Murder in the Red Barn

   Murder in the Red Barn is a longer one-act (2m, 2w) set inside a large old red barn with light shining through the broken slats, old pieces of furniture in the straw, and fragments of other locations.  The place is Suffolk, England, and the time is the late 1820s, “or perhaps a dream of that village in that time, dreamed in a more recent time.”  As the play begins we hear doves cooing and see Maria, 26, sitting in the straw, Will, 30, leaning on a post peeling a hard-boiled egg, Young Stepmother, 29, sitting on a wooden chair, and the Molecatcher, 50, drinking at a table.  Maria says all barns are haunted and that she is going to Ipswich to make a new life.  Young Stepmother relates a dream she has every night about something terrible happening in the barn and then asks Maria if she has been out again with Will, warning her that he cannot be trusted.  Maria says Young Stepmother loves her father’s money because she thinks he has found a bag of Roman coins, but her father is obsessed with moles.  The Molecatcher says that moles are tricky and philosophical and that his daughter is smart and imaginative.  Maria tells Will that she is pregnant and that he is the father.  Will says he took precautions by praying to the Lord before entering her “tabernacle.”  She says he will marry her or her father will kill him.

     Will tells the Molecatcher that Maria has gone to Ipswich, taken a job as a baker’s assistant, and is happy.  Young Stepmother says that she dreamed Maria was murdered  and put in a sack in the barn and buried in the straw.  She wants the Molecatcher to look in the barn.  Will asks Young Stepmother why she married the old man and she replies that he was kind to her.  Will thinks she would be happier in bed with him.  After the lights go to black the Molecatcher appears in the darkness with a lantern and Maria calls to him.  He puts the lantern down, looking at the straw, and asks if what he sees is a hand.

     We hear birds singing as lights come up on Maria telling Will that he was sent away for stealing pigs and the only reason he came back was because his brother Tom drowned.  Will says that being around her makes him happy.  The Molecatcher tells Young Stepmother that nobody except the killer knows how Maria died.  He says he knows that horrible unspeakable things are hidden under the earth.  Will tells us that he opened up a boarding house for young ladies in London where he does all the cooking.  He says that the Molecatcher and two policemen dragged him off to jail for killing Maria.  Will says that he and Maria argued and he remembers finding her in the barn, dead, and burying her.  He says thousands will come to see him hang and cut up his skin in pieces.  He says they are the subject of a penny dreadful, and Maria says her picture is on the cover.  Will picks up two dolls from the straw, identifying one as the Notorious Red Barn Murderer Doll and the other as the beautiful and tragic Maria doll.  Maria speaks of using milk as her beauty secret and dreaming she was drowning, while Will speaks his memories of making love to her.

     The Molecatcher talks to Young Stepmother about her dreaming that Maria was buried in the barn.  The Molecatcher says that Will is not in his right mind and Young Stepmother says that all men are murderers.  In an earlier time Will tells Young Stepmother that he is meeting Maria in the barn so they can run away to Ipswich or London.  Young Stepmother tells Maria that her children are dead and Maria describes how people came to the barn to collect souvenirs, leaving just a skeleton, and made up songs and plays about her.  She says she had three babies, one by Will’s brother Tom, one by the clockmaker who sent money, and one by Will, but all three babies died.  Maria says if you dig down far enough you come to the center of the darkness, that all God is, is darkness, but, she adds, he is famous.

     Set in China, a long time ago, The Gatekeeper (2m) tells the story of Lao Tzu, an old man, knocking on a gate at the edge of the civilized world.  The Gatekeeper says he must pay a fee and when Lao Tzu says he has no money, the Gatekeeper says that nobody has ever wanted to go out the gate into barbarism and chaos.  Lao Tzu identifies himself and the Gatekeeper invites him into his lodge to warm himself by the fire and have something to drink.  The Gatekeeper says he remembers hearing Lao Tzu speak many years earlier.  Lao Tzu says he wants to go out the gate because he wants to die in a place where there is nothing.  The Gatekeeper pours more wine into Lao Tzu’s cup, saying that he had a dream in which he refused to let Lao Tzu through the gate until he wrote down his wisdom.  That, he says, is the fee.  Lao Tzu says his writing will be misconstrued and turned into dogma over which people will kill each other.  The Gatekeeper says his teachings make him happy and his words and images are beautiful, but Lao Tzu insists that there is nothing to be gained from writing, nothing to be gained from anything.  The Gatekeeper gets pen and ink and tells Lao Tzu he can go out the gate if he writes down his wisdom.  Lao Tzu refuses and the Gatekeeper pulls out a trumpet and blows it into Lao Tzu’s ear five times, but Lao Tzu still refuses.  They struggle over the trumpet and the Gatekeeper starts whacking Lao Tzu over the head with it until Lao Tzu collapses, dead.  The Gatekeeper says he will write down what he remembers of what Lao Tzu said and continues to write as the lights fade and we hear the sound of wind in the darkness.

     In Relativity, an elderly Albert Einstein and a middle-aged Kurt Godel sit on a bench in Princeton, New Jersey, in the autumn of 1954 as Kurt wonders why, in the movie, there are seven dwarfs and why he can’t remember their names.  Kurt is convinced that mathematicians are trying to poison him and suggests that the Wicked Queen has given Snow White a radioactive apple that makes the castle glow.  He says there may be an infinite number of parallel variations of the fairy tale.  Albert wants to go to one where they are not having this conversation.  Kurt says there are time loops in Albert’s equations that make it theoretically possible to visit the past.  Kurt thinks it odd that Albert sat down on their walk, and Albert tells him he should find someone else to talk to because he, Albert, can’t live forever.  Kurt says that since time is an illusion, there is no death.  Kurt says he has always been looked at as if he were some sort of insect.  Albert, who has fallen asleep, wakes up and tells Kurt that he needs to make new friends so he will not be utterly alone.  Kurt replies that he happens to like the illusion of Albert’s company.  Albert says he has been trying to work out a grand unified theory but has failed.  He tells Kurt that he cannot start over because he will be dead in two months.  Kurt says that Albert is his friend and he loves him.  That, he says, is not an illusion.  Albert says the name of the last dwarf is Happy.  Kurt says he doesn’t think so and Albert suggests that they walk, but the light fades on them before they get up.

     In Borneo, Harry, a large man of 40 with a deep voice, and Rita, a woman in her 30s with beautiful long red hair, are sitting in bamboo chairs on a verandah at night.  We hear occasional faint jungle bird noises and the sound of a film running through an old projector.  Harry speaks of re-editing a film and Rita mentions that she has been learning about poisons, adding that perhaps “he” could be persuaded to walk on to the rotted wharf and fall through the boards, a nail piercing his carotid artery.  Harry comments that that has been done before and says he is on the edge of an abyss.  She says he sits in the dark watching the same scenes over and over, and she thinks he should cut the nude scenes, telling him that she didn’t want to do them.  He speaks of editing the scene in which a jealous husband murders his wife.  She tells him that all he cares about is the film, that he worships death.  He replies that he is making a movie about a man who lives in Borneo with his beautiful wife but every take seems to have something wrong with it.  He begins to wonder if he actually murdered his wife or if he only imagined it, like a scene in a script that was never shot or was left on the cutting room floor.  Rita says that everything is devoured in Borneo and he says he is keeping in the nude scenes.

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