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.
|Coleman Hawkins made 'Body and Soul' all his own.|
Ellery (dismissively): I knew he was a man all along.
Channing (bitterly): As the favorite child of misfortune, I could give him a run for his money. (Pause, then, in a weary voice of pained recollection, twice, pausing before the second time.) “I spend my days in longing / Wondering why it’s me you’re wronging.”
(The Panhandler, still visibly shaken despite his victory, moves back to the street lamp and sits down, leaning against it.)
Ellery (slowly, staring at Channing): Are you praying?
Channing: Lines from an old song. I can only say them. I love music, but I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Not even in a sieve.
Ellery: What’s the difference? And it would depend on whether tunes are liquid or solid, wouldn’t it? (Pause.)
Ellery: Whether you could carry a tune in a bucket or a sieve. Liquid or solid. (He shrugs. Pause.) What’s it called?
Channing: “Body and Soul.”
Ellery: Bah! Why would anyone want to put opposites into a song title? Confusing. Might as well call a song “Chocolate and Cauliflower.”
Channing: It’s a beautiful song. When you’re wandering about like us, songs you’ve known for a long time say “Welcome home!” inside your head. (He takes off his fedora and starts trying to sculpt the crown with his hands.)
Ellery: And after that, they say, “Don’t forget to wipe your feet!” and “What are you here for anyway?”
Channing (with a rueful chuckle): And “I suppose you’ll want money again.”
That’s part of homecoming. The old songs say all of that.
Ellery: Music to me is just a pleasant tickling of the eardrum. And the auditory nerve. (Looks down at his feet and wiggles his toes.) It’s on the same level as taking off your shoes and socks after a long walk and wiggling your toes. Looking at them, feeling them move.
Channing: Let me tell you something about “Body and Soul.” (Pause.) Song written in 1930 by three or four men, no less. Introduced by two wonderful actresses— first, Gertrude Lawrence in London, then Libby Holman on Broadway. Hot properties, big stars they were, so everybody loved the song right away. (He looks down, apparently satisfied with how he’s fixed the crown, and carefully sets the fedora back on his head.) Then in 1939, a tenor saxophone player, man name of Coleman Hawkins, comes along, steps into a studio and plays off the top of his head a version that quotes hardly a single phrase of the melody everybody knows. You couldn’t sing along to it. But that record became a hit. People wore out jukeboxes playing it. Thousands of jazz players have memorized every note of that record.
Ellery: I can’t imagine why.
Channing: Years later another tenor saxophonist was in a nightclub playing his solo on a popular song — I don’t know if it was “Body and Soul” or not, doesn’t matter, but a love song anyway— and he took the horn out of his mouth mid-phrase. Apologized to the audience. He couldn’t go on, he said, because he had (Slowly.) forgotten the words. Now, here’s a question for you, Ellery: which of those two musicians is the superior spiritual teacher?
Ellery (after pondering the question briefly): Sorry. Don’t like wisdom puzzles any more than I do bipolar song titles. Riddles never helped me figure out anything.
Panhandler (still seated, leaning against the lamppost, arms stay down at his side):
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.
(Frowning, Channing waits impatiently this time until Panhandler has gone through it once, before he stops again. Silence.)
Channing: You asked if I was praying. Never do that anymore. Reading the Bible in my youth took all the prayer out of me. And now this bum blessing us by rote in the name of God. (Pause.) Have you looked inside that book?
|Kitsch or not, this image inspires a range of fascination.|
Channing (nodding): Seen that picture. Kitsch, like the poor, you have always with you. (Pause.) You wondered whose door Jesus was knocking on. And why.
Ellery (shrugging): Can’t explain it. The way my life has turned out, I figure it must be a wealthy stranger’s door, and Jesus is going to ask for a handout.
Channing (chuckling): Yes, and you’re the next in line. If they have a baloney sandwich for him, they might have one for you, you’re thinking. (Pause.) Christians think you’re supposed to believe Jesus is knocking on YOUR door, Ellery. He’s asking you to let him into your life.
Ellery: Did you ever believe that?
Channing: No. I was sure it was someone else’s door.
Ellery: Of course it was. I mean, you’re on the outside of the picture, looking in, and the door was some sort of ancient door with a rounded arch. My house didn’t have a door like that, and I bet yours didn’t either.
Channing: Right you are.
Ellery: So both that door and that knocking Jesus had to be something apart from our lives. Still it was pleasant to look at that picture. Eavesdropping.
Panhandler (stands up and comes forward to his original position). 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 turns and exits slowly stage right. Silence.)
Channing: Well, I guess that settles the question. Not companionable in any case. Certified weirdo. Wouldn’t be surprised if he was a UU, after all.
Ellery: He was calling us to perfection, I think.
Channing: That’s a silly thought. You’re getting addled by all this traveling we’re doing. He’s a guy cadging handouts and coins from anyone who comes along. With a difference. He’ll wear them down, saying the same thing the same way to everybody. He really needs a crowd streaming by to make any money that way, not a few stray UUs.
Ellery: Don’t think I admire him any more than you do. I just wasn’t going to let him get to me, that’s all. Have to hold firm against people with designs on you.
(Channing is looking past Ellery during this last speech, and sees another shabbily dressed person approach from stage left, a young man wearing a baseball cap with the bill off to one side. Noticing Channing’s gaze past him, Ellery turns around, and they both regard the new arrival.)