ACT IScene 1
(Spotlight rises on FEY (36) in front seat of well-worn
compact automobile. Slide background shows gold Ellerbe Archiects' high
rise office building near the Minneapolis airport. FEY is dressed in a dark blue business
suit. She reaches down to the seat beside her and switches
on an executive recorder. She pantomimes the scene as she
FEY: "Mary McCarthy felt like a fraud. She had packaged the
feeling, an original vague uneasiness in dealing with fellow
workers, into a tight-bound lump in the middle of her chest.
This lump had developed a sense of its own, and when she
encountered someone else who felt like a fraud, it would bleep
and buzz and hop about, spraying electric impulses and setting
off her ulcer.
"Her Pepsodent smile gleamed like chrome. She hadn't shaved
under her armpits for eight days. Lint and cat hairs were picked
meticulously off her $200 creases each morning. She had to pry
the car door open like a sardine can glued by rust to extract the
brown suede briefcase which bulged importantly with photo
magazines and lunch. She passed down orders from the corporate
gods with a royal 'we' as though they were her own. Sometimes
she passed an order of her own as though it were the gods'. She
had learned dissimulation well."
(FEY snorts, lights a long-stemmed pipe, inhales deeply, sings:)
(FREE WAY BLUE)
"Sittin' on the 'free'way on a sunny afternoon,
headed back the 'easy' way too late, or too damned soon,
I found the path I chose not easy,
so I sat and wrote this song to You to make the free way blues go away.
"Freeway blues / coat the air in stale monoxide fumes.
Freeway blues / cut the glare of a sunny afternoon
with grey impediments to loving sentiments,
and I only wish the government would use
technology to rid me of these blues
so I could walk the Earth as free
as God once put it here for you and me."
(Spotlight fades; lights rise on JONAH, leaning against
an iron fence in front of the North side of the White House on
Pennsylvania Avenue. At rear of theater is slide/backdrop of
Lafayette Park, which faces the White House across Pennsylvania
SPOOFNER: "How are you, Mr. J?"
JONAH: (Opens his eyes and looks over his glasses at SPOOFNER.)
On either side of JONAH are four signs: one 4' x 4'
reading "LET MY BODY GO!", one 4' x 8' reading "WANTED, WISDOM
AND HONESTY," one 8' x 8' sign reading "REVELATION: THIS NEED
NOT BE OUR END -- IT'S UP TO YOU!" over a graphic red, yellow and black
painting of a nuclear explosion, and an odd-size sign lettered
"FAST FOR NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT -- DAY 55." JONAH is dressed in a
loose longsleeved shirt, corduroy slacks, comfortable shoes. His glasses perch on
the end of his nose beneath warm eyes, now closed. His chin digs
through a thick beard into his chest, arms and feet are crossed
comfortably, long hair pulled back in a braid.
Enter OFFICER SPOOFNER in summer uniform, nightstick and gun
slung lower-than-regulation on his hips.)
"Not bad, Officer Spoofner. Gassed any squirrels today?"
SPOOFNER: (ironically) "Now, you know I don't gas squirrels, Mr. J. The National Park Service has that responsibility. I'm just here to keep the peace."
JONAH: (Puts his hands behind his neck and stretches his feet
"And what's your definition of peace, Officer Spoofner? A
four-year-old told me yesterday he thought it was `keeping
quiet.' Would you agree with that definition?"
SPOOFNER: "That's part of it."
JONAH: "And what happens if someone -- like me, for example --
decides not to keep quiet, and instead sits on the sidewalk
speaking out? Is that a violation of peace?"
SPOOFNER: "Now, you know as long as you don't break any laws, you have a right to speak out, Mr. Jonah. This is America!"
(He saunters offstage, peering behind the signs as he exits.)
(Enter SITA, a 75-year-old Sri-Lankan turned American, wearing a
sari over which is draped a smock which reads"WAR IS INHUMAN ATROCITY
HELP SAVE ALL HUMANITY
BE SANE, HUMANE
ONE AND ALL
OUTLAW WAR: WALK TALL!"
She stops before JONAH and bends down,
reaching for his hands. She speaks intensely, her accent musical
still after 40 years away from her country.)
SITA: "Darling, according to Buddhist philosophy, your life is
much too valuable to waste. When you are dead, there's nothing
more you can do. Stay alive, darling. There are too few peace
workers as it is. We need you."
JONAH: "Look, Sita, I don't know what I'm doing is right. I only
know we're on a fast track to genocide. And so few seem to care.
I've sat here over a year now. Who's listening?"
SITA: "I'm listening."
JONAH: "And who else? Have you found a better way to capture
people's attention nonviolently? If you can convince me you
have, I'll quit fasting. Besides, you're fasting too."
SITA: "Yes, darling, but not for 55 days! And not to make any
demands! We Buddhists fast, of course, but for purification!
I don't believe the Christian idea of public martyrdom is either
wise or profitable."
(She straightens.) "I'm on my way to the Senior Citizens
Convention to present my resolution that we old folks all work to
make war illegal. Do you think they will like my dance?"
(She twirls and sings as sitar accompanies from wings:)
(She whirls to an end breathlessly, laughs richly.)
JONAH: "They're crazy if they don't like it."
SITA: "I will cook you an eastern feast if you break your fast,
Jonah. My home is your home."
JONAH: "Thanks, Sita. I'll remember -- if that better idea comes
"WE ARE ALL ONE HUMAN FAMILY!
WE MUST LEARN TO LIVE TOGETHER HAPPILY!
WHEN WE ALL SING, LAUGH, WORK, SHARE, PLAY TOGETHER,
THEN THERE WILL BE NO NEED FOR US TO KILL EACH OTHER.
PLEASE, WORLD LEADERS, BE SANE, HUMANE!
THINK WHAT HONOR YOU WILL GAIN!"
(As SITA exits, enter HESTER, exotically wrapped in
plastic bags, rumpled white hair framing a hostile, muttering
frown. A smudge of dirt adorns her nose. She's pulling a wire
cart full of stuffed plastic bags behind her. She shakes her
fist at the White House.)
HESTER: "It's YOU, you bastard! They should put you out HERE,
THEN you'd see! THEN you'd know! But NO, YOU don't want to lose
your cushy bed and champagne brunch and all them toadies pointin'
the way to the bathroom!" (HESTER runs into a sign, staggers back.) "Oof." (HESTER glowers over at JONAH.) "WHO are YOU?"
JONAH: "Jonah." (Gets up, stands holding a sign briefly to gather his shaky equilibrium, and walks over to her.) "Are you all right?"
HESTER: (Shrugs his hand away.) "Hell NO I'm not all right! I got no money, no food, no place to sleep 'cept that louse-riddled flophouse across town. Can't get a job without an address. Can't get an address without a job.
And here you sit, another plug in the asshole of the Great White
King, knockin' people over with shit.... I didn't ask you your
NAME, man. I asked WHO are YOU?"
JONAH: "A philosopher."
JONAH: "Lover of wisdom."
HESTER: "Why you HERE, then, oh 'Lover of Wisdom'? Don't you
know there ain't no wisdom in this neighborhood?"
JONAH: "I'm here to communicate."
HESTER: "Communicate what?"
JONAH: "If we don't learn to live together, we're going to die
together ... very soon."
HESTER: "Serve you all right."
JONAH: "May be. May be."
HESTER: (Surveys signs.) "These signs don't make no sense."
HESTER: "Who's gonna listen? Nobody gives a damn what nobody
says, too wrapped up in chasin' a buck or chasin' tail to care
what a crazy hippie thinks. You'll die here on this sidewalk and
nobody'll even know it. Look at me. I've been tryin' to tell
'em to keep their guv'ment cooties offa me -- that's why I wear
this plastic, my skin was swarmin' with germs they sprayed on me
to chew me up and spit me out so they won't have to listen no
more. I call 'em every day, but do they listen?" (She spits.)
JONAH: "Who's this?"
HESTER: "FBI, CIA, White House, IRS, the whole lot of them. THEY know what's happening." (HESTER points at White House.)
JONAH: "Could be. Myself, I'm not as concerned about convincing
the FBI or CIA as I am with people like you, and him," (nods at passing tourist), "and her, and him." (Nods at office workers hurrying past. They all ignore him.)
HESTER: "Huh. You think those people care? You're wastin' your
(Enter A.C. AIRHEART (AC), 8l years old, arthritic, carrying a
JONAH: "Say, friend, are you fixin' to hammer out an agreement?"
(Steps toward AC, unsure of his purpose.)
AC: "I wish it was that simple. Folks don't seem to want to agree
on much of anything. I'm gonna hammer in a point I've been tryin' to
make goin' on 65 years!"
JONAH: "What point?"
AC: "A man's freedom is worth more than a hunk of granite."
JONAH: "Seems like a mighty obvious point to need such a big
AC: (Becomes agitated.) "OBVIOUS POINT! What do YOU know? Do you know me? Were you THERE, all those times I come out here seekin' justice? In and out, in and out, that's the story of my life, because them
uniforms, they just don't know the meaning of our Constitution,
nosirree! I seen people like you come and go out here, come and
go -- I was here, in this very spot, when my mam, God rest her
soul, and the rest of them suffragists told Wilson his war policies stunk. I was here in '38 when that fella Norman Thomas --
he was runnin' for president -- came out here to tell FDR to
fight the second war all by hisself! Where were YOU? Do you
know what's in my mind? Let me tell you, smartalec, they had a
lot more respect for me back in '64 when they was picketin'
JONAH: "Didn't mean any disrespect, Mr...."
AC: "Airheart. A.C. Airheart, FRIENDS call me AC...."
JONAH: "AC?" (AC scowls, then nods. JONAH extends hand.)
"JONAH. Please, tell me, AC. I'm interested. What's your story?"
AC: (Reluctantly takes JONAH's hand. HESTER moves closer,
HESTER: "Yeah, AC. Tell him."
AC: "Well ..... It's almost seventy years ago now I first sat
down out here in front of the White House with a sign -- a big,
beautiful sign, the work of the Lord in a l7-year-old boy's head!
'HYPOCRISY STINKS!' -- that's what it said! Them Park Police, a
Lieutenant Marryhatt, I remember him like it was yesterday, he
said I was breakin' the law, I couldn't have nothin' but
hand-held signs in front of the White House -- moved me and my
sign by force and non-sense over against that granite post over
there -- Then a Captain Crabapple of the City police told me I
had to move it out of the enTIRE CITY or get arrested for
VAGRANCY! So I obliged 'em, and lit it on fire, and that damn
post crackled and popped me right into jail for six months. Mam
was heartbroken. She quit picketin' and locked herself up in the
attic with her medicine. But that didn't stop me. Nosirree!
First thing I did when I come out was get a hammer and chisel and
pretty as you please chip 'HYPOCRISY STINKS' right in that post
itself. That time they put me in the looney bin."
HESTER: "Looney bin? Where?"
AC: "St. Elizabeth's, where else?"
HESTER: "I been there! Say, ol' man...."
AC: "WHO you callin' old, woman? I could drink you under the
table any day." (HESTER steps back, impressed.)
JONAH: "Isn't St. Elizabeth's the place the President's would-be
assassin is being held?"
AC: "Sure is. I seen him time to time. They got thousands o'
folk pumped full o' sedatives and hallucinogens...." (Voice fades; he shakes himself.)
"Each time I got out, I chipped away again, been spendin' the
past 65 years of my life in and out, in and out, don't know any
other way to live, you know? This time, my joints're so sore I
can't make the words, so I figgered a sledgehammer'd do the job.
I'm gettin' hungry." (AC lifts the sledgehammer a few inches.)
"Anybody want to help?"
HESTER: "Wait, you old fool!" (He looks at her hopefully.) "Ain't nothin' worth goin' to jail for! 'Specially not this!"
AC: "Woman, I seen hundreds of folks goin' to jail right here on
this sidewalk for any number of reasons, most of 'em good.
Can't let them black coats keep us from speakin' our minds!
Besides, how do you expect me to eat? I ain't cooked a meal for
myself since I was in knee pants."
HESTER: (Thinks a minute, then makes up her mind.)
"Come with me. I'll show you my favorite dumpsters."
AC: "Dumpsters. Humph." (He looks her up and down. She
becomes self-consious, readjusts her costume.) "YOU eat out of DUMPSTERS? You look pretty healthy to be sharin' rat food!"
HESTER: (Straightens proudly.) "When I have to. Or soup kitchens. 'Least I'm free."
AC: "But where do you sleep?"
HESTER: "There's a dozen grates around here, all warm as soggy
noodles when the weather's cold. Come on, I'll show you..." (Counts change from her pocket.) "...maybe I'll even buy you a beer."
AC: (Peers down at sledgehammer, spits in his hands, tries to
swing it, only gets a soft thump out of the stone.) "Beer. Did you say beer? Maybe you got somethin' there."
HESTER: "Damn right."
(She puts his sledgehammer in her cart, and they walk offstage together, talking and shaking their fists at the White House.)
(As JONAH settles back down into his original position
(prone), NORMAN MAYER enters with an arm full of literature, a
folding stool and a bunch of pink roses. NORMAN is a
silver-haired, soft-spoken man, normally of few words, carefully
chosen. He appears to be in his early 60's. He walks up to
NORMAN: "Still at it, I see."
JONAH: (Smiles) "Well, well, Norman Mayer. I was hoping you'd return."
NORMAN: (Unfolds his stool and sits down, handing JONAH the
roses.) "I've been pondering your position these last five days, JONAH.
What you're doing is admirable. It demonstrates great commitment. But it's foolish and futile. If you starve yourself to death you'll be written off as just another kook who committed suicide. I have an idea. If you change your mind, I'll tell you about it."
(NORMAN pulls an orange out of his pocket and places it at
JONAH's side, stands, and folds his stool.)
JONAH: "You won't tell me first."
JONAH: (Thinks.) "Do you have another copy of your flyer? I gave my other copy away."
NORMAN: "Of course."
(Hands him several. As JONAH reads, NORMAN walks across stage,
reopens the stool, sits down, and begins handing literature to passersby.)
JONAH: (reads) "Number One priority: ban all nuclear weapons or have a
(JONAH looks at NORMAN a moment, then closes his eyes wearily. A few office workers purposefully pass both NORMAN's outstretched hand and JONAH's signs as if they didn't exist. A flock of children are shuttled past by their teachers, who urge them to "Hurry up, now!"; one youngster takes a flyer from NORMAN, and
pauses to read JONAH's signs. JONAH senses his presence, rises to his elbow to speak. The teacher scurries back to drag the child along. A group of women, carrying ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) placards emblazoned "EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK!", picket briefly. When NORMAN offers them literature, they shake their heads, march in a circle once or twice, look at their watches, and begin their exit, oblivious of JONAH's signs.)LUTHER: "We want bigger government tits!"
(Enter LUTHER, a 50-year-old ex-you-name-it alcoholic who
bumps into one of the marchers, turns and yells after them.)
(LUTHER grins at the scandalized looks of the exiting women, weaves over to the fence some distance from JONAH's signs, tries to swig from the wine bottle he clutches, finds it's empty, carefully shoves it into his pocket after a couple of abortive attempts, slides down the fence, curls into a ball and goes to sleep. A Park ranger enters stage left and notes everyone's positions, scribbling industriously. A couple of well-dressed pedestrians scan the signs too quickly to read them, their lips curling with mild disgust both at the signs and at LUTHER snoring nearby, much as they might if they saw a man lying in his own feces. They shrug away from NORMAN's offer of literature. A plainclothes cop swoops in to photograph JONAH. NORMAN packs up and walks over to JONAH who, rising again on one elbow, watches the cop exit with irritation, and shouts:)
JONAH: "WHY DON'T YOU GET AN HONEST JOB?"
NORMAN: "You're wasting your time. You sit on the sidewalk
trying to get through to robots. All they care about is their asses and their pocketbooks."
JONAH: (Glares for a long moment at NORMAN, picks up the orange, and begins peeling it.) "All right." (JONAH eats a section of the orange and pulls his "FAST" sign face down.) "What's your idea?"
NORMAN: "I want to get a ton of dynamite and blow up one of their
(JONAH's hand stops halfway to his mouth.)
JONAH: "Suppose, for the sake of argument, I agreed to help you.
What assurance can you give that no one would be hurt except you and me?"
(JONAH looks at the orange segment as if it could provide him with guidance, places it beside him on the sidewalk.)
"But we're talking about the continued existence of the human race. Anyway, there are no 'innocent bystanders' in this game. They're all part of the problem. If they don't pay for it, build it, or operate it, their apathy allows it to happen." (Opens his stool and sits down.)
"A few years ago I was watching a sunset in the Schyell's Islands and a disturbing question hit me. 'What contribution have you made?' I was ashamed of the answer. Since then almost all I've talked about is nuclear weapons, and almost every dime I've made has gone to spread the word."
(Siren wails; NORMAN observes police car pass on Pennsylvania Avenue by scanning audience left to right.)
"Sometimes I find myself wondering why. When I started I thought, 'I can solve this problem with 1,000 dedicated people who understand.' After several years I was willing to start with a hundred people." (He looks around sorrowfully at oblivious pedestrians.)
"Today, I'd settle for just one. It's easy to sell manure, but you can't give the truth away."
"So, what do you think, Jonah? Would you like to help me startle
these lunatics into listening?"
JONAH: "Call it a matter of principle, Norman. To me nuclear
weapons are a problem of violence. And my experience convinces
me that violence inevitably leads to violence. I think I'll just stay here until I can think of something more effective to do."
NORMAN: "Maybe you're right. Maybe a reproachful presence at the gates of power can keep the holocaust at bay till people start listening. Frankly, I don't think we have that much time."
(He exits. Enter SITA, looking very tired and dejected.)
SITA: "Oh, darling, I am SO sad."
JONAH: "What happened?"
SITA: "I presented my resolution -- that all seniors of the
world must unite to stop weapons proliferation and war -- to the president, vice president, and parliamentarian of Senior Citizens of America -- signed by five delegates as required -- and do you know what they told me? Do you know what they TOLD me? 'Your resolution is irrelevant and out of order!' Now, what is irrelevant about stopping war? How is stopping weapons proliferation out of order?" (Sighs.)
"Sometimes I think my son is right, and I am truly crazy.... But I'm happily crazy! ... But these poor, poor people.... So now I must stay here and make war illegal -- like cannibalism, human sacrifice to the gods, and slavery. I MUST do this. That's all I want to do before I die...." (pause)
"I must go, darling, and rest. Perhaps if I meditate I'll find
the way to challenge our leaders to be sane and humane." (Exits.)
(JONAH picks up the orange, studies it, eats it, tucks peelings under "FAST" sign, and settles back, closing his eyes.
Light fades on JONAH, rises on FEY and her daughter ANNIE (18) packing the car. Slide backdrop shows early May morning on St. Croix River.)
FEY: "Climb in the car and get comfortable, honey. There's only
one more bag."
ANNIE: (Yawns, climbs in passenger seat.)
"Okay. God, it's early...."
(FEY puts the last bag in and straightens to listen to ducks and
geese on the river, crows overhead. She sings.)
"The river sings, and stings the air with promises
to spread her icy song
till cherry blossoms drop their silk on unknown barefoot
The river quacks. She caws.
She cracks and yaws
and squeezes newborn goslings against her whitened banks,
caught too soon, too soon for sense of growing.
The river growls. She purrs.
She howls her fierce enchantments to freeze my heart ...
too late ...
not too late to shake me from her."
(After one last look around, FEY climbs into the driver's seat.)
"I dream of widenings, of warmings to our stroking down her skin,
of diving in to reckon out the rightness of the quest,
no time to rest, nowhere to rest,
until the end becomes beginning."
(The car door closes firmly; spotlight fades on FEY, rises on JONAH, in prone position beside a 12' x 8' sign of a red, yellow, orange and black mushroom cloud with the words "REVELATION: THIS NEED NOT BE OUR END." Officer SPOOFNER stands looking down for a long moment as if willing JONAH to open his eyes voluntarily. Just as he resignedly begins reaching for JONAH's toe with his nightstick, JONAH speaks, eyes still closed.)
JONAH: "We never completed our discussion, Officer Spoofner."
(His eyes open. SPOOFNER jerks back.)
SPOOFNER: "Oh? What's that?"
JONAH: "What about sleeping, Officer Spoofner? Do you think
sleeping is a peaceful activity? Or would you characterize sleeping as an act which threatens the fabric of society?" (JONAH rises to one elbow.)
SPOOFNER: "Sleeping on the sidewalk is a violation of the law,
JONAH: "But is it peaceful or violent?"
SPOOFNER: "It's illegal."
JONAH: "Peaceful or violent?"
SPOOFNER: "I'm not paid to answer that question, Mr. J. I have no opinion."
JONAH: "And that's why you will again feel ... compelled to
arrest me for sleeping when you're told to do so by your 'superior' -- right?"
(As JONAH speaks, HESTER and AC re-enter, absorbed in fast-food
fare they're unwrapping and eating. They stop aghast as they see two Secret Service agents (SS) enter and roughly knock over the signs, exposing plastic, a box of literature, a hammer, and a blanket. SPOOFNER watches silently. JONAH rises.)
JONAH: "What's up?"
SS#l: "Step back."
SS#2: "Just step back."
(The two SS move toward JONAH threateningly.)
SS#l: "Someone called in and told us there's a bomb planted
behind these signs. We're checking it out. You're going to have
to clear out of here."
SS#l: "It's been determined your signs create a safety hazard.
Terrorists can hide bombs behind them, or use them to climb the fence."
JONAH: "But the fence is less than nine feet high. Nobody needs a sign to get over it. Look." (JONAH grabs the top of the fence and hauls himself up.) "Even a starveling can scale this fence."
(He drops limply back down on the sidewalk as SS converge.)
(She pulls her cart back. AC steps forward.)
SS#l: "You're under arrest!"
(JONAH remains limp as the SS handcuff him and begin to drag him
away. He calls to a gathering crowd.)
JONAH: "Let's nuke the world for America, folks!"
(The SS jerk his hands up behind him roughly. JONAH looks around at
"Let's nuke for regulations and hypocrisy!
Long live mindless bureaucracy!
The First Amendment is dead!"
(JONAH looks at SPOOFNER pointedly, who turns away and begins
dragging "WANTED, WISDOM AND HONESTY" sign offstage. AC grabs at
the sign. SPOOFNER threatens him wordlessly with hand on
nightstick. AC looks over at HESTER, lets go and steps back.
The SS who are dragging JONAH stop to observe. Foot on JONAH like
a big game hunter's trophy, SS#l poses for police photographer
stationed in gathering crowd. JONAH remains physically passive,
after suggesting to those nearby:) "The First Amendment is dead!"
(The SS, seeing AC has backed down, drag JONAH offstage. SPOOFNER drags the sign after them. AC raises his arm in a Nazi salute. The crowd silently melts away. LUTHER snores through it all.)
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