I Bertolt Brecht

A Play with Music

by Victor Grauer

Scene 1:

Voice from loudspeakers: Act I, Scene 1. Our hero's song transports him to the gravesite of the great Chinese poet, Li Po, but the specter he encounters is, once again, that of the German poet, Bertolt Brecht. As they speak, in this dreamlike atmosphere, beside a mysterious tree, our hero finds himself, without really understanding how or why playing out a scene from one of Brecht's plays. But we don't know that yet.

[VG is seated at the piano (which is on stage -- the other musicians are in the pit or off to one side of the stage). The "Secretary," a young woman dressed in a Chinese robe, then also walks on stage and stands beside the piano, as at a recital. Just behind her is a large painting depicting a flowing river. In front of the painting, just to her side, is a large cutout image of a leafless tree. To the right, in the background, on an elevated platform, is a little wooden booth, with a window in the door, oddly resembling an outhouse. VG plays and the woman begins to sing:]

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Secretary: "By the river of Tsai-Shih, there is Li Po's mound."

[while she is singing, a projection appears, on which is written, in large letters:

Ein Gespenst geht um das Grab des alten chinesischen Dichters, Li Po

A specter is haunting the grave of the ancient Chinese poet, Li Po

As she sings, two shrouded figures appear, off to one side.]

Secretary: Amid the endless plains of grass that stretch to the cloud patched sky.

Alas, here, under the fallow field, the bones of him lie

Whose writing once startled heaven and shook the earth.

The translator: [enters on "sky," matching the sound of the "y" in "sky" to that of the word "I"]

I, Bertolt Brecht, am of the dark forests.

My mother took me from there to the cities

As I lay in her womb. And the cold of the forests

Will be with me to my death. [matching the "th" in "death" with the "th" in "earth"]

BB: [singing along with the translator]

Ich, Bertolt Brecht, bin aus den schwarzen Waeldern.

Meine Mutter trug mich in die Staedte hinein

Als ich in ihrem Leibe lag. Und die Kaelte der Waelder

Wird in mir bis zu meinem Absterben sein.

[When the song is over, VG crosses the stage and enters the booth, closing the door behind him and sitting down, so he can no longer be seen. Brecht and the translator remove their robes and seat themselves opposite one another at a table. The Secretary then removes her robe and seats herself at the center of the same table, where there is a typewriter. The translator and secretary are dressed in suits and ties. Brecht is dressed in a kind of Nehru jacket. During the following dialogue, the secretary types what they say, word for word, while looking straight ahead, at the audience.]

[Start slow -- keep getting faster]

Brecht: Ich

Secretary: [tak tak tak]

Translator: I

Secretary: [tak]

Brecht: Bertolt Brecht

Secretary: [tak tak tak tak tak tak tak . . . tak tak tak tak tak tak]

Translator: Bertolt Brecht

Secretary: [etc., continually typing, throughout dialogue between Brecht and the Translator.]

Brecht: bin

Translator: am

Brecht: aus

T: from

BB: den schwarzen

T: the black

BB: Waeldern

T: Forests

Brecht: Ich

Translator: I

Brecht: Bertolt Brecht

Translator: Bertolt Brecht

Brecht: bin

Translator: am

Brecht: aus

T: from

BB: den schwarzen

T: the black

BB: Waeldern

T: Forests

BB: Ich

T: I

BB: Bertolt Brecht

T: Bertolt Brecht

BB: bin

T: am

BB: aus

T: from

BB: den schwarzen

T: the black

BB: Waeldern

T: Forests

BB: Ich

T: I

BB: Bertolt Brecht

Tr: Bertolt Brecht

BB: bin

T: am

BB: aus

T: from

BB: den schwarzen

T: the black

BB: Waeldern

T: Forests

BB: ich

T: I

VG: [from within the little "outhouse" booth, but not yet visible] I

Secretary: [stops typing]

[they all look in the direction of the booth -- pause -- following dialogue is slow again, but the secretary is no longer typing -- she just stares at the booth]

BB: Bertolt Brecht

T: Bertolt Brecht

VG: Victor Grauer

BB: bin

T: am

VG: am

BB: aus

T: from

VG: from

BB: den schwarzen

T: the black

VG: the white

[pause]

BB: Waeldern

T: Forests

VG: river

[pause]

VG: [rising, so now his head can be seen through the window in the door] Ahem.

[spoken dutifully, as though at a job interview]

I, Victor Grauer, am of the white river

My parents once took me to New York City

On a boat. And the winds of that voyage

Will blow through me all my life.

[pause]

[bends down to flush toilet -- sound of toilet flushing is loud, coming from ALL speakers in the house]

BB: Wer ist dieser Mann?

T: Who on Earth are you?

VG: [sticking his head out the window -- as in a trance] Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

mi ritrovai per una selva oscura . . .

T: He is quoting Dante: "Midway in the journey of our life,

I awoke within a dark forest."

VG: [matter of factly] My wife sent me to buy a fish.

Only I don't have a wife. Anymore.

[pause]

Miserere di me, qual che tu sii, od ombra od omo certo!

T: "Take pity on me, whoever you are, specter or man."

BB: [suddenly very emotonal] "Non omo, omo gia fui . . . "

T: There there, BB, you'll get over it. You must learn to adapt. You're not a man. You were. Now you're a specter -- haunting Asia -- and Europe too. Just like Communism.

BB: Ja, soooo. [pause, while he recovers his composure -- then, in a conspiratorial tone] Möglicherweise können wir ihn verwenden.

T: We can use him? Really?

BB: [signals the secretary]

Secretary: [addressing the booth] Oh sir, Sie sprechen so schoen. Sind Sie aus Italia?

VG: Oh, hello, madame. I mean, Guten Tag. Italy? Oh no. I'm from Poughkeepsie, Ma'am. Poughkeepsie on the Hudson.

S: Ich habe einen Fisch! Uh, sir -- I have a fish.

VG: A fish? But I don't think I need one anymore. Nein. Nein, Danke. (waving her off)

S: But I can sell it to you for a very good price. Only Five dollars a pound. [She takes a scale from behind her desk and weighs the fish.] But since you have such nice blue eyes, you can have it for Four dollars. A pound.

VG: (to himself) This poor woman must need the money. (to her) I certainly mustn't disappoint you. [opens the door and emerges from the booth -- takes a few steps forward] If you still want to let the fish go for less, the money will be found.

BB: Das is ein Mann, der nicht nein sagen kann.

[spoken simultaneously]

T: This is a man who cannot say no.

BB: Das ist unser Mann.

T: "That's our man?" What do you mean?

BB: Einer, der nicht nein sagen kann.

T: One who can't say no.

BB: Yah!!! Nicht nein.

T: Not no. Not no.

BB: [as in a trance] Er nicht nein sagen kann. Nicht nein nicht nein nicht nein nicht nein nicht nein.

BB: [rises and walks toward VG] Schöner Abend heute Abend!

VG: Yes, it is, a beautiful, beautiful evening (staring at the secretary). This evening. Jawohl, mein Herr.

[Suddenly a very deep gong is struck. All the lights go out, except for the light of a Jewish memorial (Yohrzeit) candle placed at center stage rear. This candle, in full view, is always kept lit. It's so dim, however, that it can only be seen when all the other lights are out. Everyone is suddenly frozen in place and silent until the sound of the gong has completely died away. At that moment, the lights are turned on again and the dialogue resumes where it left off.]

BB: Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Aber gut, sehr gut. Look sir, this is remarkable, but I can't get it out of my head that you must be from Poughkeepsie.

VG: From Poughkeepsie? How did you know that? Yes, that's where I was born.

BB: I'm very very happy to hear it, Herr . . .

VG: Grauer. Victor Grauer. But please -- I'd like my name left out of it.

BB: That's where you were born, eh?

VG: Yes, that's it. And how do you know me? Or did you know my wife?

BB: Your name is, yes, your name is, just a moment -- Victor Grauer?

VG: Quite right. That's my name. But don't mention that to anyone, OK?

BB: Ja, I knew it. You see, I'm a bit psychic. For example, I'll bet you're married. Or were married. Maybe now divorced? But why are we just standing around, Herr Victor Grauer. Allow me to introduce myself. Mein name ist Berolt Brecht. Ich bin ein Meister aus Deutschland. I'm a famous playwright from Germany. This is my translator [takes a bow] and my secretary [she waves flirtateously]. Come over here and join us for a smoke.

VG: Thank you. But I really ought to get back home. And I don't smoke.

BB: No? Not even this cigar? I got it in Havana, you know. I have many friends there. You can't refuse now, can you? It's such a lovely evening.

VG: A Havana cigar? Now, really, I can't say no.

BB: You'll enjoy our company. [in a demonic voice, spoken very slowly and harshly] Und Sie sollen auch Ihre Zigarre haben.

[all walk off together]