frankmatter

THYRADIA (Oh, Darling, I Don’t Want to Die) by Leslie Howes. four scenes from Act II (Edge of World/Urworld/Underworld). postscript, with spoiler alert.

ThoradiaTotal Darkness.

SYLVIA

Jans?

SEIJI

Jans?

SYLVIA

Seiji?

SEIJI

Sylvia?

SYLVIA

Jans?

SEIJI

Jans?

(beat)

SYLVIA

I don’t think Jans is here.

SEIJI

It’s too bad. I mean we were lost before but now I think we are REALLY lost.

SYLVIA

I know.

SEIJI

What is it about darkness. I feel like I’m in a different dimension.

SYLVIA

We could be.

SEIJI

I have no idea how big or small anything is. I don’t even know how far away you are–Oh!

Sylvia has found Seiji’s hand–though of course no one can see this.

SYLVIA

At least we know we still have bodies.

SEIJI

Are you holding my hand?

SYLVIA

Are you worried it’s someone else?

SEIJI

I hope it’s you.

SYLVIA

It is.

SEIJI

What now?

SYLVIA

Do you have any food with you?

SEIJI

Chocolate.

SYLVIA

I love chocolate.

SEIJI

You know what I also have?

SYLVIA

What?

SEIJI

I’m worried you’ll stop holding my hand if I tell you.

SYLVIA

It’s unlikely.

SEIJI

A flashlight. Should I turn it on? I don’t remember how we got here.

SYLVIA

I’m going to keep holding your hand.

SEIJI

I need to tell you that I think you’re cute.

SYLVIA

I know.

SEIJI

You’re my professor’s girlfriend.

SYLVIA

Probably why I’m so cute.

SEIJI

It’s possible I guess. We are standing frozen in darkness in this other dimension which may well be a cave. Doesn’t it smell kind of cave like? Damp? Wet?
Underground?

SYLVIA

You said you have a flashlight, right?

SEIJI

Is that you touching my back?

SYLVIA

Are you suggesting I touch your back?

SEIJI

It’s not you?

SYLVIA

I will if you want me to.

Seiji turns on flashlight. Dead Max hangs from ceiling. His feet brush Seiji’s back. Seiji turns.

SEIJI

Fuck!

SYLVIA

Holy Shit!

SEIJI

What the fuck is this?!!

SYLVIA

A dead body.

Amanda and Sally sheepishly appear.

AMANDA

Hey.

SALLY

Hi there.

SEIJI

Amanda. Sally. You’re here too.

AMANDA AND SALLY

Yup.

SYLVIA

I’m feeling that way too cognizant cognition.

SALLY

It won’t make you feel better, but what you’re feeling–completely on target.

AMANDA

What she means is, we aren’t mortal.

SEIJI

I got on the plane with you guys in Boston.

SALLY

True.

AMANDA

We never mean for this to happen.

SALLY

Sometimes it does.

AMANDA

You weren’t supposed to find us.

SYLVIA

Where is Jans?

SALLY

Maybe he is more lost…?

AMANDA

I suppose he might also be dead.

SALLY

I don’t think so, sweetie. I think we would know.

AMANDA

Well, we don’t seem to be in total control of what’s going on.

SALLY

O.K., he might be dead.

SEIJI

I’m cute and alive and fierce and know how to flay fish.

SYLVIA

I’m a poet.

AMANDA

It’s O.K. We aren’t planning to off you guys.

SALLY

We like you. I mean, we like the idea of you. We’re quite fond of humanity.

AMANDA

Just, you know. Stuff happens.

Lights out.

Organ Grinder Shop

Dark, cave-like shop with walls of shelves. Creepy jars that appear to contain organic matter. In fact, they are organs. The group of art historians are shivering. They have been through a blast of an indeterminate nature, they aren’t wearing the correct attire for this excursion, and they are cold and wet. There are periodic blast-noises–as if from only slightly distant underground explosions.

BLAST. BLAST.

JANS

This is an unforeseen stop. I was blown here by a gust of evil wind. I wasn’t expecting to be here. The last I remember I was lost. I think I am more lost. Maybe the wind wasn’t evil–

The Organ Grinder strolls onstage. He is the same actor who played the Thyroid.

ORGAN GRINDER

The shop smells bitter, acrid, abandoned. Everything is covered with a thick layer of dust. You cough. When you try to leave, you find the door has disappeared.

JANS

Who are you?

ORGAN GRINDER

Here are some questions you might ask:
Does the Organ Grinder have any of your organs?
Or maybe he has one of your friend’s organs.
Is he also a surgeon?
Is he a surgeon but with a rusty blunt blade?
Do you trust him?
Does he play the accordion?

Blast Blast Blast

The jars in rows on the dusty shelves are labeled in ink that is faded. Ink that is starting to bleed. Ink that is not permanent. All the words begin to run together on the organ grinder shelves. The organs are in rows and rows of jars, preserved in formaldehyde.
The distinctness of each organ is not recognized.
The distinct function of each organ is not realized.
The organs are all outside.
You would think they would be happy. They are finally free of the body.
They are free of the bodies they came from.
But they are not free. They are cold and lifeless.
They are remnant organs.
They are museum worship organs.
Who needs such organs.

A shuffling of feet. Some discomfort.
Sally and Amanda appear, cheerily breathless.

SALLY

Still, they are different shapes and sizes. They are different colors. You could play catch. It might mess up your leather catcher’s glove.

They mime playing catch.

AMANDA

Splat.

SALLY

It’s a function. A different function than the one intended, sure, but a function.

AMANDA

It doesn’t work.

SALLY

The thyroid ladies sing the organs out of the formaldehyde. They sing them out of the preservative.

Thyroid girls rush on.

SOUND/HUMMING/EVERYONE SINGS

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Thyroid ladies under blue and green light shining as if through glass.

SOUND/HUMMING/EVERYONE SINGS (cont’d)

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Like a prism. Like James Turrell. Maybe there is a disco ball. Many colors flashing flash flash.

Singing. They rescue some jars. Not singing only. Also grabbing jars. Maybe the opposite of singing.

Aggressively grabbing jars. Maybe one or two jars are dropped.

SOUND/HUMMING/EVERYONE SINGS (cont’d)

AHHHHHHHHHH

They run offstage.

LANCE

I don’t like it here.

ILSE

I think it’s intriguing.

SIMONE

Is this an ur-world? We seem to have traveled in a non-horizontal direction.

ISABELLA

Perhaps we are in hell.

SUSETTE

The artist could have worked harder to engage the viewer. Obviously Isabella is right. This is a kind of hell as understood by 21st century thinkers. It’s thin, it lacks the lushness of Bosch, say.

GUSTAVO

Yes, but if that’s the intent, I feel another approach may have been more successful.
Is anyone else reminded of Kienholtz?

LANCE

Are you nuts?

SIMONE

I’m cold.

LANCE

Yeah, it’s cold. Also, every hair on my arm is standing up.

ILSE

A visceral reaction.

ISABELLA

Appropriate, given the circumstances.

Sally and Amanda now address Jans directly, who seems uncomfortable, but maybe not as uncomfortable as he should be.

AMANDA

The organ grinder is running an experiment.

SALLY

The lightning in a jar.

AMANDA

He has a jar with a few fireflies in it and he tries to plug it in.

SALLY

No it’s a Brita pitcher with the buzzing fireflies set gently on top of wooden speakers from the 70s. He drops a travel hair dryer in it.

AMANDA

What happens is a smell like burning hot dog. Zap. Zap.
Zap. Zzzzzzt.

SALLY

Crispy organ.

AMANDA

Like bacon but no life.

SALLY

Life is elusive.

Everyone flees.

Romance

An underground tunnel.

SYLVIA

Jans doesn’t understand poetry.

SEIJI

But he likes poets.

SYLVIA

Yes. O.K. He does.

SEIJI

Can I kiss you?

SYLVIA

Yes.

They do.

SEIJI

We have to get out of here.

SYLVIA

Yes.

Jans and the Organ Grinder

The underground Organ Grinder Shop

ORGAN GRINDER

My land is the wasteland. Artists throw typewriters out of car windows. Vacationers leave pets behind. Babies lose pacifiers in the wind. My land is falling apart! It’s in disrepair.

JANS

Really?

ORGAN GRINDER

That’s not even mentioning the obvious.

JAN

I know about the typewriters! I know about the exploding machines!

ORGAN GRINDER

I am the chemicals. I am the bees. I am anywhere and everywhere. I am the red rock, I am the mountains. You are all in a flickery light. You all flicker out so quickly. You pass through the air like smell. You and I can’t even really talk to each other. I’m like your nursery school teacher. What I mean is that you can’t conceive of me. You can’t leave the nursery school and go out and go bury your underpants with the other boys in the wet sand in the rain without me knowing. Are you surprised I know that? You always think you’ll go back there. You’ll go back to Paris. You’ll go back to New Mexico. You’ll go back to that park with the redwoods in Oakland. You’ll see your ex-lover. You’ll make up with the friends you lost. You won’t go back because you can only go forward. I’m sorry about that. One thing about me is that I don’t want. I don’t understand want. I’m beyond and above. I don’t mean to sound elitist but really I am above your puny little larvae blink minds. I am all about the ecto hormones. The proteins and the protoplasm. That’s my interest. But I get distracted.

JANS

Oh.

Lights out.

_____________

EPILOGUE / Spoiler alert / For those who would like to know more

Basic structure of play

Act I: Doctor’s Office, Desert (ends w/giant blast)

Act II: Edge of World/Urworld/Underworld

The set of scenes enclosed takes place at the beginning of the second act, just after the intermission/break.

Sylvia is the protagonist poet whose boyfriend, Jans (pronounced Yans), is a hipster art historian (he’s Dutch but only has a minor accent, if any). Jans is in charge of a group of international art history grad students/art aficionados on a tour of the desert–the “atomic landscape.” Jans declares that part of their process will be a kind of conjuring. Sylvia has flown out from California to join Jans because she is in the middle of a health crises–she’s discovered she has a thyroid nodule which may be cancerous. There is an ongoing conflict between Sylvia and Jans–the creative vs. the academic–and their relationship is slightly on the rocks–though we won’t see them together in these scenes.

Seiji, one of Jans’ art history students (has no accent–he is half Japanese/half Japanese American) is also a Fugu chef (blowfish, pufferfish–special sushi that if improperly prepared is poisonous). He is the grandson of a Kamikaze pilot. He and Sylvia experience an immediate connection. (What’s a play without a love triangle?)

Jans’s field trip has been joined (unbeknownst to him) by two fates of the Greek variety, though these two, Sally and Amanda, are not certain of their mission (they occasionally off people, snip the line as it were, but they are not privy to big meaning-of-life answers). Sally and Amanda (who do NOT have Greek accents!) first appear in Sylvia’s doctor’s office, talking about women and thyroid issues. They are contemporary in their appearance, may be very old though they appear young to the others. They weave themselves in and out of various scenes, chorus-like, intermingling (they are women in the doctor’s waiting room, and then art history students). Amanda has just had an affair with Max, a pharmaceutical rep who also first appears in Sylvia’s endocrinologist’s office and who then reappears in the group of art history students, carrying Amanda’s luggage. Close to the end of the first act, Max dies of shock upon learning of Amanda’s true nature; Sally and Amanda lug his body around the stage, looking for a place to offload it. Things start to move faster as they are swept up in a river-like chorus of Thyroid Chat Room Girls (women affected by various forms of thyroid cancer/endocrine blockers who met online–and who we first meet in an Isadora Duncan dream-sequence in Sylvia’s doctor’s office). Meanwhile, Jans, Sylvia, and Seiji are hiking and get lost. The last line of the first act is Seiji’s: “My grandfather used to talk about how death feels as it whispers past–Kamikaze, divine wind.” There is a huge explosion.

CAST

SYLVIA–Poet, late 30s/early 40s in a relationship w/Jans.

JANS (YANS)–Art historian, 40s/50s, Dutch. Teaches in California.

SEIJI–Art history grad student/chef (pufferfish sushi=his specialty). Late 20s/early 30s.

SALLY–A fate (immortal). Perhaps very old but also very bawdy. Appears young to others on stage. More didactic than Amanda.

AMANDA–Also a fate. More irreverent/irresponsible than Sally. Same age/disposition otherwise. Has affair with Max the pharmaceutical rep (he’s now dead).

ORGAN GRINDER– Perhaps goggles, overalls or other dusty work clothes, a bit steam punkish. Only one eye (other is patched). Age is indeterminate. He is a menacing character, larger than life. This is his world. He collects organs. He doesn’t know why.

ART TOURISTS–LANCE, ILSE, SIMONE, ISABELLA, SUSETTE, GUSTAVO.

Lance is American, the others can be from whatever countries make sense–France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Spain… ? Europe. Accents would be great. They sort of huddle together in this scene, watching the Organ Grinder in hypothermic shock.

THYROID CHAT ROOM GIRLS (EVERYONE)

Women with medical problems involving the thyroid. They wear sashes like Miss America pageant (Miss Hiroshima, Miss Nagasaki, Miss Three Mile Island, Miss Chernobyl, Miss Trinity, Miss Southern New Jersey, Miss Los Alamos, Miss Alamogordo, Miss Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Miss Basra, Miss Bikini Island, Miss Hanford, Miss Yucca mountain, Miss Fukushima Daiichi, Miss San Onofre…) You get the idea. Include blockbuster nuclear war type thyroid injuries, testing injuries, environmental hazard injuries. All ages. In green and blue flowing gauzy gowns, barefoot. They move like a river. Sing together: AHHHHHHHHHHH.

_____

“The understanding that everything is connected, which should have come as a vision of harmony, came as a nightmare of contamination instead, but it came, and it came from the bomb.”

-Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

______

Leslie Howes lives and writes in Los Angeles and Vermont.

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This entry was posted on October 9, 2013 by in play and tagged .

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