Play in the Drawer: Julia Jarcho
I sing a song of love, Julia Jarcho
One last 13Per has emerged (Sarah, Young Jean, why do you hide?) to grace us with an unproduced play. Ms. Julia Jarcho offers the short work Grammar: A Wittgenstein Play. It’s the rare work about Wittgenstein that excites me, but here’s the exception.
Ms. Jarcho is a writer, director, and performer who has worked in New York and Berlin. Her plays include ALL I DO IS DREAM OF YOU, DELMAR, and THE HIGHWAYMAN. She was a writer-in-residence at the 2002 Eugene O'Neill Playwrights Conference and won a Berrilla Kerr award the same year.
After the jump, Grammar!
Characters: WIGWIT, a high-level thinker N, Wigwit’s lover VOICE, Wigwit’s assistant MAN, the head of operations STRANGER (a refugee?) And two incidental GIRLS
Pre-set: Bare stage except for a chair (facing downstage) and a lamp on a small table. On the center of the upstage wall is a blackboard. On the blackboard, in chalk, is written:
Morgen reise ich ab.
When the show is about to start, N enters, erases what is written, and writes in its place:
I am going away.
N exits. Lights down.
Scene 1. WIGWIT stands looking at the board. He goes to it, picks up a piece of chalk, and, draws a stick figure under “I.” He draws an arrow pointing away from the figure under “going.” Stands back and looks at what he’s drawn. Erases the stick figure. Beat. Erases the arrow. N enters with suitcase.
N You got my note.
[WIGWIT looks up at the words, then back at N.]
N Is there anything you want to say?
[Pause. N starts to exit.]
[N stops. WIGWIT uses the chalk to trace N’s shadow on the board. N exits. WIGWIT goes after him. Stops short at the exit. Considers going out. Loses his nerve and turns back. Beat. Addresses audience.]
Everything that can be put into words can be put clearly. [Goes to board and draws a speech bubble around “I am going away” coming out of the shadow’s mouth.] N left me today. This has always been a possibility, so I was not surprised. I did wonder why a person like N would have stayed as long as he did. N is preoccupied with the incidental. There is a certain pronounced softness. Sometimes I would tell N to do things and he would do them. Sometimes he would tell me. This was a game we had. Another kind of softness. N likes to be kissed on the neck. I do not like to be kissed on the neck. I find that it tickles. Problems arise. This need not be surprising. Problems are not surprises. I hate him. In sum:
[He draws an X.]
This is how things are.
[He traces his own shadow on the blackboard. Stands looking at board. VOICE enters and reads:]
VOICE “Then it came to pass that the two pieces he had buried in the ground grew into two golden lilies, his horse had two golden foals, and his wife gave birth to two children who were all gold. The children grew up and became tall and handsome while the lilies and horses grew along with them. One day the boys said, ‘Father, we want to mount our golden steeds and go out into the world.’ This made the old man very sad, and he replied, ‘How shall I bear your absence when I won’t know what’s happening to you?’ ‘The two golden lilies will stay here,’ they said. ‘So you’ll be able to tell from them how we are. If they are fresh, then we’re doing well. If they wilt, then we’re sick. If they perish, then we shall be dead.’”
[While VOICE reads, WIGWIT draws a lily inside each shadow outline. Pause.]
VOICE Who’s that?
WIGWIT It’s N.
VOICE That doesn’t look anything like N.
WIGWIT If you stop looking around, you can almost see it: we’re in logical space. Ineluctably. To be marked out. What will happen to... happen cannot be predicted. Nevertheless the possibility is inherent. This is how things are. This. [Beat.] This. [Stamps.] This. Or something else. [Beat. Stamps.] The heart of the matter. But not dark or red or damp. Not sticky. There is the way things happen to be and then there is the definite, the essence. It admits of no— there are no mistakes. And everything is final. [Beat.] Sometimes I think my resolve will fail.
[Enter MAN with binder, speaking rapidly.]
MAN Let me tell you this: lumps of cheese, OK, growing and shrinking, suddenly and for no apparent reason and with no apparent cause. Tiny little mice appearing where you don’t expect ’em. Spontaneously generated by the hundreds. We bomb the fuckers but they just keep coming back. How about this: everyone you can see is in terrible pain, OK, but they’re hiding it, even the kids. It rains and then it stops raining and then it starts again. You need money. You need help. For all you know there’s a chasm yawning outside your front door ready to swallow you up. Say you like a good cup of coffee. Well, tell me what it smells like. You can’t! The world is full of people who’d like to barbecue you and when the time comes you won’t be able to ask them not to. Every day he says he’ll come see you tomorrow. He says it every single day. The boiler’s gonna explode, the car’s gonna break down, happens all the time. You’re not wanted here. You turned left when you should’ve turned right. That pencil is as good a weapon as any. Can’t dance. Can’t even raise your arm. Turn out the lights and you can’t see the flowers. Get it?
What I mean is, you’re on the right track. Who says you can’t lay the rails to infinity? Wigwit my boy I’ve said it before: it’s not the sharpness of your epee that matters in this battle, but the sharpness of your thought, and that my boy is a strange and subtle mechanism, one might even say a visitation in your case. That brain of yours is extraordinary. I’d like to cut it open, see what’s inside, but we all know the one about the goose, and so I’ll have to keep trusting you to produce at the same superior level. And if you don’t mind my making an observation, as I look around I don’t see that certain friend of yours, whatsisname—
MAN Nowhere in sight and I have to admit I think it’s for the best. These people are all right, Wigwit, but they blunt the instrument. Socrates: a weird man in many respects but he knew that much. You might say who knows what was really going on under that plane-tree, and I confess you’re right, but then again that’s not our concern. “Yes, Socrates”; “Quite right, Socrates”; “Fuck me, Socrates”? No, I don’t think so, doesn’t gel, doesn’t make much sense, not the kind we’re after. See what I mean?
MAN Knew you would. We’re working around the clock; nose right up against the grindstone, never did you much good anyway, ’cept to let ’em know who you come from, which is hardly an advantage these days. No time for goofing off so if that’s what you’re about I suggest you call it quits. Not you personally, I’m speaking in general. It’s all in the relation to detail. Don’t take any shit, but at the same time, rigor. Right to it.
WIGWIT It’ll be easier to work alone.
MAN Absolutely. Absolutely. A lot of our best work has been done that way. Far from the distractions of the pollutions of the flesh or whatever freak thing you’re into, no offense. “The greatest souls are capable of the greatest vices as well as of the greatest virtues”as the song says. After all there’s a war on, mass destruction, for God’s sake, you can hardly hear yourself think without a foot of concrete between you and all that racket. We’re a solitary bunch, communicate by telegraph mostly. “Thus one sees that buildings undertaken and completed by a single architect are usually more attractive and better ordered than those which many architects have tried to patch up by using old walls that had been built for other purposes,” dot, dash, stop. Cleanliness and precision. No blots. Don’t forget what you’re working for. Never forget that, my young friend. We’ll get to it yet.
[MAN hands WIGWIT the binder and exits. Beat.]
WIGWIT [with resolve] N left me today. He has light brown hair on his stomach. His feet are smaller than average. He enjoys music and poetry. He did not lead the Israelites out of Egypt; it was Moses who did so. Once I brought him flowers. I believe he was pleased. N wears a red shirt. Underneath however he is always the same. [Grasps his own arm.] Here. [Thumps his chest.] Here. [Grasps his throat.] Here. [Drops his hand. Beat.] As it were.
[Sits down and begins to read from the binder. War noises sound as lights go down. VOICE enters in the dark with a binder like WIGWIT’s, with a booklight attached to it. She flips on the booklight and reads:]
VOICE Method. “As I was returning to the army from the coronation of emperor, the onset of winter detained me in quarters where, finding no conversation to divert me and fortunately having no worries or passions to trouble me, I remained for an entire day shut up by myself in a stove-heated room, where I was completely free to converse with myself about my thoughts.”
[VOICE turns off the booklight. War noise. Dim lights up on WIGWIT, still sitting and reading. Lights down. Booklight on.]
Symposium. “‘What do you think it would be like,’ she asked, ‘if someone should happen to see the beautiful itself, pure, clear, unmixed, and not contaminated with human flesh and color and a lot of other mortal silliness?’”
[Booklight off. War noise. Dim lights up on WIGWIT, lying on his stomach and reading. Lights down. Booklight on.]
Talent. “What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality... not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion”
[Booklight off. Dim lights up on WIGWIT pressed against the board, still reading; VOICE turns and reads to him.]
“... there being but one truth with respect to each thing, whoever finds this truth knows as much about a thing as can be known.”
[Lights all the way up. VOICE watches WIGWIT, who is still reading.]
WIGWIT “To give the essence of a proposition means to give the essence of all description, and thus the essence of the world.”
[WIGWIT looks up and looks at VOICE.]
This is how things are.
We cannot make mistakes in logic. [Drops reading material on the floor.] The philosophical self is not the human being. [Turns to the board and erases the outline of his own shadow. Turns back around.] In logic, the rails are laid to infinity. I am going away. [Goes to the table. Picks up two vials of powder, empties them into a cup of water, and mixes them with a spoon while he speaks.] A zero-method: I am going to take two powders now, and in half-an-hour I shall be...
[Swallows the mixture. Staggers back to the chair and sits with his head in his hands. VOICE reads:]
VOICE “Between the idea and the reality...”
VOICE “Between the essence and the descent...”
[N enters at the side of the stage opposite VOICE and comes downstage to address the audience.]
N Upon discussion, the scientists conclude that animals do not commit suicide; at most, certain species— horses, dogs— have an impulse to self-mutilation.
[WIGWIT lifts his head, speaks to N.]
WIGWIT What I am interested in at present is the pure article. The hardest thing there is.
N [to audience:] “An unglued image that dries, yellows, shrivels.”
WIGWIT The answer. Outside space and time.
N Amo, amas, amat...
WIGWIT Only the perfect clean of the perfect order. This is how it has to be.
[Pop music begins to blare. N exits while two GIRLS enter in tight black pants and tank tops. They dance party-style to the music and shout over it.]
FIRST GIRL Ich mag deine Stiefel!
SECOND GIRL What?
FIRST GIRL I said I LIKE YOUR BOOTS.
SECOND Oh. THANKS.
FIRST You’re welcome.
[They keep dancing.]
FIRST I think I have a yeast infection.
SECOND Me too.
FIRST It’s all itchy. It’s gross.
SECOND I know.
FIRST It’s from wearing pannyhose.
FIRST Yeah, it doesn’t let your crotch breathe. You have to get cotton crotch ones.
SECOND I keep getting the white stuff under my nails.
[They keep dancing.]
SECOND Let’s never leave.
[There is an explosion/silence. The GIRLS fall down dead. WIGWIT slowly stands up.]
WIGWIT When everything that is destructible is destroyed, what remains is the purest crystal.
VOICE [reads] “Looking into the heart of light.”
WIGWIT The silence.
[Light brightens as WIGWIT stares up. WIGWIT collapses. End of scene.]
Scene 2. WIGWIT lying alone onstage. He stirs. Starts to get up. Falls back down. Gags. Staggers to his feet. Hurries to one side of the stage. Looks at audience. Sticks his head out through the exit. Sound of vomiting. Pause. WIGWIT staggers back onstage, sits down.
WIGWIT Ugh. [Covers his face with his hands. Beat. Takes his hands away and looks at them.] My hands. [Examines his hands for a moment. Makes first one, then the other into puppet-mouths. Makes them have a silent conversation for a little while. Drops them. Notices his reading lying on the floor. Picks it up. Reads:] “The ideal is unshakeable. You can never get outside it; you must always turn back. There is no outside; outside you cannot breathe.” [Looks back at the exit. Puts the reading down, gets to his feet again, and walks to the exit. Beat. Runs offstage. Beat. Runs onstage again.] Hm! “The same old room.” [Walks around, looking at things. Notices the blackboard. Looks at it for a moment. Begins to erase the board; erases everything until he comes to N’s shadow. Pauses. Looks at the shadow. Puts the eraser down. Hears something; goes to exit and peers out.] Hello? [A red rose flies onstage from the other exit. WIGWIT turns and sees it. Looks to other exit. Picks up the rose. Examines it. Calls toward exit whence it came.] Hello?
[Another red rose flies in. WIGWIT picks it up. A STRANGER enters with an armful of roses.]
[STRANGER hands WIGWIT another rose.]
Oh... thank you.
[STRANGER stands and stares at WIGWIT. WIGWIT stares back at him.]
WIGWIT Wait... I can’t for the life of me remember where— where it is, here. Where I am. Or where... we are? [Looks at audience for a moment. Looks away again.] I tried to kill myself. There was a moment of— of something, and I saw— something. Something hard and— cold. Ish. [Looks at the lamp.] Light. [Beat. He goes to the lamp. Looks at it. Turns it on. Blinks.] Well, all right, but, no, I— [Turns it off.] Like this, but— This is just a lamp. [Turns it on. Turns it off. Puts the roses between his teeth, picks up the lamp and looks inside it. Puts it down again. Takes the roses out of his mouth.] Just a lamp? [He kneels and offers the roses to the lamp. Pause. Stands up again. Brushes himself off.] Hm.
[VOICE enters, not from where the STRANGER entered.]
VOICE Can I talk to you?
WIGWIT Hello? Yes?
VOICE You OK?
WIGWIT Yes. I mean my head hurts and I don’t know— I don’t understand anything. Where I am, what you are, et cetera.
VOICE The blank slate? Uh, clearing the grounds and planning the metropolis?
WIGWIT Who I am... what?
VOICE Whatever works, I guess. What I wanted to ask y—
WIGWIT Wait. Do you know?
VOICE Sorry, what?
WIGWIT Well, I mean, for instance, where are we?
VOICE Look, I’m happy to help you brainstorm during the workday, but it’s way past five, I came all the way over because I know you never answer the phone, so, if you’ll just give me a second I wanted to ask whether there’s any way I could have an advance again this month.
WIGWIT I don’t understand.
VOICE Look, I’m sorry, I wouldn’t ask, but she hasn’t been able to go back to work, we’re falling behind on rent, we just actually had a fight about it because I didn’t want to ask you and she was getting upset, and that’s not good for what she has, so I told her I’d just come over here now and talk to you about it.
WIGWIT Who are you?
VOICE Please, I know you don’t like to be interrupted, it’s just, this is how things are.
WIGWIT This is how things are? [Glances at board.] Yes. So much is obvious. Oh, help.
VOICE I’ll talk to you about it tomorrow.
[VOICE begins to exit.]
WIGWIT Wait, don’t leave.
What is it you’d like? Money? I’m sorry, just wait, please, I’ll try, first just, where are we?
VOICE You’re serious? You really don’t know?
WIGWIT A stove-heated room, I thought. Or maybe logical space? The only place I could be. The world. Here. But now I’m in a muddle.
VOICE Do you mean you don’t know what city you’re in?
WIGWIT No... I know that. That’s not what I mean.
VOICE What do you mean?
WIGWIT I don’t know.
VOICE What do you not know?
WIGWIT I don’t know. Is that right?
VOICE Can I bring you some water?
WIGWIT No. Wait. For instance, who was that person with all the red roses?
VOICE What person?
WIGWIT Well, right. I don’t know. For instance, what if they weren’t really roses? Then when I say the person with the roses— who’m I talking about? [Picks up the roses and examines them.] These seem real. [Tosses the roses aside again.] But what if the rest weren’t? How could I be talking about the same man? The same as whom? Or if it’s dark out there— if he’s walking home through the pitch dark, then the roses— aren’t red, are they? Or are they? And if not, then what if he doesn’t come back?
VOICE Are you in pain?
WIGWIT What? No. I don’t think so.
VOICE Why don’t you sit down?
Try and think what’s confusing you.
WIGWIT I thought I had gotten somewhere.
WIGWIT No, I mean, I thought I had uncovered something.
WIGWIT Something that wasn’t just... wasn’t just anything.
VOICE Where is it?
WIGWIT I don’t know. I thought— [gestures toward the lamp] but that’s silly. That’s not what I mean. I seemed to see how things work.
VOICE Well... you can still see that, can’t you?
WIGWIT No. Can you?
VOICE I don’t know if I follow you, but... that lamp—
WIGWIT I know, it’s stupid, it’s vulgar.
VOICE It’s not so bad.
WIGWIT But it’s—
VOICE But I’m saying, you know how it works. You just pull the thing and it lights up. Or—
WIGWIT No. That’s the problem with the lamp. It’s not just the lamp, what I’m talking about. It’s nothing like that. The lamp is a kind of decoy.
WIGWIT What I’m talking about is bigger. The limit, the law.
WIGWIT No, no. Reason. Logic. It seemed to be a mirror-image of the world, only I don’t recognize any of it here.
VOICE You’re very good at logic.
WIGWIT But I can’t make it match. I can’t find it.
VOICE Well, let’s see. [Picks up the reading, shuffles through it and hands a page to WIGWIT.] Here’s some of it.
[WIGWIT drops it.]
WIGWIT Don’t show me that. I’ll be sick again. [Clutching head:] Ugh.
VOICE It’s all the explosions. Everyone’s feeling messed-up. Like she’s having a terrible time. I’ll tell you what I tell her: it’ll blow over, and in the meantime we’ll get by. Or we won’t, but in that case there’s nothing else to worry about, so. If you’re really depressed, there’s stuff you can take.
WIGWIT It’s not that kind of problem.
VOICE No? If you say so.
WIGWIT It’s not about me.
VOICE Weight of the world. I don’t envy you.
WIGWIT Weight of the world.
VOICE And I’m sorry to be adding my troubles to it.
WIGWIT Your troubles?
VOICE Like you said, it’s not the same kind of problem, but it’s my problem. Nothing sublime about it, just simple old bills to pay.
WIGWIT Well, all right, I don’t see why not.
VOICE Thanks! That’s great. Really, I appreciate it. We both do.
WIGWIT Of course....
VOICE So tomorrow?
WIGWIT Yes. Tomorrow.
VOICE Thank you, so much, really. Have a good night.
[Starts to exit.]
VOICE I should really go, Professor, she wasn’t feeling well when I left. See you at ten! [Exit.]
WIGWIT My name is Wigwit and I’m a professor of philosophy. Voice is my assistant. What assistance could I possibly need in my line of work? The digging-up of salient references. I suppose her wife is sick. I have no wife. But this is the logical structure of bachelors. I do have myself, after all. And I always understand me: [Has a silent conversation with himself for a moment, turning his head back and forth, blinking, etc. Then picks up the roses in one hand.] “For you.” [Puts them into his other hand. Clasps them to his chest.] “Thanks! How kind.” “Isn’t the weather glorious to-day!” [Stops.] No answer. — None was required. “I find that the weather is glorious today.” Don’t I? Yes. “Hello!” — that is, I am acknowledging someone. “How are you?” — that is, I want to know how someone is doing. The lily, and the boy. [Shuts his eyes and takes in a deep whiff of the roses. Without exhaling and with his eyes still closed, he extends his free hand towards N’s exit as if feeling for him in the dark. While he stands like that, STRANGER enters from the opposite entrance. STRANGER watches him for a moment before speaking.
[WIGWIT opens his eyes and exhales, startled.]
[WIGWIT nods, smiles uneasily.]
WIGWIT Do— Oh!
[Tosses one of the roses to STRANGER, who catches it.]
[WIGWIT tosses another rose.]
WIGWIT Just one?
WIGWIT Fine. [Tosses the last rose.] I can keep the color, anyway.
[STRANGER begins to pull the petals off the roses, one by one. When he has finished de-petaling each rose he tucks it under his arm and moves on to the next. WIGWIT speaks the following during this.]
Red, red, red. See? Ha! “Something red can be destroyed, but red cannot be destroyed, and that is why the meaning of the word ‘red’ is independent of the existence of a red thing.” I will say “red” and think of his shirt and the color— think of those roses and the color will fill my mind like a splash of paint. Destroy them all, I can still stand here and describe them. That at least is indestructible. This is the message I take from what you’re doing. Thank you. It’s very instructive, and I appreciate your effort. You can stop now. Very clever, thanks. No English? Deutsch? Latinus? [Trying to convey it in sign language:] I... Understand. OK; Thank You.
[STRANGER stops and looks questioningly at WIGWIT, then resumes de-petaling. WIGWIT shuts his eyes and talks rapidly.]
Red. Rainy day; it always seems to be raining when we go out. You slept late, I was up early and reading, not making any noise, looking at you sometimes. Your lashes are long, like mine. What was I reading? Something of yours. How did your bones grow into the shape they make, I can’t conceive of it, you’re strange, stranger asleep than awake. You move a little and make a small noise, not words, just a small contented noise. Your hand shoots out and grasps my arm and I put down my book, your book, you grip my arm tight, tighter, you don’t open your eyes, it’s a game, as if you’re still asleep, tighter, how did your bones— ow, stop, I have to say it, Stop, and you stop and open your eyes and kiss me and you sit up and say Let’s go have breakfast and you reach for your clothes your blue jeans and red shirt a little wrinkled, smells like you... we go out in the rain without an umbrella, it’s just a short walk, but it’s raining a little harder than we thought, somehow I feel you’re catching all of it, running down your hair, your neck, soaking into the cloth, which is only deeper— deeper red, and... “I could not speak”... I thought if only I could find the core of all this, then I could keep it...
[WIGWIT keeps his eyes shut a moment, fixing the image in his mind. He opens his eyes. STRANGER looks at him again, hastily finishes pulling off the petals, and hands WIGWIT the stems. WIGWIT takes them suspiciously.]
[STRANGER runs offstage. WIGWIT looks at the stems absently.]
WIGWIT It’s true they won’t wilt.
[STRANGER returns with a dustpan and brush; sweeps up the petals. While he’s on the ground WIGWIT addresses him.]
What am I supposed to do with these?
[STRANGER glances at him. Finishes sweeping. Exits. Pause. WIGWIT walks to the blackboard, holds the stems out to the outline of N’s shadow.]
Sorry. You don’t like roses? Yes they are. See? If I could really have your shadow... [During the following, he picks up the chalk and keeps being about to write on the board, but stopping short of making a mark.] Or something like it— there must be something someone could keep— not me, I mean, but, well, at least in theory, there must be something besides the particular N who sleeps and gets wet and goes away, I mean— the something common to all possible Ns, which— well isn’t that who I’m talking to? After all, [puts down chalk] the empirical N might’ve been run over by a bus!
[WIGWIT stabs the shadow with the rose stems. Beat. Stabs violently a few more times. MAN enters.]
[WIGWIT wheels around, stems behind his back.]
MAN You look like shit, no offense. Didn’t try to off yourself, did you? Smart young fellas always doing that, seems like every time you turn around. Gets on my nerves, to be honest. Thought I told you no goofing off. What was it, pills, powder? Didn’t cut your wrists, did you? Well suppose you’re dead, do you any good? Nope. You wouldn’t even notice, you’d be dead. Simple as that. Come on, kid, we got work to do. Aw, well, don’t go losing sleep, it happens. Fact some maintain it’s a hallmark of genius. Can’t think of too many worth-a-damn minds that haven’t tried it one way or another, no big deal. Whatcha got there, son, not the means of departure I hope?
WIGWIT Just some roses.
MAN Roses, huh? I’m hardly a horticulturalist but I’m tempted to say you’ve been had. Which is just as well, being that sentimentality only sets us back, and those things aren’t likely to be much of a distraction, whatever you call them. Don’t know how those gypsies get in here, the streets being what they are. I been riding an armored car and even then I’m half scared to go out. Maybe those pansy-pushers could teach me a thing or two, little joke. Seven times fifteen.
WIGWIT What? — Oh, it’s...
MAN Come on, come on, what kind of exactitude is that? Gotta keep keen. [At a high pitch, sustained through WIGWIT’s next line:] Eeeeeee....
WIGWIT OK. I’m sorry. Of course it’s a hundred five. I’m just— all right sir, please, I’m not feeling my best, just give me a moment, it’s been a difficult day... I’ll be on top of things in a few minutes... if you’d like me to report on the readings or my findings for the week I’d be happy to do so... sir, please, what would you like me to do? I must insist that you stop. Please stop, or I’ll be forced to compel you physically— with force— sir—
[WIGWIT drops stems, attacks MAN. MAN dodges WIGWIT and winds up behind him, pinning his arms to his sides and talking into his ear.]
MAN What’s that Wigwit?
WIGWIT Excuse me, sir, I lost my composure.
MAN I know that. Look what happened. [Tightens his grip.] You were overcome. That’s no good. That’s not what we’re here for. Block it out, Wigwit. Keep it down. Let it [Tightens his grip.] die. It’s nothing. The straight line. That’s something. The [Tightens his grip.] perfectly straight line. When you have that, you have everything. Get it?
[Pause. MAN lets go and brushes himself off.]
WIGWIT I’ll— I’ll find it. What? It. Something. If only— [Beat. WIGWIT turns and faces N’s shadow. Starts masturbating.] N, N, N. I mean you. I mean you. I— [Stops masturbating. Turns and faces audience.] It’s gone.
[STRANGER enters with dustpan, sweeps up the reading. WIGWIT watches him. STRANGER exits. Pause. WIGWIT gets a piece of chalk from the desk, writes “HELP!” on the blackboard. Draws a speech bubble around it and stands next to it, arms raised, facing the audience. Lights down. End of scene.]
Scene 3. WIGWIT sitting and thinking. VOICE enters.
VOICE Morning! Are you feeling any better?
[Pause while WIGWIT regards her.]
VOICE Let me get it, I’ll be right—
VOICE [starting to exit] I’ll be right back.
VOICE [stopping] What’s wrong?
VOICE What can I do?
VOICE No, let me help. Just tell me—
VOICE I’ll bring you some water.
WIGWIT Just a moment, Voice.
VOICE What’s wrong, Professor? Have you been like this all night? I really think you should at least consider letting me call your doctor.
WIGWIT No, I’m all right. Those words, isn’t it remarkable when I said them how things developed?
VOICE What words?
WIGWIT Just, “Water,” “Help,” “Fine,” those ones. You were spinning like a top.
VOICE I was worried.
WIGWIT I don’t mean there’s anything wrong with your reactions. It’s just perplexing. What have we been working on, Voice?
VOICE Theory of... meaning, and language, and truth?
WIGWIT So I thought.
VOICE The ideal, you know, the form at the heart of everything.
WIGWIT But I can’t seem to find it.
VOICE Well it’s not an easy thing to find.
WIGWIT No, but— still it shouldn’t disappear the way it does. It should stand up and show its face, if it’s honest. But as soon as you try to get close it’s gone. Poof.
VOICE Not sure I get it.
WIGWIT We want to know what it boils down to. So. “Water!”
VOICE Um, you assert your desire for water.
VOICE You assert your desire for help.
VOICE Hm. You assert that you’re fine.
WIGWIT “Damn it!”
VOICE I’m trying!
WIGWIT No, I—
VOICE Oh. Oh, you assert that you’re upset.
VOICE I guess not necessarily. That you’re impressed somehow. That something is strongly affecting you.
WIGWIT That’s the essence of it?
VOICE Isn’t it?
WIGWIT Why? Why shouldn’t “Damn it” be the essence of “something is strongly affecting me”?
VOICE I guess it doesn’t really make a difference.
WIGWIT Why not?
VOICE I guess in both cases you sort of mean, Aaah.
VOICE “Yow.” “Rrrr.”
WIGWIT “Rrrr.” Like an animal or an engine. Why bother talking then? If I say “Water!” and you bring me water, where exactly was this assertion lurking?
VOICE In our minds?
WIGWIT Are you sure? When was it there?
VOICE Well, the— the mechanism is there all the time.
WIGWIT The mechanism. “Rrrr.” What if it breaks?
VOICE It’s implied anyway, it’s the logical structure of the phrase, even if—
[WIGWIT makes the sound of a machine running down.]
— at least we have to say that it’s there if we want to make everything fit.
WIGWIT Fit what?
VOICE The system we’re working out.
WIGWIT What’s the system for?
VOICE Saying what’s there when we say things...
WIGWIT We need to make it fit inside the frame, as it were?
WIGWIT So we can keep tracing around it? When I was a boy I always wanted an exoskeleton. But really it would be hard to move. We’re not beetles. Think of all we do. Are you a beetle, Voice?
VOICE Not exactly.
WIGWIT Prove it!
VOICE Uh— [Bends over and touches her toes.] I can touch my toes. I can... tell you what I had for breakfast. Solve a math problem? A beetle couldn’t do that.
WIGWIT That’s right. Touch your toes again.
[VOICE touches her toes.]
Good. Jumping jacks?
WIGWIT Do them!
[VOICE starts doing jumping jacks.]
And the point of course isn’t this motion, per se, but the fact that per se it makes no sense at all.
[VOICE keeps doing jumping jacks.]
This is the kind of thing we need more of. I haven’t slept all night and I think I’m running a fever. A bomb might hit us at any moment. We’re on high alert, aren’t we?
VOICE [still jumping] Yes.
WIGWIT Well, that’s frightening. Are you frightened?
VOICE [still jumping] Sometimes.
WIGWIT You can stop.
[VOICE looks at him quizzically.]
WIGWIT Go have some. It’s recommended after exercise, isn’t it?
VOICE I’m all right.
WIGWIT If you say so. Mmm... knock-knock!
VOICE Who’s there?
VOICE Gramma who?
WIGWIT Grammatical method! Ever heard of it?
VOICE I don’t think so.
WIGWIT Me neither. Coining a phrase! Now let’s sing something. [Sings:] “Should old...” ready? And: “Should old acquaintance be forgot....” Come on!
VOICE I don’t sing.
WIGWIT Fine, fine. Excuse me. I don’t mean to put you out.
VOICE It’s OK.
WIGWIT Thank you. Accepting my apology. It’s exhausting, isn’t it?
WIGWIT All this activity suddenly. We’ve become completely anemic. What did you eat for breakfast?
WIGWIT And without ever leaving the room. Now, where’s the essence in all of this?
VOICE That’s the question.
WIGWIT Is it? Why is it?
VOICE It is if it’s... what appeals to you.
WIGWIT What appeals to you?
VOICE I don’t know. Different things.
WIGWIT Such as?
VOICE Mostly I’m just trying to get by these days.
WIGWIT Quite right.
VOICE What can I find for you this morning? More Grimm’s?
WIGWIT Wait, please. I’ve been alone all night. Have a seat. [Stands up and offers his seat to VOICE.]
VOICE Oh, that’s OK, you sit.
WIGWIT I don’t feel like reading just now. I want to keep my head up. We’ve been right in the thick of a pea soup fog and it’s finally beginning to clear. I want to see the lay of the land. I want to hear what you have to say. What do you have to say?
VOICE About what?
WIGWIT Right. Right! About what? What are we doing?
VOICE I’m just doing whatever you tell me.
WIGWIT Am I such a tyrant?
VOICE It’s what I’m here for.
WIGWIT I suppose that’s all right then. [Pause.] The essence... of language. We talk about things. How? Like this. Like... this. We... talk... about... things. [Closes his eyes and emits a hum. Opens his eyes.] A humming in the medium of the mind. The strange and wonderful shadow of speech. Can you feel it?
VOICE I... think so.
WIGWIT Come on, let’s be sure. Let’s pay attention. Here. Hand me those.
[VOICE picks up the three rose stems and hands them to WIGWIT.]
VOICE Right. They are.
WIGWIT D’you feel a spark when you say that? [Holds them at arm’s length.] “Rrroses!” [Hands them back to VOICE.] Here. Try.
WIGWIT It sort of shoots up and down your arm, doesn’t it? Be honest.
VOICE “Roses!” I don’t—
WIGWIT No more do I.
VOICE There’re other ways, aren’t there?
WIGWIT Other ways of what?
VOICE Well I mean, take these roses and shove ’em.
WIGWIT Beg your pardon?
VOICE You felt something then, didn’t you, from my words?
WIGWIT Oh. Well, that’s hardly...
VOICE Ugh, these roses are infested!
[Thrusts them at WIGWIT, who jumps back.]
Or how about: I bet N would like these roses.
WIGWIT All right.
VOICE Is it something like that?
WIGWIT I don’t know.
VOICE If you want to feel something.
WIGWIT Roses are hardly the point, besides. Of course we’re bound to get sidetracked with something like that. If we could get absolutely certain of what we meant by the questions themselves, then we’d hardly be defeated by a bunch of stems, would we? What about “meaning”?
VOICE Meaning what?
WIGWIT I mean, “meaning.” The word “meaning.” What does it mean?
VOICE Well, like— that.
VOICE What you just said. You must already know what it means. Like that. We both know.
WIGWIT But... do we really know? Can we know if we can’t say?
VOICE I don’t know.
WIGWIT You seem to.
VOICE I do.
VOICE No. Seem to.
WIGWIT So what’s behind this seeming to know?
VOICE I guess, my education.
WIGWIT Who? The moderns?
VOICE I mean earlier.
WIGWIT The ancients?
VOICE Age two?
WIGWIT Oh. I see.
VOICE Learning how to talk. How to use words.
WIGWIT Like “know.”
WIGWIT How to use them. But not what they mean.
VOICE Not not what they mean.
VOICE I wasn’t not taught that. I mean I don’t think they withheld it.
WIGWIT They didn’t know either.
VOICE What would count as knowing it?
WIGWIT Having it in their minds.
VOICE Having what?
WIGWIT Well, the... formula.
VOICE What formula?
WIGWIT That’s the question.
VOICE What would it be like?
WIGWIT Like a shadow. Except—
VOICE One that could be peeled off and held. In mind.
VOICE That’s a fairy-tale.
WIGWIT It’s one of the best.
VOICE Do you know how a clarinet sounds?
WIGWIT Well, it’s... reedy.
VOICE Like the wind in a marsh?
WIGWIT No. It’s somewhere between an oboe and a— which is to say it’s a sort of thin, tart sound but in a certain sense full— Like a cat. It’s a sly sound.
[VOICE raises her eyebrows. WIGWIT makes a clarinet-like noise for a few bars.]
VOICE That wasn’t bad.
VOICE Still, you didn’t manage to say it.
WIGWIT But that’s something that can’t be put into words.
VOICE But you did put it into words. Tart. Cat. Just not a formula.
WIGWIT I could have said anything.
VOICE Not anything. You couldn’t have said it sounds like a clap of thunder.
WIGWIT Yes I could. Given the right circumstances it might sound that way. If it were to herald someone’s return for instance. Though under most circumstances I couldn’t say that.
VOICE You can stop in the street and look up at an open window and say to yourself, someone’s playing a clarinet in there. Because you know how a clarinet sounds. And you can stop in the street—
WIGWIT — and say:
[For the following lines, WIGWIT and VOICE run around to form exaggerated tableaus in which to act them out.]
“Pardon me, but don’t I know you?”
VOICE “Excuse me, do you happen to know what time it is?”
WIGWIT “Because wouldn’t you know it, no one’s ever shown me how to read this watch of mine—”
VOICE “You don’t know, do you?”
[STRANGER enters unobserved with a glass of water.]
WIGWIT “Well, what d’you know!”
VOICE “A smart-looking guy like you, I should’ve known.”
WIGWIT And so on.
VOICE And so on.
[WIGWIT and VOICE look over at STRANGER, surprised.]
[STRANGER holds out the glass of water to WIGWIT. WIGWIT puts out his hand to take it. STRANGER hands it to him upside-down. Water spills everywhere. End of scene.]
Scene 4. STRANGER is standing, arms folded, clearly exasperated, looking periodically toward the exit. VOICE is mopping up the water. WIGWIT is trying to communicate with STRANGER.
WIGWIT [Points to himself.] Wigwit. [Points to VOICE] Voice.
STRANGER [Points to himself.] Wigwit.
WIGWIT No. [Points more vigorously to himself.] Wigwit. [Spreads his arms and presents himself.] Wigwit.
VOICE [Stops mopping and imitates WIGWIT.] Voice.
STRANGER [Imitating them] Wigwit. Voice. Wigwit. [Makes a break for the exit.]
[VOICE blocks STRANGER’s exit with the mop. STRANGER tries to get around her, fails, gives in and sits down.]
[STRANGER looks up at him for a moment, startled, then looks away in exasperation.]
If there were two of them it might be easier.
VOICE [Resuming mopping] They’d have a reason to talk.
WIGWIT Maybe another one will come looking for him.
VOICE I’ve never seen another one.
WIGWIT He must be a refugee.
VOICE Maybe that’s why he won’t cooperate.
WIGWIT Should we let him go?
VOICE He wouldn’t last.
WIGWIT He’s been all right before now.
VOICE He might as well learn the language if he’s going to try to make a life for himself.
WIGWIT His attitude’s wrong for learning.
VOICE He doesn’t understand that we want to teach him.
WIGWIT [Points to each object as he names it.] Chair. Lamp. Door. Chair. Lamp. Door. Lamp. Chair. Lamp. Door. [Points to the lamp and waits for STRANGER to speak.]
WIGWIT This is ridiculous. We’d better let him go.
VOICE [Puts her arm out, indicating the exit.] Goodbye. You can go.
[STRANGER ignores her.]
WIGWIT Sorry to’ve troubled you. You can go now.
[STRANGER looks at them, then looks away. WIGWIT walks offstage, then walks back on and points to STRANGER. STRANGER gets to his feet and exits. STRANGER reenters.]
VOICE Hello. Pretty literal, aren’t you?
WIGWIT Oh. Where’d I—
[WIGWIT goes to the desk, takes out the three rose stems, and holds them out to STRANGER. STRANGER takes them and goes to the exit. Music comes on. STRANGER sings:]
STRANGER Evvlba Go rhino I know To denaylor marine Though I were Hampersonather Evvlbevvlbar me
Evvlba Go ride oh wide oh Truly nailer marine Doe lighter Amperpelator Evvlbevvlbareen
To reach To reach To reee
[Music stops. STRANGER exits. Pause.]
WIGWIT Voice... what’s it like out there?
VOICE On and off rainy.
WIGWIT No, I mean— do you like it?
VOICE When’s the last time you were out?
WIGWIT I don’t know.
VOICE Days? Weeks?
WIGWIT I don’t know. I lose track.
VOICE It’s— fine. I’m not sure what to say. It’s where everything happens.
WIGWIT Not everything.
VOICE You should go out.
WIGWIT It doesn’t always seem feasible. Look what happened to him.
WIGWIT He went outside and somehow found himself in a strange country with no understanding of our ways, and—
VOICE He’ll catch on. Besides, it wouldn’t be a strange country for you. You know where you are. You said so yesterday.
WIGWIT I did.
VOICE You’d know what to do.
WIGWIT I never seem to know.
VOICE You’d just do it. Whatever it was that came up.
WIGWIT Yesterday I was sick on the steps.
VOICE I saw.
WIGWIT I can’t in good conscience leave until I’m done.
WIGWIT I promised.
[A struggle is heard, and MAN enters, dragging STRANGER.]
MAN I found this nematode lurking outside. Don’t take kindly to spies on my beat, as I’ve given him to know. [Shakes STRANGER.] Haven’t I?
MAN That’s cute. Vigilance, Wigwit! These limprod summerfuckers’re cleverer than you think. Didn’t let him see anything, did you?
WIGWIT I don’t think so.
MAN This is the point of the no-windows precaution. The motes have ears. Thank God I came when I did. He’d of sold us out to the highest enemy bidder, isn’t that right?
MAN I don’t think so. Help me, will you? Aw, never mind, I’m good.
[MAN strangles STRANGER. WIGWIT and VOICE watch, stunned. MAN lets STRANGER fall to the ground.]
Tell that to your cohorts. [Steps around the body.] There’s one around every bend, that’s true, but with one less we can all breathe one more easier. I hope you’d of done the same if you’d been the one to catch him. We’ve gotta be relentless in our profession. Find yourself turning on yourself just say to yourself Wigwit there is so much filth to get through, so much sloppy waste to mow down, why would I start here? And I tell you you won’t be able to answer that one, smart as you are. You’re gonna split up the red sea you better not worry too much about the dolphins, sweet-lookin’ though they may be. Who’s this?
WIGWIT This is Voice, sir. My assistant.
MAN Voice? I don’t like the sound of it.
VOICE Who’re you?
MAN Hardly matters, does it? I’m the one running this program, that’s all you need to know. I’m the master of reference materials, the top cartographer, murk exterminator in the great glass palace of the mind, or if I’m not, someone else is, that’s all you need to know. [To WIGWIT:] Did I assent to an assistant?
WIGWIT I’ve employed Voice for years, sir.
MAN Don’t get euphemistic with me, Wigwit, we say what we mean in this operation and I’ll tell you right now I don’t want to hear it. This hot little number can get on home to her sick baby son with the threadbare Christmas turkey or whatever.
WIGWIT Voice has been very helpful to me.
MAN That so?
WIGWIT I think we’ve— been making great strides, I think we’re on the verge of something.
WIGWIT I think so, sir.
MAN All right, then. [MAN sits down.] Out with it.
WIGWIT The— verge, sir.
MAN So jump. No time like the present.
[WIGWIT and VOICE look at each other.]
WIGWIT Er... [WIGWIT goes to lamp, turns it on. Turns it off.] Well, we thought... [To VOICE:] “Excuse”— er, “pardon me, but do you know what time— it is?”
VOICE “I’m”— uh, “I don’t know,” uh, “do I know you?”
WIGWIT “Yes, you”—
MAN What is this?
WIGWIT It’s— we’re just, we’ve found that it’s helpful—
MAN I don’t think you understand me. What— is— this?
WIGWIT What is what, sir?
MAN This. Explain this.
WIGWIT This? This.
WIGWIT Sh Voice, we know what he means. This— “this is how things are.”
WIGWIT This... this...
MAN Come on boy. I don’t keep you in cold storage for nothing. Have you found it or not?
VOICE What? Found what?
WIGWIT The essence— the basis. The meaning. The must. The force that holds a name to its thing.
MAN That’s right. You’ve heard those enemy bombs, Miss Voice? Times a thousand, flying on ahead towards infinity, that’s what this means. Atom nothing, we’ll’ve split the splitting of the splitting of the atom, and the splitting of that splitting. They won’t be able to touch us with their greasy little monkey faggot paws. We’ll get it, see? [Sits back.] Now go on. Show me why you’re of more use to the cause than my friend there.
WIGWIT Well, sir, suppose I have a state of affairs... [Gets a piece of chalk; makes an X on the board.] And when I say “I,” I don’t really mean it that way...
WIGWIT So we have— [Beat. WIGWIT draws another X.] — as I say, not meaning me, and there are— [Draws a box around the X’s.] — limits, and— [Draws a circle around the box.] — truth, and— [Makes a large X over the circle.] — falsity, yes and no... [Beat. Makes another large X over the first one.] What’s not false is— [Makes another circle over the first one.] — true—
MAN [Points to N’s shadow-outline.] What’s that?
WIGWIT That? Oh, that’s nothing, that’s— that’s nothing.
MAN Well, get rid of it. No splotches, no blots. Loose lips et cetera. Wipe it out.
WIGWIT [Hesitates.] I intend to, sir.
MAN Between the motion and the act! Visions and revisions!
MAN Get to it!
WIGWIT Voice, would you?
[VOICE rubs out the shadow. WIGWIT looks away.]
VOICE [Quietly to WIGWIT:] It didn’t look like him anyway.
MAN What’s that, private?
WIGWIT There. Look. This.
MAN Yes? And? I’m holding my breath for the punch line, Wigwit. Don’t disappoint me.
WIGWIT This— this is how things are. We say. And so it is.
[MAN grabs VOICE and starts choking her.]
So it is. This. Here. I am. Yes. No. This. I know. No? Yes. This—
[MAN keeps choking VOICE.]
Red dark sweet— your lashes are long like mine what was I reading something of yours how did your bones grow into the shape they make I can’t you’re strange stranger asleep than awake N N N N!
MAN [Lets go of VOICE.] What’s that?
WIGWIT If only he would come.
WIGWIT How do I call him?
MAN How do you mean?
WIGWIT How do I mean?
WIGWIT Right. Well? Right. Look. I’ll show you. We’ll show you. Shall we show you?
MAN I’m waiting.
WIGWIT Voice— Voice, come here. Stand [Positions her where N stood in the first scene.] here. Now you say— say— tell me you’re going away.
VOICE I’m going away.
WIGWIT Right. And I’m here— [Gets to position from first scene.] Here. Say it again.
VOICE I’m going away.
WIGWIT Good. “Really? Why?”
VOICE Uh, because— I’m not happy here.
WIGWIT [To MAN:] You see? [To VOICE:] Why aren’t you happy?
VOICE Because I—
MAN No. I don’t.
WIGWIT He says he’s going away. He’s upset with me, that’s why he says it. And then he really does go away. Though he might’ve done otherwise. Well this is how words are used. We use them. We use them in different ways, the same words in different ways, like— “I’m going away tomorrow; it’s the end of my holiday.”
VOICE “You arguments don’t convince me; I’m going away tomorrow.”
WIGWIT “Will you take in my mail? I’m going away.”
VOICE “Don’t bother calling; I’m going away.”
WIGWIT Don’t go.
WIGWIT Please don’t go.
VOICE Why not?
WIGWIT Because I love you.
VOICE Oh. Well, all right.
WIGWIT [To MAN:] D’you see? It’s this. It’s just this.
MAN This what? I don’t see anything.
WIGWIT That too.
VOICE And that.
WIGWIT And that “what?”.
VOICE And that “And that ‘what?’.”
WIGWIT All of it. Look.
[The house lights go up. ALL look out at the audience. N enters from the house, walks onto and across the stage and exits through an exit. WIGWIT watches him go.]
MAN Turn that off!
[House lights go out again.]
You’re out. Get out. Get the hell out.
WIGWIT And that...
[VOICE grabs WIGWIT by the hand and leads him to exit after N. As they’re about to disappear, WIGWIT calls out:]
MAN [Calling:] Like it out there? [More softly.] See if you like it. See if you like that. Animals. [Shouts towards them:] ... counting on you!
[He goes over to the body of STRANGER and takes the rose stems out of his hand. Looks at them for a while. His phone rings. He drops the roses and answers it.]
Hello? That’d be one hundred five, sir. Yes, sir. It’ll go off now.
[Beat. Puts his phone away. Walks to the exit and looks off. Sound and light of a loud explosion. Silence. MAN turns to audience.]
Nothing to see here.
[MAN exits. Pause. Lights down. End of play.]
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