember.
Policy briefing. It is our policy to kill the white stag, briefly.
Intelligence. Yes, we have that.
Hamburger buns. Who’s bringing the hamburger buns? We must have poppyseed.
SCRUB appears.
SCRUB: Unloaded the crap, your honor.
PROVOLONE: Check that off. I don’t find it. Here it is.
Now as I was standing here, I received a mosquito bite.
It would fall within your jurisdiction to undertake elimination of harmful vermin.
For twenty years no one has entered this forest, and we really should have a trim, spruced-up wilderness to hunt in.
SCRUB: Take a while.
PROVOLONE: Well, the flies and mosquitoes for a start.
Hands him a flyswatter.
SCRUB: Right.
Off, swatting. LEONARD appears, seeking CORA.
PROVOLONE: Leonard, very good. Have you done those little things I asked you? (Nod.)
Equipment? (Nod.)
Schedules? (Nod.)
Environmental impact study? (Nod.)
Name tags? (Nod.) Carry on.
Now then, Angela.
I must remind her she is to be queen. She may have forgotten.
I always tell her: Make a list.
Off. SOPHIE on, with hunting gear.
SOPHIE: Despised and rejected of men.
Scrub, that damned little wart, spends all day cleaning toilet bowls and then thinks he’s God’s gift to women.
Dons hunting gear: hat, jacket, helmet, bandolier, gas mask, rifle.
It’s a curse to be a woman. But they’ll see what I can be.
And when I’ve shot the stag, put’em all to shame, then some day I can be . . . the Real Me!
SCRUB returns.
SCRUB: Spray can.
Sees her.
He flees. She follows, imploring.
SOPHIE: Honey! It’s me!
Music. TADOK appears. Speaks with slight stutter.
TADOK: My hopes. Stale ashes. Shriveled dreams. Oh it’s his time of life, you know. Men, they get like that, the fools. You can’t blame him, you know, they all have a snapping point.
I remember a clipping of sunset, remember it well. It was somewhere back in the old years, April it was, it must have been raining it was, or the smells, remember the smells, Ellinda, the smells. Oh her fingers were mothwings. Ashes.
So what’s ahead? Spectacle and stuffing. Then back to the daily waste, the mean viscosity. Empty the wastebasket, fill it, empty it. Ashes.
All the babble, well, it’s a comedy, you know, but the laughers choke, and the sky falls crumpled on the floor. I need one thing.
(to STAGEHANDS) I’ve had a bit of heart trouble. Help me.
Mock operation: STAGEHANDS cut him open, tear out his heart, hold it pulsing. He stands, transformed.
Thank you. Please bill me.
Begin the hunt.
Fanfare. Hurry music. Volleys of gunfire. Tangle of shadows. PROVOLONE and LEONARD appear.
PROVOLONE: Now do it methodically.
If it’s white, kill it.
Shoots in all directions. Loud clucking.
Do chickens count?
Off. SOPHIE on, stops for breath.
SOPHIE: I love him.
I’ll kill him by accident.
Off. CORA and LEONARD on, searching for one another. Off. WILEY appears.
WILEY: The forest. At last. Hot bastard.
Walking stick changes to handkerchief. He wipes brow. Shots. Off. CORA and LEONARD on, searching for one another. Off. SCRUB on, swatting, followed closely by large BEAR.
SCRUB: Sonofabitch, nothing but work. What’s the future?
BEAR grunts.
Work like this, it nibbles at you. (Grunt.)
Gnaws on you. (Grunt.)
Chews you right up.
BEAR about to attack.
You get bitter. You’re sour.
BEAR repelled.
But hell, you’re not a bad hunka man.
BEAR about to attack.
Naw, you stink, you’re garbage.
BEAR repelled.
But you’re better than nothing.
BEAR hugs him from behind.
Dammit Sophie, leggo. Get your claws outa me.
You chew me up, spit me out, but it’s gonna stick in your craw.
BEAR roars.
I can’t stand a woman that cries.
SOPHIE appears.
Hey. Who? Ha.
Roar. He realizes. Swats BEAR.
SOPHIE: He’s mine!
She floors it at one blow. It crawls off, whimpering. She pursues SCRUB. Music change. CORA appears.
CORA: The forest.
Sounds surround me, the voices in murmuring velvet leaves, glimmering shallowing fragrance of lakes.
I have a silent pursuit, a noiseless passion, a quarry swifter than a stag.
Off. WILEY on, staggering.
WILEY: Winded, wilted, lame. Damn fly.
Where’s the forest? Can’t see it. All the damn trees.
Water. Gotta have a drink.
Dips hands. Runs through fingers.
Damn hands. Can’t feel my hands.
Maybe down the stream the water gets thicker.
Off. CORA and LEONARD appear.
LEONARD: Cold. I catch cold like a large nose.
CORA: To me it’s warm.
LEONARD: Let’s find the others. I have a chill.
CORA: I want the chill. It touches my skin, twinges the hairs.
The skin is more naked cold.
The heat begins, I feel embers inside me, the tighter the chill constricts, the sweeter the heat within.
Come warm yourself.
CORA: In me.
Embraces him.
CORA: Closer.
CORA: Closer.
LEONARD: I can’t get any closer.
CORA: Yes you can.
They disappear. Music change. MAX and TADOK appear.
MAX: What is it?
TADOK: Stand here.
MAX: Where are the hunters?
TADOK: Far away.
MAX: Hunting forever.
TADOK: Patience.
MAX: You’re trembling. What is it?
TADOK: No no.
MAX: Today of all days you must share my joy.
I have the banquet before me. I owe you my happiness.
MAX: You disapprove my choice.
TADOK: No. Angela would be my choice.
MAX: What then?
TADOK: Your Majesty, I have served twenty years.
I have given you counsel, trained my country a king—
I offer my resignation.
MAX: No.
TADOK: I no longer have your t-trust.
MAX: I trust you with my life.
TADOK: You have two of the wizard’s secrets.
One you used wisely and well.
The other you own, a secret of state.
You would confide in your Prime Minister if you t-trusted him.
You do not. So be it. I must resign.
MAX: No.
TADOK: No, it’s natural.
My daughter passed over, I might be enraged.
I might even be, who knows, Angela’s secret admirer, an elderly fool, mad with passion.
You are wise. You deserve a t-trustworthy minister.
MAX: Tadok, I will prove that my trust is firm.
I will tell you the second secret.
TADOK: You must not.
MAX: I will.
TADOK: I have never given you bad advice.
Keep the secret.
MAX: Here it is.
STAGEHAND poses. MAX reaches in mouth, draws out endless paper chain.
On this paper is written a spell. I’ve never tried it myself.
Find the dead husk of man or beast. Stand over the body and speak.
Your body will die—
TADOK: And then?
MAX: Your spirit will enter the dead and kiss it with life.
TADOK: Rare knowledge. I speak to a shriveled worm, I die, it crawls away.
MAX: Wait.
Then you as the creature speak the words, your own body returns to life, you become yourself.
TADOK: Unless—
MAX: Unless?
TADOK: Nothing.
MAX: Here are the words. Learn them.
Now Tadok, do you have my trust?
TADOK: Forgive me.
MAX: I trust you with my life.
Learn the words. Come.
TADOK: I honor your t-t-trust.
TADOK off. Music. STAG appears. Distant, ANGELA, alone at window.
ANGELA: The leaves chuckle in the wind. Water giggles in the kitchen sink. Birds chirrup in the roof-gutter canopies.
And I’m alone.
Cat’s claws tickle the cedar bark. The fire’s tongue snickers in the coals. The clock’s fingertips tap to the crickets.
And I’m alone.
His lips open mine. His eyes are the soapbubbles’ flicker. His breath fills my heart’s chapels with laughter.
But I’m alone. Right now I’m alone.
The stillness is long.
Gunshot. Explosion of blood. ANGELA disappears. STAG falls. KING and TADOK enter.
MAX: The stag.
TADOK: The words of the wizard:
His horns the roots of generation, his blood the riverseed, his suffering is springtime.
MAX: Riddles.
TADOK: Wait. You see?
MAX: What?
TADOK: Two gifts. The first used, what purpose the second?
MAX: Who knows?
TADOK: To enter something dead: strange gift, unless—
MAX: Unless?
TADOK: You stand at the gate of your manhood with open eyes.
But have you known the true reach of a king?
Felt muscles that flex beyond your own?
Possessed this forest of magic?
The wizard’s gift.
Enter the stag, feel muscles flex beyond your own, speed faster than wind, possess the forest—
MAX: Yes!
TADOK: And then return to rule.
With piercing eyes, hands in the passion of magic, return to your beloved.
MAX: Yes!
TADOK: Before they come.
Pronounce the spell, come alive, run to the hill, to the sun, and return.
I will stand watch.
MAX: My counselor, my father, my friend.
He embraces TADOK. Mumbles the spell, echoed in music. He dies slowly, the STAG (as KING) revives, stands. TADOK aims rifle.
TADOK: I honor your t-t-t-t-t-trust!
Fires. From stuttering, the shot goes awry. STAG stands frozen.
I play the fool once, never twice.
Aims. Flybuzz. TADOK, distracted, swats. STAG is stung, bolts. TADOK recovers.
The spell.
Clutches scrap of paper, tries to speak, stutters.
D-d-d-damn it. Control. New life, youth, power and Angela. Say it!
Music. Mumbles the spell, echoed in music. He dies slowly. MAX (TADOK) revives, stands.
MAX: (TADOK) Return to rule.
With piercing eyes, hands in the passion of magic, return.
To life. Youth. Angela.
Cover the waste.
Batters TADOK’s corpse. Hurry music. Volleys of gunfire. Tangle of shadows.
VOICE: The white stag! I saw the white stag!
ANOTHER: I shot him! I shot him!
ANOTHER: He shot him! He shot the white stag!
ANOTHER: You shot the dog.
MAX: (TADOK) Kill the white stag!
The stag must d-d-d-d-die!
Gunfire. All characters converge on stage, in pursuit. STAG trapped.
Sudden music change. All freeze in tableau. STAGEHAND comes forward.
STAGEHAND: We regret to announce that due to technical failure, life has gone awry.
We ask that you keep faith in truth and justice as we have known them, and in ten minutes the problem should be solved.
Please use the time wisely, and offer up prayers for a happier play.
Music. Lights fade.
Spotlight downstage. Phone rings. STAGEHAND on, searching. At last finds phone in pocket.
We checked it out, changed the filter, new plugs. No, it’s in bad shape, needs an overhaul.
Well, it needs love. Love.
Yeh, it’s on order but it’s outa stock. We’ll try to get it, maybe next year.
How much it’s gonna cost? You wanta know how much it’s gonna cost? Too much.
Hey, you don’t like this world, try across the street.
Hangs up. Music. The forest. Distant, ANGELA in silhouette at window. Downstage, CORA and LEONARD emerge from tangle of branches.
CORA: Cold?
LEONARD: Thinking about oranges.
CORA: Summer murmurs.
There’s a beetle in your hair.
LEONARD: Cora, Cora, there’s a wilderness in love.
Insect bites, tangled limbs, elbows disorganized—
CORA: Sorry?
LEONARD: I made love to you. I have. Made love to Cora. Against all regulations.
CORA: Forever?
LEONARD: At least.
They disappear. Light on ANGELA.
ANGELA: Wait. Wait for the clock to lose its hiccups.
Wait for the sun to give up the ghost.
My love has flowered, but the bees are out on strike.
I met this funny king for a minute, but then he’s lost in the subway, and I stare down dark hallways where nightmares walk to the bathroom.
Oh come back from your nonsense. Come back.
She disappears. WILEY appears.
WILEY: Free, free, Wiley, free at last. The damned insect’s disappeared, I’m free. Oh God, what’ll I do? Don’t punch the timeclock, don’t have to kiss ass, cart out the garbage. What’ll I do!
Pinball. Five dollars, change it all to quarters. Pinball, flipper it, ricochet, boing, light up the special, the special, boing, rollover, the bonus, three extra balls . . . and women!
Women. I mean you’re old but there’s lots of women, the dances, there’s all these old hens, but they’re hot, they give you the eye like you’re deluxe prime rib, and the bosoms, they got more bosoms than some young girl, and they’ll let you do it, sure, if you get’em drunk.
Get drunk. Right after breakfast, double scotch, and what if you wreck your liver, that’s what it’s there for, all afternoon, bounce off the walls, all night for some heavy drinking, there’s rainbows in the oil in the streets and you’re singing opera. Yeh.
Life. Opens out like a yard sale. You got the whole world on sale and everything’s ten cents apiece.
Enter MAX inhabited by soul of TADOK, with entourage. Ominous music.
MAX: (TADOK) Old man!
WILEY: Wiley, sir, Your Majesty, Wiley—
MAX: (TADOK) You are in the forbidden forest.
WILEY: Forbidden, that’s true, see, my master was—
MAX: (TADOK) We seek a white stag. It ran this way. Have you seen it?
WILEY: White stag. Now I’ll tell you about the white stag—
MAX: (TADOK) Liar.
WILEY: Because my master was the one—
MAX: (TADOK) Answer me!
WILEY: Now you don’t scare me, because my master has promised:
My heart shall be a flower—
MAX: (TADOK) Answer!
WILEY: My hands the hands of a king—
MAX: (TADOK) Answer!
WILEY: And walk through magic to love, so you ask him, cause my master has promised, he’s promised—
MAX: (TADOK) Fool!
He shoots WILEY.
WILEY: (gasping) My heart shall be a flower. . .
Red flower sprouts from his heart. STAGEHAND plucks it. WILEY dies.
PROVOLONE: Is he all right?
LEONARD: He’s dead.
PROVOLONE: Your Majesty, not to criticize, but he has died, which is not our usual policy—
MAX: (TADOK) Silence.
PROVOLONE: Silence? True.
LEONARD: This is tyranny, Father.
PROVOLONE: Well it’s for a good cause.
LEONARD: The man is dead.
PROVOLONE: Then he has nothing to complain about.
MAX: (TADOK) Silence. This is our day of celebration, and those who would threaten the kingdom, let them die.
PROVOLONE: He’s free to choose.
MAX: (TADOK) Our future depends on the hunt. To the one who kills the stag, to him shall be given his heart’s desire.
For Country and King, win your reward! The stag must d-d-d-d-d-die!
Cheers. Flybuzz. WILEY is forgotten, left lying. They scatter, swatting. Shots. PROVOLONE alone.
PROVOLONE: My heart’s desire.
A commission established to recommend my heart’s desire.
The policy of this administration, my fondest dream, to have a heart’s desire.
On weekends.
Shots. Melee. SOPHIE alone.
SOPHIE: My heart’s desire.
Get hold of that Scrub and they’ll toss him in jail, hardboil his brains, I’ll have him hung up by his thing and covered with tar and raisins, and I’ll make him suffer, because I love him!
Shots. Melee. LEONARD alone.
LEONARD: My heart’s desire.
Cora’s hand in marriage, and reorganize the Postal Service.
Loveletters go free.
Poetry, love, all letters are loveletters, even the telephone bill, they all have to say I love you!
Shots. Melee. SCRUB enters, swatting at deerfly. Flybuzz.
SCRUB: Get offa me!
Goddamn I’m doing my job, it’s nothing personal. You wanta complain go sting the State Department.
It lands on body of WILEY. Swats. Stuns the fly.
Gotcha. Bring out the nukes.
Beats fly violently. Looks.
Stunned him.
Tough bastard. Must be a fanatic. Shoot’em, they can’t feel it cause they’re brainwashed.
Wait. That’s a deerfly. White stag, that’s a deer. Whatta you use to find a deer? A deerfly!
I’ll wake him up, tie a noodle round his neck, stick him in the ass and see where he flies.
Chuckling, falls into fantasy of searching, finding. Without noticing, hauls up the dead body of TADOK.
And here I come up, Your Majesty, here’s what you’re looking for, your dead white . . . Prime Minister.
Lets it fall. Startles. Sees body of WILEY. Startles.
Must be something going round.
I better go tell’em. They might wanta celebrate.
Wait. They’ll think I— I got fingerprints on his hair.
Wait. Deerfly. Right, he’s the one.
Here’s this fanatic type, flying round, starting an epidemic that coulda ravaged women and children, and I swat him in his tracks.
I probably get a medal. Maybe a parade.
Wraps fly in handkerchief, puts it in pocket.
When I got time, I’ll pull off the little bastard’s legs.
SCRUB off, dragging TADOK. STAG appears. Sees body of WILEY. Music of spell. STAG dies. WILEY revives with spirit of MAX.
WILEY: (MAX) A man. Again. Myself at last. Joints are stiff.
Oh fool! Fool, you had eyes, you thought you had eyes.
You had magic, the magic was only a game, but no, the magic is pitiless, pitiless truth.
Oh Tadok, you could have killed me.
You could have left me strangled in rainbows.
You could have merely asked me to die, and I’d have put it on the schedule.
But now. . . now I am truly King.
Thirsty. Dry words. Water. I must have a drink. Hands. I can’t feel the hands.
Sees his reflection.
Oh God. Who am I?
The river’s stolen my face. I was young, and it’s washed away.
Where am I? The King, he was here, he was dreaming. . .
Angela! Go to her. No.
She can’t see me now, my face would get in the way.
No. She must believe.
I’ll go back, like a beggar, to beg. . .
To your beloved. . .
Speed faster than wind. . .
He staggers off, painfully slow. STAG’s body dissolves into the wilderness.
Change. Cold music. The castle, frozen. STAGEHANDS perform a surreal parody of the wedding masque. Music. In her room, ANGELA stands at window. Sound of ticking. As she speaks, MAX, possessed by soul of TADOK, enters unseen.
ANGELA: Waiting. The minutes, years in the windowglass.
Children, Christmas cards, backrubs, blisters, biscuits and jam.
Faces filling with years.
I know the windowframe so well.
Rip in the screen, mothwing, cracked putty, cobwebs, beetle playing dead.
A dozen noseprints.
I know it better than I know your face. Your face.
He places hand over her eyes.
My king. Oh yes.
Pause. Then she turns, startles.
MAX: (TADOK) I’m here.
MAX: (TADOK) Home.
MAX: (TADOK) Good.
ANGELA: Very good.
MAX: (TADOK) Very good.
Good hunt?
MAX: (TADOK) Very.
MAX: Kiss me.
ANGELA: Of course.
They kiss. She recoils.
MAX: (TADOK) What?
ANGELA: You haven’t shaved.
ANGELA: I’m nervous. I thought you were someone else.
ANGELA: I’m sorry. I waited all day, and then you came in, I felt cold.
MAX: (TADOK) Cold?
ANGELA: Drafty. It must be the door.
MAX: (TADOK) We’ll build a fire.
ANGELA: Toasty warm.
MAX: (TADOK) I love you. I have loved you.
I’d watch you days when you came to visit your father. Face in the crowd, I’d know you were there without seeing.
You were a promise. I had no words for something so new.
I wanted to clasp it, grapple it, possess it, t-t-touch—
He embraces her. She pulls back.
ANGELA: Give me time. I need to remember.
MAX: (TADOK) I haven’t changed.
ANGELA: It’s funny. You think the feeling’s always the same, and it’s not.
I think love comes in waves. It hits the shore, then it falls out like baby hair. Then comes in again.
There’s time.
MAX: (TADOK) I haven’t changed.
ANGELA: It’s late.
MAX: (TADOK) Our wedding is tomorrow. The stag will be killed, and then we shall wed.
ANGELA: Of course.
PROVOLONE hurries in.
PROVOLONE: Beg pardon, Your Majesty. Beg to report the stag has been killed, just got the report, the stag has been bagged.
MAX: (TADOK) At last.
PROVOLONE: But serious news as well. The Prime Minister is dead.
MAX: (TADOK) Dead.
PROVOLONE: Terrible. There are no signs of violence. Isn’t that terrible? No bloodshed. Dreadful. A totally unplanned heart attack.
MAX: (TADOK) Poor Tadok.
PROVOLONE: Terrible. Shall we begin the celebration?
MAX: (TADOK) Tadok dead, and you speak of celebration?
PROVOLONE: I don’t mean a large celebration.
MAX: (TADOK) I know the envy you had of Tadok. What puffing conceits clogged your dull brain.
Tadok was a great minister—
PROVOLONE: A very great minister!
MAX: (TADOK) Silence! All are under suspicion.
ANGELA: But not my father!
MAX: (TADOK) Of course. Yes. Nothing personal.
The strain is too great for one of your years.
You would be better served by a less demanding job, an embassy in some undeveloping country.
PROVOLONE: I’m speechless—
MAX: (TADOK) Good.
ANGELA leads PROVOLONE out, mumbling.
“I thought you were someone else.” “I felt cold.”
Nonsense. I will possess her. I will taste her youth.
CORA enters.
CORA: Your Majesty. . .
MAX: (TADOK) Cora, my dearest—
CORA: My father is dead.
MAX: (TADOK) Oh. Yes. I should have thought.
CORA: They look for the person who killed him? I did.
MAX: (TADOK) My dearest—
CORA: I promised to do as he said. To be your queen.
I lied, for his sake I lied. I owed him so much, and I failed.
He must have died from grief.
MAX: (TADOK) No no. You must believe: he lives.
His spirit stands beside you, it wants to reach out and touch and say, “Be happy, my Cora!”
MAX: (TADOK) If I could tell you how your father loves you, loves you still—
CORA: You believe it?
MAX: (TADOK) I know it. He was too wise to want happiness at your expense.
CORA: Yes. And he knew, he surely knew, that I would have a comforter—
CORA: One whose love matches his own. Whose hands match mine. Whom I repay with all the love he gave me.
MAX: (TADOK) Always!
CORA: Your Majesty, I ask your blessing on this bond—
MAX: (TADOK) My blessing, my love—
CORA: Your blessing on me—
MAX: (TADOK) On you—
CORA: And Leonard.
MAX: (TADOK) Leonard?
CORA: My comfort. My joy.
MAX: (TADOK) Leonard! No!
He rushes out. LEONARD appears.
LEONARD: Leonard no. What does he mean by “Leonard no”? That’s not a complete sentence: “Leonard no.”
No. Return to sender.
They embrace, go. ANGELA returns.
ANGELA: Nothing, no reason, no rhyme. It must be something he ate.
No, it’s blood pressure, he’s not taken his pills.
No, he has one face for day and another for private occasions.
No, love is blind.
No, this is his face. His face.
Curtain moves: face of WILEY. He remains hidden.
WILEY: (MAX) Angela, no.
ANGELA: Angela. The voice has changed, but the echo rings.
WILEY: (MAX) My love.
ANGELA: My love. Inside me echoing, the ventricles of my heart.
WILEY: (MAX) I’m here.
ANGELA: Not here. Lost in the tangle.
First time they dissect a cadaver, they lecture, they peel back the skin, this muscle, that organ, this artery branch.
And I watched the face, but the soul was lost in the tangle.
WILEY: (MAX) My love.
She collapses in grief. WILEY (MAX) starts forward, then hides. STAGEHANDS appear at one side, carrying a large placard: image of MAX (TADOK) in heroic mural realism. They cross to center, stop to rest in front of ANGELA, hiding her.
SCRUB enters, muttering.
SCRUB: Goddamn. Work all your life, never get nothing.
Win the lottery, quiz show, fat chance.
But you got faith in the system. So one day you stumble on something, you go, report it, cops come, the tv, you think you got it made.
And what happens? Nothing. Who said reward? No picture, nothing.
Misspelled my name in the papers.
SOPHIE appears, sobbing.
And you. You ruined my whole weekend.
SOPHIE: Honey, no—
SCRUB: I’ll never forget it. You impugned my manhood.
SOPHIE: You’re the first man I ever impugned. Honest, honey, I never impugned with a man before.
SCRUB: You called me a janitor.
SOPHIE: But you were my janitor. My Scrub.
SCRUB: It’s miserable. Life is miserable.
SOPHIE: It’s worse than that.
Extended suffering: both snuffle, sob, weep. Nose blow. Wail. Gasp. Blow. Gasp. SOPHIE blows nose a very long time. Silence. She hiccups. He belches. Long silence. At last, the first signs of attraction. Finally, they kiss. He belches. They kiss. Sigh. She hiccups.
SCRUB: You and me.
SCRUB: Hankie?
He pulls out handkerchief. She sees dead fly, reacts. He stomps it. Giggle. Sigh. Off.
STAGEHANDS stretch, pick up placard of MAX (TADOK), continue on their way. ANGELA revealed, frozen in grief.
ANGELA: Where’s the echo? Where is it?
Morning dream, scared off by sunlight.
WILEY: (MAX) Angela.
ANGELA: Who spoke?
WILEY: (MAX) You know me.
WILEY: (MAX) You know me, but not my face.
ANGELA: Step out.
WILEY: (MAX) Wait.
The face is not my own. Only the spirit.
You must look deeply, with eyes, clear eyes, and you will see your husband, your king, your love.
ANGELA: My love. . .
He steps from behind the curtain.
I’ll call the guards.
WILEY: (MAX) Angela—
ANGELA: Liar. I have eyes.
WILEY: (MAX) My love—
ANGELA: Don’t use that voice! Don’t mimic the voice I love!
WILEY: (MAX) Two secrets, remember two secrets, and I smashed the bust, the king is no longer the king, and the stag, I ran faster than wind, these hands the hands of a king—
See me! Can’t you see me!
ANGELA: You’re making jokes.
WILEY: (MAX) I can’t find the words—
I am King. Tadok possesses my body, and I stand frozen with grief that my wife does not know me.
ANGELA: Madman!
WILEY: (MAX) “Angela, laugh. Laugh me to death. Tell all your friends. So what?”
WILEY: (MAX) “I stare at you, and smile, and I say the right name. I speak to Angela.”
ANGELA: The voice. The gentle voice.
WILEY: (MAX) “Will you have this hand?”
ANGELA: Yes I will.
She touches him, weeping.
WILEY: (MAX) Oh yes. Oh yes. You have eyes.
STAGEHANDS appear at other side, carrying another large placard image of MAX (TADOK). They cross to center, stop to rest, masking the exit of ANGELA and WILEY. After a moment, they continue on.
LEONARD bursts in, enraged, followed by CORA.
CORA: Leonard, wait!
LEONARD: Cora, no. I must act.
My father has been arrested for corruption.
He can’t be corrupt. He doesn’t have the brains to be corrupt.
CORA: Leonard, the King is mad. Don’t confront him.
LEONARD: If our love has meaning, it is the force of life.
In the force of life, despair dissolves.
With the death of despair, my strength surges.
And my strength is our passion’s postmark.
CORA: What do you mean?
LEONARD: I don’t really know, but I mean it.
Harsh music, cold light. Huge placards appear from flies and wings, all with the identical image of MAX (TADOK). STAGEHANDS enter as guards, shambling but helmeted. Enter MAX (TADOK). Silence.
LEONARD, frozen with fear, struggles to speak. At last he takes crumpled notes from his pocket, speaks from them, scattered.
LEONARD: “Your Majesty, I am compelled to come before you, with a profound sense of duty, to say that your actions, of which you are the sole instigator, are solely your actions, and therefore the death of despair, which is the force of life, which is my surge of strength, will triumph over tyranny.”
MAX: (TADOK) Yes. Take him.
STAGEHANDS carry off a petrified LEONARD.
As for you, watch the company you keep.
CORA: I know you now. You killed my father.
I hear it in you.
You lured him into the forest, you tore out his heart and you left the shell.
MAX: (TADOK) My d-d-dearest—
CORA: I curse you. I set a curse on you.
Music. Both are frozen. STAGEHANDS appear behind. One carries an open promptbook. They read from it in soft, gentle unison.
TRIO: In the name of my father
Name of your love
In the name of a child who danced in the rain
Be accurst.
You see no color in stone
Fingers fondling stone
Laughter frozen in stone
Your face in cold stone shadow
May your words scatter in stammers
Your seed bear children who curse you
You wander streets without markers
And fear the rain
And forget your name
And your heart is a waiting-room
I curse you.
Let your flesh cry to curse you.
Let your children curse you.
Let it be so.
Let it be so.
Let it.
CORA, exhausted, goes out, MAX (TADOK) watching her go.
MAX: (TADOK) I killed your father. Yes. He is dead.
He died with your mother, old furniture scarred by rain.
I asked her doctors, but they snickered and poked my ribs:
The husband may live but the heart isn’t there.
He goes out, followed by STAGEHANDS. ANGELA and WILEY (MAX) appear opposite, cautiously.
ANGELA: We’ll get him drunk at dinner, and he recites the spell and becomes a fried chicken.
WILEY: (MAX) He doesn’t drink.
ANGELA: We tell the newspapers, they make a big stink, and he has to resign from his body.
WILEY: (MAX) Who’d believe it?
ANGELA: If you had a dead twin brother—
ANGELA: We have to think.
WILEY: (MAX) I’m thinking with another brain. The works are all rusted. I don’t know the buttons to push.
ANGELA: My father told me I’d get through life all right if I had my teeth straightened.
WILEY: (MAX) I have pains in my heart. I have to rest.
ANGELA: They’re coming. Hide.
He hides behind curtain. MAX (TADOK) appears.
MAX: (TADOK) Angela, my dear.
The festivities have been marred, and therefore our plans must change.
ANGELA: Thank heaven!
MAX: (TADOK) We shall be married tonight.
MAX: (TADOK) Quiet ceremony, end the delay. Come along.
ANGELA: I have to change my dress.
MAX: (TADOK) This will be private. No need.
ANGELA: I’m not ready.
MAX: (TADOK) I am ready enough for both.
You were a promise, your youth, your love.
You love me, time to show it.
ANGELA: You’re not yourself.
MAX: (TADOK) I am more than myself.
I know the reach of a king, muscles that flex beyond my own, the passion of magic—
ANGELA: Wait. One gift.
MAX: (TADOK) Gift?
ANGELA: Your promise. Remember?
Silence. Uncertain:
MAX: (TADOK) You know as well as I do.
ANGELA: You told me two secrets.
The laughing head, and the magic to move your own soul, to enter forbidden veins.
You promised, before our wedding, to teach me this.
MAX: (TADOK) Another time.
ANGELA: Your promise.
MAX: (TADOK) I would need some way to demonstrate, something dead—
ANGELA: This fly. This dead fly.
MAX: (TADOK) People are waiting.
ANGELA: People wait for kings.
MAX: (TADOK) I do not wait.
MAX: (TADOK) We’ll have our marriage here! In the d-d-d-dirt!
He grabs her, forces her down. WILEY (MAX) staggers out to intervene, clutching a dagger. Sudden pains in heart, he collapses. MAX (TADOK) recoils from ANGELA, hides his face, weeping. She rushes to embrace WILEY.
What am I? What have I become?
WILEY (MAX), helples, hands dagger to ANGELA. She approaches MAX (TADOK) as he speaks, face hidden, not seeing her.
I love you, Angela, you, I beg for your love.
I was a spineless child. The stammering classroom joke.
And I made the child change.
I nailed steel in his tongue, I forced his words to come clear.
And at last, by force of will, I tore out that stuttering organ his heart, I tore it out.
You love this body. Marry it. Couple it. Love it.
We need not speak.
She raises dagger. Stands frozen.
ANGELA: She stood without words. She had no words. These were the words.
Music. STAGEHANDS appear behind. One carries an open promptbook. They read from it in soft, gentle unison.
TRIO: The child finds a seashell, brings it to Mama:
It’s alive, it’s a pet, can we feed it leaves?
Mama says no.
This is the husk of life, it’s a shell, the soul is dissolved in the sea, there’s only a hermit crab.
The child looks: I like it.
It shows me the shape of a soul, the circley smoothness, the colors, and even the hermit crab.
I hold a temple whose god is in exile.
I cannot scar the walls.
She drops dagger.
STAGEHANDS stop the action, shamble downstage, sit, open lunch pails, take out sandwiches, eat as they watch the rest of the play. One cues action to start.
MAX (TADOK) looks up.
MAX: (TADOK) Very well. The gift. I will share it.
Are you tricking me? Yes? No? What do I gain?
ANGELA: My hand.
MAX: (TADOK) I don’t want the use of you. I want your love.
ANGELA: I promise to touch this body with love.
MAX: (TADOK) Yes. . .
ANGELA: Then show me the magic.
He picks up the dead fly, holds it in his hand. Music. Spell. He dies. Flybuzz rises.
ANGELA: Quickly! Now!
WILEY: (MAX) Hurry. . .
Stumbles toward body.
My heart!
ANGELA: Before he lands!
Buzzing. She swats.
WILEY: (MAX) Can’t. My heart’s grabbing. Recite the spell.
ANGELA: Our hope!
Music. Spell. She dies. MAX’s body revives with soul of ANGELA.
MAX: (ANGELA) Saved!
WILEY: (MAX) No. He’ll have your body!
MAX: (ANGELA) Recite the spell!
WILEY (MAX) struggles to reach the body. Music. Spell. Flybuzz becomes scream. He dies. ANGELA’s body revives. They embrace: MAX as ANGELA, ANGELA as MAX. Then they see the fly landing on body of WILEY.
ANGELA: (MAX) He’s landed. Kill him.
Music. Flybuzz recital. WILEY’s body revives, feebly.
WILEY: (TADOK) You lied. Your promise.
MAX: (ANGELA) To touch this body with love.
WILEY: (TADOK) Who are you?
MAX: (ANGELA) Angela.
WILEY: (TADOK) And you?
ANGELA: (MAX) Your childish king. And you are the man you murdered.
WILEY: (TADOK) My daughter. Call Cora.
CORA appears.
Call Cora.
CORA: Father?
CORA: You’re alive.
WILEY: (TADOK) This troublesome heart, clotted, tightfisted—
I’d got rid of the jagged edge, but it keeps growing back.
You must hate me—
CORA: No. I took your love, and I doubled it.
I bring it back doubled, redoubled.
Love is lodged in me, deeply, forming a face.
WILEY: (TADOK) Through magic, through terrible magic, to love. . .
He dies. CORA embraces him.
ANGELA: (MAX) Now. Change bodies once more. Become ourselves.
MAX: (ANGELA) And then we are one.
Flash. Thunderclap. Rush of breath. All freeze. Telephone ring. Downstage, a STAGEHAND takes out receiver, listens, nothing. Ring continues. They go to body of WILEY, lift it rigidly upright, pry open mouth. Ring stops. WILEY speaks with voice of MALEDICTUS, ancient, thin, tinny.
WILEY: (MALEDICTUS) Now hear me.
I am Maledictus, magician, echo’s leftovers, swatted and freed.
My spirit scatters its remnants. Listen.
My magic is vanished, the spells are dead, my gifts are gone.
Confused, ANGELA and MAX look at one another, realize.
ANGELA: (MAX) No, but I’m not to stay in what I’m in, I’m not Angela, she’s my husband, and how can I be my children’s father if I’m their mother?—
MAX: (ANGELA) No this is the happy ending, we have to be happy and how can I live in this hairy body and marry myself?—
Flash. Thunder. Phone beep from WILEY.
WILEY: (MALEDICTUS) You will find it surprising.
Awkward. Strange.
But you may return to yourselves.
First make your own magic, touch by touch, eye mirror to eye.
Drink your own spirit, distilled and aged, knowing your mate as none have known.
At the moment your child is conceived, you will enter yourself.
You will wear your old suit of clothes.
You will be yourself, but never the same.
Echo. STAGEHANDS release WILEY. He falls forward like a dead log. MAX and ANGELA cling together.
ANGELA: (MAX) My eyes are so full.
I have been king, wild creature, old man, and woman.
My spirits people a kingdom.
Let fertility come.
MAX: (ANGELA) My heart is so full.
Wandering the streets of your body I know my own.
Let fertility come.
Tableau. CORA and LEONARD appear.
LEONARD: It’s time. I’m afraid.
CORA: What?
LEONARD: Of time. Will I tell the same jokes in twenty years?
Quick-freeze the passion so the flavor isn’t lost?
CORA: Same recipe, different spice.
LEONARD: What if we fight?
CORA: We’ll win.
Tableau. SCRUB and SOPHIE appear.
SOPHIE: We did it.
SCRUB: Saved the day.
SOPHIE: Name in the papers.
SCRUB: I pulled out my noserag, the fly fell out, that’s what it took.
I was the right stuff in the right place at the right time.
SOPHIE: You’re a poet.
SCRUB: With a good steady job.
Tableau. Music under. STAGEHAND comes forward, speaks to audience as the three couples walk through stately patterns of a dance.
STAGEHAND: There is a place, an ancient poet sings,
A treasury for lost or missing things.
Whoever has misplaced his precious jewels
May wait in line among the other fools,
And then at last may find whatever’s missing—
Oh what a scene of grabbing, cursing, kissing!
But what’s this place, this warehouse of the age?
Some say the laundromat, but we, the stage.
In one we find our missing socks and pantyhose,
And yes, that purple shirt your maiden auntie chose;
Our coins, our lint, our keys, our pins, our buttons—
Those dryers are the pickiest of gluttons!
The other keeps our furies, dreams, pretenses,
And when we’ve lost’em, brings us to our senses—
Though some may never pick up any clues
And find no sense there, having none to lose.
Here then we show the swift and crippled, old and young,
The blighted, bloated, blossoming and strong,
The bite of curses and the bloom of song:
That each may find what each already knows,
A clean-pressed, fitting, fitted suit of clothes.
So if you think your life has nothing to it,
Don’t worry, friend, you’ll probably live through it.
If love lies frozen in your heart, remember
That summer babes are sown in dark December.
And if the deerfly stings you viciously,
Then chase him off by clapping: one two three!
STAGEHANDS applaud the couples. Curtain call, confetti.