Excerpt from Inert Dementia
by Kobun Kaluza
FIGURES IN BLACK
For a large space and a small audience: no more than four rows of white
or gray metal folding chairs, cushions available upon request. All seats
are five feet from an enormous pale white rear-projection screen, twenty-four
feet high, the top end slightly pitched forward. At the start the audience
faces the screen. The audience's eyes are to become accustomed to the
screen light. The width of the projection screen is determined by how
many seats across, per row of audience, are set, the screen being at
least as wide. Behind the seating is an expansive playing space, the
true scope of which is hidden by the appearance of an enclosed theater.
The playing space is painted navy blue. When the upstage, floor-level
center doors are open, a large backstage area is revealed. This central
doorway is an immense double door. Some twelve feet off the ground there
is an onstage balcony that reaches from a stairway, stage right, to an
opposite stairway, stage left. Atop the balcony there are enough doors,
at least four, that when lit resemble a boardinghouse hallway. The audience's
entrance, below a visible Exit sign and complete with push bar, etc.,
is off left, roughly at the foot of the stage left balcony stair. This
door is hereafter referred to as the exit door. The onstage area is dark.
The trappings for the start of the show are clustered upstage.
(A man stands nearby, wearing a black leather vest and accompanying
oater-type dress, cowboy boots, and a hat. The hat covers up a significant
gunshot wound in the man's head that is visible when he takes his hat
off to introduce himself or push back his stringy hair. He welcomes the
audience as they arrive and directs them to the chairs, and if they look
at him funny, he says:
MITCHELL: I couldn't get past the boobs.
If an audience member turns to stare, he questions that person about
his or her life, name, occupation. Eventually the entire audience is
asked to turn and face the stage, but until then anyone turning to look
prematurely will be interrogated by MITCHELL.)
TRUDY: Where are these fogies?
(TRUDY, the stage manager, has barreled into the playing space. She
does not speak to the audience.)
TRUDY: Haven't you guys set up yet? Christ! Can we please set the stage?
(FIGURES IN BLACK, costumed as ants, emerge, rolling an office desk
out to center. An office chair follows. Upstage right rolls in what looks
to be a Christmas tree with modest trimming. MITCHELL continues to question
audience members who seek to watch the onstage action about their names,
TRUDY: Thank you. I'd like to open the house as soon as the busload gets
here. Has everybody warmed up?
(TRUDY exits back offstage. The stage is quiet, with only MITCHELL
present. He anxiously whistles. Gradually ACTORS emerge from offstage,
stretching their arms and gabbing. ACTORS, like the stage manager, do
not speak to the audience.)
ACTOR: They never like what we do.
ACTOR: What are you talking about? Of course they like what we do.
ACTOR: Why else would they come?
ACTOR: They want musicals, Abelard and Héloïse on ice skates.
ACTOR: Nobody wants that, dude.
ACTOR: I hate musical theater. It's the absolute absence of pathos, the
complete distortion of the human condition, with super-high production
values that win audiences over.
ACTOR: I'd disagree, but is it even worth it?
ACTOR: Groovy Jesus, up on the cross, rocking out like John Cougar. Junkie,
homeless prostitutes and the writer dead of AIDS! It's disgusting.
ACTOR: Have you ever spoken to the women who come in, like, once a year
to see it? Seriously, musical theater brings meaning to their lives; the
recording when, what's her fuck, Judy Garland was Annie or whatever. It's
ACTOR: Whatever. I like musicals.
ACTOR: It's not for me.
ACTOR: I want to star in some obscure European play from the 1880s in
which some bizarre shit happens and it resolves unconvincingly. It has
to be by some bizarre European who mysteriously died young of some disease
that nobody dies from. Nobody will like it but—
(TRUDY storms in carrying the ghost light.)
TRUDY: They're not coming.
ACTOR: Why not?
TRUDY: There's a message on the machine. I don't know how I missed it.
I called back, but there's no one answering.
ACTOR: Maybe they couldn't find the theater.
TRUDY: There was some kind of accident.
ACTOR: Oh, that's awful.
ACTOR: They went to Denny’s.
ACTOR: Don't say that.
TRUDY: You can all go home.
(TRUDY exits, leaving the ghost light plugged into a floor outlet,
ACTOR: I want to perform.
ACTOR: You can perform. I'm going home.
MITCHELL: (To audience) You should turn around. Turn around.
Who needs a hand? Anybody? Your eyes will have adjusted.
(The projection screen is dull once the audience faces the stage.)
DANIEL: (To the back of the house, in false address)
Damsel night, throw yourself at me,
Let me hold you in my arms.
(All but two ACTORS exit. DANIEL and SAMANTHA stay on.)
ACTOR—SAMANTHA: Are you staying?
DANIEL: Your heavy cloak—we could do the breakup scene?
SAMANTHA: We’ll need the hat.
(SAMANTHA exits for the nightcap vital to the breakup scene; DANIEL
unplugs the ghost light and sets it near the exit doors.)
MITCHELL: (To audience) Sometimes the greatest performances happen
for nobody. Y'all can see now, right? Your eyes adjusted? It's these moments,
alone, with your instrument, or on a stage, when you’re able to forget
yourself. You wind up sacrificing the rest of your life to take hold of
that little piece of whatever it is.
(The ACTORS who have chosen to go home enter briefly with their personal
belongings to make their exits out the exit door.)
ACTOR: See you tomorrow, Daniel.
(To the back of the house, in false address) What mean you?
Wherefore do you speak to me as a cur?
When I bestrode the mountaintops to see
Your dawning face? When I said love, not the love
Of birthday cards or in promotions
But Love, a crustacean has for her shell
The nightingale for the bright shining moon
A sunbeam for a drop of dew—
(SAMANTHA steps up behind DANIEL and places the nightcap on his head.
He turns abruptly.)
DANIEL: From your entrance?
(He promptly takes his seat at the office desk. SAMANTHA finds her
place onstage, sets down her personal belongings, and begins the scene.)
DANIEL: What is it?
(SAMANTHA comes up behind DANIEL and pulls the nightcap off his head.)
DANIEL: Give me that! Margo, what the heck are you doing to me?
SAMANTHA: Eben, it's Christmas Eve.
DANIEL: I know it's Christmas Eve. I'm going to catch up on the work I've
fallen . . .
SAMANTHA: Uh . . . you say, “I’ve fallen behind,” and
then I say, “We need to talk.”
DANIEL: No, you need to listen.
(DANIEL and SAMANTHA kiss.)
SAMANTHA: I'm kissing you.
DANIEL: I'm kissing you.
(The actors kiss again.)
DANIEL: Every time we do that scene and I push you out of my life, I feel
like I'm losing you over and over.
SAMANTHA: And I just want you to let me in.
(They kiss more, their weight taken up by the office desk.)
MITCHELL: I like thespians.
SAMANTHA: We should get off the set.
DANIEL: You're right.
SAMANTHA: Did you hear something?
DANIEL: Trudy is still back there.
SAMANTHA: Oh, no! She heard us.
DANIEL: Do you have your stuff?
SAMANTHA: It’s over there.
DANIEL: I'll grab mine.
(DANIEL exits; soon thereafter TRUDY emerges from backstage.)
TRUDY: Sticking around?
SAMANTHA: I'm just waiting for Dan.
TRUDY: I'm getting out of here before something else goes wrong. Where's
the ghost light?
DANIEL: (To SAMANTHA) D'you want to go?
SAMANTHA: See ya, Trudy. Too bad about the show.
TRUDY: You two going to Sully's for a pint?
SAMANTHA: I don't think so.
TRUDY: Suit yourselves. Remember to use protection.
DANIEL: Let's go.
(DANIEL tugs SAMANTHA to their exit. TRUDY spits.)
TRUDY: (To herself) Actors.
(TRUDY retrieves the ghost light and sets it center, plugging the
standing light into the floor outlet.)
TRUDY: Through Athens I am thought as fair as she. I at least shave my
armpits. But Lysander thinks not so. Am I ugly? I look like a woman, don't
I? Why do they treat me like I'm inhuman? I could play Helena. No I’m
not a twelve-year-old boy, but I could manage. It's acting. No, it's showboating,
merchandizing. (Pause. Then, singing)
BEFORE IT WAS A BEAUTY SHOW
I TOO WAS AN ACTRESS
BEFORE I HAD TO UNDERGO
THE RIGORS OF THE PAGEANT
I SAID MY LINES
MITCHELL: (Singing, he echoes the stanza back to her.)
I SAID MY LINES
TRUDY: I UNDERSTOOD THEIR MEANINGS
MITCHELL: UNDERSTOOD THEIR MEANINGS
TRUDY: BUT STILL I WAS DEFEATED
BY THE STARS IN MY EYES
MITCHELL: THE STARS IN MY EYES
TRUDY: DID I GIVE MY LIFE AWAY
WHY’D I SEND MY LIFE ASTRAY
DID I HAVE TO SACRAFICE
ALL I HAD
WERE ALL MY DREAMS
OF ONE DAY BEING SOMEBODY
I PLAYED THE PARTS
I LEARNED TO SING
NOW I AM
THE PARTY’S LIFE
I DRINK THE TOASTS
I SIP THE WINES
WHILE EVERYONE AT DAY’S END THANKS ME FOR THE PRICE
(TRUDY sighs. She makes her exit out the exit door. Silence. MITCHELL
does not whistle. The ghost light flickers, then is dark. The Christmas
lights come up on the tree. The tree slowly rotates 180 degrees, revealing
a figure, clothed in pine, who lumbers towards the audience, approaching
the ghost light. The tree grips hold of the stand, the bulb alights,
revealing an ancient face, a beard, bushy eyebrows, and a pointed hat
spiraling up to a lighthouse-like, beacon-type star, pulsing and rotating
at the tip of a cone-shaped pine needle hat. The ghost light is used
like a microphone. The tree speaks directly to the audience.)
TRE: Hello, and welcome to after hours, your ticket to eternity’s
mysteries, coming at you alight from the theater of no return. I'm your
voice in the darkness, your light and guide, Tree-ee-ee-ee.
(TRE sits at the office desk.)
TRE: Who do we have here tonight? Hello, what's your name, deary? Huh?
We're looking for Arnold Leighman. Maverick Elliot? Susan Mendoza, Adrienne
Wroth, Beth Mead, Abraham Stoijakovich. Dominic Barth, Ruth Gorman. Please
make your way to impaneling room 954827631.
(The numbers are recited in sequence, not as a number in the hundred
millions. TRE stands to move the ghost light off. The large double doors
open at rear. FIGURES IN BLACK can be seen walking in a line beyond the
threshold. In the distance an epic organic machine is visible, the Technism.
The Technism is flesh tone but built of pulley systems with ropes and
wheels. If the circulatory system were composed of waterwheels and motor
skill dependent on interlocking gears, then the Technism would not be
an aberration. It is shaped like a mountain, suspended in the air like
a waning helium balloon. Skylight and mist pour onstage from the open
double doors, which swiftly close once the line of figures has passed.)
TRE: When your name is called (TRE laughs), you are to report.
You are present from here until now; that doesn't mean you can check out
somewhere between then and there. Listen up, there's an informational portion
to what I have to say to you. You don't have to listen, but you're going
to be now hereafter. There's info you didn't get then. I'll continue: Barbara
Hannigan, Alberta Morales, Hermann Dilinger, Camille Bastione, Mirabelle
Osterling, Dylan Owen, Matthias Grubach, Thomas Anglican, Armando Sobieski,
could you all please go directly to impaneling room 436259871. I'm not
going to lie to you. You may recall the sequence of numbers one through
ten? One being the smallest unit, ten being sequentially the largest. Plus
some understanding, zero as nothing, infinity as everything. That relative
understanding was useful then, but here you're equipped with knowledge
useful now. Then one plus one equaled two, and zero plus one equaled
one; but hereafter one plus one equals one, and zero plus one equals two.
As you would have done then, record these facts to memory. Barry Mann,
Ingrid Spragg, Clover Domain, Isengard Albee, Edward Tommy John, Claretta
Pong, Duganoga Argotla, Jim Bondogala, Abba Santos, please return to the
lobby and await further instructions.
(The double doors again open. Mist and light pour onto the stage.
Hail appears to be falling from above. The Technism hisses and whirs
in the background. A line of black-clad figures is visible, crossing
beyond the threshold. The doors close swiftly once they've passed.)
TRE: Where were we? One plus one equals one, and zero plus one equals
two: I'll explain once, if you don't pick up on it here, gradually you
will now. It's common to feel disoriented at first. Hold on—Margie
Howe, Dorsal Finnegan, Tara Claire Donaldson, Anne Yugaforny, Barrister
Williams, Hernando Jones, Hijiki Yoshihama, Zanzibar Andersen, please go
to impaneling room 643578912. Right, there are two substances: thing and
nothing, right/left, yes and no, on and off, night/day, zero and one, therefore
zero plus one equals two. Right and wrong, yin and yang, me and you, self/other,
understand? Life and death, dark and light. Ironically there is only one
of these two substances. Carl Ott! Mongoloid #9, Sammy Ovar, Turkey Escobar,
Albatross Mushroom Cloud, Hamburger Smith, Tungsten Bonaparte, go to impaneling
room 432198765. You have that foggy, my-eyes-haven't-adjusted look. Mitchell?!
Have these ones been properly adjusted?
MITCHELL: Yes, sir. They're all ready to move on, from here at least.
TRE: I'm holding you responsible if we lose the lot of them. Anyway, these
two substances are inseparable. There's no up if there's no down. There's
no go if there's no stop. The two are conjoined, so to speak, thus one
plus one equals one. Got it?! One plus one equals one. I'll spare you the
counting and its explanation, but be aware it proceeds one, zero, two,
four, three. Now, there'll be an opportunity to study it further. Here
just remember. You're also to know . . . you all look puzzled already,
but—the characteristics of absolute zero. In short, infinity as you
know it: the coming from or the putting out of X is the actualization of
the finite. For example, your lives from the unborn are slated for demise,
so one, which is two, is finite, zero being one is infinite. Bring me leaves,
my eyes are sapping!
(The double doors open at rear.)
TRE: Mason Dolby, Marble Mathieson, Larry Lowenbrau, Jasmine Bender, Matchbox
Crowley, please report to impaneling room 123897564.
(Figures pass beyond the threshold, before the Technism.)
TRE: When your name is called, report to the appropriate impaneling room.
You'll be asked a series of questions. There are no yes/no answers to the
questions you'll be asked. The questions are significant only by the sentiments
they arouse. From here, your then will be illuminated.
MITCHELL: It doesn't necessarily happen right away. What I'm trying to
tell y'all is it's not uncommon for folks to hold on to some nostalgic
moments, or rather, rue fateful decisions that may have shaped the way
. . . somebody turned out to be or turned into. This harboring informs
the questions you might face during impaneling. I beg your pardons, I didn't
even introduce myself properly.
(MITCHELL removes his hat, bringing focus to the gunshot wound
in his forehead. He holds his hat in front of him.)
MITCHELL: These old theaters are right popular after hours. I reckon it's
to do with so many ages, and the various eras, that are represented from
one curtain up to the next.
TRE: Aardvark, Leopold, Danzig, Beetle Beetleford, Archibald Marmaduke
Azuwer, Colonel Xavier Montrose Shitpan. (Beat.) I'm pining .
. . Doug Fielding, Mary Shellman, Suzanne Susanna Ringley, Dave Mathews,
Stewy Copperpot, report! 429718635.
MITCHELL: My name is Mitchell Rose—
TRE: We didn't take anything that wasn't given us! We hardly resisted
when they came with their axes and their saws, burning and hoisting. They
don't look like the Technism at all! We stood up to them, certainly, but
in the manner of peace, in a manner of dignity, not like the sea or the
wind reverting to childish revenge. Twenty-eight hundred! There was no
limit to the finite when I felt the breeze through my boughs.
(TRE’s arms catch fire; waving them vigorously accidentally
spreads the flames. TRE stands; flails out from the desk. MITCHELL makes
a move toward TRE, but the flames and smoke repel him.)
TRE: They won't come for me in the Americas. I'll be safe in Persia. They
won't find me in the Amazon.
(The theater's sprinkler system engages, showering the stage with
water. Steam bellows out from the fire. MITCHELL, as well as TRE and
the rest of the onstage furnishings, are momentarily lost in zero visibility.
As the smoke and steam clear, MITCHELL is visible standing center, faced
away. TRE, the desk, and the desk chair are gone, seemingly having escaped
through the double door, at rear, which can be seen closing.
An upright piano has been set under the balcony, upstage center, with
a piano bench. A last beam of light is seen illuminating the piano as
the double doors come to a close. The sprinklers continue to shower the
stage. Behind the audience the projection screen lights up with a storm,
thunder booms, lightning crackles. MITCHELL turns back to the audience.
He's wet and hunched from the cold.)
MITCHELL: Golly. Everyone seems a little up in arms with the news.
(MITCHELL seeks shelter, finding a place offstage where he's out of
the rain, visible to the audience, and can see the events that transpire
up on the balcony.)
MITCHELL: As I was saying before Tre spontaneously combusted, I'm . .
. my name's Mitchell Rose. I'm a piano player. I like to play piano. I
had a position playing the piano at a theater a lot like this one. This
theater reminds me of the theater I used to play at. I accompanied the
showgirls for their performances. I couldn't get past the boobs. (MITCHELL
laughs.) I can't get over it.
(The balcony lights up, and a large, boa-wearing SHOWGIRL struts her
cowboy boots across the balcony, coming up to one of the boardinghouse
doors and knocking.)
SUSIE: Mitchell? Mitchell, you in there?
MITCHELL: (Under his breath)I'm here, Suze.
(SUSIE turns the knob, enters, and closes the door behind her. A host
of short-skirted SHOWGIRLS cross the balcony, opening up the two doors
on either side of MITCHELL's, pouring into and spilling out of the boardinghouse
rooms. They talk unintelligibly to one another as they roll off their
stockings and clear off their makeup in front of dressing-room mirrors.)
SHOWGIRL: I can't believe he came back!
SHOWGIRL: If it wasn't . . .
(Their conversation returns to an unintelligible decibel.)
(The SHOWGIRLS crowd around MITCHELL's door. The sound of a creaking
bed is slightly audible. The hallway eavesdropping is disturbed by the
arrival of a man in a gray suit and an exterior shoulder holster.
He bangs on MITCHELL's door.)
TOM: Mitchell Rose. You open this door. (To SHOWGIRLS) Quit your
peeping and get out of them costumes.
(TOM kicks in the door. SUSIE screams.)
TOM: I'm a man of my word, Rose. You would have been wise to be the same.
(TOM un-holsters his pistol and fires once. There's a burst of sound
and light, then light fades on the balcony, returning it to darkness.
TRE's voice can be heard over a public address system. He becomes quieter
and then inaudible.)
TRE: Damian Avelon, Samsonite Cumberland . . .
MITCHELL: Mitchell Rose.
TRE: Sasquatch, China Hotel Ruben, Red Cap Steadman, Susan Graham . .
(The double doors open.)
MITCHELL: If there's any kind of song you wish for me to play before I
go, I like to play the piano. I don't know every song there is by any means,
but I've been picking them up, as many as I can do. If anybody wants to
hear anything in particular while you're here, you go ahead and let me
know and I'll see what I can do, even if all that's left to you is to hum
(MITCHELL makes his way to the piano upstage. He sets his hat down
and sits on the piano bench.)
MITCHELL: Anybody have a song that's bottled up between your ears and
wanting to get out?
(MITCHELL plays the piano, considering any and all requests. If no
requests prove possible, MITCHELL plays "Mack the Knife." He
whistles or sings along. The song finished, he stands, bows slightly,
dons his hat, and hoists the piano bench up on top of the piano. He turns
back, only once, smiles to the audience, then makes his exit, pushing
the piano through the double doors, with the Technism looming above him.
The doors close.)
Kobun Kaluza was born in Boulder, Colorado. He attended high school in Cambridge, MA. and received a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College, concentrating in the Theater Arts. Kaluza recently completed a CUNY – Brooklyn, English M.F.A. – Creative Writing, Playwriting candidacy.