Valentin Krasnogorov

 

 

 

 

 

 

RUNNING  THE  SHOW

Режиссер массовых зрелищ

 

 

A play in two acts with no intermission

 

 

 

Translated from the Russian by Liv Bliss

 

 

 

 

 

NOTE All copyrights to this play are protected by Russian law and international laws, and belong to the author. The publication or republication of this document or any part thereof (except as provided for under the Fair Use doctrine), the reproduction, public performance, or posting of performances of the play online or in any digital medium, the filming of the play, its translation into any foreign language, and the modification of the play’s text when staged (including changing the title) without the express written consent of the author are prohibited.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contacts:

 

Valentin Krasnogorov

+972 53-527-4146; +972 53-527-4142

email: valentin.krasnogorov@gmail.com

website: http://krasnogorov.com/ , http://krasnogorov.com/english/

WhatsApp    +7 951 689-3689;

 

Liv Bliss

bliss.mst@gmail.com

 

 

 

© Valentin Krasnogorov


 

 

VALENTIN KRASNOGOROV AND HIS PLAYS

Krasnogorov’s name is acclaimed by theatergoers in Russia and all over the world. His plays, which include The Dog, Premiere After Party, Small Tragedies, Let’s Have Sex!, The Delights Of Adultery, Somebody Must Leave, The Fall of Don Juan, Now or Never, Ladies by Ad, Love Medicine, Pelicans of The Wilderness, Several Hours From the Lives of a Man and a Woman, That Weak Gentle Sex, The Bride’s Room, The Cruel Lesson, and Visit of a Young Lady,  have been  positively received by critics and audiences alike. The 35 plays he has written to date have been performed in more than 400 theaters.

Krasnogorov’s plays have been directed by many prominent theater directors, such as Georgy Tovstonogov, Lev Dodin, and Roman Viktyuk. They are part of the permanent repertoire of many theaters, and several have been peformed hundreds of times, to rave reviews. The critical assessment that “Krasnogorov’s plays cross borders easily” is no empty praise: they have been translated into a number of other languages, and performed in Australia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Great Britain, India, Mongolia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Turkey, Ukraine, the USA, and elsewhere. Plays from the Krasnogorov catalogue have received numerous awards for best drama at various international theater festivals.

Krasnogorov’s theatrical mastery spans a wide range of unique talents and skills. It is the combination of biting satire, a keen sense of humor, the art of the grotesque and the absurd, tender lyricism, and a deep appreciation of human nature that makes Krasnogorov’s theater pieces so sought after, so delightful, so delectable. The conflicts in his plays are beautifully balanced out by their easy yet brilliant dialogue, lively dynamics, and gripping narratives. The author’s witty plots and paradoxical situations are quick to draw readers and audiences into the world created by his imagination.

In addition to drama, Valentin Krasnogorov has written novellas, short stories, and essays. His biography is included in the Marquis Who’s Who in the World (USA), the International Who’s Who of Intellectuals (Cambridge, England), and other publications.

One Passion and Four Walls, Krasnogorov’s book on the essence of drama, has earned praise from notable figures in the theater. He is also the founder and first president of the Dramatists Guild of St. Petersburg.

 

LIV BLISS

Liv Bliss  is a professional translator who resides in the United States and is certified by the American Translators Association for translation from Russian into English. She has a shelf-full of translated books, mostly fiction, and truly enjoys the challenge of academic translation and editing. Among her favorite long-term projects is the “Village Tales” series for the bimonthly magazine Russian Life. For more details, check the internet; she’s not hard to find.

 


 

 

SUMMARY

 

A unusual show goes into a mystifying, bizarrely amusing night rehearsal that ends with a twist. 2 men and 2 women. Interior.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Characters

 

DIRECTOR

CONSULTANT

MAN

WOMAN

 

The age of the characters is not critical. The men can be 40 to 60 years old; the women, 30 to 40.

 


 

An ordinary, unremarkable room. The actors are offstage as the play begins. After some time, a middle-aged man, the DIRECTOR, enters. He is accompanied by a beautiful, impeccably dressed woman, the CONSULTANT.

 

CONSULTANT: Here we are. After you.

DIRECTOR: Is this where we’re going to rehearse?

CONSULTANT: Yes. Do you have a problem with anything?

DIRECTOR: No. Why do you ask? What is this room?

CONSULTANT: A kind of recording studio. It’s nicely sound-proofed. If you close the door, no noises can get in or out. This is just what you need for your rehearsals. No one will bother you here. Do you like it?

DIRECTOR: (casually) It’s quite cozy. I don’t care, though. I can work in any conditions, even in a storm on the deck of a ship. But where are the so-called artistes? The rehearsal’s scheduled for ten p.m. sharp, and it’s already three minutes past.

CONSULTANT: They’ll be here soon.

DIRECTOR: (not pleased) What does that mean, “soon”? They should be here and ready at ten p.m. on the dot. My work doesn’t accommodate any deviations from the schedule. I’ll still have to pull an all-nighter after this rehearsal. And I have to have everything done by tomorrow at three p.m., come hell or high water. This isn’t some first-night premiere that can be postponed until whenever.

CONSULTANT: Take it easy, sit down. Would you like some coffee?

DIRECTOR: I’m not here for coffee, dearie, but to do my work. And who are you, by the way?

CONSULTANT: I’m a consultant.

DIRECTOR: I don’t need any consultants, sweet cheeks.

CONSULTANT: I’m not your consultant.

DIRECTOR: Then whose are you?

CONSULTANT: Not yours. I was sent to help you with the rehearsal.

DIRECTOR: Help me? I don’t need any assistants either. Do you know who I am?

CONSULTANT: You’re a renowned director. Everybody knows that. But surely you’re not going to pour your own coffee or find the right script pages? That’s why I’m here.

DIRECTOR: Well, if that’s why... I can’t stand having outsiders at my rehearsals.

CONSULTANT: Don’t worry. I’m only going to be your aide... or your associate director... I don’t know what the job’s called in the theater.

DIRECTOR: OK, stay. But don’t even think about tampering with my work. If you do, you’ll be out on your ear.

CONSULTANT: Very well.

DIRECTOR: If you’re somebody’s consultant, maybe you already know why this rehearsal – and, for that matter, all the work I’m doing – needs to be kept secret?

CONSULTANT: It must be because the client wants it that way.

DIRECTOR: A strange thing to want. Something’s wrong here.

CONSULTANT: Will you be paid for this project?

DIRECTOR: Sure.

CONSULTANT: Will they pay well?

DIRECTOR: Better than well. Anyway, that’s what they promised.

CONSULTANT: Then you should have no questions.

DIRECTOR: (paces the room impatiently) But where are those wretched artistes, damn them?

CONSULTANT: Why’re you going off on them all of a sudden? They’re respected people, eminent people...

DIRECTOR: That’s why they have to be put in their place right off the bat. As soon as an actor starts telling me about the prizes and awards he’s won, and how many times he’s been on TV, and all that, he immediately becomes impossible to work with. I can’t stand big stars. I boot them out on the spot.

CONSULTANT: These people have been on TV too, but I asked them to keep it low key here.

DIRECTOR: Just let ’em try any other key... So far, all I can see is that the show’s scheduled for tomorrow, but they’re not here. Do they know their parts, at any rate?

CONSULTANT: (unsure) They promised to learn them.

DIRECTOR: If they haven’t learned their roles by heart, I’ll send them back where they came from. I don’t have time to study the script with them. This isn’t a kindergarten.

CONSULTANT: I’ll pour you a cup of coffee anyway.

DIRECTOR: To hell with your coffee...

MAN enters. He is somewhat older than middle age, wearing a well-tailored dark suit.

MAN: Good evening.

DIRECTOR: At last you delight us with your presence.

MAN: Sorry, I’m a little late...

DIRECTOR: I don’t accept apologies. If you don’t value your own time, at least respect the time of others.

MAN: I’m a very busy person. Is that so hard to grasp?

DIRECTOR: I’m busier than you are, let me assure you. But I arrived on time, although every second’s precious to me. At this moment, hundreds of people are working on the show under my leadership, and everything will collapse without a clear-cut schedule. If I accept an apology from everyone instead of getting the work done, we’re in for a failure tomorrow.

WOMAN rushes in. She’s beautiful and dressed in a bright, provocative outfit. She’s trying to hide the fact that she’s tipsy.

WOMAN: Good evening. (Guilty) It seems I’m late.

DIRECTOR: To quote Hamlet: “Seems,” madam? Nay, it is. I know not “seems.”

WOMAN: (baffled) What are you talking about?

DIRECTOR: About you being late and me not putting up with it.

WOMAN: It just turned out this way. I don’t know why.

DIRECTOR: If anything else “just turns out” with you, nothing’s going to turn out for us. Is that clear?

CONSULTANT: Maybe we should start the rehearsal?

DIRECTOR: Are you giving me advice already, sweet cheeks?

CONSULTANT: But they’re here, they’ve apologized.

DIRECTOR: So sit quietly, and not another peep out of you. I want everyone to understand here and now: without iron discipline, we won’t get anywhere. My time’s very limited. Everyone has to obey me implicitly. I won’t tolerate any superstar-itis. I hope that’s clear to everyone.

Silence

Fine. Now, without wasting another minute... (looks at his notebook) The first to speak is our leading lady. The rest will sit quiet and stay out of it. (to WOMAN) Are you ready?

WOMAN: In a minute. I’m just going to make a call.

DIRECTOR: No calls! Everyone, turn off your phones!

WOMAN: I’ll be quick. It’s very important.

DIRECTOR: Nothing can be more important than this rehearsal.

WOMAN: Oh, all right. (puts the phone away)

DIRECTOR: I seem to recall asking if you’re ready.

WOMAN: Yes.

DIRECTOR: So begin. Come forward... By the way, why are you dressed like that? I asked everybody to report in costume.

WOMAN: I didn’t know we had to.

DIRECTOR: Get this into your head: everything I say, you have to do. Got it?

WOMAN: Yes.

DIRECTOR: Fine. You were supposed to come in full costume so you could get used to it, get comfortable in it, feel that it’s yours. But the most important thing is that it helps you to create the right mood.

WOMAN: I was afraid to stain or crush it.

DIRECTOR: Then the least you could have done is figured out that you needed to wear something a little more somber than that. You’re going to be portraying profound sorrow, while your skirt is, sad to say, barely hiding what’s not usually displayed in broad daylight. True, it’s almost night by now. Anyway, do you even have a skirt on?

WOMAN: Don’t you see it?

DIRECTOR: Almost.

WOMAN: But you’re taking a close look, aren’t you?

DIRECTOR: I’m afraid that if I look closely, I’ll see too much.

WOMAN: This is what people are wearing these days.

DIRECTOR: OK. Let’s not waste any more time talking. As they say in the theater, you’re on.

Pause. WOMAN obviously doesn’t know what to do.

So why are you standing there like a pillar of salt?

WOMAN: You didn’t tell me what to do.

DIRECTOR: First of all, step forward and face the audience.

 WOMAN doesn’t move.

Well? What’s the problem now?

WOMAN: I don’t know how I’m supposed to walk.

DIRECTOR: You don’t know how to walk? Do you need to be taught that too?

WOMAN: I meant, quickly and energetically or the opposite – slowly?

DIRECTOR: Of course slowly. Do what Stanislavsky – he was a theatrical genius, you know – said, and let yourself sense what’s needed. Meaning that it all has to be done slowly and sadly.

WOMAN: Where’s the audience?

DIRECTOR: The audience is me.

WOMAN goes to stage center and again stands silent.

You have a rare gift, dearie. I love silent women, but silence isn’t always golden. Begin, before we’re too old to care!

WOMAN: One minute... (quickly trots back to her purse, opens it, takes out some sheets of paper, unfolds them, and again returns, slowly and sadly, to stage center.)

DIRECTOR: What’s that?

WOMAN: (guilty) My lines.

DIRECTOR: (exploding) What? You haven’t learned your lines yet? You undisciplined, disorganized… I refuse to work with you! Are you going to speak from a script tomorrow?

WOMAN: What if I do? We all speak from scripts.

DIRECTOR: That’s what you do. With me, you’ll speak without one, or we’re done. Your words should be born of feeling, not from a cheat sheet.

The seated MAN hurriedly takes some pages out of his pocket and starts learning his lines.

WOMAN: I’ll have it down by tomorrow.

DIRECTOR: And you think I believe you? Are you even capable of learning anything, never mind (mimicking her) “by tomorrow”?

WOMAN: I give you my word.

DIRECTOR: Oh, all right. Use the cheat sheet for now. (mocking) You can read, can’t you?

WOMAN opts not to react. She finds the right page and reads.

WOMAN: (cheerfully) Dear friend!

DIRECTOR: Stop!

WOMAN: What?

DIRECTOR: That’s how you tell someone happy birthday. You have to make your face and whole body mournful. Slow movements, shoulders lowered, arms dangling, disobedient lips pronouncing the words with difficulty. Get that?

WOMAN: Yes. (tries to speak sadly) Dear friend! (hitches up the bra strap that has just slid off her shoulder)

DIRECTOR: No, you’re not getting the mournful look. And how can you when your front’s open almost down to your waist, and your legs are on view up to... Well, I’d best not say up to where. How did you wind up here dressed like this?

WOMAN: The thing is, when I got the call to come here, I was... How can I put it?.. At a small party.

DIRECTOR: And you, of course, got a little bombed there.

WOMAN: A little.

DIRECTOR: And you were apparently so rushed, you left some of your clothes behind.

WOMAN: That’s not funny.

DIRECTOR: It’s very sad. But then you tried to assure me that you were late because you were very busy.

WOMAN: I’m entitled to have fun now and then. How did I know I was going to get an urgent call?

DIRECTOR: (gives WOMAN another critical once-over) There’ll be no extracting the correct intonation from you like this.

WOMAN: I’ve got the costume downstairs, in the car. Maybe I should go and do a quick change?

DIRECTOR: Wait, let me think... (eyes WOMAN closely) You still look… pretty good... And without clothes probably even better than fully dressed... Yes, perhaps we’ll shoot you without clothes.

WOMAN: On television?

DIRECTOR: No, first we’ll take your clothes off. And then we’ll tape you without them.

WOMAN: I don’t understand. You want me to perform in the nude?

DIRECTOR: Do you call this dressed?

WOMAN: (frightened) But I can’t appear in public without a stitch on.

DIRECTOR: Why not? First, you’ll look more decent that way than you do half-naked. Secondly, it’s just not a show these days unless somebody’s in the buff.

WOMAN: (frightened) You seriously want to undress me?

DIRECTOR: I can undress you frivolously, if you want.

WOMAN: But so many people will see me!

DIRECTOR: At worst they’ll get a kick out of our show.

MAN: And what’s the motivation going to be?

DIRECTOR: (surprised that MAN has butted in) Actually, that’s my concern, not yours. Still, the motivation’s obvious: a woman’s gone out of her mind with suffering, and she’s thinking not about decency but only about her grief. She collapses onto the coffin in despair. Only her long, flowing hair covers her nudity, like Lady Godiva...

WOMAN: My hair’s not long enough to cover my... you know... my nudity.

DIRECTOR: We’ll get you a wig. But OK. I’ll give that option more thought later. Consider it a joke. Meanwhile, let’s start over. Well? Don’t dilly-dally! Off you go!

WOMAN: Dear friend!..

DIRECTOR: Not like that, not like that! Grief, more grief! Drop a tear or two if you can.

WOMAN: (tries to squeeze out a tear, fails, feels guilty). I just can’t weep. I always can, but not this time.

DIRECTOR: Dammit, why not? Don’t you have any imagination? So imagine, for example, that your lover has dumped you. If you don’t remember the script, improvise for the time being.

WOMAN: (thinks for a second, then the expression on her face changes dramatically) Bastard! Son of a bitch! I always knew you’d dump me! But don’t worry, I’m not going to cry. And I won’t be alone for long, either... You’ll regret this...

DIRECTOR: Stop! Who are you talking to?

WOMAN: (embarrassed) To... to my lover.

DIRECTOR: Who’s lying dead in the coffin?

WOMAN: But he dumped me. I’m not about to call him “dear friend.”

DIRECTOR: (wearily) He didn’t dump you, he left you. Left you for a higher life, an eternal life, where you’ll be reunited with him one day. That’s how you categorize the image you’re constructing. And you mustn’t yell “I’m not going to cry.” On the contrary, you’re crying bitter tears… I’m sensing that your thoughts are still at your party. Sit down, learn your lines properly, and think about your role. And have some coffee, to sober you up a bit. (nodding to CONSULTANT sitting demurely in the corner) That girl will pour you a cup.

WOMAN: (with a wary glance at CONSULTANT) No, why bother her? I can go on just fine like this.

DIRECTOR: You’ve been told to sit down. In the meantime, I’ll work with the other actor. (to MAN) Take it away.

MAN: (goes to the center of the stage, stops, unfolds the paper with his lines; a pause) Should I portray sorrow too?

DIRECTOR: (sarcastically) No, unbridled joy. (fiercely) You’re standing over a coffin, damn it! Does this really need an explanation?

MAN: I get it. (portraying sorrow) Dear friend!

DIRECTOR: Stop! We’ve already had “dear friend.” Couldn’t you start with something different, for a change? At least “unforgettable friend”? Are you both delivering the same speech?

MAN: Sorry, I took her lines by mistake. (goes to the row of chairs, picks up the sheet with his lines, and returns to his place; another pause) Tell me, will I be speaking from a podium tomorrow or just standing?

DIRECTOR: There’s no podium near the coffin. So there’ll be nowhere to hide your cheat sheet.

MAN: Then I’ll have to learn my speech by heart?

DIRECTOR: You haven’t learned it yet?

MAN: I’m more used to reading from a script, you see. People of our standing aren’t allowed to improvise.

DIRECTOR: You’ll have to do it without your cheat sheet this one time.

MAN: I could get confused.

DIRECTOR: So long as you don’t get very confused, that’s no big deal. It’s even better, in fact. You’re sort of agitated, depressed by what’s just happened, the words aren’t coming easy.

MAN: I get it. (searches through the sheets of paper for his place and gets ready to start)

DIRECTOR: Don’t forget to look mournful.

MAN: (assuming a mournful look) Dear friend!

DIRECTOR: (exploding) Again with the “dear friend”? Are you jerking me around?

MAN: Sorry, that was a reflex. I’m a little flustered.

DIRECTOR: Very well. Start again.

MAN adopts a mournful pose and opens his mouth, but just then CONSULTANT’s phone rings.

CONSULTANT: Hello! Yes. Good. Is everything ready? When? In about an hour? Check again, Colonel. To make sure it all goes off without a hitch.

DIRECTOR: (fiercely) I thought I ordered everyone to turn off their phones. Why didn’t you do as I said?

CONSULTANT: I’m not authorized to turn off my phone. Especially on a day like this.

DIRECTOR: And I don’t care what you’re authorized to do. Here, the only important thing is the rehearsal. (pounds his fist on the table and glares at everyone) If anyone else’s phone rings, I... (to MAN) Continue.

MAN: (instead of starting his speech, starts rummaging through his pockets) Sorry...

DIRECTOR: (through clenched teeth) What now?

MAN: I can’t find my glasses.

DIRECTOR: To hell with your glasses! Tomorrow you’ll have no glasses and no script either. Speak, say something! Imagine yourself on a platform in the middle of a spacious square. An open coffin stands before you, the orchestra has fallen silent, the guard is motionless, dozens of television cameras are pointed at you, the whole country is watching you, waiting to hear what you’re going to say. Will you be rummaging around in your pockets then?

MAN: But I haven’t learned the speech yet.

DIRECTOR: I know you haven’t learned it. But for now don’t think about what to say, just how to say it.

CONSULTANT: (from her corner) The “what” is important too.

DIRECTOR: (threateningly) Nobody asked you.

MAN: And how must it be said?

DIRECTOR: Sincerely, with feeling. Your words should come from your very heart... Remember in Faust? “Let apes and children praise your art, if their admiration’s to your taste, But you’ll never speak from heart to heart, unless it rises up from your heart’s space.” Got it? Well! Off you go!

MAN: (reading from the paper in his hand) Dear brother!..

DIRECTOR: Don’t look at the paper but at the camera, right at the camera!

MAN: But there’s no camera.

DIRECTOR: Here, in rehearsal, I’ll play the role of the camera. And tomorrow, during the show, think of it the other way, that the camera’s your director. It’s me, your best friend. Looking into the camera’s eye – directly into the lens, that is – address it as if it were a living person. Keep this in mind: that way you’ll be looking into the eyes of millions of people, and they’ll be looking at you. Clear? Off you go!

MAN: (staring intently at DIRECTOR) Dear brother!..

DIRECTOR: Stop! You’re looking at the camera, and that’s good, but you’ve forgotten to portray grief.

MAN: It’s difficult to remember everything at once – my face, and the camera, and the words, and the grief. I’m afraid of losing the thread.

DIRECTOR: To hell with the words, then! Words are the least of your worries. If you can’t remember, don’t. Words aren’t important in the modern theater. The main thing is to express emotion.

CONSULTANT: (from her corner) All the same, it seems to me that the words are important too.

DIRECTOR: (to CONSULTANT) Should I kick you out now or wait for you to pipe up again? (to MAN) Continue. Your face should be sad but at the same time serene, inspiring energy and optimism. Yes, your best friend has left you too soon, but he will always stay with you, in your heart. He will not be forgotten. His work will never die. And you will be the one to carry it on. So, start over! Sobs constrict your throat...

MAN: (in a strangled voice, while unsuccessfully trying to create a mixture of sadness, energy, and optimism on his face) Dear brother!

DIRECTOR: What are you muttering there?

MAN: This sobbing’s making my throat tight.

DIRECTOR: So it’s tight, but you still have to speak clearly.

MAN: (in his own voice) All this is very difficult. How can anybody portray sorrow and optimism at once? This isn’t going anywhere.

DIRECTOR: (furious) It isn’t going anywhere because you don’t know how to put in the work, and you don’t even want to. I’m afraid I’m only wasting my precious time with you.

MAN: (unexpectedly gruff and arrogant) You forget yourself, my dear sir. Please watch your tone. Yes, we have no acting talent. What of it? We don’t have to. We’re busy with more important things. Politicians should never be actors.

DIRECTOR: You’re wrong. It’s actors who should never be politicians. A good politician ought to be an actor, though. But so be it. If I ever find the time, I’ll give you some private lessons. Provided you make it worth my while, needless to say. In the meantime, go run your lines in front of a mirror and learn the words.

MAN: (tightly wound now) You’re being way too familiar, and it’s unacceptable – do you hear me? We’re not floozies in vaudeville or wherever you normally do your thing, but upstanding, respected people. Conduct yourself accordingly.

DIRECTOR: Theater 101: the director is all, and the rest, whoever they may be, are nobody and nothing, empty suits, clothes hangers, dolls, and puppets. Is that clear?

MAN: And I say again: we will not tolerate being taunted just because we’re having trouble with one thing or another!

DIRECTOR: (mocking) “With one thing or another”... Such modesty! “One thing or another”! (ferociously.) You’re having trouble with everything! Do you hear? Everything! (thinks for a moment) This is what I’m going to do. Tomorrow I’m going to put a sniper in the window of the building closest to the square. And if you haven’t learned your lines, as soon as you make the first mistake, the rifle will make bang-bang. I’ll have the second coffin all ready. And your partner will double up on her speech over the twin graves. (to WOMAN) Won’t you?

WOMAN: With pleasure.

DIRECTOR: That will, I assure you, be one awe-inspiring show. It’s a pity that you won’t be there to enjoy it.

MAN: Your little jokes are stupid and out of place.

DIRECTOR: But I’m not joking at all. There’s less than twenty-four hours left before we thoroughly disgrace ourselves, so stop talking and buckle down at last. Every show demands hard work and preparation, and ours especially. It involves countless hordes of people, and we’re down to the wire.

CONSULTANT: You seem nervous. Afraid you aren’t going to make it?

DIRECTOR: I’m never afraid of anything. It’ll all be ready in time. I’ve staged spectacles on streets, and on squares, and in stadiums, and in swimming pools... And everything always went like clockwork. This is my profession. I work like a horse, but I demand the same attitude to the work from everyone else.

MAN: I’m not against work, but I do require respect. I’m not some whippersnapper – I’m a big deal. A very big deal.

DIRECTOR: And I require respect too. In your free time, away from rehearsals, by all means run the government or the country, I couldn’t care less. But here I’m directing this production, and you’re only actors in it and have to do what you’re told.

MAN: So stick to your business, but don’t forget who you are and who I am.

DIRECTOR: I’m not forgetting that you’re our prime minister, our fearless leader. Although the male lead in the seediest provincial theater would play that part in tomorrow’s performance far better than you. And you, in turn, don’t forget that I’m the one who forged your image when you were being groomed for the prime minister spot. I’m the one who taught you how to walk, talk, dress, carry yourself, so that you’d look every bit like a serious, intelligent, upstanding person. But now we’re in rehearsal, not at some government meeting. And in rehearsal, everyone obeys just one person. Namely, the director. And that director is me.

MAN: Permit me to...

DIRECTOR: (cutting MAN off) And I make so bold as to observe that when a minister is removed from his post, he becomes nobody, the “former,” the “ex” whatever. But no one will take my calling from me. I was, am, and will remain a top-flight professional.

MAN: But that doesn’t give you the right...

DIRECTOR: (cutting him off again) Wait, I haven’t finished yet. If you make a mess of tomorrow’s nationwide broadcast, it’ll be your mess, of course. Unfortunately, though, it will be mine too. You’ll probably be fired, but I’ll survive it. No one’ll fire me. Still, I value my reputation as the country’s best director, and I don’t want to lose it because of you. And I won’t let either of you go until you deliver your speeches the way you should. This is, first of all, in your own interests. How come you aren’t understanding that?

MAN: (less confident) I just wanted to say that I don’t like the way you rehearse.

DIRECTOR: Directing’s part of my job description, so leave that to me. If you let all the professionals do what they do the way they want to, as they know best, our country would have changed to the good long ago. But you interfere with everything and spoil everything. (pointing to WOMAN) Take your fellow member of the government as your example. She’s sitting quietly and not trying to stretch the rehearsal out with pointless bickering. (to WOMAN) Because you’re a minister, an elected representative, or something like that too, aren’t you?

WOMAN: What of it?

DIRECTOR: Nothing. So what are you running there?

WOMAN: What ministry would they give to a woman? Only what is considered the most unimportant, third-rate – health care, education, culture...

DIRECTOR: And which of those ministries do you head up?

WOMAN: Me…? (racking her brains) It’s... You know... Education, I think... Or no – Culture. I always get them mixed up. (to MAN) Do you remember? At present I’m Minister of what – Education or Culture?

MAN: (sullenly) Agriculture.

WOMAN: Right! For some reason I was thinking Culture.

MAN: You were head of Culture last time around.

WOMAN: Why didn’t you remind me before? At yesterday’s meeting, I kept saying that our main aim is to develop culture.

MAN: No big deal. They probably thought you were pushing them to improve crop cultivation or something.

CONSULTANT: Sorry to interfere, but the rehearsal’s fallen off the radar. Isn’t it time we got back to it?

DIRECTOR: My dear girl, it’s obvious that you don’t understand a thing about the theater. All rehearsals mainly consist of unnecessary chit-chat and people at each other’s throats. Without conflict, no show is ever born. But I wasn’t just wool-gathering. I’m feeling that tomorrow’s performance is missing something. Something that pops... It’s all boring, mundane. There’s nothing spectacular about it... It’s how anyone would do it... I need to come up with something – a discovery, a hook, a gimmick, a ploy... (thinks for a moment) Maybe our esteemed prime minister will ravish this fine figure of a woman on live TV.

WOMAN: Me?!

DIRECTOR: Who else?

MAN: You’re out of your mind!

WOMAN: What’s the big whoop? I don’t mind.

MAN: Neither do I, but why do it when the cameras are rolling?

DIRECTOR: For the scandal.

MAN: Why?

DIRECTOR: What d’you mean “why”? There can be no success without a scandal. Who’s interested in watching a funeral? It’s all pretty dreary, so been-there, done-that. I did instruct the designer to zhuzh it up as much as possible, and make it more festive and cheerful – but a funeral’s a funeral. Always the same thing – glum faces, phony eulogies... The viewers will click over, to a football game or their favorite soap. But if there’s a scandal, they’ll talk about it, interest will skyrocket, people will insist on reruns. My stagings always involve a scandal. The rest doesn’t interest me, or the viewers.

CONSULTANT: But what does physical violation have to do with a funeral?

DIRECTOR: Nothing. That’s the trick of it. One time I set up a welcome ceremony for a foreign leader, and do you know what I came up with? Naked girls with an obscene tattoo on their breasts came running out to meet him at the airport. That bit of film got airtime on every station worldwide.

MAN: And what did the foreign dignitary say?

DIRECTOR: He was very pleased. The girls were just what the doctor ordered, and he became a household name all over the world. And before that, no one had even heard of him. That’s how a success is made. And when I was directing an orchid festival in Singapore...

CONSULTANT: Sorry to interfere again, but this isn’t a stroll down memory lane. It’s a rehearsal.

DIRECTOR: The word “rehearsal” in Latin means “repetition,” my dear girl. With a real director, though, no rehearsal is ever a repetition of the same old thing. It’s a quest for, a promotion of, new ideas.

CONSULTANT: Setting someone up to be violated doesn’t strike me as a good idea.

DIRECTOR: First of all, pussycat, nobody asked you. Second, that’s exactly how the funeral should go, in my mind’s eye. As a great director once asked, “Where’s our next surprise coming from?”

CONSULTANT: You think that a televised sex act will surprise anybody?

DIRECTOR: To be honest, I’m not sure. I’m putting this idea out only as a working hypothesis. And what do you think would surprise today’s viewers?

CONSULTANT: Well, for example, a show that comes across as logical.

DIRECTOR: That’s old hat. I always have to be ahead of my time, not trailing behind it. That’s why my shows have more hooks, obscenities, violence, and all the rest of it than anyone else’s. Food without pepper and spice is bland and tasteless.

CONSULTANT: The only people who say that don’t know how to cook a tasty meal.

DIRECTOR: I’m used setting the tone, and that’s not something I’m about to give up now. The spectators are supposed to leave my shows in a daze. That’s real art. And that’s why I’m the world’s best director for large-scale public events.

CONSULTANT: Are you sure everyone shares your opinion?

DIRECTOR: I don’t care what others think of me. What’s important is what I think of myself.

CONSULTANT: I don’t want to offend you, but I know a better professional than you in the field.

DIRECTOR: (stung) That can’t be. Who is he?

CONSULTANT: Never mind.

DIRECTOR: No, tell me his name! I know all the professionals in the field.

CONSULTANT: Not now. Time’s too short to be discussing ratings. The funeral’s almost here. We have to work.

DIRECTOR: You’re way out of line. What next? Hustling me along, telling me how to stage my shows? By the way, who are we burying?

A pause. A phone rings.

What the hell – whose phone’s ringing again? I told everyone to turn them off!

CONSULTANT: It’s your phone.

DIRECTOR: Yes? (takes out his phone) So it is.

CONSULTANT: (with a slight grin) By the way, why didn’t you turn yours off?

DIRECTOR: Because most of what I’m doing isn’t being done here, but all over the city. Hundreds of people are on it, as I’ve already told you. And besides, I am me. (into the phone) Hello!.. I’ve told you before: the full-dress rehearsal is at two a.m. Everybody must be on the main square by then. Make arrangements to get them there and take them away again. You have thirty buses for that... Don’t forget the microphones and the flowers... And what about the horses?.. (exits, still talking)

MAN: A swaggering, smug, tom turkey. Rude and impertinent. Imagines the sun rises and sets on him.

WOMAN: But he knows what he’s doing.

MAN: That doesn’t excuse his bad manners and doesn’t exempt him from being civil.

CONSULTANT: He’s on edge. He is responsible for everything, after all.

MAN: I won’t work with him. He has to be replaced.

CONSULTANT: It’s an old story: the actors want a different director, the director wants different actors... This conversation’s over.

MAN: Why? Why do we need this dictator? Are there no other directors?

CONSULTANT: Do you think other directors are better? They’re all dictators… Not that they’re the only ones... Besides, it’s too late to be talking about replacements and changes. The ceremony will be happening in a matter of hours. Better try to follow his instructions. Then you won’t butt heads as much.

DIRECTOR returns, putting his phone away.

DIRECTOR: We’ll continue the rehearsal. (to WOMAN) Do you know your part by now?

WOMAN: (uncertainly) I’ve studied it.

DIRECTOR: Very well. So as not to go around in circles, we’ll move on to the second paragraph.

WOMAN: (holding the paper with her lines) Dear Alexander!.. (to DIRECTOR) Alexander – who’s that?

DIRECTOR: The person you’re burying, obviously.

WOMAN: Was his name Alexander?

DIRECTOR: Probably. You ought to know.

CONSULTANT: (with barely concealed irritation) Yes, his name’s Alexander. Do you really not remember?

WOMAN: How’m I supposed to know? I’d never heard of any Alexander before he blew the whistle on our real estate and oil deals.

CONSULTANT: (gruffly) My dear, when you speak, your words should be better than silence. The director doesn’t need to know the details of your private life.

WOMAN: What did I say that was so wrong? We’re among friends here.

CONSULTANT: (decisively) Come with me. You need a splash of cold water. And a change of clothes, into something more decent.

WOMAN: But what about the rehearsal?

CONSULTANT: The director will work with our esteemed premier in the meantime.

DIRECTOR: Who put you in charge, to be bossing people around and interfering with my work?

CONSULTANT: I’m not interfering, I’m helping. (to WOMAN, in a commanding tone) Let’s go.

WOMAN makes for the door, but CONSULTANT stops her.

Hold on. Give me your purse for a minute. (takes WOMAN’s purse, removes a bottle of brandy, and puts it on the shelf) Now we can go.

CONSULTANT and WOMAN exit.

DIRECTOR: (to MAN) So. I’ll have to work just with you for now. The principal task of tomorrow’s show is high ratings, is that clear? That’s the spirit in which the show must be framed.

MAN: I completely agree with that as far as my personal approval numbers are concerned. But not that woman’s numbers. She shouldn’t have been allowed to take part in the performance at all.

DIRECTOR: I don’t quite understand who you’re talking about. The consultant?

MAN: No, that... lady minister. I don’t want to say anything bad about her, but you can see for yourself that she’s a complete airhead.

DIRECTOR: An actress needs talent, not brains. You’re not good with her as an actress?

MAN: I’m not good with her as a politician.

DIRECTOR: What’s wrong with her?

MAN: The fact that there’s been too much of her recently. She’s sticking her nose in everywhere, giving interviews to everyone, sounding off on every issue. And d’you know why? You won’t believe it: she has her sights set on my job.

DIRECTOR: She has?!

MAN: Of course. Why are you surprised? Don’t you know that the more mediocre a person is, the more overblown his ambitions are?

DIRECTOR: Why did you bring her into your government?

MAN: You think I’m the one who brought her in? Unfortunately, not everything depends on me... Besides, there are various political considerations…

DIRECTOR: What considerations could there be, other than the wheeling and dealing?

MAN: Decorum and political calculation require a minimum of two or three women in the government. And preferably not old battleaxes, but the kind that can be shown on TV. So I had to bring her in. Besides, the others were even worse.

DIRECTOR: And you don’t take smarts and fitness for the job into account?

MAN: What do smarts have to do with it? You can’t see that on TV. You know the old joke “Is it better to be stupid or bald?” The answer is “Stupid. It’s not so noticeable.” So broads like that shine on screen, while others do their work for them.

DIRECTOR: That’s all well and good, but what do you want from me? My business isn’t with the government, it’s with this rehearsal. I can’t kick her out. She’s written into my contract. The viewers want to see not only a coffin and glum faces, but also a trendy hairstyle, an elegant suit, a slender waist, legs all the way up to there, and the rest of it. It’ll liven up the spectacle. Everybody’ll be talking about it. Plus, there has to be a woman crying bitter tears at a staged funeral. She comes off as more sincere, more emotional than a man. Women are believed to be more driven by feeling than by reason. They tug harder at the viewer’s heartstrings.

MAN: (gloomy) So the long and the short of it is that all eyes will be on her, and only her.

DIRECTOR: Very well. I’ll try to balance that out.

MAN: Isn’t there some way of getting by without her?

DIRECTOR: I’ve already told you no. Anyway, it’s too late.

MAN: But at least show her as little as you can. Or film it so that she seems even more of a birdbrain, if that’s possible. You can do that. Or cut her out of the shot altogether.

DIRECTOR: You’d best mind your own business and leave my work to me.

WOMAN returns. She has sobered up a little and has even had time to change into a dark, well-tailored suit appropriate for a funeral.

MAN: (cheerfully) Our beauty’s back! We could hardly wait.

WOMAN: I know. That’s why I made it snappy.

DIRECTOR: (in a low tone, to MAN) And you turn out not to be such a bad actor after all.

MAN: (cheerfully) Let’s pull together now, the three of us, and get on with the job.

WOMAN: (to MAN) The consultant’s asking you to step out for a moment. She wants to talk to you.

DIRECTOR: She can wait. We have better things to do than chat. Let’s get down to business.

MAN: (hastily) No, no, I’ll go... I won’t be long. (exits)

WOMAN: Did you see that? He ran to her like an obedient little puppy dog. (with contempt) And they call him a prime minister!

DIRECTOR: But really, why do the two of you kowtow to an assistant?

WOMAN: You can’t guess?

DIRECTOR: I haven’t thought too much about it.

WOMAN: And I suggest that you don’t think much about it going forward either.

DIRECTOR: I don’t intend to. OK, let’s go over your monologue again.

WOMAN: Very well. Although I must confess, I’m tired of it. Where did we stop?

DIRECTOR: We haven’t started yet, if you ask me.

WOMAN stands before the “camera” and is about to say something, but doesn’t utter a word.

What? Still don’t know your part? (prompting) Dear friend!

WOMAN: Dear friend! (glances around, lowers her voice, and speaks in a different tone) Dear friend, while there’s no one else here, I’d like to speak with you.

DIRECTOR: (puzzled) What about?

WOMAN: First, even though I’m a blonde, I’m not as birdbrained as you think.

DIRECTOR: So you say.

WOMAN: You don’t believe it?

DIRECTOR: I do.

WOMAN: If I hadn’t pretended to be a ding-dong, they wouldn’t have brought me into the government. I’d’ve been passed over if I came off as brainy. They’re afraid of competition.

DIRECTOR: Is that all you wanted to tell me?

WOMAN: No.

DIRECTOR: What else?

WOMAN: So, when you were rehearsing with the prime minister, you said that all the cameras at the ceremony will be directed at him.

DIRECTOR: Well?

WOMAN: Why on him and not on me?

DIRECTOR: And why on you and not on him?

WOMAN: Because I’m a woman.

DIRECTOR: And he’s the prime minister.

WOMAN: I thought your answer would be that he’s a man. So believe me, he’s not a man.

DIRECTOR: We’ll not be filming him as a man, though, but as the prime minister.

WOMAN: And what kind of prime minister is he?

DIRECTOR: Who is he, then?

WOMAN: A doll, a puppet, a head honcho in name only, an empty suit. Put in that position for show, as a figurehead, as good TV. But all his work is done by his three senior staffers.

DIRECTOR: For tomorrow’s production, that doesn’t matter at all. More important are his noble head with its graying locks and his velvety baritone. And I’m not authorized to deny him the right to speak.

WOMAN: But can it be done so that only my speech will be broadcast?

DIRECTOR: And what am I to do with his performance?

WOMAN: Drown it out.

DIRECTOR: Drown it out? How?

WOMAN: Well, for example, have a squadron of heavy bombers fly over the square during his speech.

DIRECTOR: That’s a gutsy idea, but I don’t think it’ll quite come off.

WOMAN: Still, I’m asking you to point all the cameras at me and no one else.

DIRECTOR: Why do you need that?

WOMAN: Because I want to be prime minister.

DIRECTOR: You?!

WOMAN: Why not?

DIRECTOR: Hmm... You’re a woman. You’ll find it harder to deliver the goods.

WOMAN: Even in backward countries – England or India, for example – women have been leading governments for ages. Why can’t I?

DIRECTOR: Do you think you’ll do better work than he does?

WOMAN: Why work? I’ll have the same three senior staffers.

DIRECTOR: But you couldn’t even handle Culture.

WOMAN: Who told you I couldn’t? You bet I could! It was very simple. They taught me to talk up the importance of culture and cut down on the money allocated to it. That’s all. And that poor apology for a prime minister doesn’t even know how to put two words together. Do you know why I agreed to let him ravish me?

DIRECTOR: I can guess.

WOMAN: No you can’t. First, he wouldn’t be able to.

DIRECTOR: How do you know that?

WOMAN: (pointedly) I know. Second, he’d be fired immediately afterward, and my approval rating, vice versa, would immediately take off. And then... Who knows?..

DIRECTOR: They’d make you prime minister?

WOMAN: Well, maybe not right away... First, deputy prime minister... But that would be a step in the right direction. Well, are we agreed?

DIRECTOR: On what?

WOMAN: That you’ll do my PR for me.

DIRECTOR: We haven’t agreed on anything.

WOMAN: You shouldn’t say no. I realize that there are no free lunches these days. So you help me, and I’ll help you.

DIRECTOR: How can you help me? Now, if you were in charge of Culture, maybe you’d have something for me...

WOMAN: Do you think your stupid shows for big corporations have anything to do with culture?

DIRECTOR: They might and they might not. But what does your almighty Agriculture have that I might want?

WOMAN: And what might Culture have for you? It’s the most poverty-stricken of all the ministries.

DIRECTOR: Well, for example, a theater of some kind.

WOMAN: You’re a director of huge public spectacles. What would you need a theater for? Why don’t I just send you a herd of horses?

DIRECTOR: Where would I put them?

WOMAN: You shouldn’t say no. Good racehorses are a goldmine. But if you don’t want them, I’ll give you a whole village. With all its farm workers thrown in.

DIRECTOR: What would I do with them?

WOMAN: Be their landlord. That’s what clever people do. It’s every bit as good as investing money in industry.

DIRECTOR: Talking with you is vastly expanding my understanding of morality.

WOMAN: If you think that you can get as far as I have in politics while holding on to your moral virginity, you don’t know anything about life. There isn’t such a big difference between being a political mover and shaker and shaking your booty.

DIRECTOR: You’re insulting the booty shakers.

WOMAN: Maybe you think I won’t be able to handle my role tomorrow. (pointedly) So I agree to let you rehearse me privately.

DIRECTOR: We don’t have time for that anymore.

WOMAN: Why not? (up close and personal) We have the whole night ahead of us.

DIRECTOR: You don’t say.

WOMAN: A long, long night. And the village and the horses, that’s something else altogether.

DIRECTOR: Of course, I’d be flattered to do some night work with a future prime minister, but to be honest, I do have qualms about it. That’s a peak I’ve yet to scale. And besides, I have rehearsals for the ceremony on the square all night.

WOMAN: You don’t like me?

DIRECTOR: A man can’t say no when a woman asks a question like that.

WOMAN: Then what’s the matter? I’m your actress, after all.

DIRECTOR: So what?

WOMAN: I’ve heard that directors always sleep with all their actresses.

DIRECTOR: Don’t believe the gossip of jealous women.

WOMAN: But everyone believes that’s how it is.

DIRECTOR: It’s a run-of-the-mill slander against the theater, a low-rent, lowbrow view of the sacred world of art. First, not “always,” and second, not “with all.” In fact, we often sleep not only with actresses, but also with, well, run-of-the-mill women from the audience.

CONSULTANT enters.

WOMAN: (whispers) We’ll come to an agreement later.

CONSULTANT: (to WOMAN) Darling, don’t you want to spend some time in the company of our esteemed prime minister?

WOMAN: (obediently) Of course. (exits)

DIRECTOR: Who said you could interrupt the rehearsal and boss everybody around? If it happens again, I’ll boot you out. Why did you send her away?

CONSULTANT: Don’t be angry. I’m not being bossy at all. I just wanted to be alone with you for a few minutes. I hope you don’t mind?

DIRECTOR: (gives her a look of typical male appraisal) That depends on how you conduct yourself going forward.

CONSULTANT: I’m ready to consider any options.

DIRECTOR: Do you have any specific suggestions?

CONSULTANT: The suggestions should come from the man.

DIRECTOR: Say the day after tomorrow? In the evening?

CONSULTANT: When a woman says she’s ready, that shouldn’t be followed by a lot of foot-dragging. She may change her mind.

DIRECTOR: Then I’ll tell them to take five right now, and we’ll have half an hour.

CONSULTANT: Half an hour isn’t worth it. When it comes to things like this, I don’t like to rush.

DIRECTOR: Oh, all right – an hour. Although, truth be told, the clock’s ticking. The performance’ll be starting before we know it, and I’m up to my neck in things to do. But I can give you an hour.

CONSULTANT: I already said that’s not worth it. Besides, I have changed my mind.

DIRECTOR: (trying to embrace her) Are you kidding me with this?

CONSULTANT: Mind your manners and get your hands off me.

DIRECTOR: But you said you were ready...

CONSULTANT: I was just joking with you. Or, actually, testing you. I wanted to see how easy it would be to distract you from the project – a very important project, too.

DIRECTOR: I don’t appreciate jokes like that.

CONSULTANT: Then let’s talk seriously.

DIRECTOR: I have nothing to talk with you about, and no reason to either. I’m busy. I’m in rehearsal.

CONSULTANT: But you promised to give me an hour.

DIRECTOR: Not for talking.

CONSULTANT: You’re huffing and puffing like a disgruntled lion. How about a shot of brandy instead?

DIRECTOR: (cheers up) Do you have any?

CONSULTANT: I most certainly do. I confiscated this bottle, remember? You’ve been working on this awe-inspiring show for three days now. You’re tired... Some stress relief’s in order. And you’ve probably had no time to eat. (puts snacks, the bottle, and two glasses on the table and pours the brandy)

DIRECTOR: It really wouldn’t hurt to unwind for a while.

CONSULTANT: (raises her glass.) Well? To a successful outcome?

DIRECTOR: To success! (drinks and begins to eat hungrily)

CONSULTANT: Do you specialize only in large-scale public spectacles or do you stage performances in theaters too?

DIRECTOR: In theaters too. Rarely, though.

CONSULTANT: Anything modern?

DIRECTOR: No, just the classics.

CONSULTANT: Why? Are you very fond of the classics?

DIRECTOR: No, not very. But there are other reasons. For example, when you stage a classic, the critics won’t be able to come down on you for a poor choice of play. There’s no need to make a contract with the author or pay him anything. He won’t be giving advice and coming around picking nits. I can do what I want with a classic play – cut, add, rewrite – and nobody will ever complain.

CONSULTANT: And have you raped a lot of classics?

DIRECTOR: Not really. I’ve only read four plays in my life. Those are the ones I stage.

CONSULTANT: Aren’t you sick of staging the same plays over and over?

DIRECTOR: Not at all. We directors only need plays to display our creative individuality. The words aren’t important to us. We’re not staging a play or even a playwright, we’re expressing ourselves.

CONSULTANT: But don’t you get sick of yourself?

DIRECTOR: Never.

CONSULTANT: What about the audiences?

DIRECTOR: Audiences don’t interest me.

CONSULTANT: And you’ve never wanted to put on something new?

DIRECTOR: I’m what’s new.

CONSULTANT: Well, I just wanted to talk with you about the importance of the words and the author’s role in our show.

DIRECTOR: There’s nothing to talk about. I’m putting on a spectacle, not a memorized reading – and by the way, my performers can’t even get a handle on that. You saw that yourself.

CONSULTANT: Be patient with them. They’re politicians, and politicians are used to reading prepared texts handed to them by speechwriters. That’s why it’s difficult for them to memorize anything.

DIRECTOR: They can’t memorize, and they don’t have to. Let them say whatever wanders into their heads.

CONSULTANT: In our case, that’s unacceptable.

DIRECTOR: And who precisely are you, to be coaching me?

CONSULTANT: Consider me the representative of the client and the author.

DIRECTOR: The author of the spectacle is me and me alone. I’ve already said that today’s theater doesn’t pussyfoot around the texts. All texts do is fetter the flight of my directorial imagination.

CONSULTANT: But this isn’t exactly theater. We’re rehearsing a real event.

DIRECTOR: A televised ceremony isn’t reality anymore. It’s a show – a prepackaged reality that has been subjected to interpretation and direction. We’ll point the cameras at this but not at that. Here, we’ll let the prepared text be heard, and there, we’ll replace it with music or a voiceover. This we’ll shoot in close up, and that we won’t shoot at all. It’s called a show, and the show has a director. And the director is me. I’d ask you to remember that and stop getting on my last nerve with your complaints and your coaching.

CONSULTANT: I’ll remember that. So carry on doing it freeform. No one’s going to put any constraints on your inspiration. (after a short silence) But then don’t be surprised if you’re not paid.

DIRECTOR: (stung) What d’you mean, “not paid”? There’s a written contract!

CONSULTANT: (dispassionately, in a lawyerly tone) There is. And it contains a clause that obliges you to respect all copyright provisions, as required by law. Including the one involving the integrity of the work.

DIRECTOR: Nobody ever adheres to that clause.

CONSULTANT: (ignoring the objection) And if that provision is violated, not only will your fee not be paid, but you’ll also be sued for the pain and suffering you’ve inflicted on the author.

DIRECTOR: I wonder who that touchy author could be?

CONSULTANT: (frigidly) You just said that the author didn’t interest you. Let’s keep it that way. Still, I can’t impress on you firmly enough – pervert Shakespeare or Chekhov to your heart’s content, but you have to respect this author’s texts.

DIRECTOR: (his self-confidence much deflated) Oh, all right... I’ll try to make sure that not a single word is left out.

CONSULTANT: That’s fine.

DIRECTOR: By the way, when will I be paid?

CONSULTANT: Immediately after the show – if and only if all the terms of the contract have been met. But talk about the payment and the other details with the prime minister. I don’t have the time to poke around in the minor specifics.

DIRECTOR: For me, those specifics aren’t minor. They’re highly consequential.

CONSULTANT: (with a touch of scorn) Are you worried about those piddling millions that have been promised to you? Put together a good show, and we’ll do whatever you want – grant you a medal, a title... We can even assign you a theater of your choosing. Give it your personal touch, wreck it, and good luck to you. Then, when you’ve made a complete mess of it, we’ll give you another theater to tear up – it’s no skin off our noses. We’ll order new performances from you, because we need them. But all of this is on condition that you follow the recommendations being given to you.

DIRECTOR: Yes, but creative freedom...

CONSULTANT: We’re not infringing on that. And didn’t you lecture the actors today on the need for, and benefits of, discipline?

DIRECTOR: Yes, but that was for the actors...

CONSULTANT: And who are we, you and I? Didn’t your Shakespeare write that “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”? And if that’s the case, then every one of us is working under a director that we’re compelled to obey. As Spinoza said, “Freedom lies in the recognition of necessity.” (patronizing) And the sooner you recognize that necessity, my dear man, the better for you, and for us.

DIRECTOR: This feels a bit like I’m being assaulted

CONSULTANT: Assault is easy to avoid.

DIRECTOR: Do you know how?

CONSULTANT: Every woman knows. You just have to give it up before your time runs out. So, do we have an agreement or not?

DIRECTOR: (reluctantly) We do.

CONSULTANT: That’s fine. Another glass?

DIRECTOR: Sure.

CONSULTANT: Now that we’ve understood each other, it’ll be easier to agree on the rest of it. I’ve noticed that, like many directors, you’re more interested in the form of the performance than in its meaning. You’re fixated on the how, but you’re not interested in the what and the why.

DIRECTOR: “The why” – what does that mean? So long as the show is beautiful and has tons of flair, the rest doesn’t matter. The main thing is the viewership and its reactions. In short, the ratings.

CONSULTANT: Ratings are important to us too – not the ratings for the broadcast, but the rating the client gives us. The success of the spectacle and therefore the size of the fee will be pegged to that indicator. And if the government’s ratings, God forbid, sink after tomorrow’s show....

DIRECTOR: That will bring the fee down too?

CONSULTANT: That will result in no payment at all.

DIRECTOR: I’m starting to regret getting mixed up in this bizarre deal of yours.

CONSULTANT What’s bizarre about it?

DIRECTOR: Not least the fact that I was tasked with preparing a public funeral on a huge scale and at the same time required to keep the preparations secret.

CONSULTANT: We couldn’t tell you everything before, for various reasons. But now it’s crunch time. There are some particulars you should know if you’re going to keep a tight grip on the spectacle.

DIRECTOR: Then tell me why there had to be so much secrecy.

CONSULTANT: We needed to buy time.

DIRECTOR: What for?

CONSULTANT: So that we would have time to prepare, and they wouldn’t.

DIRECTOR: Who are “they”?

CONSULTANT: “They” aren’t us.

DIRECTOR: No kidding. And who’s to stop those “not us” from preparing too?

CONSULTANT: That’s the whole point of the game.

DIRECTOR: I don’t get any of this. Who are we burying anyway?

CONSULTANT: Let’s just say a certain person who put us in an awkward spot. (whispers a name in DIRECTOR’s ear)

DIRECTOR: (surprised) He died? I thought he was still quite young.

CONSULTANT: (deliberately vague) Man proposes, God disposes.

DIRECTOR: There’s one thing I don’t understand. I know he was always needling you and your colleagues, threatening to leak information... Especially on the prime minister...

CONSULTANT: Him and others. So?

DIRECTOR: Then why have you ordered up this lavish funeral for him? Let his friends bury him.

CONSULTANT: Now they’re criticizing us too. But if we give their hero a grand send-off and praise him to the skies, they’ll have nothing to gripe at us for. That’s why the words have to be delivered at the ceremony exactly as they’re written. Politics is a theater where you mustn’t put a foot wrong. Otherwise, the role won’t be yours much longer.

DIRECTOR: So that’s it…

CONSULTANT: Do you understand now? They loved their leader, but we, it turns out, love him even more. The upshot is that they’ll seem to be in cahoots with us, and there won’t be a thing they can say about it. And if they do arrange their own separate ceremony, everyone’ll be watching your beautiful show, not their pathetic little rally.

DIRECTOR: Gotcha.

CONSULTANT: By the way, we don’t much want too many people we don’t know at the funeral. It could get out of hand. Do you have any advice on how to make it so they won’t pose a threat?

DIRECTOR: Very simple. Announce that due to the huge influx of people, the city center is off-limits for traffic. Put up barriers, post police details, and bring in the special forces. Keep everybody, not just vehicles, away from the funeral venue, unless they have a pass.

CONSULTANT: Not a bad idea.

DIRECTOR: Nothing to it. It’s standard operating procedure for our mass spectacles.

CONSULTANT: But on the other hand, we also need to create the impression that people are flocking there to say farewell, and that they support us.

DIRECTOR: So, then, don’t let anyone in, but there have to be crowds. I get it. This isn’t my first time. I can set that up. Give me a division of soldiers in civilian clothes, and I’ll film them filing past the coffin fourteen times.

CONSULTANT: (takes her phone out) I need to issue some orders right now.

DIRECTOR: I thought you’d done that a long time ago.

CONSULTANT: I see your great reputation isn’t just talk.

DIRECTOR: That’s why they pay me the big money.

CONSULTANT: Now there’s a hint I’ve heard before. I’ll say it again: hash out all the details with the prime minister. Anything else is a waste of time. We’ve each of us got a job to do. Let’s do it. (exits)

Left alone, DIRECTOR dials his cell phone.

DIRECTOR: (into the phone) How’s it going? As you know, the script calls for seventy delegations, so you’ll need seventy wreaths with ribbons, all by the book. Incidentally, have the delegations been paid already? Tell them we’ll pay immediately after the funeral. Also, don’t forget to let that riffraff know to be decently dressed, not in jeans and any old rags. And try to get a thousand balloons. We’ll release them into the air to symbolize the soul ascending to heaven... No, not black ones, white ones. Black’s the color of mourning, but the soul should be packaged in white... We’re in a time crunch. There’s still a night and a half-day ahead of us. We won’t sleep until after that.

WOMAN enters. DIRECTOR hangs up his phone.

WOMAN: I was told I have to go on with the rehearsal.

DIRECTOR: Not a moment too soon. Where’s the other one?

WOMAN: He’s getting his instructions from her. He’ll be here in a minute.

DIRECTOR: Have you learned the words?

WOMAN: Sort of. Want to hear?

DIRECTOR: In a minute. (looks around and lowers his voice) Tell me, this assistant of mine... or whatever she is... What’s her position?

WOMAN: You think she’s your assistant?

DIRECTOR: I don’t know. That’s what she said. At least she knows a bit about the theater.

WOMAN: That’s entirely possible. I’m thinking she’s been cast in supporting roles at one time or another. Here, though, she’s a headliner.

DIRECTOR: How do you explain that astronomical ascent? She probably has something special going for her?

WOMAN: Sure. The something special that men value above all else.

DIRECTOR: And which man valued it?

WOMAN: First one, then another... and so on. Higher and higher and higher.

DIRECTOR: In any event, she’s no fool.

WOMAN: That, unfortunately, can’t be taken away from her.

DIRECTOR: And she dresses very elegantly.

WOMAN: And undresses even more elegantly.

DIRECTOR: You’re just jealous of her.

WOMAN: I won’t argue that.

DIRECTOR: What’s her official position, anyway?

WOMAN: Who knows?.. Speechwriter, consultant, staffer, aide, adviser... In other words, someone who’s very close to a very important person. You’re with me, right? Very close. And very important.

DIRECTOR: And more specifically?

WOMAN: You want to know the distance in inches? (sadly) It used to be me… and... and now it’s her (gives an expressive shrug) Do you understand?

DIRECTOR: I do. And you didn’t try to pry her loose?

WOMAN: (looks around in fright; speaks in a low tone) “Pry her loose” – easy for you to say! Do you think we didn’t give it our best shot? But there are powerful people behind her... And besides, she’s got dirt on all of us.

DIRECTOR: On you too?

WOMAN: Who’s without sin?

DIRECTOR: And what’s your sin?

WOMAN: A lot of nothing... I mean, really – a little beach house...

DIRECTOR: Where’s the beach?

WOMAN: In Costa Rica.

DIRECTOR: And you’re trembling before her all because of a little house? How small is the house? How many square feet?

WOMAN: I don’t remember exactly. Forty-eight or forty-nine rooms. And there’s a teensy-weensy garden around that cottage... Seven acres or so. Maybe ten.

DIRECTOR: I understand. For a banana plantation. You are the Minister of Agriculture, after all.

WOMAN: I bought it even earlier, when I was in Culture.

DIRECTOR: You said that Culture is the most poverty-stricken of all the ministries

WOMAN: That’s true, but it could still stretch to a teensy-weensy garden.

DIRECTOR: Tell me, why do you need a mansion like that – out in the back of beyond, no less? Your life here is pretty good, no?

WOMAN: You don’t understand anything. We all have the feeling that everything’s going to collapse tomorrow, and we’ll have to make ourselves scarce. So you have to dig yourself a snug little den as far away from here as you can.

DIRECTOR: Why don’t you try to fight back with dirt on her?

WOMAN: (looking scared) We’d better rehearse. I’ve already said too much. Shall we call the prime minister?

DIRECTOR: What do you need him for?

WOMAN: We have to rehearse him ravishing me. You said so yourself.

DIRECTOR: The ravishing’s off.

WOMAN: Pity. I was nearly ready for it.

DIRECTOR: If you feel bad about that, I can ravish you after the rehearsal. Just remind me, please. I have a slew of things to do, so I might forget. In the meantime, give me your speech.

WOMAN: The speech again! Aren’t you sick of it?

DIRECTOR: It’s my job.

WOMAN: Well, I’m sick to death of it. We’re trying so hard, torturing ourselves, but why we’re being forced to go through with this travesty, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe the funeral won’t happen at all.

DIRECTOR: (alarmed) What are you saying, “won’t happen”? What makes you think that?

WOMAN: Who’s going to be buried? The deceased hasn’t died yet, you know.

DIRECTOR: What does “hasn’t died” mean?

WOMAN: It means what it means. Didn’t she tell you? (sees how shocked DIRECTOR is, hesitates) Oh dear – seems I’ve spilled the beans again. All because of that damned party...

DIRECTOR: Hold it, hold it. What were you getting at when you said “the deceased hasn’t died”?

WOMAN: Nothing. We’d better rehearse. (pulling out all the stops) Dear friend!

DIRECTOR: To hell with your dear friend! Who’s not dead?

WOMAN: I don’t know anything. (seeing MAN entering) Look, you’d better ask him.

DIRECTOR: (launches himself at MAN) Tell me: is it true that he’s not dead?

MAN: Who?

DIRECTOR: Who, who?.. The deceased!

MAN: (looks at WOMAN with hate in his eyes) You’ve already blabbed, haven’t you? I’ve always said that you shouldn’t be included, but they wanted a woman. Well, they’ve brought it on themselves.

WOMAN: (guilty) I thought he knew.

MAN: You’re forever speaking before you think. It’s about time you stopped being so... spontaneous.

DIRECTOR: Hold on... I’m not understanding anything. He really isn’t dead?

MAN: Well... On the one hand... Although, on the other... In short, it’s difficult to say...

DIRECTOR: Stop blowing smoke! Tell me in words of one syllable – is he dead or not?

MAN: Back off! He’s not dead.

DIRECTOR: How come?

MAN: This is how. He’s not dead, and that’s that. He’s more alive than any living soul. He’s speaking on TV right now.

DIRECTOR: But what about my show? It’s being called off? So I set up the scenario, mobilized people, equipment, materials, drew up a list of two hundred and forty journalists – and there’ll be nothing to write about?

MAN: It’ll all work out somehow.

DIRECTOR: (pierced by an even more terrible thought) But what about my fee?

MAN: I don’t know. Let’s rehearse.

DIRECTOR: Why, if the show’s being called off?

MAN: She told us to continue regardless.

DIRECTOR: (decisively) Before continuing, I’d like to know when you’re going to pay me.

MAN: As we agreed. After the funeral.

DIRECTOR: After whose funeral – his or mine? He’s ten years younger than me. Or maybe after yours?

MAN: I said immediately after.

DIRECTOR: There’s no such thing as immediately after. It’s either immediately or it’s after. I want it right now.

MAN: But we agreed on after.

DIRECTOR: We haven’t agreed on anything. You said “after,” and I countered with “before.” I demand to be paid immediately. Right now.

MAN: You don’t trust me?

DIRECTOR: Of course I don’t. Who does? Besides, he’s not even dead yet, and nobody really knows if he’ll die or not.

WOMAN: How can he not die, when the funeral’s scheduled already? He’ll die for sure. You don’t believe it?

DIRECTOR: I do. We’re all going to check out, some day. But I want my money now. In full. I can’t wait, because the day after tomorrow I’m flying to the Republic of the Congo to stage the presidential inauguration there. The folks in Africa, unlike you, have paid me in advance. They respect professionals.

MAN: And I’m telling you – slow your roll and cool your jets. He’s going to die.

DIRECTOR: I know. The question is when.

MAN: On the third evening after the full moon, when Jupiter enters Capricorn. Soon, that is.

DIRECTOR: What gibberish is that?

MAN: It’s what the astrologers are predicting.

DIRECTOR: Very good. Then I’ll start rehearsals when Sagittarius enters Virgo. And I’m using the words “Sagittarius” and “Virgo” metaphorically, out of respect for the lady here.

MAN: I’m begging you not to kick up a fuss.

DIRECTOR: Cash on the barrel.

MAN: The consultant will explain it all to you.

DIRECTOR: She said I should talk to you about the money.

CONSULTANT enters.

CONSULTANT: What are you arguing about?

A pause

MAN: The director’s refusing to continue the rehearsal.

CONSULTANT: He’s only joking. (looking DIRECTOR square in the eyes) Aren’t you?

DIRECTOR: It turns out he’s not dead!

CONSULTANT: (chilly) And how is that your business?

DIRECTOR: (bringing his tone down several notches) It’s actually about the money...

CONSULTANT: Aren’t you ashamed to dicker over such a pittance? The pocket change you’re asking for, I carry in my purse as spending money. (stiffly) Do your job.

DIRECTOR: Yes, but they’re saying...

CONSULTANT: I don’t know what they’re saying, but I’m saying that you have to go on with the rehearsal. We’ve been shooting the breeze for an hour and a half already. (in a rigid, low voice) You apparently have a very poor idea of the person you’re working for. This is no place for arrogance and crackbrained notions. Just rehearse, and the rest is no concern of yours.

DIRECTOR: (realizing that he has no choice) Very well.

CONSULTANT: And don’t forget to stick to the text and meet our other terms.

DIRECTOR: I’ll remember.

CONSULTANT: And I’ll sit here, to listen and watch.

DIRECTOR: (struggling to hide his annoyance, addresses his cast) On with the rehearsal. Whose turn is it?

MAN: I yield to the lady.

DIRECTOR: The lady it is, then. Begin.

WOMAN: (glancing at her piece of paper) Dear friend! What a fearsome word!

DIRECTOR: Stop. Why is “friend” a fearsome word?

WOMAN: Sorry, I skipped a line. (starts over) Dear friend! How many times have we told each other goodbye, but today we have to bid you farewell. “Farewell” – what a fearsome word!

DIRECTOR: Less pathos, more sincerity. You’re really in disbelief: how can it suddenly be “farewell”?

WOMAN: (stirringly) “Farewell”... What a fearsome word! I don’t believe it, and I never will. It’s impossible! In my mind, I’ll never part with you. (with a change of tone) And after this speech, isn’t his wife going to scratch my eyes out? She’ll think I was his mistress, and I’ve never spoken a word to him in my life.

DIRECTOR: Why do you care what the wife thinks? You’re not talking to her but to the millions. All the state TV stations will be put on notice that this is a show they have to broadcast. And the independents too, needless to say.

WOMAN: Awesome! I must make time to see my hair stylist.

DIRECTOR: Don’t do anything on your own account. Our makeup artists will get you ready. Start again.

WOMAN: Dear friend!

DIRECTOR: Wait. You’re not feeling anything, and that’s why you can’t find the right tone.

WOMAN: And what am I supposed to feel?

DIRECTOR: You don’t know? Very well, I’ll try to help you. Both of you need to be clear on the circumstances in which you’ll be delivering your speeches. Then you’ll understand the solemnity of this gala occasion, and your words will find the intonation they need, all on their own. It’s going to be very beautiful, believe me – a feast for the eyes. No one has ever staged a ceremony like this, on such a scale. My competitors’ll just die of envy. (gradually growing more animated) Guests in formal attire, military bands in glittering uniforms, delegations and wreaths from civic organizations, funeral marches, Chopin, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, silken flags at half-staff, fluttering in the wind... Banners angled downward, a coat of arms, the coffin, a thunderous farewell salute... A squadron of fighter planes flying over the square, his medals on velvet pillows...

MAN: I don’t think he has any medals.

DIRECTOR: It doesn’t matter. We’ll make some for him.

MAN: And where will the service be held?

DIRECTOR: There isn’t going to be any service. First, it’s not in the budget – too pricey. Second, I was told that he’s an atheist and, unlike you, never pretended to be religious.

WOMAN: Where are we going to be standing?

DIRECTOR: In the center of the square and the center of attention, right by the coffin. And the coffin, covered in flowers, will be on a gun-carriage drawn by six black horses... (sighs) Can it be that he’s not going to die, and this beautiful sight will forever reside only in my imagination?

MAN: Keep your chin up. It’ll all work out somehow.

DIRECTOR: We can hope. (glancing at CONSULTANT) But let’s go on. So, the two of you are standing beside the coffin, not only as a prime minister and a member of the government, but also as a man and a woman, a symbol of mutual compassion, the embodiment of humanity, of warmth and hope. But remember: no matter how beautiful a visual may be, it is, first and foremost, an act of propaganda. It’s aimed not at glorifying the deceased, but at reinforcing the power that you represent. So you have to look dignified and imposing the whole time. Both of you are grieving, but in different ways. The woman can allow herself to feel more deeply and sincerely. The man needs to be more aware of how serious this moment is and how much responsibility he bears to the country. Now imagine everything that I’ve just described, and your words will come out right.

MAN: (inspired, his eyes sparkling) Yes. It seems like I’m standing on the square already...

DIRECTOR: Then don’t wait. Carry on with your speech.

MAN: (with feeling) Dear friend! Sometimes you criticized us, but we were never enemies. Yes, we had differences of opinion; yes, we often argued... But we always knew that in the depths of our souls we stood together, that we both loved our motherland, our people.

DIRECTOR: Why are you calling him “friend”?

MAN: What’s it supposed to be?

DIRECTOR: Look at what it says in the text you’re holding.

MAN: (guilty) It says “brother.”

DIRECTOR: (making sure that CONSULTANT is listening) The author of the script is like the Lord God Himself. He is the only creator, and all we do is interpret his thoughts to the best of our ability and understanding. But you’ve decided that you can tinker with the text, like a failing student who’s been slacking instead of studying. The author is not only more talented than either of us but also crafts his words carefully, ponders the rhythm of the speech, the structure of the phrase. But every now and then, there’s an actor who thinks he can improvise and knock everybody’s socks off.

MAN: But I only changed one word...

DIRECTOR: Sometimes all it takes is a changed comma to distort the meaning of the whole speech. Do it over.

MAN: (with a glance at the paper to be sure, he repeats his lines, this time punching up the correct word) Dear BROTHER! Sometimes you criticized us, but we were never enemies. Yes, we had differences of opinion; yes, we often argued…

DIRECTOR: That was good! Go on.

MAN: Shortly before your death, you sent me a letter acknowledging that your criticism was wrong, that you realized it had been a mistake. You asked for forgiveness, asked permission to stand alongside us, expressed a desire to work closely with us, to fight together for our country’s bright future. But you didn’t know that we had long ago forgiven you, that I was never angry with you. On the contrary, I have always been grateful to you for your honest and bold criticism. We are proud of our friendship with you, dear BROTHER. You are ours, you are one of us. We can be content: the bright future, so long awaited, is already close at hand, is already here.

DIRECTOR: Splendid! Satisfaction at long last! Now you have to shake hands with her... No, wait... (a thought has dawned on him) Don’t shake hands – hug. Yes, that’ll be a good gimmick! It’s as if you’re not mourning separately but together. Do you understand?

WOMAN: No.

MAN: You never understand anything.

WOMAN: Anyone would think you’re such a genius. You can’t even portray sorrow.

MAN: Can you?

WOMAN: I can do whatever I’m told. I can cry if I want to, laugh if I want to. Whatever’s needed – that I can do.

MAN: I can do whatever I’m told as well.

WOMAN: (to DIRECTOR) So why are we hugging anyway?

DIRECTOR: An embrace is to show everyone that you’re united. And not only politically but spiritually too. Do you understand? You’re friends, like-minded people, you have the same goals, the same interests. The word “unity” is not just a sound to you. No, it’s your credo, your ideal. You’re a family – all for one, one for all. In short, the people is the party and the party is the people. What’s your party’s name? But it’s not important. Embrace.

MAN and WOMAN embrace.

DIRECTOR: (annoyed) Not like that!

MAN: Then how?

DIRECTOR: Not cold, not unfeeling, but in the throes of a shared spiritual impulse!

MAN embraces WOMAN passionately. And he doesn’t stop.

Not like that, damn it!

MAN: What’s wrong now?

DIRECTOR: You pounced on her as if she were someone else’s wife on your first date in a cheap hotel that rents rooms by the hour. I said in the throes of a shared spiritual impulse, not in a rush of lust! Not like that! How many times do I have to say it –slowly and sadly! The way a mother and father embrace over their son’s grave!

WOMAN: Instead of yelling at us, it’d be better for you to show us. A good director doesn’t tell, he shows.

DIRECTOR: A good actor doesn’t need to be shown, and a bad actor won’t be helped by it. But since you don’t understand what I’m saying, I will show you. (embraces CONSULTANT slowly and sadly; this is what he wants from his actors) Now do it again.

MAN and WOMAN embrace again, trying to imitate what they’ve been shown. DIRECTOR frowns.

DIRECTOR: Better already, though far from perfect. Try it one more time.

CONSULTANT’s phone rings. She steps aside to take the call. MAN and WOMAN embrace again.

DIRECTOR: So... Once more... OK, there’s no more time for this now. Practice it between now and tomorrow morning.

CONSULTANT has finished her conversation.

CONSULTANT: Ladies and gentlemen! I regret that I have some sad news for you. A respected member of the opposition has just passed away.

A pause.

WOMAN: How’s that? He just up and passed away?

CONSULTANT: He died in a traffic accident. The police have launched an investigation.

DIRECTOR: But is he dead for sure?

CONSULTANT: Absolutely.

DIRECTOR: So there is going to be a funeral tomorrow?

CONSULTANT: Has anyone canceled it?

DIRECTOR: And will I receive the promised fee tomorrow evening?

MAN: (cheerfully) Of course! I said that he’d die, but you didn’t believe me. I’m a decent person and never mislead my friends.

WOMAN: You don’t mislead your friends because you don’t have any.

MAN: There’s a time and a place for jokes, and this isn’t it.

DIRECTOR: What do we do now?

CONSULTANT: Continue the rehearsal. And be quick about it. The ceremony is to begin tomorrow at three o’clock sharp, right on schedule.

DIRECTOR: Yes, ma’am.

CONSULTANT: But first I have to borrow the prime minister for a moment. In connection with this late-breaking news, we have several arrangements to make. Meanwhile, rehearse with his partner.

 

CONSULTANT and MAN exit.

 

DIRECTOR: Well, shall we go on with the rehearsal?

WOMAN: To hell with it! (in a low voice) Now do you understand why I want to lie low in Costa Rica?

DIRECTOR: No, I don’t.

WOMAN: What’s not to understand? I’m scared! Aren’t you?

DIRECTOR: Don’t be silly. What do we have to be afraid of?

WOMAN: (softly, with a frightened look around) Hush!

DIRECTOR: (also looks around; he can’t help himself) There’s no one here.

WOMAN: Did you just fall off a cabbage truck? What about the twelve cameras? And the bugs?

DIRECTOR: How do you know?

WOMAN: This isn’t the first time I’ve been in this studio.

DIRECTOR: (peers about uncertainly) You think...

WOMAN: (interrupting) Yes, I think – go figure. I’m a ditz in your mind, but you’re acting even more stupid. You’re glad that you’ll get your fee, but you don’t understand that the astrologer’s Jupiter and Capricorn prediction might concern you too.

DIRECTOR: Why on earth would it? Who am I bothering?

WOMAN: Have you forgotten the old chestnut about the man who knew too much?

DIRECTOR: (worried) I’m assuming I’ll get my fee tomorrow, and then I’ll bug out to the Congo or your beloved Costa Rica.

WOMAN: Do you want to hop a plane together? Right now?

DIRECTOR: And abandon everything? Before my show?

WOMAN: Let it all go to blue blazes.

DIRECTOR: No, I can’t. To have such a superb spectacle all at the ready and then not see it?

WOMAN: It’s your call. Just don’t regret it afterward.

DIRECTOR: You think it’s as serious as all that?

WOMAN: Quiet! (lowers her voice to a whisper) If anybody calls later and questions you on what we‘re talking about now – Costa Rica and all the rest of it – tell them that we were rehearsing.

DIRECTOR: (clearly scared) Maybe we really should make a run for it?

WOMAN: You seemed all set to fly off to somewhere in Africa. Do you have your passport with you?

DIRECTOR: Yes. What about it?

WOMAN: So let’s slip away right now, while she’s not here. Sneak out and head straight for the airport.

DIRECTOR: You like living dangerously.

WOMAN: You’re just seeing my female intuition in action. Are we making a getaway or not?

DIRECTOR: (hesitates; then, with determination) We are!

Grabbing up their belongings (bag, jacket, etc.), DIRECTOR AND WOMAN dash toward the door. CONSULTANT and MAN enter.

CONSULTANT: Where are you going?

WOMAN: (embarrassed) To the powder room.

CONSULTANT: Together?

WOMAN: Why not?

CONSULTANT: Stay and finish the rehearsal. We’re running out of time.

DIRECTOR: I’m actually not feeling very well. Anyway… They’re expecting me on the square, It’s time to start the full rehearsal there. These two can finish up on their own.

CONSULTANT: So go.

DIRECTOR tries to open the door, but it doesn’t budge. He comes back.

Why didn’t you leave? Changed your mind?

DIRECTOR: The door won’t open.

CONSULTANT: Maybe there’s something wrong with the lock.

DIRECTOR: Can’t it be fixed?

CONSULTANT: I don’t know. I’m no expert on locks.

DIRECTOR: But I have to go.

CONSULTANT: Do you know what happens to a passenger who decides to jump off a speeding train?

DIRECTOR: (depressed) Very well. Let’s continue with the rehearsal. Where did we stop?

WOMAN: He and I were hugging.

DIRECTOR: Yes, right... I’ll read the set-up again. The woman says “I’m sorry, I can’t hold back my tears,” and hides her face in the prime minister’s shoulder. He consoles her. Then he eases her away and swears to work for the good of the people and yadda-yadda-yadda. All yours.

WOMAN: I’m sorry. I can’t hold back my tears. (hides her face in MAN’s shoulder)

MAN: Our grief is infinite, but we swear to you...

DIRECTOR: Stop. You’re talking about infinite grief, but you’re glowing like a well-polished boot.

MAN: Excuse me. I didn’t mean to.

DIRECTOR: I understand how you feel.

MAN: Tomorrow I’ll mourn like nobody’s business, you’ll see.

WOMAN: Besides, we’re tired. We’ve had no sleep. Why don’t we learn our lines for tomorrow, practice a little, and at the ceremony we’ll be such good mourners that we’ll have everyone in tears. But right now we’re just worn out.

A phone rings. CONSULTANT looks at her screen. Her face immediately becomes very serious.

CONSULTANT: (standing up, speaking into the phone) Yes... Yes… This is she...

МAN and WOMAN freeze at attention.

DIRECTOR: What happened?

WOMAN: (whispers) Quiet!

DIRECTOR: Who’s calling?

WOMAN: (whispers) “Who, who...” Don’t you understand? The director in chief!

DIRECTOR: What director in chief? I’m the director in chief here!

WOMAN: Don’t make me laugh. Did you really imagine that you’re the director here? You’re a pawn, a performer, and nothing more. Are you really still not getting it?

CONSULTANT: Everybody shut up! (into the phone) Yes, sir!.. Yes, sir!.. Yes, sir!..

DIRECTOR: (flustered) So it’s... ( stands at attention)

CONSULTANT: (into the phone) Very good... Yes, sir!.. Consider it done.

CONSULTANT hangs up. A respectful silence.

DIRECTOR: What did he say?

CONSULTANT: He said that, on the whole, he likes the script and the preparations for the show. He sends you his thanks.

DIRECTOR: Thank you. If you need an expert to stage a coronation, don’t forget me. I’ll put on a marvelous production.

CONSULTANT: We’ll bear that in mind. As for these two performers, though, they don’t quite suit him.

MAN: (alarmed) What did he mean? We don’t suit him at all?

CONSULTANT: No, at this point all he’s thinking about is the interpretation and how you’re going to perform your roles tomorrow.

DIRECTOR: How does he know what my interpretation is? He hasn’t seen the rehearsal.

CONSULTANT answers him with a silent look that speaks volumes.

Excuse me.

WOMAN: What are we going to do?

CONSULTANT: You may want to stop chattering and finish the rehearsal as quickly as possible. (to DIRECTOR) Oh, and the budget has to be drastically cut. You’ve overdone it. After all, it’s not a president or a prime minister who’s being buried, just a private party.

DIRECTOR: But then my entire beautiful game plan falls apart...

CONSULTANT: Do you have any objections?

DIRECTOR: None at all.

CONSULTANT: Then why are you standing around? Finish your work.

DIRECTOR: Yes, ma’am. (to the actors) Take your places... (to MAN) Where did you stop? Read the last line of dialogue.

MAN: Give me a minute. ( searches for the place in his script) Here it is: We can be content: the bright future, so long awaited, is already here. (lets the hand holding his script page drop)

DIRECTOR: And what comes next?

MAN: Nothing. The End.

DIRECTOR: (wearily) Oh, all right: the end is the end.

 

 

THE END