There is one character, named Octavia, in the script for How to Tell a Devil. She speaks from an old barn in the moonlight. She asks “ the boys” if they know how to tell a Devil. She says she knows and she knows what boys want. She says there is something in the barn, that she hears whispering, and she points to an old hammock that also whispers. She says she stopped going to church because she heard them whispering about how hard she took her little brother’s death. The voices in her head say that her little brother wanted her to run off with him, but she was scared her Daddy would find them and beat them, so her little brother enlisted and went off to the war in France where he drowned crossing a river. Her father and two older brothers all had her and were surprised when her daughter had thick black curly hair, a big nose, and a deep olive complexion, the spitting image of the gypsy feller who ran the house of mirrors when the carnival was in town. Her father and brothers said they ook the baby across the county line and left it on somebody’s doorstep. But she later learned that they had killed the baby and buried it in the woods. Then her brothers disappeared and she tells her father that she will make him some of the beef stew she made for her brothers before they left..But she put rat poison in the stew and the stew she made for her father was from their bodies. She showed him the bones and the two heads she had hung from the rafters and used for batting practice. Father started vomiting so she hit him over the head with the baseball bat, put the shotgun is his mouth and pulled the trigger. She says she will show the boys the heads after they finish their stew. She says her Daddy taught her how to tell a Devil. You put your hand between its legs and if you feel a snake there, it’s the Devil.
Bianca, a young woman, tells us she is speaking from Venice. We hear the sound of a cello playing a Sibelius solo concerto. The cello stops and lights come up on Bianca feeling as if someone is watching her. She says her friend Desdemona attracted men like flies to cow flop. They met at an acting seminar in Munich but she felt she had known her all her life, that she dreamed about her before she knew her. She says the man has been following her since she got to Venice and then tells us that Desdemona suddenly disappeared; the police were polite but no help. Then she got a postcard from Desdemon and she packed up and came here. On the back of the card Desdemona had written Making the Beast with Two Backs. Wish you were here. There are times when she thinks she has seen her disappearing down one of those narrow streets. She says Desdemona had a recurring dream about a creature crawling out of the dark lagoon and dragging her into the water. Bianca says that sometimes we want the people we love dead so we can own them forever. She says she keeps getting lost in her dreams and that she is not what she is, that nothing is what it seems, and that something is wrong with everybody. Venice is the portal to another dimension, the place where we come to die. Or, she says, perhaps Desdemona isn’t real. Or she’s the person Bianca sees in the mirror. She asks if we can see her, reflected in the mirror. We hear the cello as the light fades out on her.
Goose Therapy, for eight actors, presents the characters in the nursery rhyme about the cow jumping over the moon and the dish running away with the spoon. Mother Goose presides over a discussion to clear the air and better understand what happened and how to prevent such incidents in the future. Dog blames Cat who says she and Fiddle were playing around when, suddenly, Cow appeared and jumped completely over the Moon. Moon says it was traumatic but Cow says she wanted it. Spoon says the relationship with Dish was to make Moon jealous. Fiddle wants Dish to go on the road with him, and Mother Goose suggests that Cat may have lingering feelings for Dog. Cat and Dog argue about eating poop. Moon doesn’t poop, Cow says it’s fun, Moon says she has seen geese poop, and Mother Goose shouts at them to stop with the poop. She is sick of Nursery Rhymes and says they are pointless, that they will never exist and nobody cares. Moon says it doesn’t matter if they don’t make sense, that as long as they rhyne somebody will remember them. She thanks Mother Goose who tells them the next session will involve three blind mice. Moon asks Cow if Cow could teach her to poop, but Cow says pooping is like love—either you do or you don’t.
Loneliness (2m, 3w) is set in the back garden of Emily’s house in Amherst sometime in the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, “standard dream time.” Nigro notes that some may believe that the characters (identified in the script by first names) are people named Thoreau, Dickinson, Kerouac, Stein, and Toklas. But he writes that he can neither confirm nor deny that unsubstantiated rumor because his head, like his watch, is broken.
We hear birds singing as lights come up on Henry telling Emily that he has to go back to Walden to observe the woods and he wants her to come with him. She says something, perhaps a panther, has been eating the rabbits in her garden and leaving the heads. He says they would be alone together, growing beans without manure, but she says beans give her gas. Jack enters to tell them that he is heading out on the road and he wants Emily to join him. He uses language from the 1950s—jalopies, greasy spoons, hootchy-cootchy joints, and dig the bop—and says the only important thing is to be moving. Henry (Jack calls him Hank) wants Emily to be still in the woods with him. Gertrude enters, calling Henry Hank and Jack John. She says she sees a Norwegian sap sucker and Hency goes off to find it. Gertrude says when she used to become depressed she would pay a welterweight to box a few rounds with her. Jack says she has the body of a Sumo wrestler but as he leaves he tells Emily he has to pack his ruck sack. Gertrude says she wants Emily to come to Paris with her. Henry and Jack come back, each saying that Emily is going with them. Gertrude insists that Paris is the answer and Alice enters, calling Emily a demoness, and is told by Gertrude to pack their trunk for Paris or she will make her listen to Ezra Pound play the cello. Alice leaves; Emily says she is tempted to go to Paris but she is afraid of Gertrude. Emily says she doesn’t know what to do with three fascinating people wanting her. She says she likes the idea of living in the woods, or on the road, or in artistic Paris, but she must accept loneliness as the inevitable state of things. The three again urge her to join them as Alice returns saying that she set the house is on fire. Gertrude tells Emily she must choose one of them. Emily says she doesn’t choose anybody, but her own loneliness. She runs into the house to save it. Henry and Jack follow her. Alice tells Gertrude not to be sad because they can roast marshmallows.
Cape Cod (2m, 1w) takes place on a simple unit set representing a beach house, the shore outside it, two seats of a playhouse, and an attic studio. Nigro notes that the play takes place between the second and third scenes of Seascape with Sharks and Dancer. Lights come up on Ben, late 20s, walking on the shore in the 1970s, talking about Thoreau walking the same shore, writing about bodies floating after a shipwreck. He thinks he sees something in the water, a girl. Light fades and comes up on Ben and Tracy,20, in the beach house. She asks him why he tried to save her from drowning when he couldn’t swim. He says he reacted instinctively and says he tried to save his babysitter from drowning when he was five but someone else came along and saved them both. She thinks Twelfth Night is a stupid play and asks him how many women he has loved. She says her trademark is that she doesn’t love anybody. He tells her about the babysitter and his girlfriend in college and says he got her a ticket to see Twelfth Night; she agrees to go.
The third scene takes place in the auditorium of a theater at intermission. Tracy talks with Ogdred, a middle-aged man with a long beard, a long, raccoon-ish looking coat, and tennis shoes. She says he has enough cat hair on his coat to construct a whole other cat. He says he is an illustrator of other people’s books but he also draws and writes his own little books. She says when she was a child she wanted to be an artist but gave it up because she wasn’t any good. He asks her why she would want to waste the one life she has to do anything but what she loves. He gives her a piece of paper with his address and invites her to visit.
Lights fade and come up on Tracy cutting pictures from newspapers. She says she is making a collage as her friend Ogdred suggested. She says he has a real cool house with lots of books and invisible cats. Scene shifts to Ogdred drawing and Tracy working on a collage. He talks to her about Eurynome, the goddess of all things and explains that he follows where his subconscious leads him. He says the only thing that matters is being inside your work or somebody else’s. That and the New York City Ballet where he has spent most of his life.
Back in the beach house, Tracy reads aloud a passage from Thoreau’s Cape Cod and tells Ben that Ogdred told her that the ancient Egyptians told time based on the regularity of baboon urination. Ben says his arms are bruised because she punches and kicks him in her nightmares. He says she is spending a lot of time at Ogdred’s and he misses her. She asks if he wants to be serious, but he says he doesn’t have a plan although he doesn’t want her to leave. He wants somebody to love who’ll be honest with him. She wishes him luck with that as she leaves and the light fades on him.
In Ogdred’s studio, he is drawing and she is working on her collage as they talk about art and Tracy says she is scared because she has found something she likes to do. She asks Ogdred why he has never tried to jump her. He asks her if she loves her young man and she says she is scared because he makes her feel like home. And she never wants to care again about anything that would hurt her if she lost it. She asks him about his work and whether he loves or hates children because horrible things keep happening to them in his books. He says children represent innocence and God punishes innocence. He asks if his books depress or horrify or disgust her. She says no, that they make her happy because they are funny. He says that is the purpose of art, to help us postpone wanting here to die. He says her work is improving. He asks if she loves children. “Desperately,” she says. “Ah.” he says as the light fades on them.
Ben thinks Tracy’s collages are very good. She says the play was not as stupid as she thought it was. She asks if he thinks it was a mistake to pull her out of the water. He says no and that he likes having her here. He also likes the books of Ogdred that he has read. When she asks he says he likes some children but he needs the car keys because he has to strike the set and return props. She asks him not to be gone too long because the wind sounds rough. He tells her of the wooded hill behind his father’s house in Ohio where a little stand of maples shakes and trembles when there is no wind. She asks him to take her and he agrees. She tells him she is going to be an artist and, as he is leaving, she says, quietly, that she wants a child. “What,” Ben asks. “Nothing. I didn’t say anything.” She starts cutting up a newspaper and we hear the wind as the lights fade out.
Inside, Touched, Holes, and Cleanliness are very short scripts set in the apartment of Alice and Bob in quarantine. In Inside, Alice wonders if they will have to stay inside until they die. She says if God created them then they are like characters in a play or novel and fictional characters die when they realize they are not real. Bob says that, real or unreal, at least they’ll be together in love. Like Hell, Alice says, and Bob agrees. In Touched, Alice tells Bob not to touch his face or put his fingers anywhere. She says there will be no more touching and then asks if Bob wants to have sex. He says yes and she agrees. In Holes, Bob warns Alice about holes, or portals, empty spaces that they can fall into. Things can come out of these rips in space-time and eat them. Alice suggests that Bob crawl into one of those holes and stay there. She says she actually came out of one of those holes but then she complains that once an idea is put into her brain she can’t get it out, like a song that plays over and over. She says thanks to Bob she will have to spend the next ten days looking over her shoulder fpr something crawling out of a hole to end reality as she knows it. She wants him to talk somewhere else but he says he has no place to go, and she agrees. We hear the sound of a ticking clock as the lights fade and go out. In Cleanliness, Alice tells Bob her hands are red and cracked because she washes them a lot. She says nothing is ever clean enough because alien things have come to kill them. She warns him not to touch her and sprays cleaning fluid into his eyes. He screams and she tells him to run water in the sink over his face. She says everything is make of death and it’s better he is blind because he won’t be able to see what’s coming . She says the only thing they can do is clean and clean until there’s nothing left but bones. She gets down on her hands and knees and scrubs the floor frantically as the lights fade out.
The fictional time of Dead Men Grinning at the Moon is the early 1600s in London. A few rough tables and benches represent the public house of George Wilkins and outside a courtroom. There are two men—Wilkins, 30s, and Shakespeare, 40s—and one woman, Mary, 20s. Wilkins asks Shakespeare if he will help him with a play he is writing. Shakespeare says he does not collaborate. Mary tells Wilkins that Shakespeare used to live at her house and taught her to read. Wilkins threatens to evict Mary and her husband Steve, forcing Shakespeare to read his play, Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Lights dim and come up on Mary singing and cleaning the table. She tells Wilkins that her husband is working late and Wilkins suggests that she could make money easily. Shakespeare enters and Mary offers to heat up some roast beef and gravy for him. Shakespeare puts the manuscript on the table and says that he read it. Wilkins asks if it is any good and Shakespeare says something struck him about the fate of the daughters in the play. Wilkins threatens Mary. and Shakespeare agrees to help with revisions. Wilkins admits that his father wrote the first play but he needs Shakespeare’s help with the new play.
Spot Has a Big Red Ball (3m, 4w) is set in the ruins of a suburban house and an old barn. As the play begins we hear the sound of crickets and lights come up on Brother, Sister, and Baby Sister sitting on the sofa watching tv, Mother doing dishes in the kitchen as Father tries to put together an old gun, and Grandfather and Grandmother on the porch swing; she is making a sock puppet and there are sock puppets scattered here and there. Brother says he remembers the dog chasing a big red ball and knocking Grandma over, breaking her hip. Mother says dogs were sent by Satan to destroy the furniture. Baby Sister says she can’t go into the barn ever again but she still dreams of the light slanting down through the slats in the barn and how she thought God was watching her. Grandfather asks Grandmother if she remembers the hammock in the barn. She hands him a sock puppet and starts making another. Sister tells us her brother was hit in the head with a large red ball and hasn’t been the same since. She thinks the war may have had something do with it. She says she took a lot drugs in college. She says the barn is a story in a book and Baby Sister wouldn’t tell her about it. Father says children are not innocent but monstrous. Grandmother says she always thought they looked like the mailman. Grandfather says he once saw his son’s wife taking a shower (a deeply religious experience). He says he drilled a peephole when she locked the bathroom door. Mother says Grandfather still touches her ass and says she is going to take a shower. Grandfather thinks he hears the phone ringing and leaves. Grandmother says he does that every time Mother takes a shower..
Brother and Sister argue over the dog’s name. Brother doesn’t want to talk about the war and thinks he is going blind. Sister says he isn’t and thinks they should kill Grandfather. Grandmother hands her a sock puppet. Mother tells Father that their younger daughter is trying to teach the cat to speak French. Mother thinks they should invent a horse that doesn’t shit. Father wonders why, after thirty years, his conversations with her always end up talking about sending a cat to France, and flying in a Zeppelin to buy a dead horse. He says he needs a drink and she says she’ll have three. He says he was in France during the war but she says there was never a war in France.
Sister asks Brother if he remembers playing Doctor in the barn. He says he doesn’t and tells her that he, Father, and Grandfather were all in wars and that history is a long sequence of mass murders broken by brief periods of sexual depravity and macaroni and cheese. Mother picks up sock puppets to put in the garbage as Grandmother follows her putting new ones in their place. Grandfather puts his hands over Grandmother’s eyes and asks her who he is. She suggests Adolph Menjou and asks him how many balls he has, suggesting that he stuff pork chops up his ass. Mother tells Father that it is God’s plan for them to hate each other. Grandmother tells Grandfather that sock puppets are the secret of life. She tells him that some night the sock puppets will eat him until there’s just a little pile of bones. Grandmother tells Brother and Baby Sister that it’s bath time and that she shoved a sharpened pencil through the peep hole and that’s how Grandfather got his eyepatch. (Grandfather puts on an eyepatch.)
Sister and Baby Sister talk about playing a game and Father says Mother dropped Brother on his head. Baby Sister asks Grandmther how she and Grandfather have managed to stay together so long. Grandmother says the secret is to pretend you don’t know each other. Grandfather thinks that identity is an illusion and that all we remember is imagining we’re remembering. Grandmother says she will remember what she wants to remember and says if he doesn’t like it he can fuck the dog or this sock puppet. She moves the mouth of the puppet and speaks in a high squeaky voice: “No. No. No. No. No. Unless I can be on top.” Father and Mother decide that the children have been replaced by alien pod people and must be destroyed. Mother tells him to get the bazooka and she’ll bring the popcorn.
Sister tells Father that she was raped at a fraternity party in college and the leader of the gang is now a judge and she got tired of being molested as an actress. Brother, Father, and Grandfather speak of their memories of war and Mother talks to Sister about driving in a Plymouth to buy hats. Sister says that never happened and Brother says he remembers his father dressed like Caspar the Ghost but it wasn’t Halloween Father says we now wear little red hats. Baby Sister says the dog has dug up a bone in the backyard. Mother says they buried her fourth child in the garden, along with their innocence and tomorrow they’re taking the grandparents to the dump. Mother says she used to stand on her head and Grandfather puts on an old leather football helmet. He puts his hands over Grandmother’s eyes and asks her to guess who he is. Sister says she used to stand on her head and Baby Sister says this is a funny, funny family. Mother tells Father that none of the children are his, except the fourth which she strangled a birth. Sister offers to help Mother but she says she just has to put up some wallpaper into which she will disappear. Mother says Grandfather is the only person who looks at her and that Father doesn’t see her and doesn’ t talk to her, that they are characters in a play about the death of the soul. Father says he works for a government agency overseeing brain control experiments , working with ex-Nazis on highly questionable top secret projects. When his son came home from the war with brain damage, he offered him as part of an experiment but that didn’t work out too well, nor did the electroshock therapy they tried on his elder daughter. Father tells Mother that she is too stupid to have any secrets and Mother says that she and his mistress have lunch in the city and laugh about his penis and the ridiculous noises he makes when he ejaculates. Grandfather says he’ll go have a heart attack in the barn. Baby Sister says we’ll make everything great again and will all go away. Sister accuses Father of killing all our heroes and Father says we are the deep state, responsible for the murders of many prominent persons, overseas and at home. He complains about not being able to fix his rifle and Mother tells him he has the safety catch on. Brother takes the gun and adjusts the safety catch and Sister takes the gun, saying she could now shoot Father in the head. Father tells her to squeeze the trigger gently. She points the gun at him and the lights black out.
Vienna Blood is a two-act play for 5 men and 4 women with several actors playing more than one role. The unit set represents various locations in Vienna in 1913 with a few benches and wooden chairs and tables at different levels, steps, an easel, and many ticking clocks. We hear an eerie carnival version of “Vienna Blood” that is overwhelmed by the sound of a moving train as the lights come up on Wittgenstein and Ruffing on the Orient Express at night. Wittgenstein says he is studying philosophy (“rubbish”) at Cambridge and thinks that what matters is what a philosopher leaves out. He says his father is dying and will leave him an absurd amount of money which he will probably give away and then kill himself. Ruffing tells him he is going to Vienna to visit his wife’s family. Lights black out and we hear birds singing as lights come up on Marcy waiting by the door of a house as Max, a gaunt man of 60, enters. She calls him Papa and asks about her mother. He says nobody wants her here, that she abandoned her relationship with her parents when she chose to live with an older man and have a child by him. Marcy says she is now a married woman with a family and a good life. She says she came back because her mother tried to drown herself. Max tells her she is not welcome in his house or in his life and slams the door behind him.
Lights come up on Grindl, a frail 16-year-old, sitting in her underwear. Marcy speaks to her but Grindl says she should take off her clothes because Schiele wants to paint two women today. Marcy tells Grindl that she was her governess and Grindl says she remembers her because she killed her brother. Marcy says that happened after she left. Schiele enters and tells Marcy that he is a horrible person and tells Grindl to take off her underwear. Marcy objects and Schiele says Grindl can get dressed and go with Marcy if she promises to bring her back the next day to that Schiele can paint them both, fully dressed.
They leave and Elsa, in a sanitorium, asks Ruffing what he is doing with her daughter. He explains how they found each other, but that one night he came home and found a note that she had gone to Vienna. Elsa tells him that if he doesn’t get her daughter away from here the Devil will destroy her. Light fades on them and comes up on Herr K playing chess with himself as Frau K tells him that their daughter is living with the painter Schiele. Frau K tells him that Marcy, who used to take care of their children, is in Vienna. Herr K says no one told him and moves his black night as Frau K leaves. We hear birdsong as lights come up on Max in his garden. Marcy approaches him from the house. She tells him his roses are beautiful but he says they are rotting like everything in Vienna. She says that she always felt safe in his garden. She introduces Grindl Klippstein to her father, saying that she is going to the store to get some food. Grindl asks Max why he has so many clocks and he tells her he is a clockmaker. He kills the snails in his garden because he needs something to do because his wife is locked up in a madhouse. She says she knows what that is like because she can’t stop thinking of her dead brother. He tells her to get the watering can and water the roses. He says his wife loved the ticking clocks and Grindl says her brother liked to sail little boats on the lake and asks what else needs watering. Max says pretty much everything as the light fades on them.
In the studio Marcy tells Schiele that she didn’t bring Grindl because she didn’t want to wake her; she wonders why Schiele paints his naked reflection in the mirror. She says her husband is a police inspector still in mourning for his first wife. He tells her that mirrors are very dangerous objects, a portal to other dimensions, like art. He tells her he has been in prison and that he has to draw constantly or he will go berserk. She says she has to get back to her parents but he tells her to take off her clothes because he wants to paint the person she sees in the mirror, that deep inside that person is somebody desperately trying to claw her way out. She looks in the mirror as the light fades on them and we hear birdsong as Max and Grindl talk in the garden about old paintings she found in the tool shed. He says he didn’t have the courage to be a serious artist. She says making clocks is an art and she likes that his garden is kind of disorderly, that you can’t learn anything from what you control. Ruffing introduces himself as Max’s daughter’s husband. Max saya he doesn’t know where Marcy is but Grindl says she is probably posing naked for Schiele. Max tells Ruffing that he will try to have a conversation with Marcy if Ruffing can tell him how his wife almost drowned in the river. Max goes inside and Grindl offers to take Ruffing to Schiele’s studio.
We see Schiele painting Marcy who is in her underwear. Schiele asks if she has been to see her mother but she says she doesn’t know what to do. He asks if she is afraid she inherited her mother’s madness but she thinks her mother is just disoriented. Ruffing and Grindl enter and Ruffing tells Schiele he needs to speak with his wife. Schiele and Grindl leave. Marcy tells Ruffing that she left because her mother needed her. Ruffing agrees that he may never get over his wife’s death and Marcy asks him to go away for awhile so she can figure out why her mother tried to drown herself. Ruffing says that Max believes someone tried to kill her. He says he has been to see her and that she seemed confused. He suggests they go to see her. Marcy agrees and goes to get dressed, telling Schiele that she will not leave Grindl with him. Ruffing admires Schiele’s paintings but Schiele tells him about being accosted by a painter of very dull landscapes who screamed at him in public as a decadent shit. He warns Ruffing to get his wife out of Vienna while he can.
As Ruffing and Marcy enter the sanitarium, Elsa is talking to herself about dreaming of the dead Emperor Franz Joseph with skeletons dancing around him and Dr. Freud appearing out of a giant sausage to announce that in Sumatra a father must never be left alone with his daughter. Marcy asks Elsa why she tried to drown herself and Elsa says she went to see the Devil but couldn’t kill him. She says she was a governess but couldn’t govern herself. Marcy tells Ruffing that her mother was governess to Herr Klippstein’s younger sisters. Ruffing says that Marcy never told him that she worked for the same family. Ruffing asks Elsa if she went to see Herr Klippstein that night and she says the house was haunted and she was looking at the water and something hit her on the back of the head and then she was drowning. Elsa says it was all because of the baby and Ruffing asks if she means her daughter’s baby. Elsa talks about cheese and rats going down to the river and hitting you in the back of the head as the lights fade on her and come up on Ruffing and Marcy talking with Herr and Frau Klippstein.
Marcy tells Frau K that her daughter, Grindl, is at her father’s house and Marcy’s daughter is in London. Ruffing tells Herr K that Elsa said she came to see him the night she nearly drowned. After stalling, Herr K admits that Elsa did come to visit that night and they had a brief but pleasant chat before she left. He says she seemed upset but Frau K says she can’t talk with her father because he thinks she’s a slut. She says she knows everything because she Is the Goddess of Clockworks and that Marcy is lucky to have found a man who thinks he loves her. She leaves and Herr K says he’d better be with her but says he never knew what to say to Marcy’s mother. Light fades on them as Elsa appears saying she has a message from the Emperor Franz Joseph. Lights come up on a full-size skeleton of the Emperor dressed in full military uniform, an old-fashioned spiked helmet, his chest completely covered with medals. He is operated from behind as a puppet by a person in a Halloween skeleton suit. The Emperor’s skeleton mouth goes up and down as he speaks and he has a high, squeaky, old man’s voice. He babbles about blah, blah, blah, goulash, wiener schnitzel, little white sausage, but says he could really go for a nice, juicy peach. We hear an eerie, carnival sideshow version of “Vienna Blood” as the operator of the Emperor inserts a peach in the Emperor’s mouth. The Emperor chews mechanically, juice running down his chin as the lights fade, closing in gradually on the Emperor’s mouth chewing the peach. Blackout ending Act One.
“Vienna Blood” is playing as lights come up on Ruffing and Wittgenstein talking in a café. Wittgenstein says all music after Brahms is just noise and, as a philosopher, he can’t be certain of anything. Painter enters and tells Wittgenstein that he is shit and must be eliminated so the true Aryan people can take over and fulfill their destiny. Ruffing tells Painter to leave and Wittgenstein remembers that he went to the same school when they were boys. He says his name is Adolf Hitler. Ruffing says he has to meet his wife who has been seeing Dr. Freud. Light fades on them and we see Freud and Marcy in shadows and hear the carnival version of “Vienna Blood,” the laughter of children, and the quacking of ducks. In eerie carnival light the shadow of a giant ferris wheel revolves across the stage. As Marcy relates her dreams and memories, the shadows of the wheel revolve faster and the music speeds up, and characters from her past, Grindl, Herr K, Frau K, and Elsa, tell their versions of the past. The music shifts into the main theme of “Tales From the Vienna Woods,” then fades as light comes up on Freud and Marcy. She asks why she is so unhappy and he tells her she has unresolved issues relating to her parents and her experience with Herr Klippstein. She’s been repressing her anger and transferring it to unacknowledged feelings of hostility toward her husband. She says that her father hates her but when she was a child he taught her to play chess and she always beat Herr Klippstein, although he won in the game of seduction. Freud asks her why she stayed after Herr Klippstein, her employer and a married man, took advantage of her. He suggests it was because she secretly hoped he’s divorce his wife and marry her. She says her husband’s first wife died and he still loves her. Freud asks her why she can’t forgive him for still loving his first wife and she says her father hasn’t forgiven her because she chose Herr Klippstein over him, so why should she forgive anyone else. Freud asks if she can forgive her father and the lights fade on them.
We hear the sound of ticking clocks as light comes up on Elsa, alone, speaking of her nightmares of Emperor Franz Joseph wheeled out like a sewing dummy and skeletons dancing. She says she is terrified of time and dreams that she is drowning. She says she misses her husband, Max, but she must never let him know. We hear birdsong as lights come up on Max and Grindl in the garden. She says he hates her father because he got his daughter pregnant. Frau K enters and Max goes inside to check on the cat. Frau K wants Grindl to come home and says she will give her whatever she wants. Grindl says she wants to have had parents who actually gave a damn about her when she needed it, but it is too late for that. She leaves as light fades on Frau K.
In the sanitarium, Max asks Elsa if she wants to come home and she says there is a whore living with him. He says the girl is a poor lost child that Elsa’s daughter left with him. She says the girl is the Devil’s child and tells Max he was seen coming out of a house on the street of whores. He says that his wife slept with him once before they were married but never again. He asks if he was supposed to die of loneliness and then asks if their daughter has come to see her and Ruffing and Marcy appear upstage. Max says he is going, but Marcy tells him she wants him to stay. He goes and Marcy asks Elsa what is wrong with her and Max. We see and hear her memory of being a governess of Herr K’s little sisters and how he got her pregnant. He was already engaged and she never told him but she seduced an older man who ran a clock repair shop and then pretended she had just discovered she was pregnant. They married and a few years later Herr K came into the shop and she introduced him to Max. The men played chess at least one night a week and Marcy says she had a terrible crush on Herr K when she was a child and was excited when, years later, he asked her to be a governess for his children.
In a scene from the past, Elsa and Marcy argue about her taking the job as governess but Max says it is a good opportunity. In another scene from the past, Marcy tells Elsa that Herr K has been making advances. Elsa tells her she is never going back to Herr K’s again. Max asks how exactly Herr K touches her and joins Elsa in forbidding Marcy to return. She insists that she will go back and Max says he is going to confront Herr K, but Elsa persuades him not to do anything stupid. Max wonders if Herr K has been planning his daughter’s seduction all along. The location shifts to the lake where Herr K tells Marcy that he loves her like a daughter and she tells him that sometimes she feels as if he is the only person in the world who cares about her. He says he is lonely and just wants to hold someone. He asks her if she ever just wants to hold someone. She says yes and he kisses her very tenderly. Elsa saya that he was “so good” at that. Marcy says she was actually happy, but one day Frau K told her that her services were no longer required and she should leave immediately. She guessed that Frau K had found out. She wrote to Herr K but there was never any answer. Almost immediately after she discovered she was pregnant. Max wouldn’t let her in the door, but the nuns took her in and she had the baby at the convent. Mother Superior had a friend in England who needed a governess and Marcy left the baby at the convent and went to England to try to save enough money to bring the baby there but she met her husband. Elsa tells her that she is the child Elsa had with Herr K.
We hear thunder and rain as Herr K asks Elsa what she is doing at his house. She asks him how he could have ruined all their lives. He denies that Marcy is his daughter and says that Elsa has come to blackmail him. He says that next she will try to convince him that he is the father of her daughter’s bastard. Elsa tells Ruffing and Marcy that she was standing in the rain looking at the river when something hit her on the back of the head and then she was in the river. She says she should have stopped Marcy going to work for Herr K, but she was jealous and still loved him. She tells Marcy that she is the mother of her father’s child and then remembers that she smelled a familiar perfume before she was hit on the back of her head. Herr K tells Marcy that he will never believe that he is her father. Frau K asks why they are bothering her husband and Ruffing tells her that it was her perfume that Elsa smelled before she was hit on the head. Herr K tells Frau K to say she didn’t do it and she says if he wasn’t fucking everything in sight none of this would have happened. She says she heard Elsa screaming at Herr K and she ran out after her and hit her on the head with a big rock. When Elsa fell into the water she left her there and went home. Herr K tells Ruffing and Marcy that if they go to the police, Frau K will deny everything.
We hear bird song as Grindl talks with Ruffing and Marcy in the garden, saying that she wanted to say good-bye because she is going to stay with Schiele. She says she told Frau K about seeing Marcy and Herr K in the boat house naked and straining together. She goes into the house and Marcy asks Ruffing why he lied to her about his wife drowning herself. He says it was too painful to try to explain, but he doesn’t believe she drowned herself, that something else happened. He says he and Marcy are both haunted by their past but they can work it out together. She says she has to stay here for now but he should go home and she will come later. He says the train is leaving the station and gives her one of the two tickets he bought. Then he kisses her hair and goes. Max comes from the house and tells her her husband just went out the door. He starts working in the garden and tells her that her mother prefers to stay where she is but misses the clocks. Marcy asks if she can water something but Max says no and continues to work. Marcy beings to water the roses and we hear a sad, eerie version of “Vienna Blood” as skeleton people, two couples and one dancing with the puppet skeleton of the Emperor, waltz around them as light fades and goes out.
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.