Wednesday, February 17, 2016

MANIFESTO, a Play of Historical Fiction



MANIFESTO
a play of historical fiction
by
Dmitry Zvonkov





Veranda of suburban cottage. A sunny spring day. VLADIMIR ILYICH and LEV DAVIDOVICH, both in their 50s, with mustaches and short beards, sit at a table playing chess. Lev smokes. Vladimir, looking gaunt, a shawl covering his legs, is trying to make a hole in a belt with an awl. Besides the chess board, on the table next to Vladimir Ilyich is a folder tied with a ribbon. Behind them, OSYA, a strapping younger man, clean-shaven with black lustrous hair, waits in the shadows, his hat in his hands.

VLADIMIR ILYICH (answering Lev’s question in confidence)
He wants to know what I thought of his manifesto. So, I’m ignoring him.

LEV DAVIDOVICH (pointing at Vladimir’s handiwork)
I mean that. Why are you doing that?

VLADIMIR ILYICH
Pants won’t stay on. Need a new hole.

LEV DAVIDOVICH (under his breath)
Perhaps a new hole is the reason your pants won’t stay on. (to Vladimir) Why not take your belt to a leather smith, have them do it. Check.

Every time Lev checks Vladimir he does so by taking one of Vladimir’s pieces.

VLADIMIR ILYICH
All the leather smiths are fighting for the proletariat.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
A shoemaker then.

VLADIMIR ILYICH
Them too.

LEV DAVIDOVISH
Check. Couldn’t one be temporarily excused from the Revolution?

VLADIMIR ILYICH
That would be unfair to the others. The People’s Revolution is about fairness. The Russian people’s will demands justice. The French fought for inclusion, the Americans for wealth. We fight for justice.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Check. Surely it’s not justice for the People’s Premier to be stuck poking holes in his own accessories? What about “From each according to his ability…?”

VLADIMIR ILYICH
The true Soviet man must be a jack of all trades. Specialization leads to elitism. Elitism leads to capitalism. And capitalism leads to venereal disease. (in confidence) He wants me to put my name on his manifesto, above his! Eh? Clever monkey.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Vladimir Ilyich, surely there must be one practicing shoemaker left in all of the Russias.

VLADIMIR ILYICH
If there is, then he is an enemy of the people and therefore must be shot. It’s simple logic.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Check. Perhaps if there is such a man he could be persuaded to put a hole in your belt before he is executed? Or just have Os’ka do it. He’s got good workman’s hands, even if one is shorter than the other. Wasn’t your father a cobbler? What are you doing there in the shadows Osya? It’s time you step into the light. It’s true, no? Your father made shoes?

OSYA
He was a working man, yes. Vladimir Ilyich, have you had a chance to read my manifesto?

Clara enters from the house with a cup of tea, sets it down before Vladimir.

VLADIMIR ILYICH
Too sweet.

CLARA
I put in 2 sugars.

VLADIMIR ILYICH
It doesn’t taste like 2. It tastes like 4.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
“Quantity has a quality all its own.”

CLARA
I swear to god Vladimir Ilyich, I only put 2.

VLADIMIR ILYICH
Clarachka, if you don’t mind, bring me another cup. I’ll put the sugar in myself. (to Lev) You see what I mean about being a jack of all trades?

OSYA (referring to folder on table)
Vladimir Ilyich, my manifesto, have you had a chance…

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Clarachka, I’ve changed my mind. I’ll have a cup of tea as well. And I’ll take mine with 3 sugars…Or, on second thought, do you have any sweets?

CLARA
We have apple tarts and one piece of Napoleon left.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
In that case Clarachka forget the sugars and just bring me the Napoleon instead. Unless…Vladimir Ilyich, would like…?

VLADIMIR ILYICH
No, it’s too decadent for me. Perhaps our friend Osya. You want some tea or dessert?

OSYA
Tea. No sugar…And an apple tart.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer the last Napoleon?

OSYA
What are you implying?

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Don’t be paranoid Osya. What could I be implying? (pause) Then again, perhaps you know something I don’t.

OSYA
What’s that supposed to mean?

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Nothing…If one has bits of filth in one’s soul, well, that’s one’s own business.

OSYA
What do you mean “filth”!?

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Nothing at all Osenka! Only that when the mere mention of a dessert sends one into a fever, and one is not a diabetic, one must ask oneself, Is there more to this business than just flour and cream? Perhaps hidden ambitions, desires…?

OSYA
What’s this “one,” “one?” Speak plainly tovarisch. I am loyal to the revolution and to the people, and, unlike some, I refuse to eat desserts named after imperialist tyrants!

LEV DAVIDOVICH
I see. Whereas the apple tart is a simple proletariat treat. Yes, yes. It’s too bad that eating a proletariat dessert doesn’t in and of itself make one a friend to the proletariat. If it did no doubt your picture would be hanging in every room…in the corner, with a candle underneath.

OSYA
You’re crossing a line Lev Davidovich.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Say, what if we just changed the name? Clara!!

Clara runs in.

CLARA
Yes, Lev Davidovich?

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Clarachaka, make a note. From now on the Napoleon cake will be called the Marx-Engels cake! There, done. Now, tovarisch, you can eat as much of it as you like without compromising your principles.

OSYA
With all due respect Lev Davidovich, my principles are not grounded in pastries!

VLADIMIR ILYICH
Tovarischi, tovarischi, I find arguing the politics of dessert a tedious business. It’s true that some desserts are more suspect than others, but the Soviet government has more important matters to attend to. We’ll get around to desserts in due time…What a beautiful day. The sun is shining. A bird is singing. Imagine if this were your last day on earth. It wouldn’t be so bad.

OSYA
Whose last day?

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Is everything alright Vladimir Ilyich?

Vladimir closes his eyes, looking up at the sun. The light changes to a spotlight on Vladimir as the bird call gets louder and louder, more and more creepy and insane. Then all is normal.

OSYA
My manifesto…

VLADIMIR ILYICH
Yes, yes, the manifesto. Osenka, and I say this with all due respect, but if you’re going to keep writing manifestos and whatnot you really need to work on your grammar.

OSYA
My grammar!?

VLADIMIR ILYICH
If you’re going to write in the manner of a bumpkin, no matter how good your ideas are, they’re going to sound like the ideas of a bumpkin.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Or a shoemaker. Take it easy, take it easy Osya, I’m only kidding.

VLADIMIR ILYICH
If I were you I’d get my grammar up to par before I showed my manifestos in public. Or, and this might work better for you, find yourself a scribe, a secretary, who’s completed his education. Or hers.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Or you could just have every educated person in the country killed. Then there won’t be anyone around to see that you write like a peon. What? Osya? Take it easy. I’m kidding.

OSYA
This is impossible! With all due respect Vladimir Ilyich, my grammar is impeccable! I was a scholarship recipient at my seminary school. I was at the top of my class…

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Before you got kicked out.

OSYA
I left on my own, out of principle…!

LEV DAVIDOVICH(cutting Osya off)
Did the seminary serve Napoleon too?

OSYA(holding in rage)
…I taught myself everything, on my own! I read every book I could find…

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Reading and understanding are two different things.

OSYA
Vladimir Ilyich, my…grammar aside…You said “no matter how good your ideas.” Does that mean…you thought my ideas were good?

VLADIMIR ILYICH
No, Osenka, I was speaking hypothetically. There are doers in this world, Osya, and there are thinkers. Very few people are both. Plato was both. Marcus Aurelius. Me, I am both. But you, Osya, are a doer. Don’t be discouraged, thinkers always need doers. Without does nothing would get done. Of course without thinkers a lot would get done, but it all would be done through the ass.

OSYA
Vladimir Ilyich, I don’t understand, did you have a problem with my assumptions? My conclusions? My reasoning? What? Please be candid.

VLADIMIR ILYICH
You’re a clever boy Osya. Clever and crafty. Street-smart, as they say. You’re just not very intelligent. Intelligence isn’t something you can will. Just like you can’t will talent. Don't be discouraged, this is not a barrier to success. I’d even go so far as to say that a limited intellect is almost a prerequisite for success. Not too limited, you understand, just the right amount. Your strength, Osya, is in seeming like you know what you’re talking about, which is often much more advantageous than actually knowing. Not always! And sometimes we can even fool ourselves, which can be dangerous. Remember how you fancied yourself a great general and as a result we lost Poland? You do remember that, yes…? That was an instance when the difference between seeming and being came into play. But most of the time authority can be faked, and you my friend are an expert at that. Point being, Osya, you will do very well for yourself, provided you don’t get fooled by your own reflection. But as for your “ideas…” For a doer they are impressive. For a thinker…(shakes his head). They are ideas for the kitchen, for the tavern, for the cell. The other day Leva brought over some of your old poetry. I don’t blame you for not wanting to make it public. Not that it’s terrible. It’s romantic, but that was the style of the times…perhaps it was a little old-fashioned…At any rate, on the surface it is very pretty, tender, even touching. But on closer look one sees it for what it is: formulaic, formalistic, sentimental, na├»ve, trite. The sense is that you are aping better poems of which you only have a superficial understanding. In fact the only reason yours sound as good as they do is because of how conducive the Russian language is to poetry. It is not as forgiving when it comes to manifestos. Sure, if you’re speaking to the ignorant, the peasants, janitors and cobblers, get them riled up, they’ll accept anything you have to tell them on faith. But we want the communist message to resonate with every strata. And I’m sorry to say that any truly intelligent, thoughtful individual will see that for all your apparent… let’s say…erudition, you’re talking out of your ass.

OSYA
I see. Thank you, Vladimir Ilyich, for your candor.

LEV DAVIDOVICH (shaking his head)
Oh, Vladimir Ilyich, now you’ve made Osya sad.

VLADIMIR ILYICH
Os’ka, come on, don’t despair. Do you want some advice? Forget about all this manifesto business and instead grow a mustache! Look at Leva, what a nice mustache he has. Look at me. People take you more seriously if you have a mustache. You get up on a podium now, and the people are, eh. You get up there with a mustache and they’re ready to listen. And if you should say something foolish the mustache is there to protect you; one thinks twice before making fun of a man with a mustache. Yes, a mustache! A mustache and a secretary with good grammar…and a nice pair of tits. And a big, soft ass, like Clara’s. Bit tits, big ass, and a mustache. Like Clara…

Vladimir jumps a pawn across the entire board.

VLADIMIR ILYICH
Checkmate. Clarachaka!

Vladimir stands—his blanket and his trousers fall to the floor—and runs into the cottage.

VLADIMIR ILYICH
Clara!

OSYA
What’s the matter with him?

Muffled sounds of amorous aggression and resistance come from inside the cottage. Lev and Osya pretend not to hear them.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
You don’t know? The bullet that Kaplan shot him with was laced with syphilis. Our Premier is in the later stages…Don’t worry Osya, when the time comes we’ll find a nice, warm place for you. Did you really think he would add his name to your manifesto? Ha-ha-ha! You know, in a way Kaplan did you a favor. Had Vladimir Ilyich been in his right mind he might never have told you what he really thought of your little opus, and you’d have published it and become a laughing stock.

OSYA
Are you suggesting, Lev Davidovich, that the Leader of the People’s Revolution is mad?

LEV DAVIDOVICH
If a politician speaking frankly is not madness, I don’t know what is.

OSYA
Lev Davidovich, this is treason.

CLARA(off stage)
Aaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!

Lev and Osya pretend not to hear Clara’s horrible scream.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Interesting you should say that. As by calling my statement treasonous you are implying that you would not follow our Leader if he were mad. Now I ask you, which is more treasonous, observing that the Soviet leader is mad or threatening to refuse to follow his directives?

OSYA
You’re…talking nonsense…

Clara runs out disheveled, her dress a bit torn.

CLARA
He’s dead! Vladimir Ilyich is dead! Oh my god! Our leader is dead…(Sees Vladimir’s trousers, grabs them) I can’t let them see him like this…He was such a neat man, everything so well arranged…I can’t let them see him like this, dead, on the floor, without trousers…Poor Vladimir Ilyich. What a nightmare.

Clara runs into cottage with Vladimir’s trousers. Lev stands up, adjusts his bowtie.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Well Os’ka, time to lead the Union forward.

Lev makes for the cottage. Osya blocks his way.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
What’s this, an insurrection? Move aside Osenka, let me through.

Osya blocks Lev’s way again.

LEV DAVIDOVICH (puffing up)
Out of my way this instant!

Lev tries to force his way past but Osya easily shoves him backwards. Lev falls.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
You just made a giant mistake. You’ll pay for this. Oh you will pay. You’ll see.

OSYA
Intellectuals. Critics. You understand everything. But you see a soul bared before you and all you can do is make fun. You talk about talent, intelligence. Now I’m going to show you the power of will.

Osya picks up the awl, moves on Lev.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
What are you doing?! Are you out of your mind?! My driver is just out front. Just three rooms away. And he’s armed. Just three rooms…I just have to call him…

Osya grabs Lev and covers his mouth, get him down to the floor. They struggle.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
Point taken. You’re a little bigger than me, a little stronger. But my weakness is temporary. I have thousands of followers. Millions! They’ll crush you and your handful of riffraff…

OSYA
You should have developed your pieces sooner, Solomon.

LEV DAVIDOVICH
No! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Aaaaaaaaiiiiiaaaaahhhhh...!

Osya drives the awl into Lev’s ear, killing him. Osya rips off Lev’s mustache and sticks it on himself. Clara runs in.

CLARA
Oh my god!

OSYA
How do I look? Be honest.




the end.