Before he croaked, I wrote a play for the great Polish animator/artist/grump Jan Lenica.
Ionesco thinks it’s genius. Lenica said he didn’t understand.
Ottawa. It is a Sunday afternoon in late July. It is unusually hot. We are in a bar. Many unusual characters are sitting outside at the cobblestone patio. They sit in dirty white plastic chairs drinking out of dirty white plastic glasses on dirty white plastic tables. The sound of birds are heard in a tree near the patio. Ah the birds...the birds....the birds. An elderly man passes. He stops to give change to a cheerful, smooth dancing panhandler before passing under the tree, entering the patio and sitting at a table down stage centre. He is a distinguished, but sad looking man in his 70s. At the same time a young middle age man arrives and sits at the same table. M is unshaven, with thick unkept brown hair, wrinkled clothes, spectacles. He is pale and tired. The older man, J, carries with him a solid patch of grey hair, a black suit, red tie....not literally of course. They are meeting.
J: You’re lateM: You just arrived.J: I am old. I told you many times.M: So leave earlier.J: You don’t like old people do you?M: Why do you say that?J: I’ve told you about my poor health many times.M: No you haven’t. Once maybe.J: Nevertheless.M: Most of you become lazy and silly.J: Stupid youth.M: You should know.J: I see you’ve had another late night.M: You’re right. I was busy working on this bloody article.J: Why do it? You haven’t even seen half the work.M: Everyone told me you’re a master.J: You listen to them?M: Have you read my work?J: No.
At this moment, the thundering sound of a wild, panting animal is heard.
M: What the hell is that?J: It’s Ubu. I thought you might like to talk with him and the others.
A group of men join the two. They are thin, pale faced expressionless men with black suits, black ties and stiff white collars. They sit. In the next moment, a man with an ugly white spandex outfit swoops out of the air and sits. Lastly, Ubu, a fat, grotesque, cone headed creature arrives panting quite heavily. At the table up stage left sit two academic looking men. One is a bearded Professor in his early 40s. The other is a dark haired, casually dressed Wigger in his late 20s. Up stage right is a table of three young ladies. Each is dressed with blue jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. Muttering from these tables is heard throughout the scene.
U: Shittr! By my green candle it’s fucking hot today.J: Must you be so vulgar?U: Fuck you old man. I should drop your head in the bin with the others. Where’s the shiitr?
Ubu leaves in search. A smashing sound is heard followed by a woman’s screams.
Waitress (in a very high pitched intense voice): Excuse me!!! Thank you for breaking the glasses! I appreciate it!!!
U: Go boil some potatoes mangina and take a long goatee ride.
Waitress punches Ubu and runs away.
M: (ignoring Ubu): Who are you?J: Who do you think I am?M: That’s what this is about.J: Yes.M: Poland. 1930s. J: Poznan. Capital. Cosmopolitan.M: I heard Poland was a backward country.J: What does this mean?M: Fuck if I know. Everything’s backwards to dyslexics. Sounds to me like Poland needed a babysitter.J: To hear you call Russia and Germany babysitters is astounding. A babysitter cares for its youth. They destroyed it all. Your generation knows nothing. M: What about the gulf war?Professor: Welles! (He continues to be heard while C and J talk)J: (laughing). Yes, you’re little tv war. You need two armies to have a war. Your generation knows nothing of war. Words like tragedy and catastrophe, survivor and disaster have become bastardized and applied to any minor mishap: a football match, a stock market drop, road rage....it’s sad really.P: Bunuel!J: Words. Like dropping the kids off at the pool and blowing a trumpet with your ass to tell everyone.M: So we’re all a bunch of rhinos ?P: Borges!J: In a way, yes. Your generation simply follows whatever new trend, leader or movement comes along. The German people were like the rhinos. P: Godard!M: The rhino analogy assumes Ionesco was clear cut in his ending. Right and wrong is blurred. Berenger is deluding himself. He carries his beliefs, but where does it get him? He is alone. J: Hitler, Reagan, Bush. All of them supported by rhinos. P: Kubrick!M: This is your weakness. Your world is too black and white. There are few options. You present a Rhinoceros with two choices: follow the leader or be left behind. Things don’t work out that way. There are many in-betweens.Wigger: Booty Call!M: Our lives are dictated by a mouse.
Ubu returns. He farts, wipes his nose, and pulls at his underwear...we assume.
M: Close to home? J: This type of grotesque is very close to me.Lady #1: ...African mud for my brother’s hair or it will fall outM: Are you not an accomplice?Lady #2:...baby went potty today.J: I’ve said many times that each of these people are me. My violence, banality, and anger. I have attempted to use popular forms to smuggle my ideas. l have found new viewers and maintained my.....self.M: In the end no one but the intellectuals and academics understand what you’re trying to do. It’s the old tale of speaking to the converted. Forty years later and I can’t even find your damn films.Lady #3: ... must be very proud.J: What more can I do? I am a barbarian who has trampled the gardener’s flowers. I am guided by my intuition. You now watch my films and write...do you not?M: Were you a horny teenager?J: What?M: You heard me?J: I don’t understand.M: It’s simple. Where you out lookin’ to get laid as a boy?J: Were you?M: Of course. I wanted to drill anything with a hole. But I never knew the rules. J: Did you love?M: Love? Love was not required. Love was a hole that needed to be filled. Sex to me meant love which meant five seconds of IMMENSE SATISFACTION, nothing more. Love was but a notch on the belt that cloaked my big balls.J: I don’t understand.M: Never mind. What is it like to love and be loved by your father?J: It is.M: For whom?J: My father was my biggest influence. He introduced me to art, music, politics. He taught me to embrace new ideas and take risks. I miss him very much.M: My first father beat me. My second father told me that ‘it was the sixties man’.J: I’m sorry.M: Why? I’m here. I am no better, no worse then you at my stage.J: Shall we begin?M: Why not?J: Will they understand?M: Who cares? They complain anyway.
Act 2 Scene 1
A sidewalk. The sun is shining brightly. It appears earlier than before. The birds chirp. M walks toward a building and see his friend M. Tete looking out from his window.
M: Tete! Hello.T: Bonjour. Voulez-vous monter? Je me prépare pour aller au travail. M: Ok.
M exits stage right.
We are now inside Monsieur Tete's apartment which resembles A's apartment...which you have not yet seen. M knocks. T answers. M enters stage left.
M: Hello head.T: Quelle vie!M: What do you mean?T: Je pourrais faire mieux que ça.
T proceeds to assume the form of Stockwell Day, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Nick Tosches, and Jan Lenica. Finally he returns to form.
T: Il faut que je me rase.M: Why?T: Parce que tout le monde se rase. He shaves.T: Il faut que je me brosse les dents.M: Why?T: Parce que tout le monde se brosse les dents. He brushes.T: Faut que j’aille travailler. Vous venez avec moi?M: Why?T: Parce que je vous le demande... nigaud!M: Ah...yes
T and M enter the office. It is very similar to Berenger's office, which you have not seen yet unless of course you've seen the film then you know what I mean. Inside employees work with dull, mechanical precision.
M: Ummm...I meant to ask you this before, but what happened to your face? T: C’est une assez longue histoire. Un jour, au travail, je me suis mis en pétard contre la maudite routine tout autour de moi. J’ai pété la gueule d’un collègue, on m’a saqué et je me suis retrouvé à la rue. À une réception, un soir, je me suis écoeuré en écoutant un maudit couillon de bourgeois faire un grand discours tarabiscoté, et je l’ai tiré en pleine tête. Quand j’étais en prison, j’ai appris qu’il ne fallait surtout pas se servir de sa tête. Quand je suis sorti, on m’a donné beaucoup de médailles.M: And how does this relate to your face?T: Il y a un prix pour tout.M: Sell out.T: Mauvaise tête. Mauvaise tête.M: What are you saying?T: Il faut écouter la raison.M: But reason comes from the head.T: Pas du tout. La raison est tout autour de vous. Votre tête vous remplit de doutes, de mensonges et d’illusions sur vous-même.M: Like Berenger.T: Voilà. Parfaitement.M: (While jumping from the office window C shouts) Long live Berenger! As M falls a fat masked man in a decidedly ugly spandex suit swoops down to save him.
Act 2, Scene 2
F: Hello. I am here.M: Yes, so you are...but you’re early. Your film doesn’t start until the early 1970s.F: Yes but you said you needed a link.M: True enough and you did save my ass. F: There you have it.M: Ah well...it also gives me the opportunity to mock your outrageous outfit. What are you...70 years old...a fat ass...a big gut and you’re flyin’ around in a goddamn white spandex suit with the letter F on it. (laughing)..does that stand for Fat? Fucker? Flatulence? (M is now coiled over in laughter). F: I do not understand the humour. I am Fantorro: the last just man.M: I’ll say...you’re just the last man to wear that bitch ugly outfit. Christ...didn’t you see Xmen?F: (Baffled) What?M: They wore all these pansy ass spandex trunks in the 1970s but now they wear cool black leather. Very sophisticated.F: But what about the animals?M: What about the fuckin’ animals? What’s more important: looking good and saving the human race or looking like a he-bitch while savin a bunch of god damn animals?
F flies away in tears before falling into a crowd of flowers. So much for F. It appears that M is not very interested in F’s work. It comes off as yet another individual in crisis film that he has seen far too many times and will see again.
Act 2, Scene 3
M is left on a deserted street not unlike one he will encounter later. He sees a mansion. A woman waves from a window. He enters. Throughout this scene we have no dialogue but only music. Imagine a George Pal sci-fi film scored by Norman McLaren.
A woman opens the door and raises her head to acknowledge M.
The woman lowers her head and steps back. M enters the hallway and is led into a waiting room. While he waits a tube streaks out across the room and rests on a table. A head follows. The head rests upon the tube. A factory like process begins culminating with a lightbulb effect in the head. The woman enters and looks deep within M’s eyes. She leads him to the dining room. They sit. Her hair ruffles. M reads the paper. The two play toss the potato and giggle. Every dropped potato means another drink for the loser. A glass smashes. The party is over. The woman glares at M. Many potatoes have been lost. She lowers her head and imagines a man entering the home and resting his hat on the coatrack. She dreams thrice. M finds himself in a bedroom. She is naked. Her back to him. He suddenly remembers his family. Grandma and the birds...the birds...ah the birds. Grandpa and the lawnmower. Uncle dancing and farting. The other uncle who married the cousin went gay and then nay. It was all there. The flowers fell in the garden before he stepped on them. They always did.
M has become a head. Nothing more. The woman caresses him. She fondly whispers in his ear, licks his chin and kisses his mouth. He is stagnant, unable to move, but desperate to leave. He moves. He leaves.
Act 3, Scene 1
A room. C and A enter the room. The room is all done in black and white.. Up stage right is a bed with a chair to its left. Center stage we see a table and chair. Up stage left is a fireplace with mirror and mantle above it. Left of that is a sofa chair. Upon the sofa is a gigantic capital G.
M: So how long has this been here?A: Well one day I came home after a particularly fine day. I was watering the flowers...writing, and preparing to eat when suddenly this A appeared. I was obviously startled, but as it wasn’t harmful I didn’t bother to do much really. M: But then it started to interfere with your daily activities?A: Indeed. All movements were blocked by this aggressive beast. I couldn’t eat, water plants, write, or leave. I tried to break it, kill it, and sneak by it, but it just kept re-appearing. M: But it finally left?A: Yes, but no sooner was it gone then the B appeared.M: And when was this?A: 1964.M: And since this time the entire alphabet has appeared?A: That’s correct. They are now in their second cycle.M: It must be quite awkward. How to you get about?A: Well in 1964, I was an exile in France and very much intimidated by the language. I tended to stay home a lot.M: Yes...but its seems to be about more than that. I sense that you are living, to borrow from Frederic Jamieson, in a prison house of language. A: Well once it was very much that, but I have learned to adapt and tolerate.M: So you have given in?A: What choice do I have? M: You could leave?A: Where too? I’ve left once already from France to Germany and still they follow. There is no escaping.M: So I’ve been told.
At this moment a crash is heard off stage left. Within moments, a man enters. He has a mustache, bowler hat, and is dressed very similar to A. He also has two wings attached to both arms.
L: Sorry about that. I’ve still trouble making landings.A: You’d think after some 38 years of flying you would at least have learned how to land!L: Yes well...the same can be said for airplanes. (to M): Are you ready to go? M: Yes. (To A): Well..thank you for your time.
M and L exit left. A waves to them. He turns around and returns to his plant. Suddenly he kicks G and returns to his chair. G grabs A and throws him to the floor and stomps, then dances, on him. All fades to dark.
Act 3, Scene 2
M and L arrive in the streets of what appears to be an empty town. While talking M and L walk back and forth across the stage. Occasionally strange creatures appear including a man-bird, crocodile with a woman in its mouth, and a dinosaur.
M: So I’m not quite clear about what is going on here. I understand that you flew in, dumped your wings and then wondered aimlessly around this dreadful, deserted town (a man-bird flies over) meeting a variety of strange creatures. Then they try to alter your brain and birds appear to eat you and you fall.
L: It’s quite simple really. Like Berenger, I am an individual. I do things my way. I will not conform to society’s restrictions. If I want to fly, I fly. M: Yet you seem as horny as any other man given your attempt to steal the woman away from the crocodile. L: I am only human.M: So you are basically this normal, average guy just trying to survive in what you perceive to be a very bizarre and hostile world?L: Precisely.M: (sarcastically) Well...that’s... interesting. At least there are some nice pictures. I don’t understand... haven’t we seen this theme already?L: Look I am in this film. I am not responsible for what he does. If you want answers, ask him. I’m just doing my job.
L flies away in a huff
M: Wait..come back. How the hell am I going to get out of this place? (Resigned): Shit. Detroit. I hate Detroit.
Act 4, Scene 1
M walks and walks and walks and walks. It is dark. He enters a forest. After an hour he realizes he has lost his way. He is scared. He wants to go home. Sounds echo through the forest. The moon shines bright. Fireflies fly. He sees flowers sprout from the ground. A mojo rises. A skeletal, handicap creature with only a skull and high heels arrives and nods M his way. They walk. They pass leaves, flowers, amputated creatures. All the time they are under the eyes of them. Whispering, muttering, and murmurs are vibrant throughout the forest. Suddenly something appears. It is a human shape.
M: Living man have mercy on me.U: Shittr, what the green candle are you yappin’ about.M: I have lost my way.U: Well bully for you. Do you have money?M: A little.U: For money I will be your guide and take you through these circles of despair beyond the amputees, the fireflies, the whimperings, and this horrid Dante analogy.M: What about the eyes?U: Shut your gob.M: Pere Ubu, you must lead me beyond this darkness towards the gates.U: Look. I’ll cut your balls off in a minute. Shut up.M: What is this place?U: Well you know. He got older, his father was dying. He was in America. This is his dream. This is a vision of a world that he imagines once was but no longer is.M: But why the high heels and the skeleton. Is he...you know...a bit...ummm...funny?U: Who the hell isn’t a bit funny. You should talk. Orange shoes. Talk about pussywear.M: Yes, well... M sees the head of a German soldier floating in the river this is a land of murder, paranoia, and random brutality. U: Why do you think I’m here? (Wipes his nose) Remember it is not long after this that we meet. He visited me twice. (picks his ass). M: Why does it get worse? Surely it should get better. Why so grotesque?U: Shittr. This is what he has seen and lived. Why do you ask so many damn questions? Why the need for fuckin’ answers all the time. What more do you want?M: That’s a question, idiot.U: Shittr!!! I’ll bury you.
Ubu pulls out an ax and chases M. M flees the forest. He sees a thin, pale faced man bicycling. M runs up and hops on the front of the bike. They bicycle off stage left.
Act 4, Scene 2
A2: What are you doing?M: Just go...a madman is chasing me.A2: There’s no one there.
They slow down.
M: Who are you?A2: Adam II.M: Hmmm...I don’t really know you, but I did see a clip.A2: Damn producers.M: Shall we walk?A2: Alright.M: Where are you headed?A2: Poland.M: What’s there?A2: Home.M: Whose?A2: His.M: It’s too late.A2: Why? M: It’s over.A2: I’m curious.M: Why?M: It’s human nature.M: Remember the cat?A2: There is no where else to go.
They go on.
The same patio. It is still sunny. It is still hot. Everything is the same except the thing. Ah...the birds. The birds. The birds.
J: Late again.M: Sorry I’ve been trying to summarize what I’ve seen. J: Who am I?M: You are whoever I want you to be.J: Who do you want me to be?M: I don’t know. To know I must know who I am.J: Who are you?M: Right now anyone I want to be.J: That is nonsense. Answer the question.M: I am who I am which is not unlike who you are.J: But you don’t know who I am?M: Yes.J: Will they see it? Will I see it?M: If they will.J: It’s not always so dark.M: I know. There is a lot of humor here, but it is black.J: Like Keaton...M: Exactly.J: Keaton films were simple, richer and more honest. Chaplin wanted to be a great artist. Keaton wanted to make people laugh. In the end, Keaton became the greater artist.M: Your earlier films were richer when they were simple. Then you got muddled up in your thoughts. Also, Keaton ended up broke, drunk and doing beer commercials.J: Even Keaton became a rhino.M: And you?
Just then Ubu grabs Lenica, farts, and carries him away.