Nigro describes the set for Surrealists as “a sort of labyrinth” with many steps and levels and places where people can suddenly appear and disappear and many ways for performers to get on and off the stage “so that there is a relatively constant flow of people and odd creatures doing things here and there, something like a Bosch painting.” There are many mannequins, some naked, some dressed, some missing heads or arms, which the characters interact with. Nigro wants the audience to be immersed in “a sort of surreal dream from the moment they enter the theatre” with ushers dressed as penguins and giant rabbits.
Nine men and four women play a variety of parts. For example, one actor’s roles are listed as “1st Pig/1st Sheep/Giant Beaver/Cyclist/Jean Cocteau/Front End of Horse/1st Monkey/1st Policeman/Jailer/1st Nazi/Kangaroo/1st Mariachi/1st German Soldier/1st Skeletal Passerby/Trotsky/1st Skeletal Mariachi.” And an actress is given the roles of “Gorilla/4th Sheep/Mama Breton/Squid Lady/Mrs Praying Mantis/Rachilde/MarieAntoinette/5thNazi/MarieBerthe/5thMariachi/Madwoman/ 5th Skeletal Passerby/5th Skeletal Mariachi.”
A prefatory note states: “Please do not bring living non-human creatures onto the stage. All lobsters, snails, squid, camels and other odd creatures who may or may not show up from time to time should be costumes, puppets, or theatrical constructions of various sorts. Also, please do not bring dead creatures (including dead humans) onto the stage. And absolutely no raw meat, which might overly excite the performers. An accordion is permissible but if anybody brings a bagpipe I won’t be held responsible for old people trampled in the ensuing stampede to the exit.”
As the house lights come down, the mariachi music that has been playing is drowned out by the sounds of battle: airplanes, machine guns, bombs, screaming horses. In flares of red light, Andre Breton, organizing a lecture, keeps dropping papers on the floor as Tzara eats some of the pages and a Banana pinches him in the ass. Nigro tells us that characters are often present onstage before we know who they are and in scenes where they may not seem to belong. A “fluid sense of movement in and out of time and reality is essential.” As Breton defines Surrealism, Ernst contributes his definitions, Leonora invites us to the Dream Ball, Breton says that Gala will be wearing the Lindbergh baby in her hair, Gala tells us to put money in the jar before inserting our penis, and Banana blows a loud note on a trumpet. Breton tells Banana to leave and resumes his lecture but Banana blows another note and Breton takes out a gun and shoots Banana who falls dead. (“The sound of the gunshot is made by a person dressed like an Ostrich banging on an upturned trash can lid with a hammer.”) Two persons dressed as Pigs run in with a stretcher, put Banana on it, and carry him off. Breton resumes his talk but King Ubu stomps out to the center of the stage to a drum roll by Ostrich and announces “SHIT!” Breton speaks again, interrupted by King Ubu as a Gorilla comes on with a cello, sits, and plays Swan Lake as Ballerina welcomes “you fat, ugly, stupid, foul smelling chicken fuckers” to the fun house. Breton identifies her as Nadja and Ostrich joins her dancing. There is the sound of an enormous explosion and King Ubu runs for cover, knocking Ballerina on her butt. She yells at him and chases him off, followed by Gorilla and Ostrich. Leonora tells the audience not to be alarmed, that none of this is of any significance. Lights come up on Tzara riding and then dismounting a large white rocking horse. He explains to Gala that Dada doesn’t make any sense and takes out a roll of toilet paper from which he reads a list of demands. There is another explosion and Tzara catches a head as it flies through the air. A Headless Soldier staggers onstage and Tzara hands him the head for which the Head thanks him. The Soldier staggers off with the Head. Tzara says that thousands of French soldiers marched through Paris making baaaaaing sounds to indicate they were sheep being led to the slaughter. Sheep Soldiers make sheep sounds from the shadows. Eluard and Dali enter in deep conversation and shake hands three times. Nadja, Gala, and Leonora each speak a line describing themselves and lights come up on Freud sitting by a couch on which his patient, a Giant Beaver, reclines, gnawing on a child’s wooden alphabet block. He speaks to the Giant Beaver about the uncanny and Breton thanks Freud for his contributions to Surrealism, saying that his technique of free association has greatly influenced the practice of automatic writing. Freud says Breton doesn’t know what he is talking about and hobbles off with Beaver hanging onto his leg. Tzara breaks into spontaneous song and dance, Beaver rushes back in to play the piano and joins Nadja, Dalia, and Cow as they sing in chorus.
As Breton continues his lecture, an old man with a long white beard rides a bicycle across the stage, honking twice, and Mama and Papa Breton appear as Siamese twins, joined at the hip, Papa holding a ragged umbrella. Mama berates her son for staging disgraceful public exhibitions, including playing a piano sonata for three hands and farting. Tzara, with a third hand attached to his head, bangs on the piano then lifts his downstage butt cheek and farts very loudly, the sound created by Cow, leaning like a torch singer on the piano. Mama says she will no longer support her son unless he goes back to medical school and she and Papa leave. Breton tells Tzara that most of the time he is being completely incoherent and Tzara thanks him because he thought he was starting to mean something.
Eluard tells us how he and Gala fell in love and how he and Breton met during the intermission of a play by Apollinaire who had just died. Picasso, Cocteau, Breton and Cow (with ear trumpet) mingle with the mannequins as if at intermission. Thinking Breton was an old friend who had died in the war, Eluard clambers over people and mannequins to get to him, knocking Cow and Picasso down and crawling over Cocteau. Eluard realizes that he is mistaken but says that he and Breton became friends the next day. Breton tells Eluard that Gala is pure evil and will destroy him. Eluard follows Ernst and Gala as Breton tells Nadja that he left her because of the owls.
Eluard tells us that when he first came to Paris, Ernst lived with him and Gala. Breton tells Ernst that his work is very good but he should not stick things in. Gala remarks hat Ernst is “so good” at sticking things in. She says love that is jealous and selfish is not really love. Eluard persuades himself that it is foolish to grieve over infidelity.
Tzara asks Squid Lady to remove the squid from her head. She does so and runs screaming in circles as Cyclist, the old man with a long white beard, rides on making chicken noises. Tzara says the Dadaists want the audience to get so angry they rip off their own heads and throw them at the performers. He says Dada is against love, hope, and the future, that everything is shit. Waiter tells Tzara that he is not a swine and says he spits in the gravy, not the soup, stormng off angrily. Tzara says he attacks Breton because he wants to be in charge of everything. Breton argues that he wants to investigate the subconscious, a deeper reality. Tzara says that he believes nothing and proposes a toast to a dead Romanian, Samuel Rosenstock, his former identity.
Breton and Nadja talk about love, writing, and the theatre. As they walk, the old Cyclist, the Cow, the Squid Lady, and a giant Sausage pass by. Breton says that Nadja would be a very easy person to love and she kisses him and goes. Breton tells us he devised a questionnaire about love which he asked his friends to fill out. As the questioning proceeds, Dali attempts to milk a resisting Cow and two giant praying mantises flirt and then copulate, after which Mrs Praying Mantis chews off the head of Mr Praying Mantis. Ernst, Tzara, Gala, and later Eluard answer the questions.
Eluard writes a note as he speaks in the third person about going to Angkor Wat to escape the sounds of his wife Gala having intercourse with his friend Ernst. He gives the note to a pantomime horse and leaves. The horse brings the note held in his mouth to Gala and then goes off. Ernst tells Gala he is going to Dusseldorf to sell some paintings to raise money so they can go to join Elruard. Eluard tells us he wrote and begged them to keep him company, and Breton tells us they sailed to join him.
We hear jungle sounds, see monkeys “everywhere,” as a “weird jungle” is projected onto the stage. Eluard tells Gala she must choose between him and Ernst and she says she chooses both of them. Eluard says he will punch Ernst in the face but Ernst punches him. Gala thinks it will be best if she goes back to Paris with Eluard. Ernst says he will stay in the jungle and Gala and Eluard leave.
Breton, putting on a Sausage suit, tells us that Surrealism attracted some very talented people, including Antonin Artaud, who couldn’t be invited to dinner because he would urinate on the carpet. (A stream of liquid squirts from a manikin resembling Artaud and is caught in a bucket by Cow.) Breton says they decided to intervene in one of Tzara’s lectures. Tzara, dressed as a sausage, says that Surrealism is a fraud as Nadja, Leonora, Gala, and Rachilde eat popcorn. Eluard, dressed as a sausage, runs in saying that Tzara is not a sausage. Eluard and Breton shout that they are sausages as another Sausage comes on holding up a sign that says I AM A SAUSAGE. The three men, screaming as they chase each other across the stage while Sausage bangs on an overturned bucket with a hammer, speak simultaneously, their speeches all ending with “Sausages. Sausages. Sausages.” Eluard falls into the orchestra pit, saying he broke his arm and that he thinks Anatole France is still alive. The Ghost of Anatole France appears, dragging chains and covered in seaweed. He tells them they will burn in Hell for their sins against the soul of France. Rachilde, asks what kind of stupid play this is, saying that she is a great Symbolist playwright. Tzara tells her that they make sausage out of great writers and Sausage puts Rachilde over his shoulder and runs in circles with her. She says she turns into a werewolf when the moon is full, snarls, and bites Sausage. He drops her and runs off as she chases him on all fours, barking. Tzara pulls a telephone from the hind end of Cow to call the police. We hear police sirens and three policemen run on like Keystone Kops as we hear “old time silent movie music.” Breton, Eluard, and Tzara are dragged off as the music and lights fade.
Then lights come up on Tzara, Breton, Eluard, Marie Antoinette, Ghost of Anatole France, and Sausage in jail. Marie Antoinette has never heard of Anatole France (or cars) and Tzara wants to join the Surrealists. Eluard says he is taking Gala to Spain to meet Salvador Dali. Jailer enters with Cow who has posted bail for Sausage. As they go off, the scene shifts to Dali and Gala. Dali says he and Gala are destined to be chained together forever and Gala tells Eluard that she wants to stay in Spain with Dali, who is the man of her dreams with whom she is deeply in love. Dali speaks of his secret mission to destroy the Surrealists from within and we hear men humming “Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles” as five Nazis march onto the stage. Dali comes to the end of his speech about making insanity great again, the Nazis stop humming and marching with a loud stomp on the floor, give a Nazi salute to the audience and shout “JUMPING BUTTERBALLS!” Lights out; end of Act One.
We hear French accordion music as lights come up on a Paris café with Waiter who has a paper bag over his head and a stuffed dog attached to his leg. Hitler is necking “ferociously” with a mannequin, Cow is dancing with a Kangaroo, and Dali is painting Gala who wears a lobster as a hat. Eluard broods alone, Tzara plays chess with a mannequin Lenin, and Nadja is having a serious discussion with a squirrel hand puppet. Breton welcomes the audience back to the Museum of Surrealism and tells us that Dali has made the Surrealists quite famous and that Ernst, at a London exhibition, met “the beautiful and mysterious young Leonora Carrington” who liked to slather mustard on her feet. She talks with Ernst about the random nature of his collages and Ernst says he thinks he loves her. He says if she wants to understand Surrealism she should study the life of Arthur Craven who, he tells her, challenged heavyweight champion Jack Johnson to an exhibition bout. Johnson knocked him out with one punch and, when he woke up, Craven decided to row a dinghy from Mexico to Argentina and was never seen again. Ernst explains that a Surrealist is a person who refuses to believe in the reality of what will eventually destroy him. He says that hallucinations are the beginning of art. He kisses Leonora and Marie-Berthe appears, calling Leonora names and throwing cups and plates at her. Breton says that Marie-Berthe is Ernst’s wife. Leonora throws crockery back at Marie-Berthe and she and Ernst run off to Cornwall, followed by Marie-Berthe.
Gala joins Eluard and tells Breton that women leave him because he is a pompous ass. Tzara says he has become a Communist. Gala kisses Eluard (“a very erotic kiss”) and leaves, followed by Dali. Eluard says he still loves Gala and Ernst admits to loving Leonora. Speaking through her hand puppet Nadja says that lovers are no more real than shadow puppets. She joins Breton at a restaurant table where Waiter, now wearing a rabbit mask, keeps dropping things and falling into customers. At another table Rachilde is eating with Picasso and Cocteau as Breton and Nadja talk. Waiter trips and falls into Rachilde’s lap, spilling soup on Picasso. Nadja tells Breton that she is an optical illusion and that God and the Devil play hide and seek in underground tunnels under the city, but they can’t remember which one of them is dead.
Ernst and Leonora are cuddling as Gala comes in. Ernst leaves, saying he has to work, and the two women talk about men and power. Leonora says she just wants to paint and write and spend her life creating. She thinks Gala must be lonely but Gala says that friendship is a lie, like love, that there is nothing but pleasure. When Gala leaves, Leonora says she sometimes feels as if she woke up in a madhouse. Nadja says that comes later and a mariachi band appears playing “a cheerfully melancholy Mexican tune” and then goes off as lights fade on Leonora.
Lights come up suddenly to bright sunshine and we see Breton wearing a pith helmet, dark green glasses, and windbreaker, sitting in an outdoor café with Eluard, Gala, Dali, Ernst, and Leonora. Gala says that Breton’s secret is that he has no talent and Breton says an artist does not need talent, just the release of the power of his unconscious. Ernst agrees as Dali starts putting on an ancient diving suit with a huge helmet. He says he is God’s representative on earth and Hitler is the man of the future. Hitler dances by in a tutu to Swan Lake and puts a fish in his mouth. Dali puts on the diving helmet, Gala plays a twenties dance record as she, Dali, and Hitler dance an erotic parody of the Charleston. Dali can’t breathe and Gala tries to get the helmet off as Hitler dances off and the music ends. Breton tells Eluard that Dali must be expelled from the Surrealists because of his support of Hitler. Gala finally gets the helmet off Dali. Breton tells Dali that he is being expelled from the Surrealists for being a Fascist idiot. Dali says all art is a con game to get money from the rich and stomps out followed by Gala. Breton banishes Eluard from the Surrealists and Ernst tells Breton that he and Leonora are moving to a little cottage in the sourh of France. They leave and Breton says that everything is falling apart. Nadja holds him from behind and tells him not to be sad because imaginary friends live forever and the light fades on them.
We hear bird sounds as Leonora tells us that she and Ernst spent two years in a small house in the French countryside, the happiest days of her life. Ernst jumps out at her, growling and wearing a wolf mask as he ponnces on her, ferociously biting/kissing her as she shrieks with delight. She takes off his mask and they kiss, telling each other that they are happy and have nothing to fear. There are sudden explosions and the sounds of gunfire as three French Soldiers run in. The Soldiers accuse Ernst of being a German agent and plan to take him to an internment camp. Leonora says she followed Ernst to the camp and managed to get him released. Ernst is kicked back onto the stage and they hold each other. We hear more explosions as three German soldiers enter and drag Ernst off. Breton tells us that Max was put in a concentration camp and Leonora was left alone. Nadja comes to sit with Leonora as the stage darkens into a “weird forest” projected onto the stage that is slowly populated by “eerie, skeletal Mexican Day of the Dead figures.” Leonora says it’s all a dream but Nadja tells her to save herself. We hear the sound of a loud flapping noise above as two of the Skeleton people hold Leonora down and a third injects a large needle into her arm. She screams and the lights black out as we hear airplanes, bombs, machine guns, people screaming, marching, air raid sirens “building to a horrible din.” Sudden silence.
Lights come up on Leonora walking on a crowded street. Ernst, in the crowd, sees Leonora and goes to her as the crowd moves off, leaving them alone. She tells him she has been actually insane and he says he escaped from a concentration camp. She says she married a Mexican bullfighter so she could get a visa to get out of Europe and he says that he is with Peggy Guggenheim, an American patron of the arts. They agree that the war made a terrible mess of their beautiful life together. She hugs him and goes.
We hear taxi horns honking and a slide of 1940s New York City at night is projected. Breton tells us that those who escaped to America found themselves “constantly” in each other’s company. Ernst refuses to shake hands with Dali but tells him that he and Breton are visiting junk shops to find things to make art out of. Breton says that Eluard and Tzara are working for the Resistance in France. Gala enters, pulling Leonora with her. Gala says she and Dali have adjusted remarkably well to American society, but Dali insists that he must have a giraffe for his next project. Ernst and Leonora slip away and Dali, insisting there will be turds, puts a chamber pot upside down on his head and marches out.
We hear “nostalgic accordion music” and the action shifts to a café in Paris as Trotsky staggers out, with an ax buried in his head, to sit with the mannequins. Breton and Tzara argue over politics. Breton says Eluard’s patriotic poetry is propaganda. Ernst says that Stalin had Breton’s friend Trotsky murdered and Trotsky staggers off. Eluard says that Stalin (a homicidal maniac according to Ernst) knows what is best. Breton tells Eluard that he cannot respect someone who makes up excuses for someone who murders artists and writers and anyone who disagrees with him. Eluard says there is nothing more to say and leaves. Saying they are all sad donkeys, Tzara hugs Breton and Ernst and leaves.
Dali and Gala are looking downstage at the sunset. Dali has his arm around the mannequin with the lobster hat and Gala is a few feet away. We see projections of old fashioned slides of Paris, Spain, the sea shore, and various surreal paintings. Dali describes a “great film” that he wants to make and tells Gala that his sole occupation has been the invention of monsters. The slides are now of old Russia, increasingly blurred and played backwards and sideways. She tells Dali he is a revolting egomaniacal imbecile, a fake, a joke. He hands her a lobster and tells her to put it on her head but she throws it violently offstage. He knocks down the mannequin with the lobster on her head and starts kicking it in the stomach as Gala screams in agony as if she is being kicked. The slide show becomes faster and faster with more disturbing images as she screams. Exhausted, Dali stops kicking the mannequin; the slide show stops and light goes out on Gala. We hear a very old and scratchy recording of Tristan and Isolde and the Skeleton People come back to look at Dali. He denies knocking Gala down the stairs and kicking her. He says she will never die but will fuck Popeye on top of his corpse. The Skeleton People stare at Dali as the light fades on him.
All the cast members are still as the Skeleton People watch from the shadows. Breton is sitting in a chair with Nadja standing behind him. Breton says he is old and as he speaks Leonora brings out paints, sets up an easel, and puts a canvas on it. Nadja puts her hands on Breton’s shoulders and, as Leonora paints, the Skeleton People begin to play mariachi music and two of the skeletons waltz around Breton and Nadja as the light fades and the music ends in darkness.