THE DRAMA AS I SEE IT

Masterpieces of Other Nations

STEPHEN LEACOCK June 1 1923

THE DRAMA AS I SEE IT

Masterpieces of Other Nations

STEPHEN LEACOCK June 1 1923

THE DRAMA AS I SEE IT

Masterpieces of Other Nations

STEPHEN LEACOCK

V. The Sub-Contractor

AN IBSEN PI. A Y

1i)*ne t)ut of the Original Nor we~iati \Vith an :\XC

DRAMATIS PERSONAE A Builder !Ii~ Wife IJeu rup - .4 Professor of Therutody no in ics A Maid Servant Ate .4 ceo no tan! His Sister I'~~r Gyicep . - .4 Pastor `rout p His Mother-in-law etc., etc., etc.

...........and as many more with

naines of that kind and with occupations of that sort as there is room for on the page. Some of than may not get into the play at all. But that doesn’t matter. An Ibsen Dramatis Personae is a thing by itself.

SCENE I.

A ROOM in Slump's house.

There are flowers on the table.)

Slump: What beautiful flowers.

Vamp: Yes, they are fresh this morning.

Slump and Vamp speak one after the other in short turns, like sawing wood with a cross cut saw. But there is no need to indicate which is speaking. It doesn’t matter.

Are they indeed?

A'es. they are.

How sweet they smell.

A'es. don’t they?

I like flowers.

So do I. I think they smell so beautiful.

It’s a beautiful morning.

A'es, the spring will soon be here.

The air is deliciously fresh.

A'es. it is, isn’t it?

I saw a bobolink in the garden.

A bobolink already? Then summer is soon here.

Soon, indeed: the meadows are already green.

I like the green meadows.

A'es, isn’t it?

The angle of the sun is getting high.

I suppose it is. I noticed yesterday that the diameter

of the moon was less.

Much less, and the planets are brighter than they were.

Their orbits are elongating.

I suppose so.

Vamp: How I love the

spring!

Slump: So do I. The evaporation of the air closes up all the pores of ray skin.

This completes round number one. It is meant to show Swedish home life, the high standard of education among the Swedes and, just at the end, the passionate nature of Vamp. The spring fills her with longings. It also shows where Slump stands. For him the spring merely opens the pores of his skin.

With this understanding we are ready for a little action:

A bell rings. Then Simp, the maid, enters, showing in Dump, a professor in Therm o d y n a m i cs.

Good morning Dump.

Good morning Slump. Good morning Vamp. Good morning Dump.

Dump: The spring will soon be here.

Vamp: I saw a bobolink in the garden.

Dump: A’es, I saw a wagtail on the thatch of the dovecot.

Slump: Spring is coming.

Dump: It will do my cough good.

Vamp: A'es, you will soon be well.

Dump: Never well. ( He coughs again.)

Slump: A'ou think too much. You need pleasure; for me each time I finish a sub-contract I like to take my ease and drink sprott.

Dump: I can’t drink sprott. (He coughs.) I have a mortal disease.

Vamp: Don’t say that.

Dump: In six years I shall be dead.

Nonsense. Come, drink a glass of sprott.

No.

Have some yip?

No.

Take some pep?

No.

(Dump goes and sits down near a window; the others look at him in silence.) This completes round two.

It is intended to establish the fact that Dump has a mortal disease. There is nothing visibly wrong with Dump except that he look bilious. But in every Ibsen play it is understood that one of the characters has to have a mortal disease. Dump in the Ibsen Drama will die of biliousness in six years. Biliousness and ill temper take the place of Anangke in Greek tragedy.

Slump: Well, I must be about my work. Come, Simp, and help me get my wallet and my compasses.

Simp: Yes, sir. (Simp and Slump go out.) (Vamp and Dump are left alone.)

Vamp: Come and sit down.

Dump: I don’t want to sit down. I’m too ill to sit down.

Vamp: Here, get into this long chair; let me make you comfortable.

(Vamp makes Dump sit down.)

Vamp: There now, you’re comfortable.

Dump: Why should I be comfortable? I’m too ill to be comfortable. In six years I shall be dead.

Vamp: Oh no! Don’t say that.

Dump: Yes I will. I am very sick. The bile is mounting to my oesophagus.

Vamp: Oh, no!

Dump: I say it is. There’s an infiltration into my

ducts. My bones are turning into calcareous feldspar.

This dialogue is supposed to bring out the full charm of Dump. The more bilious he is the better Vamp likes him. It is a law of the Ibsen drama that the heroines go simply crazy over bilious, disagreeable men with only

from six to twenty years to live. This represents the everlasting mother-soul. They go on talking:—

Vamp: Let me sing to you.

Dump: Yes, yes.

Vamp: Let me dance for you.

Dump: Yes, yes, dance for me.

Vamp is evidently smitten with that peculiar access of gaiety that is liable to overcome the heroine of an Ibsen play at any time.

She dances about the room singing as she goes:

Was ik en Butterflog

Flog ik dein Broost enswog,

Adjo, mein Hertzenhog,

Dump: (passionately) More, more; keep on singing. Keep on dancing. It exhilarates my capillary tissue. More, more.

Vamp: Do you love me?

Vamp: No, you mustn’t say that.. It’s wicked to say that. What put that into your head?

Dump: Dance for me again.

A^amp: No. I mustn’t. Listen, I hear them coming back. (Slump and Simp come back into the room.)

Slump: There, Ijjhave everything, my wallet, my compasses, my slide rule—right, everything is here.

Dump: You are very busy. What are you building now?

Slump: I am laying gas mains. They are to go under the Market Hall. They are twenty feet under the pavement. I have forty workmen working—and six steam dredges digging. When I see them dig I want to shout “Ha! ha! dig harder! dig harder!” Do you like steam shovels?

Dump: No, they make a noise.

Slump: I like noise. It makes my veins tingle. Don’t you like it?

Dump: No, It closes my ducts. I don’t like it.

Ha! This morning we are to explode dynamite to blow out the boulders. When it explodes I like to shout “Ha! That was a good one.” Don’t you like dynamite?

No it oscillates my diaphragm.

Slump: Ha, you should learn to like it. Look,

here are sticks of it—like shaving sticks, aren’t they? (Takes from his pockets some short sticks of dynamite.)

Vamp: Don’t speak so roughly. It is bad for Dump. It will make him cough.

(Dump Coughs.)

Vamp: You see. Come away, Dump, come into the conservatory. I have a lovely eschscholzia that I want to show you.

(Vamp and Dump go out.)

Round three is now complete. It is meant to show that Slump, the sub-contractor, is a man of terrible driving power. He is filled with the “drang” of life. A'ou have to call this “drang” simply “drang” because in English we don’t have it. It means something the same as “pep” but not quite. Pep is intellectual, drang is bodily. It means, as all the critics of the play point out, that Slump “represents the up-surge of elemental forces.” But it simply means that he is full of beans.

Slump: (calling) Now, Simp, my hat, my stick anà a glass of sprott. Where are you?

Simp: Coming, master.

(Simp comes in with a hat and stick and with a glass of sprott in her hand.)

Slump: Ha, give it to me! I like my sprott. It makes my eyes bulge.

( He drinks greedily.) Simp: A’ou shouldn’t drink so fast.

Slump: I like to drink ' fast. It inflates me. Ha!

( He finishes the glass and puts it aside.)

Slump: Ha! That’s good. You’re a pretty girl.

Simp: Oh!

Slump: Come and give me a kiss.

Simp: No.

Slump: Yes, you shall. (He takes hold of Simp and draws her towards him.)

Simp: No.

Slump: Yes, I say. ( He kisses Simp greedily three or four times.1 There!

Simp: You shouldn’t kiss me.

Slump: Why not?

Simp : I have a hereditary taint.

Slump: (aghast) What?

Simp: I have a hereditary taint.

My grandfather died of appendicitis.

Slump: (staggering back, his hand to his brow)—Appendicitis!

Simp: Yes, look, I have the marks of it.

(Simp raises her sleeve and shows a round red mark'on her[wrist.)

Slump: Great Heavens. >1 Sprott!

Give me some more sprott. ( He stands staring in front of him while Simp fetches another glass of sprott.

He drinks it eagerly.)

Simp: How do you feel now?

Slump: Bad. There are specks dancing in front of my eyes. What does it mean?

Simp: Appendicitis!

Slump: I am doomed. Give me more sprott. Appendicitis! Sprott.

Appendicitis!

The action of the play pauses here a moment to let the audience appreciate the full measure of retribution that has fallen upon Slump for kissing a Norwegian housemaid. Slump has sunk into a chair and sits with his eyes staring in front of him. Simp stands looking at him unconcerned.

Vamp and Dump come back.

Vamp: Good Heavens! What is the matter?

Dump: What is it?

Simp: I don’t know. I don’t think he is well.

Slump: (Beginning to bark like a dog.) Wow! Wow!

Vamp: No, he is not well.

Dump: He is hardly himself.

Slump: Bow! Wow!

yamp: I should say that he is ill.

Dump: Yes, he seems poorly.

Slump: Wow!

Vamp: He appears in poor health.

Dump: Yes, he looks out of sorts.

(Slump takes the stick of dynamite out of his pocket and begins to eat it.)

Vamp: What is he doing now?

Dump: I think he is eating dynamite.

Vamp: Will it hurt him?

Dump: Yes, presently.

Vamp: In what particular way?

Dump: After the warmth of his body warms it he will explode.

Vamp: How curious. How warm will it have to be?

Dump: About 90 degrees. It will take about a minute for each degree. He will explode in twelve minutes.

Vamp: Is it wise to stay near him?

Dump: No, it is highly imprudent. We had better go. Simp had better gather up your things. We will go together. It is scarcely wise to linger.

Vamp: No, let us hasten.

Slump: Wow! Wow!

The curtain falls leaving as usual after an Ibsen play a profound problem stated but not solved.

The Russian Drama As It Was and Is BASILISK VANGOROD A Russian Play

(Old Style)

npHIS is the kind of play that used to deal with dear old Russia when there was nothing more dangerous there than the knout, and exile to Siberia, and the salt mines, and nihilists with black whiskers, and bombs as large as plum puddings. The good old place is changed now. Life there, from what I can gather at a distance of six thousand miles—which is all I propose to gather—seems in some way—how shall I say it?—restrained, one might say unhomelike.

But in the dear old days there was a freedom and a space about Russia which reflected itself in the drama.

Here is the sort of thing that we used to gaze at spellbound in the middle eighties:— •

Scene: Siberian Post Station.

In the old days there was always a peculiar touch about the very word “Siberia”—a sort of thrill, or chill, that

you couldn’t get elsewhere. It suggested great empty spaces, a vast plain of snow broken with dark pine woods, and moujiks with long whips driving one horse tarantulas over the frozen surface of the endless samovar. Everywhere was the tunga tufted here and there with vodka.

At intervals in the snow was a post house; a rude building made of logs with outhouses for sheltering exiles in. Everywhere there were prisoners and exiles, wandering up and down in little strings. They never got anywhere that I know of.

They were just driven from play to play and from story to story. Among the prisoners were nihilists with bombs, girls who had lost their fathers, anarchists, Tartars; in fact a varied and cheerful lot.

The opening scene was always laid:—

INSIDE THE POST HOUSE

It is a long room, with a fire burning at the side, a few rough chairs and tables—only one person is in it, a moujik or sort of peasant servant in a tattered cap and a chewed-up fur coat.

The door opens with a burst of paper snow and in stride two Russian officers. They go to the fire and stick their hands out towards its warmth.

“It’s a cold night, Petroff.”

“A cold night, Dimitri Dimitrivitch, but not so cold as in the outshed where the exiles are—ha! ha!”

Both officers laugh heartily.

This is a first class Russian jest.

“One of the dogs,” says Petroff, expanding his back to the fire, “fell in the snow on the march to-day.”

“And what did you do,

Dimitri?”

“I ordered him a touch of the

knout. I think the dog died where he fell—ha! ha! ha! ha!”

Both laugh heartily again.

Petroff turns to the peasant servant.

“Here, dog, bring Vodka!”

“At once, Excellence, at once.” The moujik fumbles in a cupboard and brings a bottle and glasses.

Both officers drink.

“To the Czar, Petroff!”

“Dimitri, to the Czar!”

A Prussian soldier with a gun and a bayonet about two feet long steps in and salutes.

“Excellence! a woman is outside.” “A woman? Ha! What like of woman, Ivan.”

“Excellence, a young woman.”

“A young woman! Ha! Ha-ha-ha!’ The twm officers stride up and down repeating, “A young wmrnan! Ha! Bring her in.” It is plain that they mean to eat her.

The soldier salutes and goes out and returns in a moment dragging in a girl by the wrist.

This is Nitnitska Nitouscha and she is looking for her father. She is very beautiful wdth her hair in two braids and a bright coloured schapska over her head and shoulders.

Petroff grabs her by the wTrists and twists her arm twice around and says:

“Ha! Ha! The girl is not ill to look at, Dimitri, and what want you here, pretty one?”

Nitnitska: “I seek my father.” Petroff gives her arm two more turns and says:

“Your father?”

“Yes, he is among the prisoners.” Both officers laugh. “Among the prisoners, ha! ha!”

Dimitri slips up to the girl and twists her other wHst.

“And what might his name be, tell me that.”

Petroff takes her by the ear and hurts it and says:

“Yes, tell us that!”

“His name is wudtten here on this paper, and he is an old man, a very old man; he is too feeble to walk wdth the prisoners.”

Dimitri laughs brutally. “So he is too feeble to w^alk? In that case we can help him with the knout, ha! ha!”

He takes the girl by the other ear and turns it twdce round.

“And what would’you wdth your father?”

Both officers laugh. “His freedom, ha! ha!”

“His freedom. See, on this paper, I have an order for his freedom signed by the Czar himself.”

“By the Czar?”

Both officers fall back from the girl, repeating, “By the Czar.”

“Yes, there, it is on the paper,” Nitnitska hands over a paper. Petroff takes it and reads it aloud, scowling:—

“By command of His Imperial Highness and in accord wdth the signed order herewdth —you are commanded to release into liberty the person of Vladimir Ilyitch?”

Petroff wdth a start, repeats the name “Vladimir Ilyitch!” Nitnitska: “Yes, yes, my father, Vladimir Ilyitch!” Petroff: “Dimitri, a wTord in your ear.” (They step aside.) “Vladimir Ilyitch! That dog that wras struck dowm wdth the knout and left for dead—” Dimitri: (nods) “That was his name.”

Petroff: “The girl must

never leave here alive.”

Dimitri : “No, w!e must choke her.”

Petroff: (Turning towards

Nitnitska.) “Girl we are going to choke you.”

Nitnitska: “Cow^ards!” She had set her back against the

Continued on page 48

Continued from page 23

wall near the window and looks at them defiantly.

“If you dare to choke me, you shall die. Look!” She draws forth from her dress a silver whistle on a chain. “I have but to blow upon this whistle and Basilisk Vangorod and his Tartars will fall upon the posts.”

Petroff: “Seize her.”

They rush at her. Nitnitska blows a long blast on the silver whistle. Petroff and Dimitri start to choke her, both together, but before they get her more than half choked, there is a sudden outbreak of gunfire outside. Ivan, the sentinel, rushes in—

“Excellence, the post is attacked by Tartars.”

Petroff: (letting go the girl) “Call all the guards, every man to his post!”

The guards—three of them—rush in and begin firing through the windows. There is a tremendous quantity of firing outside. Presently a full sized explosion blows in the door. In rushes Basilisk Vangorod followed by his whole Tartar army—four of them. The Roumanian guards are hopelessly outnumbered—four to three. They lay down their arms. Basilisk Vangorod rushes at Petroff and Dimitri, and fights them both in a sword combat which circles round the stage so that everybody can see a piece of it. As it concludes he kills Dimitri and Petroff, clasps Nitnitska in his arms, calls in her father (who is outside, and not dead) and stands in the middle of the stage waving his sword and says, “For the Freedom of Russia, long live the Czar!”

And the curtain falls.

The Russian Drama

(B)

(New Style)

DAMNED SOULS

(A bright little tragedy of Russian home life, written with a little assistance by Maxim Gherkin, Shootitoff, Dustanashej and a few men like that.)

Scene: An underground lodging in Pinks; water exudes from the walls: dim daylight comes through a half window: there is a crazy table in the middle of the' room, some crazy chairs, a crazy stove on which is a samovar with some crazy tea. In a corner of the room is a low vaulted door which opens on rickety stairs descending to a black cellar.

The Cast of (Want of) Characters

Stylipin ....................A thief

Yatschscha................ His wife

Patch ..................An Imbecile

Hootch ..........A Homicidal Maniac

Itch .....-.........A Paregoric

All these are in the room already when the play begins.

Later the following further want of characters come in, namely:—

Pravda (aged eighty) An Immoral Woman Preybiloff................A Murderer

Their entry is kept until a little later to brighten things up in case they get dull. When the curtain rises Itch, the paregoric, is lying on a truckle bed, under dirty bedclothes, in a corner of the room. He is evidently dying by inches, in fact, by centimetres: his feet are already ossified. In fact he is quite sick.

The Imbecile is making faces at himself in a broken looking-glass. The Homicidal Maniac is sharpening a butcher’s knife. Stylipin and Yatschsclia are drinking vodka out of dirty glasses at the crazy table. In other words it’s a regular Russian home scene.

There is an ill-smelling stove with a samovar steaming on it.

Itch: (sitting up in bed) “I’m hungry.” Stylipin: “Shut up.”

Itch: “Give me some water, I’m thirsty.”

Stylipin: “Shut up or I’ll choke you.” Yatschscha: “That’sright. Chokehim.” (aside) “He has money under his bed, in the mattress. I saw it yesterday. Choke him and take it.”

Stylipin aside: “Later.”

Itch: “Mother Pravda, Mother Pravda, give me some food!”

Stylipin: “Shut up I say. She’s out. Mother Pravda is out.” .

Itch: “I’m dying.”

The Imbecile, with sudden laughter: “He’s dying! Ha! Ha! Isn’t he lucky. He’s dying!”

Itch falls back on his bed. There is a gurgling in his throat. Nobody pays any more attention to him. Stylipin turns to Yatschscha, “Where is that money you brought in from the street?”

Yatschscha: “I brought no money from the street.”

“You’re lying, you foul huzzy. Give it me or I’ll beat you.”

He picks up a stick. Patch, the idiot, claps his hands, with insane laughter.

“Ha! Ha! beat her! That’s right, beat her.”

Stylipin: “Give me the money, or I’ll choke you.”

He takes Yatschscha by the throat and begins to choke her. Strange cries come from her. The idiot, capers and chuckles. “Choke her! That’s it! Choke her.”

Hooteh. the homicidal maniac: “Stop your accursed noise. Do you want to bring the whole street in on us? Stop I say. There’s someone coming down the steps.” All are still a moment, their motions arrested as they stand, but the gurgling noise is still heard from the throat of Itch, the paregoric.

This opening part of the play up to this point is intended to develop that atmosphere of cheerfulness and comfort which surrounds the Russian drama of to-day. It can, if need be, be prolonged still more with little vignettes of choking, poisoning, and knifing. But there should be at least enough of it to develop the temperamental aspect of the Russian state........

Stylipin: "Yes, there’s someone coming down the steps. Quiet, I say!”

There is a beating at the chained door. Stylipin goes to the door. He motions for silence, his hand upon the chain. He calls "Who’s there?”

“It is I, open the door.”

"It's Mother Pravda. Are you alone, little Mother?”

"No, one is with me. It is all right. Open.”

Stylipin opens the door. Mother Pravda enters, she is followed by Prybiloff the murderer. His face is like ashes. His eyes wander. He is afraid.

"Who has she got? What is it, who is she bringing?”

“This is Prybiloff, children. He has done a murder.”

Hootch, the Homicidal Maniac: “Aha! a murderer, with a knife,’was it, brother, with a knife? A knife like this?” His eyes glisten.

Prybiloff goes and sits down. He is shaking.

"I don’t know. It was dark.”

“And you struck him down in the dark? Eh, brother, in the dark? Was there blood Tell me, if there was blood?”

Prybiloff: (his face in his hands) “I don’t know, I didn’t see.”

The imbecile, going near him, “Don’t cry, little brother.”

Yatschscha, taking her husband aside, “Listen, there is money in his pocket,— coins, real money. I heard it jingle in his pocket!”

Stylipin: “I know it. I hear it too. Who'did he kill, Mother Pravda?”

Pravda: “He killed a commissary. The people are after.him in the streets., They are searching. They want to burn him. Listen!”

There is heard a confused sound of shouting and running feet as from the j streets outside.

Prybiloff, lifting his head, his hands ¡ clenched on the table: “They’re coming!” Pravda: “Have no fear. Look, come with me. There is a cellar below here, I’ll ! put you there, come,”

She leads him towards the low vaulted room in the corner.

The Imbecile: “She’s taking him below.

Ha! Ha! Don’t go, brother, it’s too good a jest, don’t let her take you.”

Stylipin and Hootch: “Shut up, fool, shut up.”

Mother Pravda opens the door, leads Prybiloff down the dark steps. The sound of shouting has died away. Pravda’s . voice can be heard down below: “This way, little brother. There, I will make a light.”

One can see the gleam of yellow candlelight through the door.

Stylipin to Plootch: “Shall we go down?”

Hootch: “Let her do it alone.” !

Stylipin: “No, no, I’m going down. I ! don’t trust her. She’ll take more than her j share.” i

Plootch: “All right. Here, take the j

spade with us. Better finish the job.”

Stylipin to Yatschscha: “Wait here, j

Keep the door chained. Let no one in. Come on, Hootch ”

They go throng’* the door down the steps. There is a /onfused sound o voices from below, then the sudden noise of a scuffle, one strange cry, and silence.

The Imbecile with Gughter: “Ha! Ha! He TOMM go! Like ~he others! Now they will bury him own there with the shovels, oh what fun! Do you hear, little brother, what a rare joke.”

He goes over to Patch’s bed: “Do you hear, brother, a rare joke.”

Patch doesn’t answer.

Yatschscha: (looking at Patch callously) “He can’t answer. He’s dead.”

A voice calls from below “Are you there, Yatschscha? Bring the vodka.” Yatschscha: ‘‘One minute, one

minute.”

She takes from her pocket a little phial with green liquid in it.

But there! there! What’s the use of going on with it? The full temperamentality of the thing has been developed by this time. What happens is that Yatschscha puts poison into the vodka. And when she has done that she goes out, stealthily to denounce her husband and Hootch to the commissaries of the police. She doe., this to gqt the blood money offered : y the police for Stylipin dead or alive. In fact this is a favorite means of supper* n Russia. So Stylipin and Hootch and rear old Mother Pravda presently come up and drink the poisoned Vodka and die in contortions. And when the commissaries of the police, led by Yatschscha, come in there is only the idiot laughing over all the corpses. Nice little thing, rn’t it? There is no doubt that life in Russia _b -, a j charm all its own and that Russian litera j ture has a tang to it that you don’t get in the duller countries,