The Mulberry Tree Variations

“The action flows like a dream,” in The Mulberry Tree Variations (2m, 2w), a long one-act done on a unit set representing an old house in London and a prison cell on a South Sea island in the first decade of the 20th century.  The set has no walls, with a bed, table, and lamp stage right, a wooden table with chairs down left, and a practical door up center.  In darkness we hear the sound of an old film projector and gradually see a strobe, flickering a very primitive silent film effect on the door as we hear Bach’s 13th Goldberg Variation played on an old piano.  We hear Jack’s voice describing a memory of a girl moving through the door into the room as Madchen, in a white dress, moves toward the audience and then off into the down left darkness.  The silent film effect ends as the music fades out and Jack and Petra appear in the doorway and move into the room talking about the similarity between the girl in a “cinematograph” Jack has gone to see night after night and a girl he used to know as “the jailer’s daughter.”  In answer to Petra’s questions, Jack says that he was in jail, that he murdered someone, and that the room looks uncannily familiar to him.  He says he was a sailor on a merchant ship in the South Seas, and as he speaks of that time Madchen appears DL as a waitress putting a tray of food on the round wooden table.  She speaks to Jack as he moves into her space, the jail, but Jack keeps explaining to Petra (in a different time) how he accidentally killed another sailor in a bar fight.  Madchen speaks to Jack of love and mortality and he speaks alternately to her and Petra.  Madchen asks about London and says she wishes she were there, voicing a question that appears in several Nigro scripts:  “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”  She tells Jack that if she dies before she gets to London she will haunt him there.  Petra comments on Madchen’s mental state as Madchen tells Jack and us about her parents and her love for books.  Madchen speaks of her grandfather who taught her never to put mulberries in her pocket.  She tells Jack that now would be an excellent time to kiss her, and he does, telling her that if she helps him escape from the jail he will take her to London with him.  Petra intrudes on this past event by telling Jack that he is a horrible person.  Madchen wants Jack to make love to her under the mulberry tree, and Petra asks him why he is telling her this.  He says she asked and thinks that he has to get out of the house that Petra has brought him to.  Jack tells Madchen they have to leave or the ship will sail without them, but she exits to get her diary.  Jack tells Petra that he had to jump in the water and swim to the ship and didn’t see Madchen again until he recognized her on the film.  Jack says he keeps a watch that Madchen gave him under the mulberry tree.  It was her grandfather’s and only runs backwards.  Jack can’t explain how Madchen could have been on the film but he thinks he recognizes the house and the door.  When Jack says something is on fire in his head, Petra thinks that Madchen is a lie that Jack made up.  Jack remembers his father as a horrible man, a scientist who invented a sort of motion picture camera to make a record of his experiments.  He asks Petra why she brought him to this place and she tells him how a man, some sort of doctor, came backstage after every show and talked with her.  Evans, “a distinguished and rather intimidating looking older man,” enters and sits in a chair.  Jack witnesses this scene as Petra witnessed the scene with Jack and Madchen.  When Petra tells Evans she is pregnant by an actor who has gone away, he invites her to stay in his house and have the child there.  He says his wife is dead and his son is gone.  Having no other options, Petra stayed in the house but dreamed that the dead man’s wife warned her to get away before the child was born.  But Petra gave birth and was told that the baby she thought was healthy had died during the night. She says she ran away but the man found her and paid her to find his son, Jack, and bring him to this house.  Evans tells Petra that Jack had suffered an injury to his head that made him forget things, and that as a child he was prone to violent fits of rage that made it necessary to lock him without food in a small, dark room.  Jack remembers his father finding him with a maid, Jenny.  Jack woke up on a merchant steamer and thinks the girl on the island reminded him of the maid.  Jack realizes that his father is going to kill both him and Petra because he thinks Jack knows about the older man’s experiments in the basement. Madchen enters, speaking a letter she is composing to the mulberry tree, describing her arriving in London and finding the house by the river Thames.  Evans, the father, asks her what she is doing in his house and she tells him she is engaged to Jack Evans and is carrying his child.  Evans says she can stay and help him with his research in cinematography and vivisection.  He leads her off DL and Jack tells Petra that the basement contains large bottles with heads of animals and corpses of infants floating in alcohol.  They hear a door slam and footsteps as Evans enters.  Jack accuses him of killing his mother, the maid, and Petra’s baby, but Evans tells them that he put something in the wine they drank that will make them relax and soon nothing will ever trouble them again.  Petra rushes at Evans and he puts the syringe on the table to grab her arms.  Jack says he cannot move or see properly and we hear again the sound of Bach’s 13th Goldberg Variation and see the flickering movie effect as Evans sits Petra on the bed next to Jack and rolls up Jack’s sleeve.  Madchen comes in the door as in the beginning and moves downstage to the table, picking up the syringe and plunging it into Evans’ neck.  He screams and falls on the floor.  Madchen tells Jack that he’ll be all right when the drug wears off, that the poison was in the syringe.  She says Evans let her live because she was carrying Jack’s baby and that she brought some mulberry tree seeds to plant in the back garden and raise a mulberry grove for their child to play in.  Petra says that Evans is dead and Madchen says that he will fit “quite nicely” into a large bottle in the basement.

In the Forest of Gone

The set for In the Forest of Gone is an attic with trunks, an old mirror, a bird cage, and magazines.  June Reedy, 13, says that her sister, Lorry, 12, has been coming to the attic to read ever since their mother left.  Lorry says she likes the book she is reading by N. J. Drago about the lost continent of Lemuria where actors go out all over the world.  Lorry says their mother is insane and shouldn’t have run off leaving Ben who is only a child.  She says their father hanged himself in the barn because of their mother.  June says it was not their mother’s fault and that she is coming back.  Lorry says she doesn’t want to be like their mother, but, she says, she sees panthers.  June says she was dreaming, is not crazy, and everything will be fine.  Lorry says that in the book she’s reading there’s a forest called the Forest of Gone where everybody who ever went away from you is there, but they look right through you as if you were not there.  June puts her arms around her sister from behind, tells her to look in the mirror, and says that she is going to love people and people will love her and all she can do is love them as much as she can while they’re here.  When Lorry asks what if she really is crazy June tells her they will be crazy together.

Charlie and the Siberian Monkey Goddess

In the darkness, as Charlie and the Siberian Monkey Goddess (2w) begins, we hear the sound of an old film moving through a projector and a scratchy recording of “The Oceana Roll,” and then, as flickering lights come up, we see Charlie (Chaplin) in the tramp outfit with mustache, cane, and derby nearby.  We hear Anastasia’s voice and as the film effect and music fade we see Charlie seated on the floor in front of the couch working on the fork and dancing rolls routine on the coffee table.  Anastasia comes into the light asking for his name.  She wants him to spell “Chaplin” and questions his identity.  He says his mother told him stories were powerful but dangerous.  He says she spent time in the madhouse and his father was a drunk.  He tells her how he first appeared on stage and does an imitation of the terrified child he remembers dancing and singing, “The Honeysuckle and the Bee.”  She asks if he has always been more comfortable pretending to be somebody else, but he says he didn’t pretend; he would just turn into that person for a time.  He left the stage because he hated the audience, but he loved the camera right away because you could do as many takes as you wanted and only show the best ones.  He says he became the Little Tramp, the character he created out of scraps of discarded clothing.  He tells Anastasia that she is playing the role of a person whose job it is to find out who’s playing his role, that they are in a movie, that reality is a movie.  She wants him to prove he is Charlie Chaplin and says he knows that Charlie Chaplin is a mask he wears to protect himself.  She says she is a doctor and they are in an institution for the mentally deranged.  Charlie says he is crazy enough to be a genius but not crazy enough to be happy.  He says in making movies he is the dictator.  She says he hasn’t proved that he is Charlie Chaplin and she could say she was the Siberian Monkey Goddess, Empress of all created things, because anybody can claim to be anybody.  She says if he admits he’s not Charlie Chaplin she will admit she’s not the Siberian Monkey Goddess.  She says the only way for her to help him break free from his delusion is to confuse him in a more constructive way.  She says he has assumed a false identity because he doesn’t want to be who he is.  She says he is not, never has been, and never will be Charlie Chaplin.  He says if she is the Siberian Monkey Goddess she should have bananas, and she gets two bananas from the desk.  She explains why he has chosen the Tramp character to hide behind and he tells her she is a patient pretending to be a doctor pretending to be a Siberian Monkey Goddess.  She says they are both claiming false identities, and when she says she is the Grand Duchess Anastasia, he says she is dead.  “So is Charlie Chaplin,” she says.  But since they are not dead, she is not the Grand Duchess and he is not Charlie Chaplin.  When he tries to get away she grabs his coat and shakes him, then notices that he’s got breasts and is not even a man.  Charlie says the only person who gets to decide who he is is “me.”  Anastasia says she accepts his argument and that if he says he is Charlie Chaplin he is a man, and if he is a man then he likes women and finds women attractive.  She drops her dress and sits on the couch with Charlie and takes off her stockings.  She takes off Charlie’s shoes, coat, shirt, and pants.  She says he is a frightened little girl who doesn’t want to remember her seducer and has taken on the role of the little Tramp  who has complete control of his world.  She starts putting on Charlie’s pants, shirt, coat, and shoes.  She puts her hair up and covers it with the hat, then rips off Charlie’s mustache and sticks it on her upper lip, saying that she is Charlie Chaplin.  She twirls the cane and with a Chaplinesque walk starts offstage, singing the lyrics to “The Honeysuckle and the Bee” as she disappears into the upstage darkness.  Charlie huddles on the floor by the sofa, rocking back and forth saying, “I’m nobody,” over and over, then, “This is where I came in.”  We hear the harmonium and clarinet playing the song as the lights fade and go out.