Monday, August 11, 2014

Chocolate and Cauliflower: A Unitarian Universalist Fantasy in One Act (beginning)


In honor of the Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival's 10th anniversary, I submit to my blog readers this perhaps unrealizable "closet drama" in the Fringe spirit. Its appeal is also limited by its focus on the "boutique religion" of Unitarian Universalism, whose General Assembly in Providence this summer included my being accosted by a panhandler, on whom I've modeled my Panhandler. The encounter struck me as Beckettian, so "Chocolate and Cauliflower" also salutes Samuel Beckett, whose perpetually youthful "Waiting for Godot" attained senior citizenship this year. The action of my play is continuous, but out of respect for blog etiquette,  I have divided the script, like all Gaul ("gall"?), into three parts, one daily through Wednesday.

Illumination for street people at odds with life.




(Scene: The stage is bare, with twilight lighting. There’s a street lamp center, with an old tire leaning against the post. Standing slightly in front of the lamp is a large, unmoving, bedraggled figure, the Panhandler. He stares straight out toward the audience. He’s wearing several layers of nondescript clothes and a fisherman’s cap. His hands are extended outward, palms up, elbows at his sides.

(Two men in worn clothes  — Ellery, wearing a battered fedora, and Channing, wearing a knit cap — enter wearily from upstage right. As they approach, the Panhandler makes the following speech, looking straight ahead, in a singsong, almost robotic voice. These are the only words he ever speaks. The speech is always given complete, at a moderate pace and in the same tone, except where otherwise indicated.)

Panhandler:  Good evening. I’m hungry and homeless, and through no fault of my own. I am the favorite child of misfortune. Please help me. Your generosity is greatly appreciated. Thank you and God bless you. 

(He repeats the speech once in the same voice, as Ellery and Channing walk past in front of him, shuffling by and stealing looks at him. Panhandler stops after the second time through; Ellery and Channing stop walking and regard him warily.)


Channing (moving to Panhandler’s right): You’re wasting your breath with us, buddy. We’re flat broke.

Ellery (staying on Panhandler’s left): We make broke look fixed, we’re so broke. (They look at each other and laugh.)

Channing (moves toward the Panhandler): If we had anything but the clothes on our backs and odds and ends in these bags, we might…

Panhandler (interrupting): Good evening. I’m hungry and homeless, and through no fault of my own. I am the favorite child of misfortune. Please help me. Your generosity is greatly appreciated. Thank you and God bless you. Good evening. I’m hungry and homeless….”

Channing: All right! Knock it off, will you?

Ellery: He stopped.

Channing: He could be a machine of some kind.

Ellery: What do you make of it all?

Channing: Needs more polish, more personality. Kind of a closed circuit, too, isn’t it?  “Please” and “thank you” in the same pitch. Bad form. (Pause.) I like that bit about being “the favorite child of misfortune,” though. Touch of the poet there.
(Silence.)

Ellery: What are we then?

Channing: Good question. Down in the pack somewhere, I guess. The neglected children of misfortune, maybe.

Ellery (brightly): If we’re the neglected children of misfortune, that makes us a couple of pretty lucky fellows, doesn’t it. (They chuckle merrily. Pause.) You think he wants to go with us? We could help him.

Channing: Let’s sit down here and think about that, rest our feet. (Pause.)  Did you remember your cushion?

(Ellery pulls a small cushion out of his knapsack and displays it triumphantly. Channing nods and brings his cushion out of his bag. Each man sits down carefully upon his cushion, on either side of the Panhandler.)

Ellery: Time to take the boots off, wiggle the toes for a bit.

Channing (staring up at the Panhandler, but talking to Ellery): Need any help?

Ellery:  Nope. See, they’re off already (Boots and socks off and to one side, he stretches his legs out, wiggles his toes and looks down at them happily.)

Channing (pulls off one boot, looks into it moodily):  This one’s rubbing a lot. Adjust the arch support. (He reaches in and pulls out a wad of newspaper.  He manipulates it carefully and sticks it back in, smoothing it reflectively. He takes the other boot off, sets both together carefully to one side. He keeps his socks on.)

Ellery: I wonder if he can say anything besides what he’s said three or four times already.


Channing: Worth finding out before we invite him to come along. You and I weren’t sure it would work out before we started out together. (Pause.) And it didn’t, of course. Almost predictable, us both being Unitarian Universalists.


Ellery: Maybe he is too. We could ask.


Channing:  Not likely he’s one of us. We’ve been walking all day and haven’t seen anyone. Chances of three UUs meeting in succession, strangers to each other, out in the world? Strains the credulity, it does.

Ellery: I’ve heard that if 20 to 30 people are gathered at random in the same room, two of them will have the same birthday. Amazing, isn’t it? There are 365 days in a year. Three hundred sixty-six in leap years.

Channing: And that’s the way it always is. (Disgustedly.)  A man begins wondering about something, looks at the numbers, uses his God-given reason to interpret them, still ends up in mystery. Happens more often than not.

Ellery: You sure?

Channing: What starts out as mystery finishes in the same place, leaving reason (Tapping his head.) behind in the dust. Tautology was the foundation of all Western philosophy. They had to hide that, of course, to make philosophizing seem worth doing.

Panhandler: Good evening. I’m hungry and homeless, and through no fault of my own. I am the favorite child of misfortune. Please help me. Your generosity is greatly appreciated. Thank you and God bless you.


(During previous speech, Channing groans and becomes increasingly restless; Ellery looks merely bemused. By the end, Channing, up on his stocking feet, gets up close to Panhandler, agitated and confrontational.)


Panhandler (with barely a break, still looking straight ahead, repeating): Good evening. I’m hungry and homeless, and through no fault of my own. I am the favorite child of misfortune. Please help me. Your generosity is greatly appreciated. Thank you and God bless you. Good evening, I’m hungry and homeless and through no fault of my own….

Channing (interrupting with a shout): Look, you, it could be we’d like your company, but you’ve got to stop this. (Panhandler stops and glares at him, his lips quivering, as if he can’t decide whether or not to continue.) Save it for the rest of the world, do you understand! We’re practically beggars ourselves, but at least we’re still thinking!

 (Panhandler picks up where he left off. Channing grabs him by the shoulders and starts shaking him.)

Channing:  Are you a machine or a man? What’s under that coat — a fine suit? A blinking gizmo? Where’s the switch? Who made you?

(While shouting these questions, he starts to open Panhandler’s coat and reach in. Panhandler breaks off during the struggle, and we hear only some guttural grunts as he overmasters Channing and throws him to the ground. Pause. Panhandler starts speech from the beginning, his tone sounding slightly fierce as he runs through it again, then stops. Silence.)

Ellery (slowly, alarmed by the struggle): What are you doing, Channing? Have you gone mad?

Channing (panting, sitting up with difficulty): I was just seeking the truth, Ellery. Just the truth.  In love!