“EPISODE” a 1962 Caffe Cino play by Ronald Colby
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.
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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.”