Dramatis Personae: 7.5 Billion and Increasing

Otto Dix
Masks As Ruins (1946)
Otto Dix
Masks As Ruins (1946)

The work of Otto Dix has always fascinated me. But, this one which I had never seen before is astoundingly beautiful to me. I do tend to favor the surreal, dark, eerie, disturbing and macabre (as most of the few who are reading this already know). And I suspect that the majority of people will indeed find this disturbing and nightmarish. But, it is the masks of the masses that causes my nightmares. Remember that person comes from the Latin word, persona, meaning “an actor’s mask.” Recall also how Alan Watts reminds us that to be a “real person” is to be a “genuine fake.”

All the world’s a stage as Shakespeare says in As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII. Let’s take a look at that:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

With 7.5+ billion players in this world (and ‘play’rs gonna play!’), there are way too many masks for my liking. Oh, how we change them often and even in front of our own bathroom mirrors. If you want real, show your vulnerability and be brave enough to receive another’s. Real and raw is what is beautiful, not the glamour of illusion. The magic will always happen outside of your comfort zone in the realm where masks dissolve.

I hope others just may also find this Otto Dix as – not just “interesting” – but, beautiful. Find it. It’s there. But, you may have to take off your mask and costume, because you must see it also with the heart and soul, not your eyeballs (incidentally a word invented by William Shakespeare)!


© 2019 Michael Armenia

A Streetcar Named Napoleon – Part Deux

[ UPDATE: A slightly shorter version of the script below was accepted for Playfest 2019 at the Grange. The revised version can be viewed as a PDF here. ]

On my two days off from performing a Streetcar Named Desire, I wrote and submitted a ten-minute play for possible production at Playfest 2019 at the Grange.

Now…NOW…at last Pablo has catharsis. Only by working with such a talented group of actors in the Orcas Center production have I seen the depths and hues to this play by Tennessee Williams. The words on the page were black and white, but the cast, especially Kate Wlaysewski who plays Blanche, showed me the rainbow on such an otherwise depressing cloud.

As written by Williams, Pablo is an unsatisfying character – a fourth for poker night that no one, especially Stanley gives a s–t about. Well, I had to give him redeeming qualities and answer a question a playgoer asked me on opening night: why does Pablo hang out with someone like Stanley?

Real life does NOT always have a Hollywood ending. For me, the bright side is found in the fact that I spend 99% of my time living in my imagination: it’s a far more awesome and forgiving universe. So, here’s my Disney ending; now Pablo can – I can – finally let go.

Here’s the play script formatted for easy ( I hope) blog reading. Enjoy!

A STREETCAR NAMED NAPOLEON
a short play
by Michael Armenia

CAST OF CHARACTERS
Pablo Gonzalez:  Man, approx. 35-50 years old,
born in New Orleans, descendant
of Spanish soldier stationed in
Cuba during the Civil War

Maria Gonzalez:  Woman, approx. 25-50 years old, a
nurse, married to Pablo

Isabella Delacroix:  Woman, approx. 35-50 years old,
married to Eugene

Eugene Delacroix:  Man, approx. 35-50 years old,
married to Isabella

Streetcar Operator:  Man (no lines)

Passenger(s):  Extras, men or women (no lines)

SCENE
Various places in New Orleans

TIME PERIOD
20th century, Post World War II

SCENE 1
(Suppertime. The kitchen of Pablo and Maria
Gonzalez. Maria comes home from her job as
a nurse at a nearby hospital. Tired, she
quietly enters apartment. Pablo, who has
been at home cooking dinner, comes from the
kitchen wearing an apron and surprises
her.)

MARIA
What are you doing home so early, mi tesoro?

PABLO
Cooking dinner for you.

MARIA
(She puts down her purse and greets him with a kiss.)
I fell asleep before you came home last night and I missed you this morning.

PABLO
I didn’t come home last night.

MARIA
What do you mean?

PABLO
I got home after two this morning.

MARIA
Well, you were playing at Stanley’s, right? You boys tend to stay a bit too long at his house…at least that’s what his wife says.

PABLO
Yeah. Well, I don’t think that will happen again.

MARIA
I find that hard to believe.

PABLO
Well, when I tell you what happened, you’ll ask me not to go there again. 
(he walks away from the dining area into the kitchen to fetch the dinner plates)

MARIA
(louder now, talking across rooms)
Why? What happened, Pablo? Tell me.

PABLO
(pause)
I’ve told you Stanley’s sister-n-law, Blanche, has been staying there with Stanley and Stella for months now.

MARIA
Yeah.

PABLO
(Pablo returns with two plates and sits down at the table. Maria also sits. They talk at normal levels.) 
After months of his typical abusive behavior aimed at Blanche – you know how he is with Stella – it turns out that Stanley finally had his way with Blanche…against her will. And as if that wasn’t traumatic enough, he and Stella had her committed afterwards.

MARIA
What? Noooh!

PABLO
They had some doctor from the mental hospital come and collect her during the game last night. It was awful to me. I’ve listened to yelling in that household, but…that poor thing just broke my heart. I don’t know anything about her other than what Stanley told me. But, dammit…if that woman is dangerous to herself or anyone else, then I’m the
devil! Sure she was a vulnerable woman of questionable morality,and supposedly a maker of fantasy and lies…but, God! This was all Stanley’s doing and I know it now.

MARIA
But Stanley’s your friend. Don’t you owe it to him to…(Pablo interrupts).

PABLO
He’s not my friend, Maria! When all this happened I had to ask myself ‘why was I hangin’ round the likes of Stanley Kowalski?’ In fact, I left the poker game early last night to take a walk…that’s why I got back late. And after a few hours of sitting on the bank of the Big Muddy, it finally came to me. The truth, I mean.

MARIA
What’s that?

PABLO
You know…having lost my dad at age fifteen, I clung to anything that reminded me of him. My mom never remarried and then she died. Some time passed and then all of sudden there’s this guy at work – Stanley – who drinks too much and abuses his wife in quite the same way dad did to mom. Although we are around the same age, I believe I subconsciously took Stanley as a sort-of – father-figure, an authority. I’ve been so vulnerable and weak. After this ordeal last night…and sitting at the poker table afterwards…I just felt…disgusted. I’m not going to play poker with him and his boys anymore and I really want nothing to do with him.

MARIA
Well, you won’t get an argument from me. I never liked Stanley. (pause)
So, why are you home from work so early today?

PABLO
I quit.

MARIA
What?

PABLO
I quit the plant. I never did like the job. I can’t stand running into Stanley as often as I do. I’m tired of going to work only to make money that just goes to other people – if it’s not the government or bills, it’s poker losses.

MARIA
You could just quit poker, you know!
(he looks at her, glaringly)
Spend more time at home.
(he continues looking at her)
So, what are you going to do now?

PABLO
Well, you know we’ve been talking casually about my opening a restaurant. You love my cooking and I love to cook and play host. And there isn’t a decent Cuban restaurant in this part of New Orleans. It’s high-time at my age that I follow my dream, and the circumstances seems right. The only problem is finding a location and maybe an investor. We can’t afford to rent a commercial building and I don’t think we’re gonna get a bank loan for a restaurant on top of this place.
(pause)

MARIA
Pablo…Pablo! I’ve got it!

PABLO
What?

MARIA
Your restaurant! The building. It’s perfect.

PABLO
What’s perfect?

MARIA
My cousin, Isabella…

PABLO
Your cousin Isabella is perfect?

MARIA
No. No. No. Listen. Her husband is Eugene Delacroix. You’ve met him. He owns a building that’s been in his family for generations. It’s owned and paid for. There’s no mortgage. He’s rented it out in the past and I know from Isabella that it’s now vacant. Someone wanted to rent it…to turn it into a law office or something. Eugene hates lawyers even though he uses one. Anyway, we should talk with them. I know if I ask Isabella, she would be able to convince Eugene to go into business with you, saving you rent in exchange for a portion of the profits.

PABLO
(excited) Maravillosa suerte! Really? It can’t be this easy. When can we talk with them?

MARIA
I will invite them over tomorrow evening for some dessert. We will present this to them.

PABLO
I could kiss you!

MARIA
What’s stopping you?

(BLACKOUT)
(END OF SCENE)

SCENE 2
(The next evening. Pablo and Maria’s living
room. They are having coffee with Isabella
and Eugene Delacroix.)

MARIA
Cream and sugar, Eugene?

EUGENE
No, thank you. Can’t stand café au lait. Or anything in my coffee for that matter.

ISABELLA
So, would you be joining Pablo in this venture, Maria?

MARIA
No, I am happy as a nurse…though I find it exhausting. This is Pablo’s dream. He’s the one with talent in the kitchen.

ISABELLA
What do you think, Eugene?

EUGENE
Frankly, I don’t think I’ve got anything to lose. Don’t see why we can’t try it. What percentage are you thinking in exchange for the rent, Pablo?

PABLO
I’ve no problem with 50% of the profits.

EUGENE
Well, that’s awfully generous. But, we’re not talking about an invention or something with a large profit margin. You’ll have some startup costs and utilities and you are the one doing the hard work. Why don’t we start with 20% of profits for the first six months? Then, if you are making a good profit, we can fix a reasonable rent instead.

PABLO
That’s fine with me! It’s gracious, in fact. Thank you.

EUGENE
It’s not too far uptown. A little too far to walk. After we finish this coffee, why don’t I drive you up there to take a look.

PABLO
Sounds great! Let me go make a pit stop in the water closet and get out of my house shoes. Excuse me for a few minutes. (Pablo leaves the room.)

EUGENE
No problem.

ISABELLA
Pablo doesn’t drive – they don’t have a car – how’s he going to get there every day?

EUGENE
He can ride the streetcar. He’d take the Napoleon line about twenty blocks up and then walk a few blocks to Cadiz St.

MARIA
Oh no!

ISABELLA
What’s wrong?

MARIA
Pablo has what he used to call his  ‘Napoleon complex’ but he hasn’t talked about it for years.

ISABELLA
He doesn’t seem short to me! Is he compensating for something?

MARIA
No. (chuckle) When Pablo was fifteen, his father was struck and killed by a streetcar named Napoleon. The man was the village drunk which is embarrassing enough, but one night he tumbled out of a tavern all boozed up, crossed the line and…well, just like that he was gone. Pablo has not only never taken to the bottle, but he has since then refused to ride the Napoleon. To him the streetcar is a demon.

EUGENE
I suppose he could take several of the other lines and change a few times, but that could take an hour or two.

ISABELLA
Or walk it? But that’s still a lot of wasted time, isn’t it?

MARIA
With his night-blindness, he won’t walk more than a dozen blocks away from home at night. No, if he’s to do this, he will have to face that demon. But, let’s not tell him at this moment. Show him the place, Eugene. Let him see his vision more clearly. Maybe the excitement will inspire him…help him overcome his fear. Nothing good comes easy – and when it does it should make you stop and think a moment.

EUGENE
The most productive level for human achievement is situated somewhere between comfort and danger. (pause) Well, OK, then. One thing at a time. Let’s show him the place.

(Pablo returns.)

PABLO
Let’s go! Are you ladies coming along for the ride?

(Maria and Isabella look at each other.)

BOTH
Sure. (They all leave the apartment.)

(BLACKOUT)
(END OF SCENE)

SCENE 3
(A little later at the site for the
proposed restaurant. They are all inside
looking at the place. It is mostly barren
except for one table and some chairs in the
main room.)

PABLO
Wow! This is better than I imagined. Too good to be true.

EUGENE
This large area was once a living room, a doctor’s office and at another time a restaurant.

PABLO
That den over there would be a nice grotto for large parties.

EUGENE
There’s one other room, an old bedroom, that makes a great office. The kitchen is through those french doors. (Eugene points to the doors, which lead off stage and Pablo walks through them. After a brief moment, he returns with his mouth agape.)

PABLO
I think I’m going to cry, Maria. It is as you said…PERFECT!

EUGENE
Now,the kitchen is not equipped for a restaurant. You will have to buy a commercial oven and stove. And refrigerator for that matter. Those may set you back at first.

PABLO
Let me think for a moment if you don’t mind.

EUGENE
Sure. Look around.

(Pablo begins to circle the restaurant envisioning how it will all look and what obstacles he may have to overcome. Maria, Isabella, and Eugene sit down at a table in the room and talk quietly. Pablo goes to the entrance and turns around, framing the room with his hands. Then he goes outside, down the steps of the porch and turns around to consider painting outside and signage, again framing with this hands. He slowly walks backward away from the steps and, in the revery, in the music of future success that he hears in his imagination, he forgets himself. He accidentally steps off the curb and enters the street, just as the Napoleon zips by nearly hitting him. He turns around just in time to see the end of the streetcar pass in front of him. He steps back and makes the sign of the cross, a vestige of his Catholic upbringing. His heart is racing. From inside the others see this through the window and rush to check on him.)

EUGENE
Are you OK?

PABLO
(Frightened and trying to find the breath to talk.) Yeah!

MARIA
Now, Pablo, you do need to realize that to make this work, you will have to ride that streetcar.

PABLO
Oh! (He goes from frightened to puzzled.)
OH NO! Not… (pause)
(He can barely whisper the name.)
…the Napoleon. Well, I could take other lines
then…and…no…
(loudly now)
Mi suerte está maldita.
(He goes from puzzled to sullen and almost sick to his stomach and angry at the same
time. He drops angrily to sit on the porch step and begins to have second thoughts
about the whole thing.)

MARIA
Calm down, Pablo.
(She goes over to Pablo, sits next to him and puts her hand on his shoulder)
Don’t worry about the future just yet.

ISABELLA
(joining Maria in comforting Pablo)
Dear Pablo, my husband often says: somewhere between your comfort level and a present danger, lies a nursery for magic.

EUGENE
Something like that…but that is quite poetic, my bride. You do listen to me!

ISABELLA
Once in awhile!

EUGENE
No. No. This is a sign. It is a sign that I should not do it. That streetcar is an omen to be heeded! (He stares out at the tracks.)

MARIA
Pablo, look at me. Look at me!
(He turns around and she takes his hands in
hers.)
You have been so superstitious all your life allowing your fears to make your decisions for you. Yes, everything is a sign when you think about it. But, it is you who gives a sign its meaning. You define it. Your father – God love him – was a drunk, in the wrong place at the wrong time. The streetcar that hit him and the operator that drove it meant no harm. These things happen all the time. You know that. We are not what happens to us, Pablo. We are the person that comes out of what happens to us and that’s a choice we make. We are…our choices. That’s who we become.

PABLO
That may be so. But, it doesn’t mean that we should ignore the signs.

MARIA
Of course not. See them. Look at them. Interpret them, but don’t let fear be the translator. The right choice in a given situation is often not the easy one or the one that looks the safest. Pablo, you many never have this opportunity again.

PABLO
Maybe not.

MARIA
Look. Stanley Kowalski has more demons in him than this streetcar line. Don’t you forget that! And you walked away from that bad relationship despite a strong psychological bond. You quit the poker group and left your job – all of that took courage and I think it was the right thing to do. This restaurant is in your future and if riding this streetcar line is what it takes to make it a success, I don’t think it will take any more courage than what was needed to walk away from that abusive and brutal man. You
can do this!

PABLO
You think so?

MARIA
Stanley was a demon. The Napoleon is an opportunity. Can you see that now?

PABLO
You know what? I think I can.

(BLACKOUT)
(END OF SCENE)

SCENE 4
(A month later, early morning, a few blocks
from the Gonzales house where the Napoleon
stops. There are traffic sounds and Pablo
and Maria are standing on the corner
waiting for the streetcar.)

PABLO
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous.

MARIA
You will be fine. Is Eugene meeting you there?

PABLO
Yes. And the men I’ve hired to re-paint the place. The kitchen equipment is coming tomorrow.

MARIA
With any luck, you’ll be open before Mardi Gras.

PABLO
You know what I found out?

MARIA
What?

PABLO
There’s a Chinese place a few blocks away. I know I’ll be cooking in my own restaurant soon enough, but I do love chop suey!

MARIA
Yes, I know you do. I’d rather see you spend your newly hard-earned money on chop suey than poker losses.
(He first glares at her, then smiles. The streetcar approaches and she kisses him goodbye for the day.)
Have a wonderful day, mi tesoro.

PABLO
You, too, love.
(Pablo climbs aboard the streetcar, sits
next to a window and blows a kiss to Maria.
She waves as the car rides off.)

(BLACKOUT)
(END OF PLAY)

 © 2019 Michael Armenia