The Play Is The Thing
I’ve changed my mind about presenting a special Christmas treat here. For the past year, American poet Mark Halliday and British poet me have been collaborating on a series of short plays. They are somewhat in homage to Kenneth Koch, whose “One Thousand Avant-Garde Plays” is a book of considerable wonder. Our plays are also very good. Some of them, like Koch’s, are pretty short. One only measures about an inch and a half from the title to where it says “CURTAIN”. Others take up three whole sheets of paper. Because it is Christmas, I have chosen a play whose message is, when all is said and done, one of Peace.
THE WAR COUNCIL
(Pluvagnorn the King has summoned his Chieftains to a War Council in the throne room. All are dressed in furs and helmets.)
Pluvagnorn: What word of the enemy?
Scout: The enemy is huge. The enemy's tents are like a forest. The enemy's cavalry are like a storm. The enemy's spears glitter like a million stalks of silver asparagus.
Pluvagnorn: Fewer similes and more facts.
Scout: Let me put it this way. It's as if --
(Pluvagnorn swings his mace and renders the Scout unconscious, at best.)
Advisor: The enemy is said to number over seven thousand, my liege. However, we have the support of several tribes.
Pluvagnorn: Which tribes? What mighty chieftains will fight on our side?
Cerdic: I will, O King, with all my kinsmen.
Tewdric: And I.
(A silence falls. Pluvagnorn turns toward the other Chieftains.)
Pluvagnorn: And you, Loholt? And you, Cuneglas?
Cuneglas: We’re with you in principle, my liege, but we have one condition.
Pluvagnorn: Condition? What “condition”, pray?
Cuneglas: We want to be called by our real names. We’ve had enough of these stupid made up things salvaged out of Tolkien’s waste paper basket. They may be romantic and fantastic, but you want to try getting through daily life with them. People just don’t know how to pronounce them…
Loholt: Who’d have thought Loholt is pronounced “Lilt”, for Godsake? Or that Cuneglas is …
Cuneglas: Klaus. …. And people can’t spell them, or anything. I want to be what I was named by my mum and dad: Albert. And Loholt wants to be….
Pluvagnorn: Consider it done.
Advisor (aside to audience): Flexibility is a quality of great kings.
(Enter Second Scout, breathless)
Second Scout: My liege, the enemy has marched over Sedgemoor Hill and is now only two hundred rods from the castle!
Advisor: A rod is five and a half yards, my liege.
Pluvagnorn: Math hath ne'er been my cup of mead.
Advisor: The enemy, sire, is less than a mile away.
Pluvagnorn: Zounds! One of our regiments, or cohorts, or tribes -- the precise noun matters little at this juncture -- must charge the enemy immediately. Which of my Chieftains shall claim this honor?
Dorothy: Well, I guess me and Albert’ll give it a shot, seeing as how you’ve been pretty decent about our names. Let’s see. I’ve got a legion, a phalanx, a squadron, a wing and a group, two platoons, half a column, a detachment, three brigades and a troop.
Albert: And I think I can pull together sundry lancers, grenadiers, snipers, dragoons, wrestlers, pugs, doughboys, bowmen, swashbucklers and cannon fodder. All in all, it should be enough.
Dorothy: And we’ll make sure they’re well armed. We’ve got crossbows and grenades, match-locks and flint-locks, howitzers, field-pieces, grape-shot, Gatlings, pom-poms, blunderbusses, fowling-pieces, bazookas, knuckle-dusters, sub-machine guns, doodlebugs, V1s and V2s, guided missiles and hydrogen bombs.
Albert: It makes their silver asparagus look pretty sick.
Pluvagnorn: You have spoken well. Albert and Dorothy shall lead the charge against the enemy. Smite and smite. Do not forbear to smite. Meanwhile, Cerdic and Tewdric shall guard the castle.
Cerdic: Assuredly, O King.
Pluvagnorn: There must be no penetration.
Dorothy: I hear that.
Pluvagnorn: To the fray! Trumpets!
(Flourish of Trumpets. Exit all, stridingly. Sounds of battle. Then loud cheering.)
(Enter a soldier, crusty with blood but still striding.)
Soldier: This was a day when manhood was whetted and stropped. This was a day when men were of manhood and the manly were of martial bearing. Boys on this day stood on the legs of men. We who fought this day shall not forget how tall and brave, how bold --
(Soldier pauses to drink from his canteen)
© Mark Halliday & Martin Stannard, 2004