LIGHTS UP on BAYES, the Poet, a fat fop
over-dressed in loud contrasting colored
greatcoat, waistcoat and pantaloons. As
with Villiers’ character in THE REHEARSAL,
BAYES fishes about for objects concealed
in the many pockets about his person.
He stands before a London street scene,
where someone has posted a piece of
cloth across the entry to an alleyway.
The cloth a has round hole in it, perhaps
hemmed. The cloth is painted with the text
quoted below. There is a small side table.
Actually, our first glimpse of this is obscured
by BAYES’ bum, as he is bent over the thing
before reluctantly abandoning the peephole
to address us as he finds a flask.
Ah! You snuck up on me! Pardon my bum!
Welcome to my play…
(he turns and reads the ‘screen’)
“What Theatre Has Become:
A Playwright’s ‘Visual Journal’ of the Plague Year —
Together with those Small Events which sparked the Great Fire
The Return of the King from From Over the Water,
The Sacking of the Capitol, and diverse other matters
Connected with the Dissolution of the Commonwealth
And Restoration of The Way Things Were.” Ad nauseam.
He drinks from the flask, a bracing sip of brandy
that finishes the container, which he tosses aside.
An absurdly large clang sound FX would be nice.
A vote sante! Schapps, ugh! “Dutch courage”! It’s now all we have.
Believe me! I’ve had better. Oh, what I wouldn’t give
For a brandy, a cognac, an old-fashioned restorative.
He finds and consults his pocket watch, dangling
on a chain, but then drops it, pendant again.
A ‘Restoration’ Drama, then, for the audience of today.
It starts in five. You get to watch for five. Quite literally: “Pay to play.”
He removes a small rectangular box from a pocket,
shakes the bank to show there’s already coinage in it.
Just plop a copper in our pewter coffers.
To get sneak peak at what theatre now has on offer.
He sets the bank on the sidetable, turns to the peephole,
suggestively, pruriently, lewdly.
A ‘Hoegaertan Peepshow,’ A Flemish import
Like “from Amsterdam’s Red Light?” I hear you snort.
Offended, he covers the hole, admonishing.
“No indeed. None of that!” is my manly retort.
The BAYES we know from Villers: Sly, suggestive:
But then: Any room is an intimate theatre
The smaller, the better. Even OVER-familiar!
Optimum, then, would be… one-one-one.
“The days of communal assembly are done.”
To be replaced by… what? What will theatre be?
He snaps his fingers and points to the coffers.
Just drop your ha’penny in the slot and come see!
He references the peephole, gestures witness eyes,
writing hand, stopped mouth, to end with the admonishing
waggle of the finger and the pocket watch again.
Watch the action, take note, don’t interrupt.
And yield up the peephole when your time is up.
With five minute slots, you’ll not see the whole show.
Sorry, one-by-one. How we do it now, you know…
He holds up a solitary finger, wets it, tests the wind.
Passing through a liminal space, taking on a communal mindset?
No, no: Forget mass audience. That’s now 2020 hindsight.
He spreads forefinger and thumb together before
the portal, then brings them to camera, slowly
attenuating the space between thumb and forefinger.
No: Each of you shall watch just one small piece of the art.
And carry only that home with you —like each actor, his part.
—It’s “Experimental Theatre.”
This morning is its last rehearsal, in their habits and all that.
It opens with a boy player, bravely costumed as a bat.
It’s quite an effect, yes, to see him flown in.
Well: Long-story-short: an anteater comes in…
The bat-boy infecting the pangolin!
Now pangolin is Wet-Market White Meat: Top Shelf!
—It makes a week’s worth of soup for a family of twelve.
Within half a month, it has leapt China’s Great Wall
(which we recreate here) and run rampant… well,
All over the globe. Like our plot, it does sprawl.
The ocean is a barrier for trade, not disease.
In no time at all, the world’s on its knees
—The girl playing Miss World is a real beauty, too!
You may have seen her in the Drury Lane Apprentice, Part II.
A cad forces this once proud dam consent to
The ravages of diseases she was never meant to
be exposed to.
Sickened, she breaks out in diverse presentments:
Injustices, cruelties, injuries, predicaments,
Dilemmas, paradoxes, ideological refinements…
Like a Statue of Liberty gone mad in Solitary Confinement.
The world has gone mad, and everyone in it.
That’s the state of the Globe, however doctors spin it.
Open-carry gun-law states ignore the prudent protocols,
Viruses as well as gun-nuts stalk our students in the halls
Folks won’t even wear masks when they flock to the malls,
Crowd the streets, pack the bars, throng the beaches
—the deaths of so many of us should teach us
That something is wrong, has been and remains so.
But theatre has held back from coming out and just saying so.
A Message Play, a manifesto, a bold proclamation
Is just what we need to restore our poor nation
To health, to sanity, to empathy, to humanity
From sickness and madness, cruelty, profanity.
But BAYES sighs. He tires of this, himself.
I shall be round with you: This endless backstory is problematic
The characters (though quite complex) are static.
The poetry, I must admit, falls flat…
We’re thinking of cutting the boy as the bat.
He produces a scenic blueprint of set design,
an elaborate Inigo Jones superstructure.
The settings, however, are realized in detail.
The furniture’s vintage, the costumes are retail.
We’ve spared no expense on the show that we offer.
Why even the wigs are cathedrals of coiffure.
Spectacle, spectacle, that’s what we need!
Not the poetry of Congreve, Wycherley, Tourneur, Dryden.
Poetry that can bespeak the tragic Year we’ve just lived through
—And some of us died in.
He produces a copy of the 1665 Bill of Mortality,
that large handbill listing the deaths from Plague.
The Bill of Mortality. So many thousands and thousands dead.
So: No “scene indivisible or poem unlimited.”
No high-priced song of sixpence from some tupenny- threpenny opera
But a truly poetical story of Love in a Time of Cholera.
Referencing the Bill of Mortality, now a bit of a rant.
Well, Cholera, Cholic, Consumption, Jaundice, Madness, Gout,
Palsy, Pleursy, Rickets, Scurvy, Small Pox, Hoof and Mouth.
—All diseases at once in one colossal Pan-pandemic!
Set in an alley, forced perspective, decorated to mimic
The endless aisles of empty shelves of white
Picked over by people who squabble and fight
Over TP and sanitizer, while the world goes mad
And we fight in the streets for the rights we once had
And the swamp isn’t draining, it’s flooding, and harming
The slim chance we have to stave off Global Warming!
BAYES ‘breaks character,’ strikes serious tone,
as he reaches up an pulls down the backdrop,
revealing nothing but more London street scene.
That is the kind of theatre that I am militating for.
It doesn’t exist yet. I ask: What are we waiting for?
BAYES looks at the audience, arches an eyebrow.
BLACKOUT. END OF PLAY.