Animal Tales is a collection of eleven short plays that may be done as a full-length show, in small groups, or individually. Nigro writes that he very strongly discourages the use of animal costumes, actors getting down on all fours, and expressions of overt animal physicality. In Three Turkeys Waiting for Corncobs, two men and a woman portray three wild turkeys, Bob, George, and Penny, who are waiting in someone’s back yard for corncobs to be thrown out. Penny asks the two males if they think there is more to life than corncobs and bugs. She says that she has always wanted to play the saxophone and that someday, even though she doesn’t have fingers or lips, she will be a world-famous saxophone player. She says she is going to search for a saxophone tree. George tells her that if she leaves them she will become flockless and have nobody to gobble with. She will walk alone forever and go mad. But she leaves and the males wonder if they should have been more supportive. Bob asks George what a saxophone is and George says that the corncobs are coming as he looks back to where Penny has gone and Bob looks towards the corncobs as the light fades out.
In Dialogue with Lemmings, two lemmings “in a bleak landscape” walk slowly at first and then with increasing speed. Their names are Lem and Em and they speak tersely as Em tries to find out what is bothering Lem, who feels an itching in his head. Em thinks that he, too, may be experiencing the same feeling. Lem says he has to go, but Em thinks there is a cliff “over there.” Lem doesn’t know why but he says he has to go. Em tells him that if they don’t stop they are going to go over the cliff. He summarizes their situation: they don’t know where they are going, nor why, but millions of them are going to fall off the cliff onto the sharp ocean rocks below. Lem says it’s something in the head, and Em repeats the phrase as they walk now rapidly. “Here we go,” Lem says, and the lights black out.
One character on a bare stage in Platypus is trying to discover who and what he is, trapped in a strange party costume he can’t take off. He thinks his grandpa was a duck and his grandma a beaver, but he doesn’t know and wonders what he is supposed to be. He says he doesn’t fit in anywhere and that being odd is a terrible curse. He hates his claws and wishes he had fingers. He fears that one day he will be extinct, be nothing. He wishes he could find somebody like him and thinks he was cobbled together from leftover pieces of somebody else. He asks the audience if he can sit with them just for company but, realizing the futility of his request, apologizes as the lights go out.
Another lone actor, a mouse in The Trap, explains to the audience that he ought to know better but he finds the cheese in what he knows is a mouse trap compelling. He says that he has seen many others crushed horribly by the great metal prong snapping down, crushing their heads and spines, and he wonders what kind of hideously depraved creature could have created such a monstrous thing. But the cheese smells are so wonderful that he thinks, perhaps, if he is quick enough, he can get the cheese before the trap springs. He argues that nobody ever accomplished anything new if they presumed that the failures of the past would happen to them, too. He says he doesn’t need the cheese, that he can live off the crumbs from the kitchen table or inside the stove. He says he can run rings around the cat and is a very careful mouse. He knows the trap is a trick devised to kill him, but he dreams about the cheese, wondering who is more evil, the person who invented the trap, or the one who invented cheese, because without cheese the trap wouldn’t work. He thinks he might be able to just sniff the cheese, saying that desire is a trap, yet desire is all there is. He resolves to walk away, but then he reaches out his “little” arm. Blackout and the sound of a giant trap snapping shut.
A lone actor In the Great Chipmunk Labyrinth speaks to us “from inside his labyrinth of tunnels.” He tells us that chipmunks, thought cheerful, are really torn by constant doubts and regrets. He wonders why the great Chipmunk God, who created snakes to kill inferior creatures like mice, allows the snakes to swallow the chipmunk babies. He loves the labyrinth of tunnels he and his forbears have created to confuse the snakes, tunnels given them, the chosen of God, by the Great Chipmunk to celebrate his mysterious handiwork. He says he can’t stop thinking about the hawk that swooped down and took his mother, pregnant with brothers and sisters, to a nest in the trees to be torn apart. He urges himself not to think of the hawk and wonders if the tunnels he digs are perhaps the inside of the brain of the Chipmunk God, who is the hollow space inside the labyrinth inside his brain inside the labyrinth. He wants to think only of digging tunnels, his “lonely work in the dark.” Lights fade out.
In Groundhog at the Window, the actor tells us that something in his head makes him slow but thoughtful. He says he will eat anything but he tries to stay away from humans although he keeps returning to the basement windows of a house near his den. One window-well in particular attracts him, not just because it is a good place to hunt toads after it rains but because he sees another groundhog looking back at him through the glass of the window. This groundhog imitates everything he does and he wonders what the other groundhog’s life is like. Sometimes the human hears him scratching at the glass to let the other groundhog out and comes out to chase him away. He is troubled that the groundhog behind the glass imitates everything he does. He has a sense that something is following him across the grass, but all he can see is his shadow and he wonders if that shadow is the dark disguise of the groundhog in the window. He screams at the creature in the window well and it screams back at him. He says there is an itching in his head that makes him dizzy and thirsty. There is froth at his mouth and he thinks the dark thing that follows him across the grass has gotten into his head and is eating his soul.
In Parrots, two actors move back and forth sideways as if on their perch in a cage created by shadows of bars. Pickles repeats everything Pecky says and Pecky tells us that the question is not why “this jackass” keeps repeating everything he says but why he himself feels compelled to keep saying stupid things like, “Polly want a cracker?” since neither of the birds is named Polly and Pecky would rather have a cheeseburger with fries and a chocolate shake. Pecky thinks he is going mad, that there is another person inside him who keeps saying inane phrases that he must then repeat. And he is trapped in a cage with a moron who keeps repeating what he says. Pecky asks Pickles to say, just once, something that Pecky hasn’t said first. “I love you,” Pickles says. Pecky replies that Pickles is a tape recorder with feathers and cannot say anything intelligent. “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” Pickles responds and continues to utter random sentences from physics, police car radios, and aliens, and then starts singing songs. Pecky shouts at him to shut up, saying that he hates him and wishes he were ground up into cat food. Pecky expresses his satisfaction with peace and quiet, but then asks Pickles, who is silent, if he is pouting. Pecky repeats some of the phrases he said at the beginning of the play, but gets no response. He asks if Pickles is dead and tells him that he loves him. But he gets no response to “Polly want a cracker?” and the lights fade out.
Two cats, Maggie and Tabby, on a rug in front of a fireplace in String Theory, talk about the meaning of life. Maggie says that life is dark and she sometimes thinks she is going crazy. Tabby suggests that if they run away all the stuff that seems to matter will just vanish. But Maggie wonders what it all means although she doesn’t want it to be over. She has no faith that there is anything on the other side of the fence. Tabby says there was another yard there yesterday and Maggie asks if she knows it is still there today and whether it is the same yard and what is over the fence of that yard. Tabby says she guesses it is all yards forever, like a big house where you can go through more and more rooms. Maggie says she is sick of her life and wants something else. When Tabby asks what, Maggie tells her that when she was chasing a string she wondered why she was doing it. Tabby says that they are cats and cats chase things. Maggie says they chase mice and birds so they can eat them but why do they chase string? She says that when she saw the hand of the child that was moving the string, she stopped chasing the string because she didn’t want to be manipulated. Tabby tells her that they are cats and she can play or not, that it’s her choice. Maggie says life is meaningless and that what gives them pleasure is either an illusion or an obscenity. She says that they are victims of a process they don’t understand, controlled by other victims who don’t understand. Tabby asks her if she enjoys chasing the string, and when she says she does, Tabby tells her to “chase the damned string.”
One character in Bat hangs upside down in dim, gloomy light, telling us that the piece will be short because of the blood rushing to his head. He tells us of a war between the birds and the beasts and when the birds wanted the bat to join them he said he was a beast, but when the beasts wanted him to join them he said he could fly like the birds. When a ttreaty was made neither the birds nor the beasts wanted the bat. Hanging upside down in a cave he heard a rustling and realized that there were millions and millions of others just like him, but each one was alone. He doesn’t know what it means. Even if he slept right side up the world would still seem upside down to him. “Not bird. Not beast. Not anything.” He asks us what kind of animal we are and closes with, “Suck you later. Maybe we can hang out together.”
Ed, a baboon, in The Baboon God, speaks to us about the absurd, insulting, and blasphemous attempt to teach evolutionary thought in their baboon schools. He says it is obvious that they are made in the image of the blue ass and floppy red nose of the Great Baboon God and he urges immediate execution of those secular baboons “who would fill our children’s heads/ with monstrous fairy tales/about the humans being/some form of cousin to us.” He says such ignorance is insulting and appalling and urges those listening “to exterminate the vermin/who spread these unholy lies,” in the name of “the Most Holy/Lord and Creator,/the Great Blue-Assed/Baboon God./Amen.”
In Waiting, three cows, Bessie, Opal, and Eloise, are standing in line, wondering why they are there and what is going on. Opal says she has no idea what “they” do or why “they” do it, but Eloise is sure that everything will be fine, that “they” feed them and take good care of them. But, Bessie says, “they” have never loaded them in trucks and taken them to another place before. She says the place doesn’t smell like a barn, that the hundreds of other cows, especially those at the head of the line, look worried. Eloise thinks that most unhappiness in cows is caused by worrying. She says the trick is to relax and be thankful for what they have. Bessie says they don’t know if they’re ever going home again, that they don’t know where they’re going or why they are here. Eloise tells her to be calm, put herself in the hands of Providence, and have faith that everything will be all right. Bessie says she smells fear and thinks something terrible is going on. Eloise says she believes that they were put on earth for a purpose, even though they may not know what that purpose is. They need to trust the powers that have always looked after them and everything will be all right. Opal says the line is moving again and as the light fades Bessie repeats, uneasily, Eloise’s assurance, “The line is moving and everything is fine.”