Michael at about the time he wrote this
play.Read about Michael’s attempt to
save the Cino after Joe’s death HERE.
“I Like It”
by Michael Smith (from his extensive BLOG)
Caffé Cino, New York, June 20-26, 1963
[MICHAEL writes:] I wrote “I Like It,” a skit-play about a young man in bed with his mother, as a Freudian joke dedicated to my psychoanalyst, Dr. John Cederquist, just as I was quitting analysis in early 1962. It was the first play I had written. I showed it to my friend Joe LeSueur, who was guest-editing an issue of the little magazine Kulchur, bankrolled by the art patron Lita Hornick, and he published it. Naturally I was thrilled to see my play in print, and I proudly sent a copy of the magazine to my parents in California. The play made my mother cry (I see why, now); she threw it into the fireplace and burned it up.
I was reviewing theatre for The Village Voice and began going to plays at the Caffé Cino, an Italian coffee house on an out-of-the-way Greenwich Village sidestreet, in early 1963. I liked the intimacy and informality of the cafe and the immediacy of theatrical effect. I was particularly taken with the waiter and sometime light man, John P. Dodd—wanted to see more of him—wanted to get in on the Cino scene, whatever it was. So I showed my little play to Joe Cino, the proprietor, and he gave me a date to put it on. Then and now, that’s the key to getting a play on: a place and a date. Roberta Sklar, a director working with my friend Joe Chaikin in the nascent Open Theatre, took on the direction. I don’t have a program and don’t remember who the actors were. I brought over my own bed from my apartment a few blocks away on West Third Street.
Later that summer my friend Paul Sand was going to the Spoleto Festival in Italy to act for Jerome Robbins, and he showed him the play. Robbins said he might do it, with Paul as Philip and Mildred Dunnock as Eleanor, and wrote me a note to that effect. He had just directed “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad” off-Broadway and put Arthur Kopit on the map, and I had understandable fantasies of similar lightning striking me. I went to Spoleto to be there. In the event, the play did not fit into Robbins’s schedule, but it was a great excuse for my first trip abroad.
“I Like It”
play in 2 short scenes
Eleanor: appears to be in her middle forties, turning dowdy
Philip: appears to be in his early twenties, good looking
Maid: young, attractive (also functions as a secretary)
for J. C.
SCENE: A bedroom with an elaborate bed upstage center. At rise, ELEANOR and PHILIP, both wearing white pajamas, are in it eating breakfast.
ELEANOR: … and that goddam P.T.A. Fifteen years on committees, one after the other, and what have I got to show for it? Now they want me to be treasurer. I ask you. A great honor, they say. And what a show they make of it—nominations, seconds, secret ballots, everything. All because they think I’ll accept the job. Of course I’m the only one of them who can add a column a figures—except a golf card or a bridge score—and they think I’m fool enough to accept the job. They’ve got another think coming… Here, let me fix you a piece of toast. (Feeds it to him.) Isn’t it good?
PHILIP: Mmmm. It’s good.
ELEANOR: If they paid any attention at all they’d know better. Haven’t I resigned from the Philharmonic board and the Ladies’ Aid and the fucking Junior League? I’m not playing games, you know. You know that, God knows. Take it from me, don’t join anything, because you’ll have to work like hell to get loose. I’ve learned the hard way. Let them have their lousy agendas. They ought to argue about them and pass them and then roll them up and stuff them where they might do some good… Here, have another piece of toast.
PHILIP: No, I don’t want any more.
ELEANOR: Of course you do, a growing boy like you.
PHILIP: I’m grown up enough. I haven’t grown at all in years.
ELEANOR: Of course, but eat your toast anyway. You need your energy, for screwing, if for nothing else.
PHILIP: Mother? Why do you talk so dirty?
ELEANOR: Oh Phil, don’t you like it? I thought you liked it. I’m sorry. If you say so, I won’t ever do it any more.
PHILIP: I don’t like it.
ELEANOR: The ayes have it then. Never again. (Crosses her heart. They eat in silence.) The coffee’s cold again. That girl can never do anything right. Ring the bell and we’ll get some more. (PHILIP does.) What’s wrong with your eyes this morning, Philip?
PHILIP: What do you mean?
ELEANOR: They look all red. Have you been rubbing them again?
PHILIP: They always look like this lately. It doesn’t matter. (The MAID enters and stands stupidly staring.) I haven’t been sleeping right. They itch all the time.
ELEANOR: Well, keep your hands away from them.
PHILIP: Yes, I will.
PHILIP: Yes, I promise.
ELEANOR (To MAID): Don’t just stand there gawking, you idiot. The coffee’s cold.
MAID: Yes, mum.
ELEANOR: Get some more. Hot.
MAID: Yes, mum. (Takes pot.) Mum, there’s some gentlemen downstairs.
ELEANOR: What do they want?
MAID: I don’t know.
ELEANOR: You don’t know what?
MAID: I don’t know mum.
ELEANOR: Then find out while you’re getting hot coffee. And tell them to go away. Tell them we’re asleep. (MAID goes.) That girl is going to drive me out of my mind.
PHILIP: I don’t think you should talk to her that way.
ELEANOR: Don’t say ‘I don’t think.’ Say ‘I think you shouldn’t.’
PHILIP: Well I do. Or I don’t.
ELEANOR: She’s an imbecile. How am I supposed to talk to her?
PHILIP: You could try being pleasant.
ELEANOR: I am always pleasant. I suppose they’re from the P.T.A., and just when I have to pee.
PHILIP: So do I.
ELEANOR: I for one am not going to move out of this bed. I’m going to spend the rest of my life here, P.T.A. or no P.T.A. (Squirms.) I can wait.
PHILIP: I can’t, but I’m too comfortable to move.
ELEANOR: Pee in the bed, then. I don’t care.
PHILIP (Giggles): What would you say if I really did?
ELEANOR: I’d think it was funny.
PHILIP: All right, then, I will. (Tries.) I can’t do it.
ELEANOR: Oh come on. Why not. You’re not self-conscious, are you? Not in front of your own mother. Try harder.
PHILIP: I’m trying as hard as I can, and I can’t do it. I’ll bet you can’t either.
ELEANOR: Of course I can. I just don’t want to.
PHILIP: I’ll bet you can’t. I dare you. I double-dare you.
ELEANOR (After a pause): Sometimes you’re an utter child, Philip.
PHILIP: You had asparagus for dinner, didn’t you.
ELEANOR: It’s easy. All you have to do is relax.
PHILIP: I’m trying to relax.
ELEANOR: Don’t try, just let it come naturally. You never had to try to wet your diapers. (MAID enters, unnoticed.)
PHILIP (Still trying): I’m grown up now. It’s different.
ELEANOR: Nonsense. It’s exactly the same thing. Come on, you can do it.
ELEANOR: You shut up.
PHILIP: No, that’s all. I can’t do it.
ELEANOR: You can.
PHILIP: I give up. I’ll get out of bed and go to the bathroom. In a little while.
MAID: Mum, them gentlemen downstairs…
ELEANOR: Where’s that coffee?
MAID: Here it is, mum. Them gentlemen downstairs is from the P.T.A.
ELEANOR: I knew it. Here, give me the pot. Have some more coffee, Philip, good and hot. It’s all right. Don’t feel bad about it.
PHILIP: Thank you, Mother.
ELEANOR: There. (Holds cup to his lips; he drinks.) All better now?
PHILIP: Yes, much better, thank you.
ELEANOR: Here, lean up against my sholder. (To MAID) Well, what did they want?
MAID: They said Master Philip here was your son, mum, and what was they to tell the Nominating Committee?
ELEANOR: Say to tell them I like it.
(Lights out on Scene 1; lights up immediately on:)
(Everything is exactly the same as at the beginning of Scene 1.)
ELEANOR: … and that goddam P.T.A. Fifteen years on committees, one after the other, and what have I got to show for it?
PHILIP (Brutally): Shut your mouth, Mother.
ELEANOR: Now they want me to be treasurer. I ask you. (ELEANOR stops talking. PHILIP, eating, ignores her. After a very long moment—) Can I go on?
PHILIP: No. Shut your mouth and eat your breakfast.
ELEANOR (Childishly): I can’t eat with my mouth shut.
PHILIP: Everybody has a problem. That’s yours.
ELEANOR: Can I open my mouth if I promise not to talk? (No reaction.) Philip? (No reaction. Motherly:) Philip, I simply don’t understand what’s come over you lately. Some things I can tolerate—many things, in fact—but I cannot tolerate bad manners. I must insist that you show more respect for your mother.
PHILIP (His mouth full): Shove it.
ELEANOR: I don’t know. Maybe you had the wrong environment as a child. I tried so hard to give you only the best. I’ve made mistakes. Oh I know I’ve made many mistakes. But I never tried to hurt you. You have to believe that. Everything I did, right or wrong, I did out of…
PHILIP (Interrupts): Now, Mother, that’s enough. I thought we had an understanding. You know what’s going to happen if you go on this way. Don’t you?
ELEANOR: But Philip…
PHILIP: Don’t you?
ELEANOR (Chastened): You’ll get out of bed.
PHILIP: That’s right.
ELEANOR: But you wouldn’t really. Not really, would you? Not my sweet boy, not my darling little Phil?
PHILIP (Starts to get up): Here I go.
ELEANOR (Involuntarily): No, no. Wait, Phil. (He settles back.) Now look what you’ve made me do. You’ve made me spill my coffee. (No reaction. She pours saucered coffee back into cup.)
PHILIP: All right. Now I think we know where we stand. You know that I’ll get out of bed, I really will get out of the bed if you don’t behave, and I know you know. And you know I know you know. So there’s no problem. You’ll just have to grow up, Mother. Everything changes—people, situations, feelings, me—and you’ll have to get used to it.
ELEANOR: But Philip… Am I allowed to speak?
PHILIP: A little, yes.
ELEANOR: Phil, I don’t want anything to change. I don’t want you to change.
PHILIP: I’m changed already, and I’ll go on changing. You change too, and the sooner you realize it the better.
ELEANOR: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
PHILIP: Well T.S. on you. (They eat in silence. PHILIP finishes breakfast.) Ah, that was good. You’ll excuse me if I get to work?
ELEANOR: Yes, of course, dear. (PHILIP rings the bell. Immediately the MAID enters, cheerful and alert, dressed as a secretary.)
PHILIP: I wonder if you could bring your pad and step in for a few moments.
MAID: Yes sir. (Goes.)
PHILIP: I’ve got to get a few letters off. It won’t take long. Then we can snuggle.
ELEANOR: Do I annoy you, Philip?
PHILIP: Of course not.
ELEANOR: You must understand. I’m a very affectionate person by nature. It’s really nothing personal.
PHILIP: Don’t be silly, Mother. Of course I understand. Of course I don’t mind. I don’t know what’s come over you this morning. What is this compulsion to explain yourself? You know I like you best when you don’t say anything.
(MAID reenters with steno pad, sits on foot of bed, and prepares to take dictation.)
ELEANOR (To MAID): Dear, I wonder if you have a copy of Parents Magazine somewhere for me to read while you and Philip are working.
MAID: Of course, Madam. (Starts to get up.)
PHILIP (To MAID): No, don’t bother. (To ELEANOR) Mother, please.
ELEANOR: Oh, all right. Hand me my buffer then, will you? (PHILIP does. ELEANOR buffs her nails throughout the following.)
PHILIP: Now where were we. Oh yes. This letter goes to Bleak House, Washington. (MAID takes it down in shorthand.) Dear Jack, thanks for yours of whatever-it-was. I’m glad to hear that everything is working out in accordance with the plan we formulated that day Mother was asleep. Of course there are bound to be certain difficulties in the arrangement, but I’m sure you’ll finally agree that the savings more than compensate for this added strain. Paragraph. Several additional points have come to mind since I last spoke to you. One: information should be disseminated to the public with the utmost caution. I’m glad to see that you have at last learned to control this without seeming to. Two: space turns out to be a wreck, what with cosmonauts, clouds, etcetera. It was nearly hopeless anyway, considering the amount of alteration that would have been necessary. You might think harder about Venus, though. Several obvious advantages there. Three: just don’t worry so much. Remember, history is on our side, even if we don’t know which side we’re on. Paragraph. Love and kisses to the family and to you just love. Philip. (End of letter.) We’ll need eleven copies of that. I’ll give you the addresses later. I wonder if you’d read it back. It’s fairly important. (ELEANOR yawns elaborately. PHILIP deliberately ignores her.)
MAID: Yes, sir. Bleak House, Washington. Dear Jack, thanks for yours of whatever-it-was. I’m glad to hear that…
PHILIP: Oh never mind. You haven’t made a mistake yet. What came in for me this morning?
MAID: No mail yet, but there was a call from a Mr. Shuttlethwaite. I told him you and Madam were still in bed.
PHILIP: Who’s he?
ELEANOR: That call was for me.
MAID: Yes, Madam, but I have my instructions. (To PHILIP) Sir, he seemed somewhat disturbed.
ELEANOR (To PHILIP): Mr. Shuttlethwaite is the president of the P.T.A. I must speak to him and tell him I can’t accept the office.
PHILIP: What office?
ELEANOR: I told you, Philip. Can’t you ever pay attention to me? They’ve elected me treasurer.
PHILIP: Oh, of course. (To MAID) Call Mr. Shuttlethwaite back and tell him my mother will be honored to accept the position. (To ELEANOR) We’ll talk about this later.
MAID (Makes note): Yes, sir. There was also a cable from Rome.
PHILIP: Read it to me.
MAID (Does): Confusion here regards your intentions stop couldst clarify query stop regards John.
PHILIP: Splendid. Cable the following back to him. Dear John my message is love stop best to the girls stop I love you too stop ever. And sign it Philip. That ought to do it. One more letter, and then we’ll take a few minutes off. This goes to Joe, the Sincerely Invidious Corporation, Washington.
ELEANOR: But Joe’s dead, Philip.
PHILIP (Ignores her): Dear Joe, I understand you have publicly expressed interested in my private life. I believe you fail to realize that I have nothing to hide. I hope you will feel free to visit me at your convenience, bearing in mind that video and audio recording of our interview ill be de rigueur. Paragraph. I expect you would like my mother. Paragraph. I am quite certain, though, that the meeting would be more distressing to you than to me. For your own security—which I imagine interests you—I earnestly recommend that you realize that you will never understand, and just forget the whole thing. Respectfully, Philip. (Laughs.) How’s that, Mother? Oh, one more thing.(To MAID) Add a P.S. In any event, please believe that I am at least as sincere as you are. Underline the word sincere.
ELEANOR: I don’t know what you’re doing, Philip. Joe’s been dead for years.
PHILIP: I know that. (To MAID) You can type the letters up and send the cable off, and we’ll do some more later. Oh, and don’t forget to call Mr. Shuttlethwaite.
MAID: Very good, sir. (She goes.)
ELEANOR: Philip, I don’t want to be treasurer of the P.T.A.
PHILIP: I know, Mother, but it’s important. I don’t cut myself off from the life of my community, and you mustn’t either. Anyway, you have to learn sometime that we can’t always do just what we want. Close your eyes. (She does.) I’ll be right back.
(He gets out of bed and very quickly goes offstage. ELEANOR opens one eye, sees that he is gone, and shuts it immediately. She begins humming a tuneless little tune a little desperately. Ater a moment she stops humming, opens the eye again, sees that he is still gone.)
ELEANOR (Cries): Philip… (Immediately he comes back onstage and climbs into the bed again.)
PHILIP: It’s all right, Mother. You know I wouldn’t leave you for long. You’re the only person in the world I can be sure of.
ELEANOR: I think you need a taste of your own medicine. You just see how it feels. (She gets out of bed and starts offstage. Halfway out she stops, hesitates, then comes back to bed.) I don’t have to go now anyway. But you see what it’s like.
PHILIP (Kindly): Yes, Mother. Mother, I’m sorry to be so firm about the P.T.A., but it is important. I really think you’ll enjoy it once you get used to the idea. You’ll have all the meetings here, of course.
ELEANOR: Oh. I should have realized… Well, that’s all right, then. In fact, I’m actually beginning to look forward to it. Do you know Mr. Shuttlethwaite? He’s very attractive, I think, even if he does lisp.
PHILIP (Piqued): That’s settled then. Subject closed. (MAID enters.)
PHILIP: Yes, what is it?
MAID: I spoke to Mr. Shuttlethwaite, sir, and he seems to be upset. It seems to disturb him, your sleeping with your mother.
PHILIP: Yes? Well, so what?
MAID: He feels the Nominating Committee must be informed, and he wants to know what he should tell them.
PHILIP (To ELEANOR): Mother?… You remember, don’t you, Mother? Go ahead.
ELEANOR: Say to tell them I… (Steels herself.) Say to tell them I like it. (Covers her face with her hands. Sobbing.) Oh, Philip, I can’t I can’t say that.
PHILIP (Soothing): There now, Mother, that’s all right. Everything’s all right. (To MAID, firmly) Say to tell them I like it.
Copyright © 1963. All rights reserved.
A play in one act
By: Ronald Colby
BOB DAHDAH first directed RONALD COLBY’s Episode in July 1962 for the Caffe Cino, with JOE DAVIES as The Actor and DAVID FRANKLE as The Boy. Author RONALD COLBY says in an e-mail dated Mach 25, 2009: “JOSEPH DAVIES played the lead in my play Episode at the Cino, and then against my wishes took it over to the then-fledgling La Mama, because he couldn’t get enough.“ GARY HAYNES played The Boy at La Mama and in the 1963 Cino revival, directed by Davies himself, seen above with Haynes in the Cino. Photo courtesy Mister Haynes.
2540 Rubens Ave.
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A COUNTRY ROAD IN THE MIDWEST, EARLY MORNING. 1885
An aging actor is asleep alongside the road. He has two large theatrical trunks beside him. He is quite unkempt with a long mane of hair, and his clothes are of a one-time stylish theatrical cut complete with a mud-bespattered ragged cape. He moves well in an Elizabethan manner, though his movements are subject to what ever part he finds himself playing. The actor playing this part should by no means play it as a cliche or with the stammering, feathery, brusqueness we often see in an actor playing a Shakespearean actor. The character is theatrical, it’s true, but he has a dynamic virility about him that must not be left out. He is a ham, an old-time sawdust, melodramatic Shakespearean actor, but not a light caricature. He has a reality, and in his monologue, and closing quotation from Hamlet, he has a brilliance.
After a time, the Actor awakens, inhales deeply and follows this by a fit of consumptive coughing. Upon recovering, he starts to speak.
ACTOR: God. Oh, my. Oh, God. Where am I? (He looks around) Nowhere. Merciful God, what a dream had I. My things, look at my things. That bastard threw me off his damned wagon.
He rises and walks after the long-gone wagon.
ACTOR: Bastard! Unworthy bastard.
He returns and begins to straighten up his things and notices his trunk is broken.
ACTOR: Broken. This trunk was made in London. Bastard! Bastard!
He coughs violently and is forced to sit down. He looks idly at some of the things around the trunk and begins to put them back in.
ACTOR: A lot of junk, no-good worthless junk.
He finds his broken mirror and looks into it.
ACTOR: Akin to this visage. Worthless, smitten, consumptive, junk. (He peers deeply into the mirror) “No deeper wrinkles yet? Hath sorrow struck so many blows upon this face of mine and made no deeper wounds? O flattering glass, like to my…”
(He tosses the mirror into the trunk) Ah, my heart’s not in it. I haven’t the strength. I must get some food. I haven’t eaten–must be two days. (with a wail) Oh, Christ, where the hell am I?
He gets on top of the trunk and looks around.
ACTOR: Let there be a farmhouse, a barn, a wigwam even. (He sees something) In good time.
A young man of about seventeen enters with the traditional runaway’s stick and bundle. He is dressed in appropriate farm clothes and moves slowly and awkwardly in contrast to the Actor’s exacting movements. He seems to have the typical laconic speech and slow moving thoughts of a farm boy, and yet, at times there is a hard aloofness in him, at times almost aggressive. He is cross-eyed.
The Actor, who has been hiding behind a trunk, jumps out in front of the boy and with a stick in his hand assumes a fencing pose.
ACTOR: What ho! Stand fast! Trying to trespass upon my domain eh? Attempting to enter my dominion: well, we’ll have none of that. Come sir, your sword.
The Boy stares at him blankly.
ACTOR: Why stand you thus amazed; can not you comprehend?
He removes one of his very worn gloves and tosses it at the Boy’s feet.
ACTOR: There sir, my gage is at your feet. Are you so lewd as to refuse to defend your honor? Lift your sword, lest mine be about your insolent sconce.
The Boy raises his stick mechanically as if in a trance, and the Actor moves around him quoting and fencing furiously.
ACTOR: “I’ll fight with none but thee, for I do hate thee worse than a promise-breaker. Let the first budger die the other’s slave, and the gods doom him after.”
The Actor stops in a fit of coughing and regains his composure with difficulty.
ACTOR: This grows too tedious. Coriolanus’ battles are too long. Possibly–ah, yes, of course.
He takes the Boy’s stick and throws it down and puts his stick in the Boy’s hand.
ACTOR: “Hold then my sword, then turn away thy face while I do run upon it. Wilt thou, Strato?”
The Boy still can’t comprehend.
ACTOR: Good boy. “Farewell, good Strato.”
Runs on his stick.
ACTOR: “Caesar, now be still. I killed not thee with half so good a will.”
He dies magnificently.
ACTOR: (sitting up) That impressed you, eh? Well my friend, that was a mere trifle. It gave you only a slight inkling of my talents. For a morsel of food, (feeling the Boy’s bag) Ah, perhaps an apple or a chicken leg, I might do a scene from–King Lear.
He gets up.
BOY: Sorry Mister, but I ain’t got much.
He starts to go, but the Actor stops him.
ACTOR: For what purpose sir are you journeying along this dusty highway?
ACTOR: Methinks possibly you are marching off in search of the Holy Grail, or the golden fleece, or (insinuatingly) Ah, but of course, you are Paris searching for the fair Helena.
BOY: No, I’m…
ACTOR: S’Blood, what I wouldn’t give to exchange my lot with yours. Think of her my boy: the most beautiful woman in the world! Can’t you just smell the intoxicating fragrance of her body? Her breasts rising and falling in a dazing rhythm beneath her almost transparent gown, and her long rounded legs moving with slow sensuous movements under the filmy material. And all the while–all the while she beckons you to bed and destruction with her smoldering eyes. (himself rapt) Think of that. Think of that. What can a man say?
ACTOR: Gee? Gee? Is that all you can say? (smites his brow) “It has made me mad.”
BOY:(grinning in wonderment) You sure can carry on. Well, ‘scuse me, I got to be goin’.
ACTOR: Noticing your bag and various accouterments, I do perceive you are either leaving somewhere, or you are on your way to someplace, or as would logically follow, you are both leaving from and going to.
BOY: (proudly) Well, I’m running away from home if that’s what you mean.
ACTOR: Running away from home, how glorious. Magnificent! Your father and mother are drunkards; they beat you; they rent you out as a laborer to a cruel farmer.
BOY: No, I…
ACTOR: Your parents are millionaires. No, they are the King and Queen, and you the prince have decided to go out and explore the world of the poor.
BOY: Listen here…
ACTOR: Your uncle killed your father and married with your mother and now you must revenge his murder.
The Actor immediately begins to play the Ghost of Hamlet.
ACTOR: “O, horrible! O, horrible! Most horrible! If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not. Let not the royal bed of Denmark be a couch for luxury and damned incest. But howsoever thou pursues this act, taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven and to those thorns that in her bosom lodge to prick and sting her. Fare thee well at once. The glowworm shows the matin to be near and ‘gins to pale his uneffectual fire. Adieu, adieu, adieu. Remember me.”
On the last lines, the Actor slowly disappears behind a trunk. The Boy stands transfixed. The Actor sticks his head above the trunk and looking tired asks:
ACTOR: Was that it?
BOY: No, that wasn’t it. And I don’t know what you mean by goin’ ‘round scarin’ people like that. You got no right. I’m goin’.
He gets his bundle and searches for his stick.
ACTOR: Ah, my noble friend–an apple–a pear–a fig even. No so much as a crust of bread?
BOY: Mister, I told you, I ain’t got much food, and now I’m goin’.
ACTOR: (in desperation) Ah, my trunks, perhaps you’ll help me with my trunks. Someone dropped me off here from his wagon last night when he found I had no…I can’t remain in this place. (gesturing)You see.
BOY: Mister, it’s fifteen miles into town and nine miles to my house which I ain’t ‘bout to go back to. And ain’t nobody likely to come along this road to help us. Why mister, it’d ‘bout kill us to carry them trunks into town. We wouldn’t make it ‘till midnight or tomorrow mornin’. ‘Sides, it looks like there’s a storm a-brewin’.
From this time on, the lights dim subliminally, keeping pace with the action of the play.
ACTOR: But they’re my things, costumes, props, wigs, make-up, my reviews…. I couldn’t leave them.
BOY: Yeah, and I don’t think you could make it to town, let enough keep up with me. Well, I’ll be seein’ you.
ACTOR: (desperate to keep the boy from leaving) You never told me why you were running away.
BOY: Mister, I’m running away ‘cause I don’t much like it there, or here. And I’m goin’ to some big city and make me a lot of money.
ACTOR: Don’t like it–make money?
BOY: Yes, sir.
ACTOR: But my boy, you can’t. I mean, the least possible reason you could have for leaving home is a drunken father, or an insatiable desire to become an actor.
BOY: Is that right?
ACTOR: (regaining courage) Ay, truly. How at your age can you be so calculating as to leave home for money? Look out there my boy, what do you see?
BOY: Some trees, a few crows in the sky, and some bugs in the light.
ACTOR: “Swounds man, free your imagination. Out there lies adventure. Sultan’s palaces and harems, King Solomon’s diamonds, pyramids, golden Buddhas, river pirates, sea dragons and sabertooth tigers. Why boy, out there are living dreams, adventures too fantastic to be told.
BOY: (interested in spite of himself) Yeah? You ever had any adventure?
ACTOR: My boy, life is an adventure. And my life has been one great series of the most miraculous adventures. I’ve loved, I’ve lost, I have wooed the most beautiful women of all time. I’ve fought the most brave men in history and at times the most wicked. I’ve been knighted, crowned and dethroned, and I’ve been in situations so ridiculous they would make you split your sides with laughter.
BOY: (disbelievingly) Ah, where’d you do all that?
ACTOR: On the stage.
BOY: Yeah, but that’s not life. I mean a life adventure.
ACTOR: Ah, but even my stage adventures have been coupled with life adventures. My life has been what one might call a play within a play. I’ve played kings before kings. I’ve played great men before the great men of our capital cities. I was in the estimation of many, one of the greatest actors in the world.
BOY: If you were so great, what are you doin’ here, out in the middle of nowhere?
The Boy’s words strike home and the Actor looks around increasingly distracted.
ACTOR: Here? No where? I hardly understand anymore. I used to be a success, but not–a complete success. It seemed at the time that as I strived more and more for great success, I got farther and farther from my art–farther and farther from truth.
The Boy gets up and goes off, but the Actor doesn’t notice.
ACTOR: I could never completely realize the moment. I felt..I knew there must have been something more, that moment of truth, that sudden blast of light that is true inspiration. Yet, who knows. Perhaps I might have had my dream, my truth, my moment and never known it. Because it seems that the dream is always more than the thing. The thought is always more than the deed. I don’t know. I decided to renew my quest for truth, my search for the Holy Grail of the theatre. I began to experiment in my acting. My audiences noticed the change and didn’t approve. But I was not to be put off. I changed almost everything in my style, my approach; yet none of the new things seemed to work and what was worse, I had lost both my faith and my ability to perform the old tricks. Yes, tricks, they were tricks. I grew confused, and the more confused I got, the more theatres shut their doors to me. Had I not felt myself forced along the path of truth, I might have made a fortune.
He looks at his sad clothes and broken trunk and laughs wistfully.
ACTOR: A fortune. They say all the great dramatic figures of literature have a tragic flaw. It seems that my flaw was a compulsion to seek out the truth. At last my quest found me doing scraps of scenes from the great plays in little out of the way places. I did Lear for soup and Hamlet for bread. I continued this way for years until yesterday, fed up with the stage, my health gone, I decided to play a joke on the stage as the stage had make a joke of me. I decided to play a part as badly as I could, do everything wrong. Some ranchers and farmers were seated around a saloon waiting for me to do my scene. Well, I got out on the barroom floor–’zounds, it makes my head swim to think of it. I knelt on the floor with a spittoon in front of me. I knelt and didn’t move, stayed stock still, and then I let the words come out in the most ridiculous manner, haltingly, only just audible: ‘She’s gone forever.” And the tears rolled down my face in the most embarrassing manner causing my eye make-up to run: ‘Cordelia, Cordelia.’ The fools didn’t notice that I was playing Lear and hadn’t even whitened my hair. I had on clown make-up and I was wearing an old Othello costume with a huge scimitar hanging from my neck. I had a spittoon in front of me, and like an ass, on my knees, not moving, the tears running down into my beard, saying: ‘Cordelia, Cordelia.’ And do you know the most amazing thing? When I finally looked around, every face in that saloon was wet with tears. Farmers, cowboys, blacksmiths sat there blubbering into their beer and whisky. And then I knew. I saw. I realized the stage is the most ridiculous place in the world.
The Boy returns pulling up his pants and buttoning himself.
ACTOR: The most senseless, stupid, pointless, preposterous joke ever played. I was not performing with any declamatory style, but merely exploring, yes, that’s it, I was simply exploring the unknown and the audience wept. That has no logic, no, no, I don’t know. I don’t understand. (turning to the Boy) Do you know what I’m going to do?
The Boy picks up his things.
BOY: What’s that?
ACTOR: If I live long enough to get there, I’m going back to the cities and play out the joke on everyone else and make a damned fortune.
BOY: Yeah, well you know what I’m gonna do?
BOY: I’m gonna march me up this road to some big city and make myself a damned fortune. Yes sir.
The Boy waves and starts off down the road. The Actor stands there reaching after him, wanting him to come back, but not knowing what to say. Suddenly the Boy stops in his tracks, turns and asks.
BOY: Say, can you really make a fortune at that acting?
ACTOR: (laughing almost to himself) My friend, there are millions to be made.
BOY: Yeah? Millions? How do you get started?
ACTOR: Like anything else, you must first apprentice, learn your trade and then with a little talent or luck, you’ll…are you…
BOY: If I helped you with your trunks, would you teach me?
ACTOR: (he laughs) Now, you’ll help me with…
BOY: What’s so funny?
ACTOR: No, do not take offense my friend. It’s just that, well you see, I had a dream last night. I saw myself dead and rotting here on this road. My body was all wet, lifeless, and my cape was steaming in the morning sun. And when I saw you start to leave just then, I…
(with a jubilant raising of the heart)
But it looks as if we’ll be getting on won’t we?
BOY: Let’s try some acting first.
ACTOR: But we have so far to travel…
BOY: I want to try it now, see how I like it.
ACTOR: (warming to the idea) A noble idea. An inspiration. S’blood, what shall it be? Something, something full of life that will stretch your talents. ‘Zounds, I have it: Anthony and Cleopatra.
The Actor trots over and opens his trunks and begins throwing out old costumes, beards and wigs. He finally picks out some old armor, a few bits of costume and a black wig.
ACTOR: I haven’t played this part for ages. Ah, God, but this brings back memories. By Jove, we’re getting on.
He picks up the wig and the rest of the Cleopatra costume and begins dressing the Boy.
ACTOR: Dark eyed mystic beauty.
ACTOR: Dazzling enchantress.
ACTOR: ‘Zounds, look at you!
(The Boy looks of course, preposterous)
ACTOR: The Queen of the Nile.
BOY: You mean I’m gonna be a Queen? A girl?
ACTOR: Cleopatra, a woman, one of the greatest women in history.
BOY: Who ever heard of a boy playing a woman?
ACTOR: My friend, in Shakespeare’s time all the women’s roles were played by boy actors. It can be part of your apprenticeship. Besides, right now, I feel like playing Julius Caesar.
BOY: No sir, forget it. (He begins taking off the clothes) I ain’t playin’ no girl.
ACTOR: Hold just a minute. Perhaps you’re right; we can think of something else.
BOY: Let me play something like the kind of fellow I am.
ACTOR: Have you no imagination?
BOY: Something like I am.
ACTOR: I fear Shakespeare didn’t quite have you in mind when he wrote his plays.
BOY: Well then…
ACTOR: I have it, you can be my Fool. I mean Lear’s Fool.
BOY: You’re pokin’ fun at me.
ACTOR: No, I…well, perhaps something more moderate, more simple, I mean less complicated. You could be, yes, Rosencrantz. You may start with Rosencrantz.
BOY: Sounds like a flower or a cheese or somethin’.
ACTOR: Guildenstern then, does that name suit you better?
BOY: Yeah, I guess so.
ACTOR: Good, we will do this extempore.
Impulsively, the Actor bends down and picks up a stick.
ACTOR: “Will you play upon this pipe?”
BOY: What pipe?
ACTOR: This is a pipe, a recorder, a musical instrument, and you could instinctively answer: “My Lord, I cannot.”
BOY: Well how was I supposed to know that?
ACTOR: True, true, I see the extemporaneous wit is not your style. Can you read?
BOY: What am I supposed to answer?
ACTOR: Just tell me if you can read or not.
BOY: Yeah, I can read…a little.
ACTOR: We’ll try a new scene. beginning here.
The Actor goes to a trunk and searches for a book as the Boy studies the sky with increasing unease. The Boy looks as though he were ready to leave when the Actor returns with a book.
ACTOR: You read the part of Bolingbrook
BOY: (Half interested and reading badly) “Stand all apart,…”
ACTOR: No wait. Wait until I make my entrance. In this scene it is the first time Bolingbrook and Richard meet since Bolingbrook has usurped him. All right, you may begin.
BOY: “Stand all apart, and show fair duty to His Majesty. My gracious Lord.”
ACTOR: (In a whisper) You kneel.
(the boy does)
ACTOR: “Fair Cousin, you debase your princely knee to make the base earth proud with kissing it. Me rather had my heart might feel your love then my…”
The Boy seems to be looking off in a different direction than the Actor.
ACTOR: Why are you looking over there when I’m right in front of you?
BOY: You’re poking fun at me again.
ACTOR: No I’m not. I just asked you a simple question.
BOY: My eye jumps off in that direction ever since I got kicked by a goat.
ACTOR: (stunned) Oh, a curious infirmity.
BOY: A what?
ACTOR: I mean an odd thing not to see life as it is, but everything off to one side. For an actor to…well, on with the scene. (Fights to recall his lines) “Than my unpleased eye to see your courtesy. Up, Cousin, up.”
(The Boy rises and the Actor whispers)
ACTOR: No, not yet.
BOY: But you said, ‘get up.’
ACTOR: (almost losing control) Yes, but I didn’t mean it.
BOY: Pa says you should only say what you mean.
ACTOR: Why the hell did you want to become an actor anyway?
BOY: So I could make a fortune.
ACTOR: (ready to explode) Yes, well there are… . On with the scene. On your knees. “Up cousin, up. Your heart is up, I know, thus high at least, although your knee be low.”
BOY: “My gracious lord, I come but for mine own.”
ACTOR: Must you read everything as a question? It’s, “My gracious Lord, I come but for mine own.” “For mine own. For mine own.”
BOY: (still with a question) “My gracious Lord, I come but for mine own?”
ACTOR: “Your own is yours, and I am yours, and all.”
BOY: “So far be mine, my most redoubted, lo (he pronounces it badly)
ACTOR: (correcting and losing control) “Redoubted, redoubted.”
BOY: You shouldn’t yell at me. You don’t act so good either. How do you expect me to learn if you yell at me all the time.
ACTOR: Learn, you could never learn. You’re goat-kicked, avaricious idiot.
BOY: All I want it so…
ACTOR: Make money. You’re a greedy uninspired clod. There’s more to the stage than making money.
BOY: Who cares, you said it was…
ACTOR: Forget what I said.
ACTOR: Stupid, no. The stage is, … it has dignity, majesty.
The Boy grabs his bag and starts to go.
BOY: You’re crazy.
The Actor suddenly realizes his predicament.
ACTOR: My trunks, I’m helpless here, I had a dream…God.
BOY: Then show me how to act, show me how to make my fortune.
ACTOR: No, no, a million times no. Away, leave.
The Boy begins to walk off and the Actor shouts after him.
ACTOR: There’s talent, inspiration, truth…
The Actor falls down in a violent spasm of coughing. The Boy stops, looks at the Actor and then at the black and threatening sky.
BOY: I’ll tell someone in town you’re out here and that you’re not fit.
The Actor leans back against a trunk.
ACTOR: “Not a whit, we defy augury. There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be.”
BEN MARTIN was TIME Magazine’s first staff photographer 1957, TIME Magazine Senior Photographer 1957-1989, photographed for all divisions of Time Inc., including LIFE, Fortune, People, Sports Illustrated, Money, Discover, Entertainment Weekly, Architectural Forum, House and Home, TIME LIFE Books, HBO, Book of the Month Club and Corporate. In February 1961 he took the photo below, the first published Caffe Cino performance photo, Time Magazine, Feb. 10, 1961. It was labeled in TIME as F. STORY TALBOT’s “Herrengasse.” Story says it is actually of the next show, Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Real.” The central figure is undeniably the great SHIRLEY STOLER. Photo originally shared by GARY FILSINGER. Mister Martin has graciously given permission for these fully copyrighted photos to be shared here and here only.