by Edward Crosby Wells
by Edward Crosby Wells
To be a playwright in America today is unlike being one anywhere else at any other time in history. Jane Chambers was fond of saying, when asked if it was hard to be a Lesbian playwright, that it was much harder in America being a playwright than being gay. It has been socially difficult being an artist here in the land of machismo ever since the Oscar Wilde scandal identified artistry with homosexuality in the American mind. Till then, the growing new country had rather worshiped artists. They worshiped Wilde on his tour of America. The promise of this country was that the poor could earn everything which only the rich had had in Europe. One of those things was education. Isolated prairie farmers pitched in to hire schoolteachers, and let their sons off from harvesting work to attend school. Part of education was refinement through art. The first building in a new town after the tavern and the church was the Opera House. Shakespearean troupes toured the wildest frontiers. Children were given Roman names to prove that their proud parents had read the classics. After Wilde's disgrace, that changed, as any sensitive American boy discovered on the schoolyard. Sensitive boys avoided each other, lest they make a larger target. Their loneliness was immense. But at least there was the promise of a big-city career, success, fame, a circle of like-minded friends who shared one's interests and experience. Now even that hope is gone. Gore Vidal wrote to me in a letter dated November nineteenth, nineteen ninety-four, "I was lucky to have both a literary world & Broadway. Neither was much good, but compared to what faces you, mine was an age of gold, fool’s or otherwise.“ Mister Vidal’s generation had TV for which to write serious drama and audition it for Broadway and Hollywood. Now the only serious drama on TV is from The British Isles. We playwrights call PBS “The English Channel.” In the nineteen sixties, there was Off-Off Broadway and Bohemian camaraderie. That vanished as grant-grubbers and showcasers took over. And how many of the shows they grind out to get grants by the numbers ever move elsewhere? How many new American plays are commercially produced in any year today? How many published? Now for most U.S dramatists, there is only invisible isolation in uncaring cities and towns, and the hideous feeling that their natural function is denied them, and its fruits denied to the culture that sees no individual perceptions of itself—no “brief chronicles of the time.” All the drama America sees is the endlessly self-reflexive “genres” of TV and movies, relating to nothing but what was successful last year.
One must understand this situation to understand Mister Wells’ unique and profoundly personal play. He does not “exposition” the world his play takes place in. He only exposes it. He sees the lonely situation I have described above so clearly every day that he assumes you see it, too, and only shows you what it is like to live in it. And here, at last, in this play that adheres to no genre’s prerequisites, no academician’s unities, you can see it. The loneliness of the high I.Q., caring, American artist is flung before you—the despair, the imagined acquaintance with admired artists of a bygone age, and, yes, the talking to one’s self through them—all are here, in a form giving actors marvelous roles and marvelous challenges.
Welcome to Mister Wells’—my—our—and your world.
EDWARD CROSBY WELLS: A playwright and a resident in The Venus Arms.
FRANZ KAFKA: The night manager for The Venus Arms.
GERTRUDE STEIN: A night visitor who comes to perform an inorcism.
MARCEL PROUST: A night visitor who has come to assist the inorcist.
OSCAR WILDE: A night visitor and party crasher.
ALICE B. TOKLAS: A night visitor and companion to Gertrude Stein.
THE SETTING of the play takes place in a suite leased to Mr. Wells in a residential hotel known as The Venus Arms. Time has taken its toll on The Venus Arms, however the grandness of the Edwardian decor still lingers through a somewhat surreal atmosphere.
THE ACTION is continuous—from dusk till dawn.
THE TIME is the present.
AT RISE: Complete darkness except for the LIGHTING that comes through the window. The sun is setting. As window LIGHTING slowly moves into twilight, the stage LIGHTING slowly RISES. There is a KNOCKING on the door. WELLS stops writing and rises from where he is sitting at his desk and begins to cross towards the door.
WELLS: Just a minute. (Remembering something, he turns back to his desk and writes quickly, longhand, while speaking.) If there were others I'm certain that . . . (KNOCKING.) Just a minute! (Back to prior thought.) Certain that . . . that . . . one of us would have heard or seen . . . What? (KNOCKING continues louder and faster as he crosses to answer the door.) I'm coming! I'm coming! (At the door.) Who is it?
KAFKA’S VOICE: Kafka. Let me in there, Mister Wells.
KAFKA’S VOICE: Open up and I'll tell you why.
WELLS: Why? (Backs away as door slowly opens.)
KAFKA: Because. (Opening door with key – enters.) Pass key, Wells.
WELLS: Look here, Kafka! I could have you arrested for this.
KAFKA: I said Beelzebub. Beelzebub! You are not going to have anybody arrested. (Takes lease from pocket.) Mister Wells, resident, do you see this? (Reads.) “The party of the first part . . .” That is this establishment! “ . . . agrees to lease to the party of the second part to be known as resident . . .” That is you. “The hotel staff . . .” Of which I am one. “ . . . is granted the unrestricted right of passage . . .” That means to enter at will! You would do best, Wells, by keeping that always in mind. You will not want to forget it. “ . . . for purposes in the interest of the management of The Venus Arms. Said resident shall not deny free access to the authorized, known as Franz Kafka the night manager . . .” And we know who that is. “ . . . under penalty of dispossession with neither prior notice nor reason.” (Stares menacingly at WELLS.) Dispossession. Shall I go on?
WELLS: Please, don't. We both know the bully you are. You’ll win every time.
KAFKA: (Puts lease back into his pocket.) You wouldn't allow the exterminator in today. (Eyeing books.) I see that you are a reader. One would think a writer would have no time for that sort of diversion.
WELLS: What do you want?
KAFKA: (Preoccupied with the books.) Proust. (Turns to WELLS, menacingly.) I am not one for wasting words.
WELLS: Nor I?
KAFKA: (Continues browsing through books.) Poetry. Poetry. More poetry. You have a good deal of poetry. Are you a poet, Mister Wells?
WELLS: Many playwrights are. Those of us who are not certainly appreciate the poet—and the poem. Is there a difference?
KAFKA: Between the poet and the poem? There is a moment in time when they are one. Baudelaire—the debility, the intoxication—the spirit of self-sacrifice—the lost souls who are the poets pressing flowers the moment they bloom. But you know far better than I, do you not? I am naught but the night manager—a humble employee of the man downstairs. My nights are filled with more important matters so, naturally, I need a good part of the day for sleeping. (Glances at another book.) Dorian Gray. Oh, how difficult it must be learning to leave well enough alone.
WELLS: Well enough is never good enough.
KAFKA: We'll see. (Picking up and dropping books.) Wilde. Goethe. Stein. Kafka . . . ah, I see you have one of my little tomes—The Trial, how sweet. (Moves about the room lifting an object here and there. He is really quite threatening.) We mean exactly what we say here—in The Venus Arms. Exactly. Nothing more. Nothing less. I would keep that in mind, always. Break any of the rules and your stay will not be a pleasant one. We wouldn't like to find it necessary to have you—dispossessed.
WELLS: Is that a threat?
KAFKA: Of course it’s a threat. That’s what I do. Let us not delude ourselves. I am what I am and I do what I do and I love it. The choice to remain or to move has always been yours. You’re the one who wants to be a famous playwright. You’re the one desirous of taking up residence in The Venus Arms and making a bargain with God. (Pointing downward.)
WELLS: I wouldn’t call him God.
KAFKA: You will. In the meanwhile, you really must learn to follow the rules. There are no privileged few here. There are none for whom the rules do not apply. Life in The Venus Arms, as luxurious as it can be—for some—comes with a few well-thought-out rules; rules that must never be broken.
WELLS: Oh, please. Rules are meant to be broken.
KAFKA: Says who?
WELLS: I don’t know. It’s a saying.
KAFKA: Not here, dear heart—never here. It could be fatal. The Venus Arms concerns itself solely with the welfare of the chosen few who are its residents . . . and, of course, with the collection of the rent. Let the world go about its trivial pursuits. We, in The Venus Arms, do not concern ourselves with the world outside these walls. For that, one should take up residence in something a bit more baroque—something with a swimming pool, perhaps.
WELLS: I find you quite frightful.
KAFKA: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to serve. (A beat.) We don’t allow too many playwrights to take up residence here.
WELLS: Why is that?
KAFKA: They always prove to be more trouble than they are worth. Goethe was the exception. But, most of the others didn’t stay long. We had to vacate their premises.
WELLS: You mean—
KAFKA: Exactly what I say. (A beat.) You didn't let the exterminator in today. And, I've been hearing reports about you upsetting other residents.
WELLS: For the love of God, what do you want?
KAFKA: “For the love of God”—you’re a funny man, Mister Wells.
WELLS: What do you want?
KAFKA: Peace . . . quiet . . . goodwill among men . . . (He laughs long and hideously.) But, seriously . . . the exterminator will have to come back just for you. That will cost you dearly. Today was free—on the house. But, The Venus Arms will not subsidize your future.
WELLS: (Directing KAFKA toward the door.) I never thought it would. I only ask to be left to myself and my work. I only ask for some reasonable recognition in return. Some respect.
KAFKA: Tut, tut, tut! Not so soon. We've still this little matter concerning complaints from other residents.
KAFKA: Some can't sleep nights.
WELLS: How is that my problem?
KAFKA: You’ve been entertaining guests after hours.
KAFKA: You’ve allowed all sorts of riff-raff into The Venus Arms. When you took up residence here, you agreed—in writing—to host only those approved by Management. Now, may I ask you a question?
WELLS: You may. I may even have an answer.
KAFKA: It is of a rather delicate nature, Wells. It pains me to ask . . . but ask I must. The question is: Have you any special affection for—or feel any particular fondness towards—roaches?
KAFKA: Roaches! Roaches!
WELLS: What do I look like to you, Kafka?
KAFKA: That shouldn't matter. I never even took that into account.
WELLS: They’re a life form. They have a right to exist, I suppose. I don’t much care for them but, then, I don’t think the Human species has much more to offer.
KAFKA: You didn't allow the exterminator in today! The rules of this establishment—
WELLS: (Cutting him short.) Please leave. You are cryptic and you frighten me.
KAFKA: (Pulls out lease and reads.) “The hotel staff . . .” That's me. Franz Kafka. “. . . in carrying out its . . .”
WELLS: (Interrupts.) Is there anybody in there?
KAFKA: Nobody you want to anger. (Backing toward the door, making placatory motions.) You are speaking to a duly authorized representative of The Venus Arms. This may be your home for the time being, Mister Wells . . . but this is not your castle!
WELLS: I’m not afraid of you anymore. You can threaten all you like.
KAFKA: You will pay, Wells. You will pay in ways you could never imagine.
WELLS: They can put me on the menu but they can’t eat me.
KAFKA: You affront the establishment!
WELLS: To Hell with the establishment.
KAFKA: To Hell, indeed.
KAFKA has backed himself against the door with his hand behind his back fumbling with the knob. He manages to open the door and exit into the exterior hallway. He remains there in full view with the door ajar.
KAFKA: All right. All right, Mister Wells. I see you want to take me on. Be warned—many have tried yet none have succeeded. You cannot beat the Devil. Now, you get yourself some rest. Take good care of yourself and I won't bother you with the writ.
WELLS: Writ? What writ?
KAFKA: Don't you worry, Wells, tomorrow is another night.
WELLS: (Insisting.) Writ. You said writ. What writ?
RAVEN: Well, something to do with search and seizure.
WELLS: Search and seizure?
RAVEN: They have been seen leaving your premises, Wells. They have been seen coming from your suite and making their way into the rooms of other residents.
WELLS: What in hell are you talking about?
KAFKA: Roaches! Roaches! You didn't let the exterminator in today. It is essential that you allow the exterminator in during his required rounds. There are others in The Venus Arms. Others we would not want you to infest with cockroaches! (WELLS slams the door on KAFKA whose shouts are heard retreating down the hallway.) Never! Never! You’ll never beat the Devil!
WELLS: (Momentarily stunned. Walks back and forth addressing the door as though it were KAFKA incarnate.) I’ll beat you and with your own game! (Props nearby chair against door. Crosses to window and looks out into the night and after a pause, calls down to the street below.) Where is everybody? I see you laughing, screaming—crying. I see you angry, mean and bitter. I see you as the killers you are, deserving of extinction—and yet, deserving of love, mercy and forgiveness. Not justice. Never justice. We are not strong enough for justice. I talk to you in the stores and shops, in line waiting for the bus, in coffee houses, supermarkets, along the street, in theatre lobbies and from the stage and, still, you simply stare back as if we were worlds apart.
A musical fanfare. A harp's glissando, perhaps. A bookcase slowly swings open. GERTRUDE and MARCEL enter, leaving the bookcase to swing back into place.
NOTE: So as to avoid any complications further along in the text, WELLS can neither see nor hear GERTRUDE or MARCEL, and when they later enter, OSCAR and ALICE. However, at times, WELLS does repeat their words or follow-through with their thoughts. This applies throughout the play.
WELLS: (Continues. Crosses to desk.) Does anyone hear me? Anyone? (Sits at desk and begins to write.) God, we are alone. Each and every one of us—
GERTRUDE: What is this? Where is this? What a dump!
WELLS:(Raises his head, stops writing.) Hello. Hello.
MARCEL: Should we say “hello?”
GERTRUDE: Quiet, Marcel.
WELLS: So I begin. I will beat you at your own game, Kafka. A writ. There's a writ to dispossess, is there? All right. I'll write my own writ, night manager. (Arranges some paper on his desk, and begins to write.)
MARCEL: (Exploring the suite.) Gertrude, what do you think? Can we help him?
GERTRUDE: One can never say for certain what one thinks. At least one ought not. However, one should know whether one thinks one thing or another. Therefore, one should not abandon a thing altogether.
MARCEL: So, you're saying you think we can help him?
GERTRUDE: Well, I just said so, did I not? So, quite naturally, I thought so. In fact, I remember telling Picasso . . . saying to Picasso . . . one never tells Picasso anything, “Pablo, you must give it a try.”
WELLS: (Writing and thinking aloud.) You must give it a try.
MARCEL: Gertrude, he heard you!
GERTRUDE: Well, of course he heard me, Marcel. Sooner or later everybody will come to hear me.
WELLS: (Ibid.) Everybody come and hear me. Don't empty out. Sooner or later . . . don't empty out! (Slumps over desk and slides to the floor.)
MARCEL: (Startled.) Oh, my! He's enough to raise the dead.
GERTRUDE: Well, anyway. (Flops into an over-stuffed winged-back chair.) We might as well make ourselves comfortable. I think it is going to be a long, long night.
OSCAR: (Entering through bookcase.) Am I late? You're looking particularly well this evening, Marcel. Is that really you, Gertie, or just a vision of something inexplicable?
GERTRUDE: Are you late for what, Oscar?
OSCAR: Just being fashionable, dear one. (Spies WELLS.) Is there something foul in the air?
GERTRUDE: There is now.
OSCAR: Has he been done in?
MARCEL: He emptied out.
OSCAR: Emptied out?
GERTRUDE: (With impatience.) Unconscious, Oscar.
OSCAR: Anybody I know?
GERTRUDE: Oscar, are you here to help or what?
OSCAR: Oh, dear. Am I induced?
GERTRUDE: We all are induced, Oscar. (Rises from chair, indicates WELLS.) Now, let us put him on the divan.
MARCEL: Do you suppose the divan is best, Gertrude?
GERTRUDE: Marcel, you suppose. He, she, and it supposes. I think! Therefore, we will put him on the divan. (Crosses to WELLS.) Well, Marcel—legs or arms?
MARCEL: Legs. No. Arms. No. Legs—
GERTRUDE: Marcel! Make up your mind!
GERTRUDE: (Takes WELLS’ wrists while MARCEL takes his ankles. BOTH start to lift him but they don't get far.) Marcel, you are letting down your end.
MARCEL: I am not letting my end down. Oscar, would you be so kind?
OSCAR: (Takes one of WELLS’ legs.) Upsy-daisy. He’s a right plump porker he is. How's your end, Gertie?
GERTRUDE: Gertrude's end is just fine, Oscar.
OSCAR: Good. There seemed to be some doubt about it, as I recall. (ALL struggle to maneuver WELLS onto the divan.) Now, let me see. Where was it I heard something about Gertrude's end? No matter, who listens to rumors anyway? Gertrude, I wouldn't let it trouble me for a moment, were I you. But, then I'm not and you are. Besides, I'm certain your end is picture perfect. (GERTRUDE grunts with hostility.) Gertrude, you're letting your end sag. (GERTRUDE glares, letting WELLS’ arms drop as they finish piling him onto the divan.) Honestly, Gertrude, have you no respect for the unconscious?
GERTRUDE: Humph! (Crossing to chair.)
OSCAR: Think of the nasty bruises the poor thing is going to get.
GERTRUDE:(Flops into chair. Warning.) Better you think of them.
OSCAR: Did I say something wrong, Marcel? (MARCEL shrugs and sits on corner of divan nearest GERTRUDE. OSCAR crosses to desk, removes a sheet of paper from a pile, looks it over with astonishment before exclaiming:) What a mess! (GERTRUDE and MARCEL, both having been sitting in an abstracted state, are startled.)
GERTRUDE: Oscar, this is not a matter for farce! You will please stop adding insult to Wells’ condition.
OSCAR: Wells' condition? Gertrude, his condition seems to be suffering an eclipse! Listen to this letter. At least, it has the appearance of one. (Reads.) "To whom it may concern or to whomever can find a reason for making it of concern.”
MARCEL: It doesn't concern you, Oscar.
OSCAR: I've no doubt. (Reads.) "It is a mystery to me, also. I, too, have detected more bodies uninhabited than I have been able to detect with somebody in them. Furthermore, I suspect that there are a great number of bodies that come in that empty condition right from the get-go." (Aside.) What, pray tell, is a “get-go”? (Reads.) "Others are beginning to shut down and a slowing of their operational ability is an early symptom for a complete evacuation soon to follow. What is worse . . ." (Aside.) What could possibly be worse? He certainly entertains a very adequate respect for nothing.
GERTRUDE: Put in down, Oscar.
OSCAR: (Ignoring the last—reads.) "What is worse, decapitation seems to have little or no effect on mobility since one was heard to tiptoe on the roof while I tried without success to sleep." (Replaces paper on desk.) The man indirectly goes neither here nor there simultaneously.
GERTRUDE: We are already fully aware of the problem.
OSCAR: We? By that you mean, of course, you and Marcel?
MARCEL: (More weary than irritated.) Of course. Who else?
OSCAR: Of course, how silly of me. Who else is there? How totally selfish of me to even consider the possibility that I may or may not exist. In your presence, dear Marcel and beloved Gertrude, I am nothing, naught, a superfluous gathering of negative ventilation.
GERTRUDE: Oh, don't flatter yourself! You're really quite something!
OSCAR: How kind. I hope to return the compliment.
GERTRUDE: (Pressing on.) We must see ourselves clear to solving that which is the problem.
OSCAR: I see. Well, in that case, Gertrude, Marcel, your problematic insight can be as much admired as your modesty.
GERTRUDE: Returning compliments, Oscar?
MARCEL: I feel Oscar hasn't grasped the gravity of the situation.
OSCAR: Oscar has grasped the gravity of the situation and it is firmly in the palm of my hand. However, in the other hand, hearing tiptoeing decapitees seems more a matter of levitation, don't you agree?
GERTRUDE: Well anyway, we will never accomplish anything while Oscar persists in his drawing room manner.
OSCAR: This is a drawing room, is it not?
GERTRUDE: Yes. And, as usual, you're doing what you do best in one.
OSCAR: Have I been flattered?
GERTRUDE: I am sure you do not need me for that. Now, are you going to approach the problem with the respect it deserves?
MARCEL: Your failure to be serious, Oscar, will only create a further complication in Wells’ condition.
OSCAR: He certainly is a condition.
GERTRUDE: We like to think of him as the symptom.
OSCAR: Well, I like to think of that as a problem.
GERTRUDE: (To herself.) Why? Why? Why do I bother?
OSCAR: What's the answer, Gertie?
GERTRUDE: (Sharply.) What is the question!
OSCAR: Where's Miss Toklas?
GERTRUDE: Sitting. OSCAR: Sitting? Sitting where?
GERTRUDE: Where one usually sits, Oscar—down. Alice is sitting down.
OSCAR: Where is Alice sitting down, Gertrude?
GERTRUDE: (Motions to bookcase.) Out there . . . about half way here.
OSCAR: Neither here nor there, I see. I don't suppose you could be more specific?
GERTRUDE: I could.
OSCAR: (After a pause.) Marcel, why is Alice sitting down out there about half way here?
MARCEL: Tired. GERTRUDE: From the weight.
OSCAR: The weight?
MARCEL: Our dinner, I imagine. Wouldn't you say so, Gertrude?
GERTRUDE: I would say the weight, I think.
OSCAR: I see. I guess. What are we talking about?
GERTRUDE: Your question, Oscar.
OSCAR: My question?
MARCEL: Miss Toklas.
OSCAR: Ah, Alice and the groceries.
GERTRUDE: Well anyway. Surely you didn't guess that we were going to spend the night in this dreary asylum without sustenance, did you?
OSCAR: Gertrude, spending the night with somebody in abstention was never so much as an airy hope. Never entered my mind. So, why should I hazard to guess anything?
GERTRUDE: Of course, why should you?
WELLS: (Shouting.) Of course! You shouldn't! You mustn't let even temporary residents to take over your body. Don’t trust a single soul. (Startled, MARCEL jumps and seeks refuge on GERTRUDE's footstool.)
OSCAR: (Casually.) All right. I won't.
MARCEL: Oh, God! He nearly frightened me to death. I wish he would warn us, Gertrude. Oh, I'm faint! My heart. My nerves. My God! I deplore sudden outbursts.
GERTRUDE: (Mild chiding.) Really, Marcel. Aren't we being somewhat extravagant?
MARCEL: I wish he had warned us, that’s all—just a little warning—a sign that something big is soon to follow. In the future, perhaps.
WELLS: (Raised on an elbow, interrupts.) To be or not? What is the question.
OSCAR: Ah, that has the twisted air of familiarity.
WELLS: (Rises and stalks the room.) From inside out the dispossessed fall. Hollow moans in endless space. Cobwebs cover their dusty tongues. And worse . . .
OSCAR: What, pray tell, could be worse?
WELLS: They’re evil. Their every act is motivated by primal senses!
OSCAR: Definitely worse.
WELLS: Suppose we all are guilty? What then? What then? (Sits at desk and writes.)
GERTRUDE, MARCEL and OSCAR are fascinated, bewildered and amazed—an abstracted pause.
OSCAR: Do I dare ask?
GERTRUDE: You dare not! You could complicate his condition.
OSCAR: (Mouthing the words.) What then?
GERTRUDE: I cannot hear you, Oscar.
OSCAR: (Ibid.) What then?
GERTRUDE: Oscar! Speak up!
OSCAR: Very well, since you want me to shout, I said . . . WHAT THEN?
WELLS: What then? What then? Then there would be nothing. Nothing! Jean-Paul tried to warn me. We were so busy being we didn't see the nothingness creeping up from behind . . . dulling our senses . . . sapping our animating force . . . (Slumps over desk, exhausted.)
OSCAR: Sapping our animating force?
GERTRUDE: Well! Are you satisfied, Oscar? Now that you have made our work here that much more difficult with your careless and reckless disregard for Wells’ condition, our symptom has yet another problem to add to its syndrome!
OSCAR: God only knows where he'll put it!
GERTRUDE: Fortunately for Wells, Marcel and I are here to tend to his condition.
MARCEL: Very fortunate, indeed . . . for both of you, Oscar.
OSCAR: By that, I assume you mean the plague and I? How capital of you to put us both in the same boat, Marcel.
MARCEL: Were that the case, you would not find yourselves in the same boat.
OSCAR: How fortunate.
MARCEL: Not at all fortunate. The truth is, to use your metaphor, generally speaking, you would . . .
OSCAR: (Interrupts.) Nautically speaking.
MARCEL: I beg your pardon?
OSCAR: To use my metaphor, you would be “nautically” speaking.
MARCEL: Yes. Quite right. Nautically speaking, you would each be so preoccupied with trying to maintain balance neither of you would be very good company for the other. Furthermore, you each would be doing everything humanly possible just to keep your footing . . . and you only find yourselves going nowhere.
OSCAR: Nonsense. I'd simply sit and row myself ashore.
MARCEL: Ah, but here is the unfortunate truth of the situation: Wells’ condition means having one of your legs in one boat and your other leg in another boat, nautically speaking.
OSCAR: Nicely put, Marcel, but a strain on the inseam. I may fish from the shore from now on.
GERTRUDE: Do that! (Remembering something important.) Fish! Nearly slipped my mind!
OSCAR: Fish, Gertrude?
GERTRUDE: Well, not fish. Food. Alice. Where is Alice?
OSCAR: Sitting, do doubt. Probably still sitting on her down.
GERTRUDE: Humph! Well! She cannot stay sitting in one place forever! (Rises and crosses toward bookcase.)
OSCAR: That's what I've always felt—sitting in one place forever is worse than sitting nowhere at all.
GERTRUDE: (Swings bookcase open.) Alice . . . Alice . . .
OSCAR: Were I you, I'd tell her good, Gertie! Let her know you won't stand for all her sitting!
GERTRUDE: Humph! (Exits. She is heard retreating:) Alice . . . Alice . . . Alice . . .
OSCAR: (Moving closer to MARCEL, in a chummy manner.) Do tell, Marcel, what brings you out on a night like this?
MARCEL: (Coolly.) Wells’ condition, of course.
OSCAR: Come, come, tell the truth. You and Miss Stein are not exactly a match made in Heaven.
MARCEL: Tout au contraire. That is exactly from where we got our orders. OSCAR: Really? You've been sent by some heavenly agency to look after our dear confused playwright? The two of you? Like celestial nannies?
MARCEL: And who, may I be so bold to ask, might have sent you here?
OSCAR: No one. I came of my own accord. I fear I am neither heaven-sent nor sent from elsewhere, my dear Marcel. I am mine own just reward.
MARCEL: How novel.
OSCAR: Yes. So, why have you gotten yourself mixed up with Gertrude Stein?
MARCEL: I have not gotten myself “mixed up” with Mademoiselle Stein.
OSCAR: Oh. Maybe I've gotten you mixed up with somebody else.
MARCEL: I don't know why you're here, Oscar. This is a very serious matter and your being here could jeopardize the mission. Mademoiselle Stein and I are here to help our dear Mister Wells . . . not to complicate his condition.
OSCAR: Help? Him? Marcel, doesn't he strike you as gaga?
OSCAR: Gaga. Bughouse. Blithe as a haberdasher.
MARCEL: He will be just fine after the inorcism.
OSCAR: Inorcism? You mean like an exorcism?
MARCEL: No, not like an exorcism at all. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Don't fret, Oscar. Gertrude and I know exactly what we are doing.
OSCAR: Do you now? How fortunate, indeed, for you and Gertrude and, of course, our dearly dispossessed.
MARCEL: Very fortunate, Monsieur Wilde.
OSCAR: Let me see if I have this clear. When somebody gets outside of somebody and that somebody outside of somebody doesn't belong outside of that certain somebody, you call an inorcist?
MARCEL: Naturally. Unless, somebody gets inside of somebody and that somebody inside of somebody doesn't belong inside of that certain somebody, so then you call an exorcist.
OSCAR: Precisely. But that's something entirely different, right?
MARCEL: Right. That can get rather messy.
There is a KNOCKING on the hotel door.
OSCAR: (Rises. Crossing to door.) That must be the inorcist! Or, Alice delivering the fish.
MARCEL: (Jumps up in a panic.) NO! They wouldn't use that door! They couldn’t!
OSCAR: Who could . . . (Removes chair from under knob.) . . . with this here? (Opens door.) Good eve . . . (Slams door.) GOOD GOD!
MARCEL: Who is it? OSCAR: (Gropes to speak – sotto voce.) Nobody.
OSCAR: Nobody—just a problem.
MARCEL: A problem?
OSCAR: A big problem.
MARCEL: A problem with what?
OSCAR: With a problem.
MARCEL: Well? What does he want?
OSCAR: (Indicating WELLS.) To give unto him! (The KNOCKING continues.) Oh, Mr. Wells? Mr. Edward Crosby Wells? I think it's for you.
WELLS: (Rises and looks blankly toward the door. Crossing towards the door, slowly.) Just a minute. I'm coming. (KNOCKING.) Hello? Hello? Who is it? (KNOCKING.) Hello? Is anybody there?
OSCAR: I'll say!
OSCAR throws open the door. KAFKA steps into the room. He has been transformed into a giant cockroach. He is carrying a large canister with a hose attached; the type used by professional exterminators. ALL freeze. BLACK OUT.
AT RISE: The door to the outer hallway is blocked with something bulky—a credenza, perhaps. WELLS is at his desk, writing. OSCAR and MARCEL are involved in a conversation in progress.
MARCEL: And so our cat ate most anything.
OSCAR: Fish, yes. Every cat loves fish. Pâté de Foie Gras, most certainly. But cookies? Why do I suspect that I am being wooed with ambiguity, Marcel?
MARCEL: Your nature, perhaps?
OSCAR: Perhaps. However, an odd sense of detachment comes over me when trying to follow one of your stories. There is a bewitching duplicity about them. I am never quite certain whether I am drowning in your rhetoric or floating off into your oratory.
MARCEL: Certainly peculiar, Oscar. Shall I continue?
OSCAR: By all means, do continue.
MARCEL: In spite of her protest, my father continued dropping bits of cookie under the table. Meanwhile, my mother continued with an attitude that took the face none could mistake for anything other than disapproval.
OSCAR: How well I know that face. Have you taken a good, hard look at Gertrude Stein lately?
OSCAR: All right. But, I do know that face. It can disarm the severest critic. Sorry. Go on.
MARCEL: My mother's disapproval of animals being fed or going anywhere within an arm's reach from the circumference of a table meant only for the feeding of humans was so strongly ingrained in her sense of propriety that her anger from seeing my father deliberately and with a schoolboy's fervor provoke an already short-fused situation which could only be seen on the surface, since the surface was all anybody ever saw of her as she drew in air, closed tight her mouth thereby tightening muscles beneath the skin over the hollows below her cheekbones causing lips already too thin to flush with a color similar to that of a plum needing one more sunlit near-perfect day to ripen to its sweetest and much anticipated moment of prime and juicy perfection by both my brother and me every summer and all summer long when we were young and when our mother scolded us for having had so little patience after we had gone and gotten ourselves sick from eating hard and bitter green plums by not having waited as we should have, served only to aggravate her anger as did our exaggerated moans and tears mixed with complaints of aching bellies which were altogether well deserved consequences that we were certain we did not deserve. (Pause.) However, her love for us or perhaps our amusing appearance managed to gain her sympathy which caused her to silently draw in air and then to sigh under lips stretched lugubriously thin solely for the purpose of arousing my father's chagrin since she had done it from having been deliberately provoked into doing it by our moaning whimpers and by his enticing the cat when dropping bits of cookie under the table to teach la chat noir another bad habit that my mother would soon feel the need to discourage since, quite naturally, it met with her disapproval. If you’ve ever eaten one of my mother’s sublime Madeline cookies you’d know the sensation exactement.
OSCAR: (After a pause.) And had the good doctor the good sense not to share his biscuit with the pussy, the good doctor would never have met with disapproval.
OSCAR: Interesting, obscure and positively demonic, but interesting—to say the least.
GERTRUDE: (From other side of bookcase.) Come along, Alice.
OSCAR: And speaking of something overblown and long-winded.
GERTRUDE: (Entering through bookcase.) Do watch out. Step lively. Oh Alice, step over them and not on them.
ALICE: (Enters. She is weighted down like a packhorse with wine bottles, cheeses, long loaves of French bread and an over-sized picnic basket. Tripping, stumbling, exhausted and disheveled—she makes an uncertain announcement:) Well . . . here I am.
OSCAR: (To MARCEL.) That remains to be seen. (To ALICE, crossing to help her unload.) Let me help you, dear one. You must be positively exhausted. (Eyes GERTRUDE.) From all that sitting, no doubt. One ought not sit too long. Tends to wear one out, you know. My, you are looking a bit jaded, aren't you, dear?
ALICE: Oh, I am, Oscar. I really, really am.
OSCAR: Of course you are. You really, really are. What you need is help.
OSCAR: Help. Gertrude, did you hear that melancholic cry for help? She has been sitting much too much. We wouldn't want our poor little Alice to come to a dreary conclusion.
GERTRUDE: (Piqued.) Humph!
OSCAR: Humph? Was that a humph, Gertie? Or was it just gas?
GERTRUDE: Humph! You should watch that razor-wit of yours. One day you may slit your throat!
GERTRUDE flops into chair. OSCAR and ALICE unload and spread foodstuff on an upstage table or countertop, then busy themselves with opening wine bottles and preparing a tray of hors d'oeuvres. OSCAR peels the skin from off cucumbers and makes cucumber sandwiches. OSCAR and ALICE appear to be having a good time and every so often a giggle is heard. GERTRUDE, on the other hand, appears quite the contrary—she is not having a good time at all.
MARCEL: (Sitting on one of two large footstools on either side of GERTRUDE.) You mustn't allow yourself to be provoked by one so devoid of interest, Gertrude. Remember why it is we are here.
GERTRUDE: I'd enjoy throttling him, Marcel—with my own two hands!
OSCAR: I'm ravished!
GERTRUDE: Good. Eat something.
OSCAR: I will in a minute, Gertie. (To ALICE.) You really should have come a bit sooner. Gertrude is positively chomping.
ALICE: Guillaume was supposed to have our auto repaired. But, he didn't . . . so we had to walk all the way.
OSCAR: In those shoes?
ALICE: Oh, yes.
OSCAR: You should have come by taxi, Alice, something with wheels.
ALICE: Gertrude? Gertrude? Why didn't we come by taxi?
GERTRUDE: Why? Because we have an auto, dearest.
ALICE: But, it doesn't work.
GERTRUDE: It will.
ALICE: But, it doesn't now. I mean, it didn't, did it?
GERTRUDE: When it is repaired it will.
ALICE: But, until it is, I think we ought to come and go by taxi.
GERTRUDE: Alice, one takes a taxi when one does not own an auto. When one owns an auto in need of service one walks.
OSCAR: And it is written. Is that the consensus of your vast experience with things mechanical?
GERTRUDE: The proof of my experience has been convincingly demonstrated in the past.
OSCAR: You don't say? (To ALICE.) You see, that all goes to prove that one must learn to walk before one rides. (To GERTRUDE.) On the other hand, before one rides one should learn the mechanics for the thing one is driven in, as well as for the thing one drives.
GERTRUDE: I know perfectly well the mechanics. However, Guillaume wanted to discover for himself that he knew nothing and—having made that discovery—the consensus of his experience has totaled into an unremarkable sum. Do you drive, Oscar?
OSCAR: Certainly not! I have no gift for handling machinery. The fact is I am terrified of finding myself the victim of a head-on collision. Or, my muffler caught in the wheel like my dear friend Isodora. Quite painful, indeed, she said. Did you happen to catch Miss Duncan dance at Saki's little soiree?
GERTRUDE: No, Oscar, I did not. And, for the benefit of all concerned, I suggest you stay off the road—especially one shared by a booming carriage trade. Surely, you must agree.
OSCAR: I must and I do. In fact, I told Marcel a short while ago how it was I felt about this very matter.
MARCEL: Gertrude, hadn't we better give time to more important matters?
OSCAR: How one gets to where one has gotten is important, Marcel. The more thought I give to the matter, the more important it becomes.
OSCAR: Oh, yes. And the more important it becomes, the more attracted I am to the art of balloonery.
ALICE: What's balloonery?
OSCAR: It is a marvelous vehicle, love. You see, generally, economy is the proof of a thing's worth. And though it is quite impossible for me to say, since I've never actually gone off in one, I am told that ballooneryists are of the consensus that efficient function can be achieved with merely an ample supply of hot air.
OSCAR: And I raise you one. Isn't that interesting?
ALICE: Oh, yes. Think of the time Gertrude could have saved waiting for Guillaume to discover what he already plainly knew.
OSCAR: Think of it.
ALICE: Wouldn't you just love balloonery! We'd never have to take a taxi and we'd never be in need of service. So, we'd never have to walk. Think of it. No need for wheels. Just think of it, Gertrude!
GERTRUDE: Alice, don't think of it! The world is confused enough. You're only making a spectacle of yourself for others to not know what to think of it.
OSCAR: She's got you there, Alice. Thoughtless of you not to think what others will think of your soaring off into the ether.
ALICE: (Apologetic.) I guess you're right. Sometimes I just can't seem to help myself.
OSCAR: Of course you can't. Even if it feels good, my dear, you mustn't allow yourself a moment's pleasure without first consulting the great oracle of Baltimore, our own expatriate and sulfur-sniffing Gertrude Stein.
ALICE: Thank you, Oscar.
GERTRUDE: You are so kind.
OSCAR: Any time.
GERTRUDE: This is all too tedious for conscious appreciation, Oscar. I know perfectly well the mechanics needed to keep a vehicle in proper working order. When Guillaume is satisfied with what little he knows, I'll make a few minor adjustments on the universal and tighten the suspension system.
OSCAR: I've never been one for garage-talk.
GERTRUDE: Should anybody consider the efficacy of autoing versus the practicality of balloonery as it pertains to human life, somebody could wonder of the potential destructive capacity of a bird's beak. In fact, one should.
OSCAR: (To GERTRUDE.) You certainly have a distinctive knack for disproving what so many have proved by proof positive. Besides, one thing more terrifying than a head-on collision or my neck snapped like poor Isadora's, is finding myself in the middle of a plummet.
MARCEL: May I add something of import to this exchange?
OSCAR: By all means, do. We've been hoping all evening somebody would.
MARCEL: We are forgetting our purpose for being here. However or whatever it was that brought us here, or takes us back, is of little consequence.
OSCAR: That's easy for you to say. Alice here carried all the goodies.
ALICE: And then some.
MARCEL: (To GERTRUDE.) Why did you ask him here in the first place?
OSCAR: Really, Marcel! Come down from your tuffet!
MARCEL: (Ignoring the last.) Well?
GERTRUDE: Well, what?
MARCEL: Why did you ask him here in the first place?
GERTRUDE: I didn't. I never asked him here in the first place to this place nor, in the second place, to anyplace. I thought you did. In fact, I thought your judgment was suffering a terrible calamity while out of some sense of unspeakable brotherhood you asked him here. I wanted another genius. Certainly not that . . . that . . . Victorian viper.
OSCAR: (To ALICE.) She did? (ALICE giggles.) She didn't? (Ibid.) She did! (ALICE whispers something into OSCAR's ear and they BOTH giggle.)
GERTRUDE: Are we to wait all night before you and Alice are through with whatever it is you are doing?
OSCAR: Hurry it along, Alice, before she ravages us all. (ALICE giggles. BOTH continue with the foodstuff.)
GERTRUDE: (Sotto voce.) Viper.
WELLS: Viper. Period. I want to be a genius! Where is genius? Viper. Period.
OSCAR: (To WELLS.) Did you lose it? (To GERTRUDE.) Better keep your voice down, Gertie. You're confusing our dispirited scribe. (Takes a glass of wine to WELLS, sets it on desk.) Here you go. Oh, my! Don't you look a sight! (Returns to ALICE who is sipping wine. Indicating WELLS.) You see what sitting does? (ALICE giggles.) Alice, nobody likes a girl who titters in her wine. (To GERTRUDE.) Isn't that right, Gertrude?
OSCAR: That's right. Write. Write your little heart out.
OSCAR goes back to preparing the tray of foodstuff with ALICE and engages her in a silent conversation. Every so often a giggle is heard.
GERTRUDE: (To MARCEL. Sotto voce. ) Viper. I'll throttle him.
MARCEL: We are here to perform an inorcism. Remember Wells’ condition.
GERTRUDE: You remember Wells’ condition. My God, Marcel, you remember everything else!
MARCEL: You needn't misdirect your anger, Mon ami.
GERTRUDE: Mon ami your ass! Why did you ask him here in the first place? Everywhere he goes he is bound to make a farce of it. Can you answer me that?
MARCEL: Answer you what?
GERTRUDE: Your remembrance of things past is not quite so good as we've all been led to believe. Now, why did you ask him here?
MARCEL: I distinctly remember asking you why it was you who did the asking.
GERTRUDE: Because it is I who is wanting for an answer.
MARCEL: And I am trying to give you one. I did not ask him here. Period.
GERTRUDE: You didn't?
MARCEL: I didn't. I was sure I had made myself clear on that point.
GERTRUDE: You didn't.
OSCAR: (To ALICE.) She did!
MARCEL: (To GERTRUDE.) I did . . .
OSCAR: (To ALICE.) She didn't?
MARCEL: (To GERTRUDE.) . . . earlier when asking why you asked Oscar here in the first place.
GERTRUDE: You did?
MARCEL: I did.
GERTRUDE: (Remembering.) You did! I do recall you did.
MARCEL: Then, what is the answer, I wonder.
GERTRUDE: And the question is who, since we know it was neither you nor I who did.
MARCEL: I know.
GERTRUDE: You do?
MARCEL: I don't, I mean, I know who didn't.
OSCAR: (To ALICE.) She didn't. (ALICE sips wine and giggles.)
GERTRUDE: Well, who did?
ALICE: (Giggling.) She didn't!
GERTRUDE: No. I never told her where we were going until we got here.
OSCAR: (To ALICE.) She didn't?
MARCEL: Then who?
ALICE: (With a negative nod to OSCAR.) She didn't.
GERTRUDE: Good question. Everybody knows anybody who would ask Oscar anywhere must have deliberate intentions of doing subversion.
MARCEL: You mean . . .
GERTRUDE: I do.
OSCAR: (To ALICE.) She did.
GERTRUDE: I understand somebody has undertaken the overthrow of this undertaking! There is one who does not want this inorcism to take place.
MARCEL: But who, which one and why?
WELLS: Kafka . . .
GERTRUDE: I mean to find this out.
GERTRUDE and MARCEL pay no attention to WELLS as they are far too absorbed with themselves at present.
MARCEL: A discouraging moment.
WELLS: Kafka . . .
GERTRUDE: A dark foreboding.
OSCAR: (Turns from what he is doing and answers WELLS as though a game had been signaled to begin.) Kafka! (To ALICE.) Did you know that in Czechoslovakian Kafka means Raven?
ALICE: News to me. (A beat.) Sapsucker.
WELLS: Kafka. . .
OSCAR: Hoot owl!
GERTRUDE: Let us think.
WELLS: Kafka . . .
OSCAR: (Nudges ALICE.) Well?
ALICE: Umm . . . titmouse!
OSCAR: Good, Alice. Toucan!
ALICE: Umm . . . cuckoo!
OSCAR: You're out of turn, Alice.
OSCAR: Now, Alice.
GERTRUDE: (Suddenly aware of the goings-on.) What do you two think you are doing?
OSCAR: (To ALICE.) What do you think? (ALICE shrugs and giggles.)
GERTRUDE: WHAT IS THIS?
OSCAR: Bird calling?
GERTRUDE: Well stop it! Marcel and I are trying to think!
OSCAR: Then try you must.
OSCAR: (To WELLS.) Quiet. You're ruffling Gertie's feathers. (Sneaks one in.) Albatross.
GERTRUDE: Have you quite finished with your parlor game, Oscar?
OSCAR: (Nudges ALICE.) Alice, have you learned some Czechoslovakian today? (ALICE nods a fearful “yes”.) Quite, Gertrude.
GERTRUDE: (Turning back to MARCEL who is resting his chin in his hand and looking thoroughly bored with everything.) Bird brain.
OSCAR: Did you say something, Gertie?
GERTRUDE: Nothing! I said nothing!
OSCAR: That's what I thought, too. You’re very good at that. (To ALICE.) You see, my dear, she didn't. (Goes back to what he was doing. ALICE is seen sipping wine more than doing anything else.)
GERTRUDE: (To MARCEL.) He'd turn Medea into a farce!
MARCEL: I thought he had. (Remembering.) We had a minor incident while you were gone looking for Alice. Did you happen to notice the door?
GERTRUDE: (Takes note.) Oh, are we keeping somebody in or out?
MARCEL: Out. After you left there was a knocking so, naturally, at first we thought it was Alice and the inorcist. I mean, you and Alice.
GERTRUDE: Do you mean you and Oscar thought it was Alice and I or do you mean you thought it was me and Alice?
MARCEL: I knew it wasn't.
GERTRUDE: Naturally it was not because it could not have been Alice nor could it have been me, unless you were mistaken. You should have thought better and known we would have known better than to use that door. Well anyway, who was it?
MARCEL: A cockroach exterminator.
GERTRUDE: Ah . . . the exterminator.
MARCEL: Well, yes and no. It was more cockroach than it was exterminator.
GERTRUDE: What are you saying?
MARCEL: It was a cockroach disguised as an exterminator who knocked on the door.
GERTRUDE: A cockroach? Knocked on the door?
MARCEL: It was a very big cockroach. Nearly six feet.
GERTRUDE: Precisely. Six feet. Spiders, I believe, have eight.
MARCEL: No, no, no. It stood nearly six feet tall.
GERTRUDE: Oh, I see. That is something altogether different, isn't it? Well what did it want?
GERTRUDE: If that is what it came for it never got what it wanted.
MARCEL: No. But it was a close encounter. Had Wells not been so quick to shut the door in time . . . well . . . who could say what might have happened?
GERTRUDE: Not a very fair question if you are asking me.
MARCEL: Well, I'll tell you, it did give us cause for alarm.
GERTRUDE: It must. Don't you think it rather odd that Wells would open the door?
MARCEL: It needn't. It doesn't. He didn't.
GERTRUDE: He didn't?
MARCEL: There's something you should know.
GERTRUDE: (Bracing for the worst.) Then give it to me quickly.
MARCEL: (He does.) It was Oscar who opened the door and almost let in the exterminating cockroach!
ALICE is approaching with a tray of hors d'oeuvers--cheeses, crackers, cakes, cucumber sandwiches, etc.
GERTRUDE: OH . . . OH . . . OH! WORSE THAN I THOUGHT!
OSCAR: Nothing's that bad, Gertrude.
ALICE: (Extending tray to GERTRUDE.) But you didn't even taste them yet. Oscar thought everything looked delicious.
GERTRUDE: Who cares what Oscar thought?
OSCAR: (While bringing four glasses of wine and serving them.) Someone must, Gertie. (GERTRUDE braces herself. She is fit to kill.) In fact, I'm sure of it. I seem to remember someone who did. But, I was never too sure about him. And then of course there was . . . (To MARCEL, indicating wine.) Vin rosé . . . or is it vin ordinaire? Anyway, it's French and you'll love it! (Hands MARCEL a bottle cork.) Here's some more cork for you, my dear. I know you are a man of discrete fetishes. I hope it helps put a smile on your face. (After a pause.) No, they had to drag that one away. Poor boy. Poor, sweet, very stupid boy. And screaming like a maniac. Then he was, wasn't he? And he had an enormous—appetite. Got big as a house, he did . . . from that appetite. (Offering wine to ALICE.) Pity. We seem to be all out of cooking sherry, Mon cheri. (ALICE giggles.) What a pity, indeed. We never heard from that one again. (About to offer GERTRUDE a glass.) Dreadful sight it was . . . watching that boy get carried away. And the scandal it caused! But that's another story. Well, there must have been someone, Gertie. I'm sure I'll think of one who did, or does, or is willing to give some consideration to what I think—or thought.
GERTRUDE: (Takes wine. Booms.) DULLARD!
ALICE: (Sitting on the other footstool beside GERTRUDE. Sheepishly speaks:) No, he's not, Gertrude.
OSCAR: There you go, Gertie. Someone cares what Oscar thinks.
GERTRUDE: (Sotto voce.) Dullard.
OSCAR: Come along, Alice. Gertrude is beginning to repeat herself. Besides, one must not sit too long.
GERTRUDE: (Ibid.) Dullard.
MARCEL: (Coolly cautious.) Yes, Oscar?
OSCAR: Surely, you must have heard of Dr. Peter Mark Roget who wrote a simply marvelous book just filled with all sorts of marvelously simple synonymy.
MARCEL: Is that a question?
OSCAR: It could be. Would you like it to be?
OSCAR: (Continues to MARCEL.) There! You see? Gertrude may get herself a reputation for repetition. (GERTRUDE snarls.) Now, let me see. (A thoughtful pause.) A dullard is a dolt . . . is a dunce . . . is a donkey . . . is an ass . . . is . . .
MARCEL: (Irritated. Interrupts.) Radoteur! Badaud! Niais! Bêtise!
OSCAR: That's the spirit! You help save Gertie's reputation.
OSCAR: Ever have a cucumber sandwich, Alice?
ALICE: (Giggles.) I don't think so.
OSCAR: Try one, my dear. You have been sitting far too long.
ALICE: (Takes a cucumber sandwich from off the tray and begins nibbling while rising and going for an opened bottle of wine.) This is simply delicious! Gertrude, you really must give Oscar's cucumber sandwiches a try. I've never tasted anything quite so—delicious.
ALICE: Yes—delicious. (Returns to footstool with bottle, sits and refills her glass.)
OSCAR: Exactly what I thought.
GERTRUDE: (Beside herself.) Oscar, what are you doing here?
OSCAR: Marcel said I was to help the inorcist.
GERTRUDE: He did?
MARCEL: (Resigned.) I did.
ALICE giggles. GERTRUDE kicks her. ALICE drinks. GERTRUDE sighs.
OSCAR: (To GERTRUDE.) So are you going to tell me?
GERTRUDE: Tell you what?
OSCAR: What I am to do.
GERTRUDE: First you tell me what you are doing here!
OSCAR: Being the perfect host. Serving wine. Making sandwiches. I didn't see you lifting a finger all night. Oh . . . and while you were gone looking for our dear little Alice, Marcel told a most remarkable story. All about a cookie-eating cat and a green plum-eating Marcel. Regurgitated for days!
ALICE: The plum?
OSCAR: Marcel. However, the cat, being quite clever, did not. Seems the Proust household wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Don't you just love a good story, Gertie?
GERTRUDE: Gertrude! And Gertrude deplores stories! Good or otherwise!
OSCAR: (To ALICE.) Good heavens! Is that true?
ALICE: Oh yes. Gertrude deplores. She likes faces.
OSCAR: I know exactly what you mean. I’ve never been able to deny a pretty face, either.
ALICE: Have I a pretty face?
GERTRUDE: Alice! (Kicks ALICE.) Sit!
ALICE: I am.
GERTRUDE: In silence.
ALICE: (Guzzles some wine. Timidly.) Gertrude, you always said you liked faces.
GERTRUDE: Yes, Alice. Faces. Faces with something new and something different seen in every line wrinkling and molding their character into something more behind those lines than just another story. Faces don't tell stories . . . they are stories. That is the difference between fiction and autobiography. And that is the difference between a genius, such as myself, and that clever overgrown imp of a sandwich maker Oscar Wilde!
ALICE: (Disturbed.) Oscar's not a genius?
GERTRUDE: Certainly not! He's a clever sandwich maker!
MARCEL: Stay calm, Gertrude. He is not worth the bother. You will only get out of sorts and make yourself sick like you did over that ungrateful Hemingway creature.
GERTRUDE: (Snaps.) SANDWICH MAKER!
OSCAR: You did it. Now you have done it. You have finally gone and done what you wanted to do and you have done it.
GERTRUDE: Marcel, do you know what he is talking about?
MARCEL: I have long since forfeited all hope.
GERTRUDE: What is your problem, Oscar?
OSCAR: You call yourself a genius and then you have the colossal audacity to call me a “sandwich maker!”
GERTRUDE: I call myself a genius because a genius I am. And, I am well aware that you have always been the perfect model of blameless mediocrity . . .
ALICE: (Interrupts.) I have something to say.
GERTRUDE: Save it, Alice! Then you'll always have something to say.
OSCAR: Good advice, Gertie. By the time you reach old age, Alice, you'll have yourself a whole short story.
GERTRUDE: Sandwich maker!
OSCAR: You've done it again! You have an exceptionally superior, superfluous quality for doing it again!
GERTRUDE: I refuse to listen to your senseless drawing room theatrics and your mindless parlor games anymore.
OSCAR: Why? Because you're a genius and you think that gives you the privilege to discredit my well-made cucumber sandwiches? A genius or not, Gertrude, nobody but another genius would know enough to give you the recognition you so brazenly demand, or maybe only desire as some lonely wanton beast. Given the nature of the beast, one genius is not about to acknowledge another as being one also; it tends to diminish ones sense of magnitude. So, as not to lessen the importance of being genuine . . . genii, generally speaking, gravitate towards obscurity. However, being obscure for obscurity's sake does not now nor will it ever make one a genius! Besides—as genii are—you, Miss Stein, are the most splendidly ineffective.
GERTRUDE: How dare you—
OSCAR: I dare because I speak truth.
ALICE: I have something to say.
OSCAR: Out with it, Alice. But don't spend all your life’s savings in one sentence.
ALICE: I don't mind if you're not a genius, Oscar. I think your sandwiches are perfectly delicious. (Pause. She sees that she has everybody's attention and continues nervously.) Well . . . I guess that is all I have to say. And, thank you. (Bites into cucumber sandwich and chews while making “yummy” sounds.)
GERTRUDE: Who cares! A sandwich maker is a sandwich maker is a sandwich maker!
OSCAR: Ah . . . but that was not what you meant! So, allow me to assure you that under these lovely slices of cucumber . . . (Holds up a slice.) . . . right down to where the bread is giving them their support. (Examines, sniffs, takes a bite.) Delicious . . . and should you find yourself one day examining that all-supportive bread—the bedrock upon which rests the savory delights of heavenly ambrosia—you could find it a bedazzling experience to discover that aside from it being well made . . . (Holding up a piece of crust.) . . . there is a great deal more to digest than just its outer crust! (Pops the crust into his mouth.) And, as we all know, it is often difficult to chew and sometimes impossible to swallow.
GERTRUDE: (After a pause.) Thank you so much for your gastronomical interlude. I am sure you found yourself quite profound.
OSCAR: Indeed. I think of it as cud for thought.
WELLS: (Screams.) Franz Kafka!
MARCEL: (Startled. Jumps) Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . . Oh, God! He did it again!
GERTRUDE: Calm yourself, Marcel, and sit down!
WELLS: Satan. The Devil. God. Who?
OSCAR: I think he's trying to communicate.
GERTRUDE: Aren't we all? Only some of us know how to do it better than others.
OSCAR: I imagine.
GERTRUDE: And I imagine the door opened itself while I was gone looking for Alice.
OSCAR: The door? We're back to that, are we? Well, to tell you the truth, Gertrude, you needn't imagine anything because it was I who opened the door.
GERTRUDE: I know. It is your reason for opening the door that occupies my immediate interest. What was your reason for opening the door?
OSCAR: There was a knocking.
OSCAR: So? Is that not reason enough?
GERTRUDE: No, it is not. Answer every knock and one day you will find yourself standing vis-à-vis a do-harm.
ALICE: A do-harm?
GERTRUDE: (To ALICE.) Sit!
OSCAR: I couldn't stop myself. Nobody knocks on my door anymore.
GERTRUDE: Oscar, if anybody knocked on your door they'd be too late!
MARCEL: Speaking of being too late . . .
GERTRUDE: Right you are, Marcel. We had better hurry along with the inorcism or else the entire process could reverse itself.
GERTRUDE: One could find oneself inside a body in which one does not belong; finding oneself a prisoner of circumstance . . . and then . . .
ALICE: (While going for another bottle of wine.) And then what, Gertrude?
GERTRUDE: And then what what, Alice?
ALICE: Suppose one should find oneself inside a body one doesn't belong in as the process reverses itself because we didn't hurry along with the inorcism and one finds oneself a prisoner of . . . a prisoner of . . . of . . .
GERTRUDE: Circumstance—a prisoner of circumstance.
ALICE: (Returning with a full bottle of wine.) Yes, circumstance. Suppose one finds oneself a prisoner to it. Then what?
GERTRUDE: Then . . . then it is no longer our affair.
WELLS crosses to window and leans out. He seems to be struggling with something immediately below the window's sill.
ALICE: Whose affair is it?
GERTRUDE: (Losing patience.) It is somebody else's, Alice.
ALICE: Whose? If it is not our affair, then whose affair is it?
GERTRUDE: It's the Pope's!
OSCAR: The Pope is having an affair?
ALICE: The Pope? Oh my God . . .
OSCAR: (Catches a glimpse of WELLS struggling with what can now clearly be seen as KAFKA, still a cockroach, trying to pull him out of the window.) What the devil?
GERTRUDE: No! The Pope is not having an affair! The Pope doesn't concern himself with cases of dispossession and we shouldn't concern ourselves with the contrary. Now, unless we wish to be of concern to the Pope, we had better hurry along with what's-his-face's inorcism.
OSCAR: (Dividing his attention between what is happening at the window and the conversation taking place.) What's-his-face's? Small wonder the poor soul is alienated. (Steals another look towards window.) What do you guess causes alienation?
GERTRUDE: Consciousness, Oscar. Consciousness.
OSCAR: One would think not being conscious.
GERTRUDE: One shouldn’t and not being conscious, one couldn't.
OSCAR: The poor alienated soul.
MARCEL: He's not alienated. Wells is in danger of becoming dispossessed. There's a world of difference. One might say that he feels . . .
WELLS: (Still fighting off KAFKA.) Beelzebub!
MARCEL: . . . or experiences a feeling of nothingness.
GERTRUDE: (Matter-of-factly.) The real tragedy is that the one who is dispossessed generally projects his emptiness on the world at large. Since most find themselves in others, when finding nothing in others is—quite naturally—to experience a severely negative sensation. You might say he sees others as dead men walking, wandering aimlessly about. And, he questions whether or not he could be one, himself.
OSCAR: Interesting. (Glancing towards the window.) What do you say when all that you have worked for—the purpose of our little gathering—is about to fly out the window?
GERTRUDE: I would say if you don't have a firm grasp on the matter at hand you've bitten off more than you can chew.
OSCAR: Would you really? (Takes another glance towards the window. WELLS is dangling half out and is desperately trying to fight off KAFKA who continues trying to pull him out altogether.) The poor devil. I'd say . . . what a tragedy.
MARCEL: It isn't a tragedy, Oscar. In fact, there's nothing tragic about it.
ALICE: If the Pope wants to have an affair, I say let him have it. (She's obviously had her limit of wine.) For God’s sake let him have his affairs.
OSCAR: If this isn't a tragedy, I don't know what is. (Glances towards window.) What story are we on?
GERTRUDE: I don't follow.
OSCAR: Here, in The Venus Arms, are we very high up?
GERTRUDE: The top floor, I believe.
OSCAR: Then we have a bit of a sticky situation.
GERTRUDE: You're wasting our time. What is it?
OSCAR: A very dubious looking character out on the ledge appears to want a rather nasty end to the subject of our inorcism.
GERTRUDE: You're not making any . . . (Turns and sees what is going on at the window.) WHAT IS THIS?
ALICE, GERTRUDE, and MARCEL jump to their feet. OSCAR remains sitting and pops a cucumber sandwich into his mouth. MARCEL faints. GERTRUDE rushes to the window to help WELLS free himself from the cockroach KAFKA. ALICE screams!
OSCAR: (Eating a cucumber sandwich. Aside.) Consciousness is it?
AT RISE: WELLS is back at his desk, writing. ALICE is sitting on the floor with several wine bottles trying to find one with something still in it; she is obviously quite tipsy. OSCAR is still where he was at the end of Scene Two, eating a cucumber sandwich. MARCEL is looking weak.
GERTRUDE:(Returning from window.) What a drama!
MARCEL: (Shaken.) Never . . . the last . . . never again. I haven't the strength for this sort of thing. Oh, Gertrude, I think I'm dying. I'm dying, Gertrude. I'm dying!
OSCAR: You're already dead, Marcel. Or have you forgotten?
MARCEL: But, I'm still here.
OSCAR: Then what are you worried about? When you’re not still here is when there’ll be plenty of time to worry.
MARCEL: I think I'm losing my mind.
OSCAR: Well, that's a possibility. Somewhere along Swann's Way, I should imagine. To be possessed or to be dispossessed cannot compare to the thrill of being self-possessed.
MARCEL: (With vengeance.) You . . . you . . . you pompous provocateur!
OSCAR: (Shocked. ) Indeed.
MARCEL: Who do you think you are? What right have you to come here and make a mockery of what you obviously know nothing about? (To ALICE, equally hostile.) And you . . . you simple sow . . .
GERTRUDE: (Rising to it—angered.) Marcel, unless you are really dying and intend doing it within the next minute, you would do best to recover quickly from this amnesia you appear to be suffering.
MARCEL: I'm not suffering from amnesia.
GERTRUDE: You're not? How else can you explain your forgetting your place?
MARCEL: I didn't forget . . . (Thinks better of it.) I seem to have forgotten.
GERTRUDE: Good. Glad to see you’ve made a speedy recovery.
ALICE: Did he mean, "cow?" (Gets up from floor with bottle and glass, sits on footstool and pours herself another glass of wine.) Because if he did I'll . . . I'll . . . (Too drunk to continue.)
OSCAR: And you'd be in your right if you did, Alice.
MARCEL: I don't know what came over me.
OSCAR: A vision of nothingness—of existence without meaning? Cramps? Heartburn? A boil on the arse?
MARCEL: (A mean look at OSCAR, before a more gentle, contrite demeanor toward GERTRUDE.) I was confused. Will you ever forgive me, Mon ami?
GERTRUDE: No, because I do not remember you doing anything for which you need to be forgiven. Do you, Mon ami?
MARCEL: (After a pause.) No. I must not have been myself.
ALICE: Well . . . if you're dying I guess it doesn't really matter who you are—or were.
OSCAR: Ah. I heard a little fox in the tender vines.
GERTRUDE: He isn't dying, Alice, at least, not at the moment.
ALICE: That's good news . . . for Marcel. (Pause to look around the room.) Then who is?
ALICE: Everybody is dying? (Puzzles, then lifts her glass in a toast.) Well, that's life! (Chug-a-lugs the wine.)
OSCAR: Alice, that wine should be of so rare a vintage.
OSCAR: Yes, Marcel?
MARCEL: I want you to know . . . in all the excitement . . . I never really meant to . . .
OSCAR: Frog feet! Don’t wither on the vine, my dear. We all regret . . . regret that we can't know everything we say. Perhaps after we're through with this bit of business here—I know a fabulous hotel in Morocco where we can drown ourselves in Absinthe and ruddy young . . .
GERTRUDE: (Interrupts. To OSCAR.) Why? Why don't you know everything you say?
OSCAR: Because I say so much, my dear.
GERTRUDE: You say so much of what?
OSCAR: So much.
GERTRUDE: So what!
ALICE: (To herself.) So what? Lots and lots of Popes had affairs.
GERTRUDE: Alice, this isn't the time.
ALICE: You said it was the Pope's affair. (Belches.)
ALICE: I know. I read all about it . . . quite upside down . . . in a pit . . . fire licking their feet. How do you suppose they got upside down? (No reply.) I don't know either . . . but there they were . . . upside down Popes in a pit. Isn't that peculiar? (No reply.) And you know what else? (GERTRUDE, MARCEL and OSCAR are speechless. Each looks to the other to say something.) Well? Know what else?
GERTRUDE: (Concerned.) You have become very tired, Alice.
ALICE: Nope! I am very . . . very . . . disgusted . . . (Swaying sideways.) I read all about them . . . upside down in a . . . a . . .
ALICE: Right! In a pit! I read a little Dante.
GERTRUDE: You read a little what?
ALICE: Dante. I read a little . . . (Hiccups.) . . . Dante.
GERTRUDE: Oh, my poor Alice. I knew someday something like this would happen.
MARCEL: I read some Dante once.
OSCAR: Did you now?
MARCEL: Oh, yes. The Italians have such a poetic sense for earthly matters.
OSCAR: All that pasta, no doubt, and all those statues.
MARCEL: Quite so. We French have always been so much more cerebral.
OSCAR: Snails. They go right to the brain. (To ALICE.) One shouldn't read perfect strangers. There's no telling where one could be led.
ALICE: It was Hell, Oscar. That's where they put . . . (Hiccups.) . . . put . . . put . . .
OSCAR: My dear, if you can't get it going, don't begin with a putsch.
ALICE: What's . . . putsch?
OSCAR: Humpty Dumpty falling from the window ledge of The Venus Arms—with a little outside assistance.
ALICE: Oh . . .
OSCAR: (To GERTRUDE.) Who was that strange being? One would think closing the door in his face the first time would have sent a clear and irrefutable message.
WELLS: (Rises from his desk.) I have a message for you. Do you hear me? (Stalking the room.) You can lead Humpty Dumpty into Hell, but you can't hang him in a pit! It's irrefutable! You will never get what you come for. I will not make a bargain with you or any other. Never and never again—nevermore.
OSCAR: He reads a little of everything, a lot.
ALICE: So does Gertrude.
OSCAR: Does she now?
ALICE: Yes, most of it to Pablo.
OSCAR: (To GERTRUDE.) You do? While Alice reads a little Dante?
ALICE: Well, it's more fun than reading Pablo the funny papers.
WELLS: People! There's nobody in you to make you work. Yet, here you come as the dead to wander through the fog of the streets as mere projections, background to your own story.
GERTRUDE: (Crossing to WELLS.) Enough is enough. (Leading him back to desk.) You are going to sit and write something constructive and stop acting like a ninny.
WELLS: (Sitting at his desk.) You are going to sit and write something constructive and stop acting like a ninny.
GERTRUDE: I . . . I am going to sit and write something constructive and stop acting like a ninny.
OSCAR: That will be a first.
WELLS: (Begins to write.) I am!
GERTRUDE: Thank you.
ALICE: Hump-tee Dump-tee . . . (Giggles.)
GERTRUDE: (Returning.) Much worse than I thought, much worse. Still, a most interesting case. (To MARCEL.) You know, not every dispossession affords one such an opportunity to examine what usually remains buried deep beneath the surface.
MARCEL: How true. He is a rare specimen. A spirit of animation.
OSCAR: (Aside.) I had a frog once.
GERTRUDE: (To MARCEL.) He is indeed. Not often are we summoned to a task of such significance and as you well know I love a challenge.
OSCAR: (Ibid.) I loved that frog. We got on so famously—the frog and I.
MARCEL: Learning is always worth the effort.
GERTRUDE: Precisely. Provided we are endowed with the spirit to follow the quest and the ability to rise to the occasion.
MARCEL: Only you could have said it so exactly.
OSCAR: (Ibid.) Until the day came when I decided to get to know him better.
GERTRUDE: Genius is but a tool, Marcel. It is my hands around the tool of genius that so many so much admire.
MARCEL: In your hands the tool of genius is but putty.
OSCAR: (Aside.) I won’t even go there. Anyway, in an effort to explore this loving relationship to the very paramount of its pinnacle, I took that poor little creature . . (GERTRUDE and MARCEL are now aware of OSCAR speaking. They listen.) . . . by its green, leathery neck . . . and not knowing what I had in mind he croaked his last croak loving me with those big watery, froggy eyes . . . and not even vaguely conscious of any knowledge of how this interest to explore our loving relationship would end with my bludgeoning him . . . with something scientific, as I recall. One, two, three, squish! It was over. Finished. But, who's the wiser, I ask you? Who is the wiser?
ALICE: I'm going to be sick.
OSCAR: No, you're not. Just tell yourself you will only go as far as nausea and no further.
MARCEL: Oh, my God.
OSCAR: My exact words . . . and I have never dissected a frog since—much less, eaten one.
GERTRUDE: Oh, my God.
OSCAR: Alice, care to join the divine chorus?
MARCEL: I think we had better hurry and finish what we came here to do.
OSCAR: Humpty Dumpty's inorcism, wasn't it?
GERTRUDE: Would you rather we left Humpty Dumpty as we found him?
OSCAR: Of course not. But, I would like to know the reason he was found in that condition. What causes a body to suddenly up and empty out?
MARCEL: What does that matter to Humpty Dumpty? All that matters to him is that he is put back together again—back straddling the wall, in one piece and in back in the flux of things.
OSCAR: If we know the reason for Wells’ condition we may then be able to foresee any future reoccurrence.
MARCEL: No one can foresee the future anymore than one can fully comprehend the present. One sees where one is and where one is going by where one has been. The moment the thought to question occurs it is in the past. Wells will come to understand himself through his past. When he does, he will discover that all of history is alive within him. Then, he will acquire freedom; freedom because he will be guilty of harboring all the crimes of history, freedom because for the first time he can truly make a conscious choice, freedom because for the first time he may choose to create his own individual history—as a very few are graced to do.
OSCAR: You're quickly becoming as obscure as Gertie. What I want to know is the cause of Wells’ condition.
GERTRUDE: The cause? There is only one cause and that cause is essential and primal. It is the force behind creation itself. It is that pristine and vital cause which creates and is what is created. It is the force deep within that connects all of life to a single Animator that some call God what others call themselves. . .
OSCAR: (After a pause.) My dear Gertrude Stein, I am in awe. I may never call you Gertie, again.
GERTRUDE: Good idea.
ALICE: (Pops up.) I may!
GERTRUDE: Of course, my dear Alice, you may call me whatever you fancy.
ALICE: You mean . . . you mean . . . Baby Woojums?
GERTRUDE: (Touching ALICE in some gentle way.) Yes, Mama Woojums, I'm here watching over you. You go to sleep and Baby Woojums will wake you when it is all over.
ALICE: All over?
GERTRUDE: Shhh . . . (ALICE appears to have gone to sleep.)
OSCAR: You do that so well, Baby Woojums.
GERTRUDE: Careful, Oscar. Gertrude does it by being very, very careful.
There is a strange CLICKING SOUND coming from the adjoining bedroom.
MARCEL: What the—Gertrude, I think we are about to have company.
GERTRUDE: Oh, no! The bedroom! Did anybody think to check the bedroom window?
The CLICKING SOUND of our giant cockroach continues. There is a sense of panic in the atmosphere. GERTRUDE jumps up and is followed by MARCEL. They seem to be looking for something.
OSCAR: What's going on? You two are beginning to frighten me.
GERTRUDE: Quick! We need a hiding place! OSCAR: (Panics. Runs around the room and comes to an armoire and opens the door.) An armoire! I've always found armoires a safe place! God knows I spent many a day in one of these!
MARCEL: Oh, Gertrude! What are we going to do?
OSCAR: Care to join me in the armoire? (Enters the armoire and closes the door behind him.)
GERTRUDE: Quick! We've got to hide the playwright!
MARCEL: Where? Where?
GERTRUDE: (Rushing over to WELLS.) I don't know where! First we've got to shut him up. Give me something to gag him with. Quick! Quick!
MARCEL: What? What?
In a panic, MARCEL grabs a handful of cucumber sandwiches and hands them to GERTRUDE.
GERTRUDE: What is this?
MARCEL: Cucumber sandwiches.
WELLS: I’ll beat you yet, Beelzebub. (GERTRUDE shoves the cucumber sandwiches into WELLS’s mouth.) Be . . . arghhh . . .
The CLICKING SOUND of the cockroach KAFKA continues in the next room. GERTRUDE grabs WELLS and frantically leads him around the room looking for a hiding place. MARCEL jumps upon one of the footstools and covers his eyes with his hands. ALICE is passed out on the floor.
GERTRUDE: (Opens the armoire door. OSCAR screams.) Shut up. (Pushes WELLS into the armoire with OSCAR.) And stay shut up. (Slams door shut. Runs over to MARCEL and yanks him from off the footstool and leads him to the armoire. She attempts to open the door but it will not open.) Oscar?
OSCAR: (From inside the armoire.) Yes?
GERTRUDE: Open this door!
OSCAR: (Ibid.) No.
OSCAR: There's no room. Go someplace else.
MARCEL: We're going to be trapped like rats, Gertrude. We'll never get out of here now. I knew it! I just knew it!
GERTRUDE: Oh, shut up, Marcel! Oscar, open this door right now or Reading Gaol will have seemed like a weekend in the country compared to what I may do to you. Have I made myself clear?
OSCAR: (Slowly opening the door.) Crystal.
GERTRUDE pushes MARCEL into the armoire and follows him in, closing the door behind her. There is SILENCE and then the SILENCE is broken by the SOUND of the CLICKING—and the SOUND of ALICE snoring. Suddenly, the armoire door swings open and GERTRUDE, MARCEL and OSCAR run on tiptoes to ALICE and drag her back into the armoire with them. The CLICKING SOUND grows louder until KAFKA, still a cockroach, enters. KAFKA searches about the room and appears quite angry to discover he cannot find WELLS. He then crosses to the door that opens in from the hallway and removes the obstruction that was placed there to keep him out. KAFKA then crosses to the tray of cucumber sandwiches and begins eating while making loud “yummy'” sounds. The armoire door slowly opens and GERTRUDE, MARCEL and OSCAR poke their heads out to see what KAFKA is up to.
MARCEL: (Whispers.) Trapped like rats.
GERTRUDE: Shhh . . .
OSCAR: Look at that! The bug is eating all my sandwiches.
GERTRUDE & MARCEL: Shhh . . .
GERTRUDE: (Whispers.) We've got to get him out of here.
MARCEL: (Ibid.) How?
GERTRUDE: Follow me.
Like a conga line on tiptoe, GERTRUDE followed by MARCEL and OSCAR sneak out of the armoire and quietly cross behind KAFKA toward the bedroom. When they reach the bedroom door KAFKA rises causing them to make a quick maneuver into the bedroom and quickly close the door behind them. KAFKA crosses to get a bottle of wine and returns to the cucumber sandwiches, eating and drinking and making grotesque “yummy” sounds. The bedroom door slowly opens and GERTRUDE, MARCEL and OSCAR stick their heads out while at the same time the armoire door slowly opens and ALICE staggers out looking lost and confused. GERTRUDE darts out of the bedroom on tiptoe and quickly crosses to ALICE in time to catch her as she faints and then drags her back into the armoire, closing the door. MARCEL and OSCAR withdraw back into the bedroom closing the door behind them. KAFKA starts sniffing the air as if smelling something foul. He rises, crosses to the window and opens it. Slowly, the bedroom door opens and MARCEL and OSCAR poke their heads out while, at the same time, the armoire door opens and GERTRUDE pokes her head out. They signal to one another and hurl themselves toward KAFKA, pushing him out the window. WELLS comes out of the armoire and crosses over to the cucumber sandwiches and takes a handful. He then crosses to his desk and sits. GERTRUDE, MARCEL and OSCAR all breathe a big sigh of relief.
MARCEL: We've got to get out of here.
OSCAR: You're telling me?
MARCEL: This is serious. He'll be back.
OSCAR: We just dumped him from the top floor of The Venus Arms. Nobody could survive that fall.
GERTRUDE: I have seen cockroaches survive falls from far more stories than there are to The Venus Arms.
MARCEL: Quite so, Oscar. We're on borrowed time now.
OSCAR: What about the inorcism?
MARCEL: What about it?
OSCAR: Well? Aren't we going to do it?
MARCEL: We did it.
OSCAR: We did?
GERTRUDE: It is done and it is over and now all that remains is for us to depart before it becomes too late.
OSCAR: What about the screams, the furniture smashing against the walls, the thrills, the chills, the spills, the excitement—the split-pea porridge?
GERTRUDE: What on Earth are you talking about?
MARCEL: I don't remember any of that?
OSCAR: Nor I. That's my point.
GERTRUDE: Oscar, an inorcism is not an exorcism nor is an inorcist an exorcist.
OSCAR: Splendid logic there, but where does it leave us?
MARCEL: Out of here and soon, I hope.
OSCAR: Not so quick! I'd say this inorcism has been a crashing disappointment.
GERTRUDE: I say it has been a success.
OSCAR: A success? A lot of bloody talk if you ask me. I say we spin Wells’ head around a few times, throw in some inexplicable paranormal phenomena, a few poltergeists and what not and call it a night!
GERTRUDE: You are becoming tiresome, Oscar. The inorcism is over. I declare it a fait accompli. Furthermore, if we do not get out of here in short order I fear the subject of our inorcism might decide to possess us.
OSCAR: What are you saying? Are you saying that Wells can keep us here against our will?
MARCEL: And force us into servitude.
OSCAR: That could be fun.
GERTRUDE: It is not a pretty prospect, Oscar!
OSCAR: Then what are we waiting for?
WELLS: (Looking up from his desk.) I am not unique.
MARCEL: Hurry, Gertrude.
WELLS: I am not unique! (LIGHTING change: Outside the window the sun can be seen beginning to rise.) I am not unique!
GERTRUDE, MARCEL and OSCAR gasp and recoil in horror.
GERTRUDE: What a night!
There is a KNOCKING on the hallway door.
MARCEL: Quickly! Let us depart!
WELLS: (Calling to door.) Just a minute!
MARCEL: I don't want to spend eternity in The Venus Arms!
OSCAR: I don't want to spend another minute in The Venus Arms!
The KNOCKING continues.
WELLS: Just a minute. I'm coming. (Rises.)
GERTRUDE, MARCEL and OSCAR make a quick exit through the bookcase. WELLS starts to cross towards the door. The bookcase swings back open and GERTRUDE, MARCEL and OSCAR make a mad dash for the armoire.
GERTRUDE: How could you be so forgetful, Marcel? Alice? Alice? Wake up, Alice! Quickly, Marcel! Legs or arms?
MARCEL: Uh . . .
GERTRUDE: Never mind!
GERTRUDE takes ALICE's arms while MARCEL and OSCAR take her legs and begin to carry her towards the bookcase. Meanwhile, WELLS has just about reached the door.
WELLS: I'm coming! I'm coming!
GERTRUDE: (About to enter the bookcase.) Poor Alice. How did I get her into this? Quickly! Oscar, you are letting down your end!
OSCAR: I certainly am not!
WELLS: Who is it?
KAFKA'S VOICE: Let me in there, Mister Wells.
MARCEL: It isn't me, Gertrude.
GERTRUDE: Then who is it?
KAFKA'S VOICE: It's Mister Kafka and you'd better open up!
Carrying ALICE, GERTRUDE, MARCEL and OSCAR exit through the bookcase just as the door opens and KAFKA, no longer a cockroach, enters.
KAFKA: (Holding up his key.) Pass key, Mister Wells. I saw a light under your door. I've been meaning to have a talk with you all night, but you know how it is sometimes.
WELLS: How what is?
KAFKA: Being the night manager for The Venus Arms leaves little time for social amenities. What with all the work required of my position, combined with a shortage of manpower, my nights are filled with more responsibility than any single person ought to manage.
WELLS: But you do. You manage quite well.
KAFKA: Of course I do. I have no choice. Don't think that there haven't been times when I've thought how nice it must be just to sit and do little more than to throw up my hands, fold my arms and feel my own inertia. However, if I didn't do all that I am responsible for, who would?
WELLS: (Curt.) Hire some help.
KAFKA: Ah . . .that is exactly what I have come to see you about.
WELLS: You want me to help you? (Snorts at the ridiculousness of such a suggestion.) You want me to help the Devil?
KAFKA: By helping to make his work a bit more easy.
WELLS: It isn’t easy enough?
KAFKA: Far from it, Mister Wells.
WELLS: You who have done nothing but threaten me now want my help?
KAFKA: Yes. Can I count on you?
WELLS: Certainly not!
KAFKA: I haven't much time remaining. (Walks around room, turning off lamps.) I was hoping you'd find it within yourself to overlook our differences and do something that could help all the other residents, as well. (Browsing through papers on the desk.) But, I see you don't care for the welfare of others. Self-possessed! You'd rather stay up all night and keep yourself entertained without concern for our other residents who too must pass the night in The Venus Arms.
WELLS: What do you want?
KAFKA: (Seeing the sun rising.) Ah . . . the sun, my sweet! The sun! (Crosses to window.) What do I want? I want to rest. I want to sleep, perchance to dream. As I have already said, my nights are filled with as much responsibility as one can handle. (Picks up and eats a cucumber sandwich.) It's no picnic being me, Franz Kafka the night manager. I'll be going off duty soon and I would like very much to leave knowing that when today is over and I come back on duty tonight, there will be no need to threaten you again with dispossession. We despise having to take such extreme measures here in The Venus Arms. I really want to help you, my sweet.
WELLS: By threatening me with dispossession? You might as well kill me once and for all, for all the good your helping does.
KAFKA: Help me.
KAFKA: By letting in the exterminator whenever it is necessary—by not creating a disturbance for those who do not wish to be disturbed. By allowing others to pass the night in sleep if that is what they so choose to do. By managing by day. (Pause.) Tell me, dear heart, what exactly is it that frightens you?
KAFKA: Then let him in. There's nothing to fear unless . . . Well, you are not a cockroach, are you?
WELLS: (Sitting on divan.) Of course not.
KAFKA: Then what is it?
WELLS: Nothing. Nothing, Kafka—nothing.
KAFKA: (Crosses to WELLS and stands over him behind the divan.) Let him in, Mister Wells. Let him in. Be my day manager.
WELLS: (Becoming drowsy.) I'm afraid of . . . of . . . nothing . . .
KAFKA: Relax. The exterminator is essential. I only want to help you, my pet. Will you help me help you?
WELLS: (Very drowsy.) I'm afraid . . . afraid . . .
KAFKA: Of course you are. Relax. Let it pass.
WELLS: (Lies across divan.) I’m afraid of dispossession . . . of nothing.
KAFKA: (Places a hand on WELLS' forehead. Speaks softly, gently.) Relax, my sweet. Relax. All is right. You'll see.
WELLS: (Sotto voce.) I'll see . . .
KAFKA: (Comforting.) Shhh, don't be afraid. Relax. Sleep now. You needn't be afraid any longer. Shhh, let him in, dear one. Let him in and I will help you. Accept me. Let me enter, my beautiful Mister Wells, let me enter. I will help you to live without fear of nothingness, without fear of dispossession. I'll help you. Help me . Help me to help you.
WELLS: (Can hardly lift himself to speak.) Help me.
KAFKA: (A long sigh of pleasure.) Yes, I will. (Bends over and gently kisses WELLS on the forehead. ) Thy will is done! (WELLS stirs.) Shhh—dream, dream something, anything. Dream. Dreaming is something—something better than nothing. Sleep. Sleep, my dear, and I will leave you with a dream. (WELLS stirs.) Shhh . . . (Crosses to bookcase.) Shhh . . .
WELLS: (With great effort, he raises his head.) Too soon, too late, it’s over.
WELLS closes his eyes and sinks into SILENCE.
KAFKA: (After a pause.) Sometimes, when we refuse to bargain—compromise—we find ourselves living life backwards. Dream now. Dream a dream of something better and nothing anybody could imagine. Take good care of the day . . . my son. (Exits, closing the bookcase slowly behind him.)
SUNLIGHT floods the room before the LIGHTING slowly dims. BLACK OUT.