Plays: M.C. Gardner

TWO TEXT SELECTIONS FROM

THE MAN FROM LLOYD’S

From the darkness a title card emerges on the Proscenium Scrim:

I.

THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD

SCENE 4: THE URN

The title card fades. Scrim and Lights up. The dawn is frozen in the East. The ruin of a European cityscape is projected on the Rear Screen. The temple is suffused with the red and shadowed lighting of a Wasteland. Viv and Eliot stand in the center of temple. They face forward. They address each other as if from separate worlds.

VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD: Excuse me. I hope somebody knows where I am because my medicine is misbehaving.
T.S.ELIOT: It’s not your medication.
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD: Tom? You never came to that – “place” – in Northumberland.  How is it I find you here? Where are we?
T.S.ELIOT:  This was once a garden, Viv – where paradise was lost.
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD:  The trees are bare and the dead leaves stir across cracked earth
T.S.ELIOT: Take care, Vivienne – the leaves are full of children … (BN)
CHORUS OF CHILDREN (VO): Goosey, Goosey, gander whither shall I wander?  Upstairs, downstairs, in the fields I saunter.
(Repeat and fade behind dialogue.)
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD: The children are hidden. They are the children the dead will  never know. These are the children that we will never have.
(End nursery rhyme.)
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD (CONT’D): I don’t like your ancient garden, Tom. It makes me rather sad.
(Viv deposits her cigarette in a Grecian Urn. The Urn is inscribed with a white rose. It is projected on the Rear Screen. The rose fades. She exits. Eliot walks a few steps closer to his audience.)
T.S.ELIOT (TO MAN FROM LLOYDS): My own vices, aside – smoking, sometimes, has nothing to do with nicotine. Sometimes the poetry is deeper than the poem.
(The photograph of Jean Verdenal appears on the Rear Screen.
MUSIC CUE: Theme, “Sailor’s Lament” from Wagner’s Tristan Und Isolde – more distantly afar.)
SAILOR (RECORDED VO): Frisch weht der Wind (31) Der Heimat zu (32)

T.S.ELIOT (CONT’D): Sometimes two together is more than twice alone …
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD (VO): My nerves are bad tonight. Stay with me. Speak to me … Why do you never speak? Speak! (111,112)
SAILOR (RECORDED VO):  Mein Irisch Kind (33) Wo welest du? (34)
(Eliot is frozen in place with his head cocked as if straining to hear the music through the recriminations. He picks up the Urn. He walks slowly, in a measured gait, to a pedestal at stage left. He places the urn on the pedestal. He returns short of breath and slightly bent. After each return from his narrative he appears more decrepit. He places his hand over his heart checking its palpitations. He speaks haltingly.)
T.S.ELIOT (TO MAN FROM LLOYDS): Why does the day delay? (pause) When will time fly away? (FFE) Yes, there is a chill. (pause) Valerie, my second wife, assembled the ensemble I’m in: My morning coat and my collar mounting firmly to the chin, (pause) my necktie rich and modest but asserted with a pin. (LS)
(He exits. Scrim down. Darkness. Through the Scrim: Spot on the Urn Eliot placed on the pedestal ,at stage left. Vivienne enters. She approaches and picks up the Urn. Its inscription is projected on the Scrim beneath a white rose:
   “VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD ELIOT.”

(Viv drops the Urn. Spotlight on Viv at center stage. She crouches in terror. She slams her fist against the floor.)

VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD:  No… Noooo… Dear God,  Nooooooooo…
(A recorded chorus chants the word “burning” four times. Each repetition increases in ferocity.)
CHORUS: Burning, Burning, Burning, Burning! (308)
(The scrim writhes with the red glow of projected fire. Vivienne mimes the torture of the flame.
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
(She collapses. Darkness. Lights slowly up, Center Stage.
Eliot cradles Vivienne at the foot of a plain wooden cross. She is unconscious.  The pair is staged as a “Pieta.” Eliot prays through the shadows of the Proscenium Scrim:)
T.S.ELIOT: O lord thou pluckest me out (309) O lord thou pluckest (310)
CHORUS (AS IF FROM AFAR):  b-u-r-n-i-n-g … (311)
(Darkness.  Eliot’s voice, breaks in the darkness …)
T.S.ELIOT (VO, IN A SOB): I tried to save her. Save her from the Pythagorean  paganism of that pious, megalomaniacal, Godless prig!
(Lights up, Stage Left. Eliot is alone with the cross. Wearily, he removes his coat. He places it over an arm of the cross.)
T.S.ELIOT (CONT’D TO MAN FROM LLOYDS): Her Hysteria always followed the failure of her flesh.  I borrowed and begged to pay for medication. But her ailment was beyond medicinal application …
(A scarlet robe is lowered from above. He lifts it and holds it to his cheek.)
T.S.ELIOT (CONT’D): Only the tattered Robe of Christ Jesus could stave off the certainty of her damnation. Only the Imperial Red of his chosen emissaries could deliver her from a darkness …
(Lights dim. A spot illuminates Bertrand Russell in top hat, standing behind Eliot and the cross – Russell “lifts” the coat and exits to the wings).
T.S.ELIOT (CONT’D):- growing in and with surety about her …

(Darkness.)
SCENE 5: PEEPING TOMMY The headline: “DULLES JOINS WARREN COMMISSION” is projected on the Rear Screen. Lights up, Center Stage. Actor C, Maurice Haigh-Wood, in military fatigues and Officer’s Hat, and Actor D, Bertrand Russell [in top hat] enter as a chorus with newspapers.
MAURICE HAIGH-WOOD: The first thing to do is to form the committees … (C)
BERTRAND RUSSELL: Two pounds a week with a bonus as pretty. (C)
MAURICE HAIGH-WOOD: A commission has been appointed and bled … (C)
BERTRAND RUSSELL: The patsy has been anointed though dead!
(They toss their respective papers in the trash and exit. Eliot and Vivienne enter at Stage Right and left. Eliot wears the Imperial Red and Miter of a Cardinal. They each face forward. A coffin is illuminated between them).
T.S.ELIOT (TO MAN FROM LLOYDS): The purported “sole”’ assassin never stood alone. The undetermined prints on Oswald’s rifle are our own.
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD:  Stay with me. Speak to me … (111,112)
T.S.ELIOT (MAKING THE SIGN OF THE CROSS): Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison …
(Eliot walks to the coffin. He pulls a black glove on his right hand. )
 DATE STAMP: 1-22-47 – NORTHUMBERLAND ASYLUM MORTUARY. 
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD: Before the fires fed upon me, they put me in a box. At my back, in a cold blast I heard the rattle of bones …
(Eliot takes hold of the raised lid of the coffin.)
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD: — and chuckle spread from ear to ear as Tom … (185, 186)
(Eliot violently closes the coffin!)
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD (CONT’D): — latched the darkness down!
(The loud metallic clang, heard earlier in his office and at the séance, reverberates on the sound system.)
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD (CONT’D): We had no children – Tom didn’t fancy them – unless you  count the danseurs of the Ballets Russes. It’s alright, Tommy – you can only properly kill a girl once.
(Darkness. Scrim down. Lights up on Eliot under his office arch. Eliot is still in his Cardinal Robes. He takes off his miter.)
T.S.ELIOT (TO MAN FROM LLOYDS): What she meant? Vivienne was cryptic to the point of being elliptic. Yes, we talked of having a family.She wanted her first to be a girl. She bought a bolt of pink gingham from Chelsea and begged my mother for an heirloom lace that was nonpareil. A game that went too  far? At the time I didn’t see the harm in naming children born only in her mind. I had my verse – she had poetry of her own. We finally settled on a name. Yes, Marina. How did you know? That’s right, Marina after Shakespeare’s Pericles. Quite the only thing of value in the play. “What seas, what shores what grey rocks and what islands, what water lapping bow and scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog. What images return. O my daughter …” (M)
(Eliot takes off his glasses. He appears diminished by a memory. He brushes tears from his eyes. A confessional screen is lowered from above. He puts the miter back on his head. Enter Vivienne, on opposite side of screen. He is her confessor. They both sit.)
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD:  Forgive me, Father. I am newly wed – but Tom and I sleep in different beds. He rarely comes to me. Marriage is not what I thought, not what I thought at all. I married Tom in Summer – I betrayed him in the fall.
(Eliot stands and begins nervously pacing back and forth like a trapped animal.)
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD:The blood upon the sheets suggested that I was touched  by more than I should know …
(Vivienne begins to titter, hysterically)
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD (CONT’D): Bertie said he wasn’t bothered by my menstrual flow.

T.S.ELIOT: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

(Vivienne is startled by the violence of the scream. She takes a step or two back. She puts her hand to her mouth in fear. Eliot regains his composure. He returns to the demeanor of a father confessor.)
T.S.ELIOT (TO VIVIENNE): Child – Daughter, the “Marys” are sufficient to the day. Sin no more and go thy way …
(Vivienne exits. Confessional Screen up.)
    DATE STAMP NOV 22, 1921 – DR. ROGER VITTOZ, PSYCHOLOGIST 
(Vivienne’s voice is heard on the sound system.)
VIVIENNE(VO): It’s time, Tom – that’s a good lamb …
(Proscenium Scrim, down. Eliot sits facing the audience. He sits in the rigid pose of Francis Bacon’s “Pope Innocent X” portraits, [ref. appendix]. Enter Bertrand Russell,[Actor D in top hat]. He straps Eliot to the chair. Eliot’s fingers dance nervously on the ends of the chair arms. The shadow of the Man From LLoyds looms upon the scrim. He speaks with Eliot’s voice.)
MAN FROM LLOYDS (ELIOT’S RECORDED VOICE): Let’s see. It says here that you wedded her in June and  Russell bedded the remains. Is that accurate?

T.S.ELIOT: I wooed her, I won her and then the Devil came …
(On the Proscenium Scrim, The Man From LLoyds pulls a switch. Lights dim. We hear the crackle of electricity. Eliot bolts upright in Vittoz’s “electric chair.”)
T.S.ELIOT:  Ahhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
MAN FROM LLOYDS (suppressed amusement): Hmmm. It would appear that your betrothal and her  betrayal – why, they scarcely missed a beat …
T.S.ELIOT: It was then that the voices rose and started to repeat.
(The Man From Lloyds turns up the voltage. Lights dim. The electrical sound is louder. Eliot strains against the teeth-shattering current.)

T.S.Eliot: Ahhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
MAN FROM LLOYDS(RECORDED VO): Whispered they of good or whispered they of ill?

T.S.ELIOT:  The only word they whispered was to KILL! to KILL! to KILL!
(On the Proscenium Scrim, The Man From Lloyds administers a final blast of “therapy.” The lights dim. Electricity arcs above Eliot’s head. Smoke and sparks fly out from the bottom of the chair. Eliot is, again, jolted upright in his chair …

T.S.ELIOT: Ahhhhhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
(He grips the arms of the chair and strains upward mirroring the iconography of Bacon’s “Screaming Pope” series. The Man From Lloyds turns off the voltage. Eliot slumps unconscious in his chair. Darkness.
VIVIENNE (FROM THE DARKNESS):  All done, Tommy – you’ll soon be right as rain …
(Lights up. Bertrand Russell unfastens the straps on the chair. He pinches Eliot’s cheeks. He passes smelling salts under the poet’s nose. Eliot twitches and slowly revives.

Eliot forestalls his breakdown until,

                                                    Act 2 Scene 2I 

From the darkness a title card emerges on the Procscenium Scrim:

III.

THE FIRE SERMON
Lights up on Eliot under his office Arch. He is hunched forward. He uses his umbrella to support himself.

SCENE 2: THE EUMINIDES

T.S.Eliot (TO MAN FROM LLOYDS):What is the old dictum? “A man can surely do what he wishes to do but he cannot determine what he wishes.” I tried to control the disparate voices – they split me asunder. Their chaotic din was the cacophony of sin …
(Enter Vivienne. She speaks facing the audience – an embodied memory.)
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD: My nerves are bad tonight. Yes bad! (111) Tom, I need a weekend by the sea …
(MUSIC CUE: Gotterdamerung Act 3 Scene 1. The Rhinemaidens’ Theme is interfused with a fugue of conflicting voices. It is played behind the dialogue and enters in more fully as indicated.)
RHINEMAIDEDNS (RECORDED VO): Weialala leia Wallala leialala … (276, 277)
(Maurice, [Actor C]; and Russell, [Actor D]; join Vivienne, [Actor B]. They surround Eliot, [Actor A] with their “chaotic din” spoken out to the audience:)

BERTRAND RUSSELL (ACTOR D): Here we have it – the key to Tourquay.

VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD:Is it proper, Tom? I’ll be alone with him for half the holiday.

T.S.ELIOT:He’s a trusted friend on whom we do depend.

BERTRAND RUSSELL:By the sea beneath a cliff, I’ll do her in a rented skiff!

RHINEMAIDENS (RECORDED VO):Weialala leia … allalala (290)

VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD: Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew undid me. For Richmond I raised my knees supine on the floor of his narrow canoe … (294,295)

BERTRAND RUSSELL:What’s a little blood between friends?
MAURICE HAIGH-WOOD (ACTOR C) Goonight, Bertie —
RHINEMAIDENDS (RECORDED VO): Wallala leialala ((291)

T.S. ELIOT:I came upon the sylvan scene, the change of Philomel,  by the barbarous king, so rudely forced … (99)
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD: After the event he wept. He promised “a new start.” I made no comment. What should I resent? (297,298,299)

MAURICE HAIGH-WOOD (ACTOR C): Goonight, Viv.
RHINEMAIDENDS (RECORDED VO): Wallala leialala ((291) BERTRAND RUSSELL: Please, Tom – use the flat at your leisure — I’ll tend to your wife, at her pleasure.
T.S.ELIOT: — and still she cried: (103)
VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD: What are you thinking of? What thinking? What? I never know what you are thinking. (113,114)
RHINEMAIDENS (RECORDED VO): Weialala leia (277)
T.S.ELIOT: I think we are in rat’s alley where the dead men lost their bones. (115,116)

MAURICE HAIGH-WOOD: Goonight, Tom. He’s a good man, Viv.

VIVIENNE HAIGH-WOOD:  He’s a good man, Maurice. Goonight, Tom.

BERTRAND RUSSELL: He’s a fine lad. Top of his class. Hats off, hats off to  Thomas Stearns Eliot!
(Actors, B,C and D jeer and cheer the despondent poet.)
MAURICE HAIGH-WOOD: Goonight!
T.S.ELIOT: Noooooooooooooooooooo. Stop time! Stop … stop …
(He collapses to the floor. The Rhinemaidens stop singing.)
T.S.ELIOT (IN A SHATTERED WHISPER): Time to stop …
(Darkness. A sobbing is heard in the dark. Lights slowly up. Eliot is alone on the floor. He looks about in a private terror. His mind becomes increasingly unhinged in his confession to The Man From LLoyds.)

T.S.ELIOT (TO MAN FROM LLOYDS): What place is this? What quarter of the world? (M) The Russell affair? (coughs) Yes, there was pain enough to be enjoyed by all. Bertie was a wolf, indeed, but the wolf in bed with “Little Red” was my private letch and wretched scheme! Ha! Ha! Now there’s a tale as grim as any found in Grimm or in God’s “Good Book,” grey and grand! Russell was a god and “Mary” was his maid – but my Vivi was no virgin, no Catholic should complain. I put the two of them together – we made a trinity of sin. They fell deep into perdition because I pushed them in! Ha! Ha!

(Howling of the hellhounds. Eliot looks furtively about in increasing dementia.)
T.S.ELIOT: Listen … listen to my pretties. You don’t see them, you don’t – but there’s no rest from them. The Eumenides are always close at hand or hem. Heel, ladies! Bastards all — Listen … You can hear their fervent scratching … Take heed, take heed – the bitches mount the wall!
(Loud growling and barking on the sound system. Eliot falls to his knees and puts his hands above his head as if trying to expel the imminent attack of the leaping hellhounds.)

T.S.ELIOT: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
(Darkness.)

 

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