Monday, July 26, 2010

Ronald Tavel | Andy Warhol's HORSE

Scene from Horse

Ronald Tavel

Ronald Tavel
Andy Warhol's Horse


Larry Latreille as Kid
Gregory Battcock as Sheriff
Tosh as Mex
Hal Wickuy as Tex

Sound by Buddy Wirtschafter
Scenario by Ronald Tavel
Technical Assistant, Gerard Malanga


2 bottles of milk, four drinking glasses
a pack of playing cards
3 land deeds
something for the horse to eat
Faust tape

[After the Credits are read, KID will perform as many tricks on the horse as he can devise. The other three will stare at the instructors in the stances that have been chosen for them, SHERIFF and MEX standing, TEX reclining.]

SHERIFF: One of you two guys is a murderer.
TEX: It ain't me.
KID: It ain't me.
SHERIFF: One of you two guys is a murderer.
KID: You're a tinhorn.
TEX: It ain't me.
SHERIFF: One of you two guys is a murderer.
MEX: Gringos!
SHERIFF: You two guys staying in town long?
KID: Just thought I'd look the town over.
SHERIFF: Get out of town.
TEX: Howdy, folks.
SHERIFF: One of you two guys is a murderer.
KID: Indians done it.

[KID will lean forward on the horse and make love to it, mushing his face in the mane.]

TEX: Get down from that there horse, Kid.
SHERIFF: [Shocked] Why, it's the Kid!

[KID gets down from the horse. TEX stands up and makes love to the horse.]

SHERIFF: Don't turn your back on me!
KID: You're a tinhorn.

[KID will sing the following song:]

KID: I'm the Kid from Laramie,
Hang me on yonder tree.

I come ridin' off the plain
Out o' the wind and rain
A-seeking just one friend,
But, friend, this here's the end.

I'm the Kid from Laramie,
Hang me on yonder tree.

Here's a handsome town
An' I been goin' round and round
But nowhere can I find
Two pokes with a single mind.

I'm the Kid from Laramie,
Hang me on yonder tree.

I met up with this lone cow poke,
He said being pards is just a joke;
I told him quit your laughin', pard,
Them is words that's mighty hard.

I'm the Kid from Laramie,
Hang me on yonder tree.

I had to gun him dead
On account o' what he said.
I put a bullet in his head
I had to gun him dead.

I'm the Kid from Laramie,
Hang me on yonder tree.

SHERIFF: One of you two guys is a murderer.
KID: I'm a celibate.
TEX: I'm a celibate.
SHERIFF: I'm a celibate.
MEX: I'm not a celibate.

[KID, TEX, and SHERIFF proceed to make love to the horse, rubbing its mane, kissing its muzzle, massaging it along the flanks, kissing its back, legs, and behind.]

SHERIFF: I'm an onanist.
TEX: I'm an onanist.
KID: I'm an onanist.
MEX: I'm not an onanist.

[KID will make advances to TEX, trying to put his arm around him and get friendly. TEX will repel KID hastily. KID will stand by embarrassed and lonesome. SHERIFF will open his shirt, exposing his chest. KID will take notice and watch SHERIFF with great interest. KID imitates SHERIFF, opening his shirt. SHERIFF looks at KID slowly and sizes him up. SHERIFF and KID smile at each other. SHERIFF goes over the KID and stands next to him. KID puts his arm around SHERIFF's shoulder and begins singing again. SHERIFF rubs his privates while KID sings.
Suddenly they break up and SHERIFF, KID and TEX rush back to the horse and start making love to it again.]

MEX: Here's the land deed for Texas, Tex.
Here is the land deed for New Mexico and Arizona, Kid.
Here is the land deed for California, Sheriff.

[They all take the land deeds, smiling evilly. Then SHERIFF, TEX, and KID beat up MEX. Much confusion and noise. MEX ends up in a heap on the floor.]

SHERIFF: I'm as pleased as Punch.
KID: You're a tinhorn.
TEX: Guy like that ain't got a chance.
SHERIFF: Indians done it.

[SHERIFF, TEX and KID will resume original positions. MEX struggles to his feet and comes forward for close-up. He looks evilly into the camera. He improvises curses in Spanish.
MEX will walk back and climb onto the horse. He will do all sorts of obscene things on the horse, gestures, intimations, suggestions of bestiality. He will take off his boots. Disgusted looks from the others, holding of their noses. MEX will run his toes through the horse's mane. Shock and horror of the others who rush to the horse's rescue, push MEX off the horse, and resume kissing and fondling the horse as before.
Then SHERIFF, KID and TEX will resume their original positions.
MEX, cursing away in Spanish, will climb back up on the horse and recline on it, but in such a way as to reach over to SHERIFF's fly with one foot and start to unzip his fly.
SHERIFF will relax and enjoy the procedure.
Both SHERIFF and MEX look at each other and smile knowingly.]

SHERIFF: To think I could have killed you a thousand times.
MEX: I'll bet you're glad now that you didn't.

[KID goes over to SHERIFF and examines his open fly.]

KID: Indians done it.

[SHERIFF rubs his privates. KID rubs his privates.]

MEX: I'm not an onanist.

[SHERIFF, KID, and TEX resume kissing the horse. They kiss MEX's feet during the process.]

SHERIFF: I was just funnin'.
KID: I'm a celibate.
SHERIFF: What's eating you, Kid? It'll do you a lot of good if you spit it out.
KID: Someday, all this land is gonna be mighty fine cattle country.
KID: Someday there's gonna be mighty fine towns on this here land.
KID: There's gold in them there hills.
SHERIFF: How long you staying in town, Kid?
KID: Ain't staying long. Just scouting.
SHERIFF: How long you staying in town, Kid?
KID: What's eating you, Sheriff? It'll do you a lot of good if you spit it out.

[SHERIFF rubs his privates meaningfully, but speaks as if he were dreaming.]

SHERIFF: Someday there's gonna be law and order in this here land. Ain't gonna be no more Mexes.

[SHERIFF and KID turn around and look at MEX. They appraise him sexually.]

KID: Cepting for certain things.
SHERIFF: Cepting for certain things.
KID: And I'll have a lady friend.
SHERIFF: Yeah, there'll be civilization in this here land.
KID: I love this horse.
SHERIFF: I love this horse.
TEX: I love this horse.
MEX: I love this horse.

[SHERIFF, KID and TEX turn around and shout in anger at MEX.]

SHERIFF: You ain't got no rights.
KID: You can't love nothing.
TEX: Get down off that horse.

[SHERIFF, KID and TEX pull MEX off the horse and beat him up again. Much noise and confusion. MEX ends up on the ground. There is much feeling of MEX's privates during the struggle. They tear off his shirt.
KID resumes his place on the horse. He does some tricks. KID sings again until the end of the reel.]



[The characters all as in end of reel one with KID singing a stanza of his song for continuity.]

SHERIFF: What'll you have, Kid?
KID: Milk.
TEX: What?
KID: I said milk.

[SHERIFF takes out his gun and aims it at KID.]

SHERIFF: You'll have whiskey!

[KID whips out his gun and shoots SHERIFF in the shoulder.]

KID: Milk! Milk for everyone!

[MEX rushes over to the milk bottle and pours a glass of milk for everyone. He hands out the glasses. The four proceed to drink the milk slowly, obscenely, the milk runs down their chins and over their clothes.]

KID: My gun is my tool!
SHERIFF: Your what is your tool?
TEX: Hey, what is this, anyhow?
SHERIFF: This is a horse opery, Tex.
This is a horse opery, Mex.

[The tape recorder will play the final duet from Faust. MEX will parody the role of Marguerita while SHERIFF will parody the role of Faust. KID and TEX will watch the other two during their opera aria as if they were stone nuts. When the aria is over, MEX will rush over to the milk bottle, fill four glasses and pass them out. Everyone drinks.]

MEX: Did you enjoy that?
KID: It was beautiful.
TEX: Indians sung it.
KID: That's what we need around here. A little civilization and culture.
TEX: It was beautiful.
SHERIFF: What's your real name, Mex?
MEX: My real name is Dale Evans.
SHERIFF: Damn! I knew you was the smartest horse in the movies.

[MEX begins to feed the horse.]

SHERIFF: Here I am, Sheriff for 35 years, and I ain't even got a gold watch.
KID: You got a gold star.
SHERIFF: At least I got this horse. I love this horse.
KID: You got what horse?
MEX: She is my horse, Tex!
TEX: She is my horse, Mex!
SHERIFF: She is my horse, Tex and Mex!
KID: Tex, Mex, Sheriff, she's my horse!
SHERIFF: How about a round of poker to decide whose horse she is?
TEX: Let's make this a little more interesting. Anybody want to bet?
MEX: I bet 100 pesetas.
TEX: A hundred confederate bucks.
KID: A hundred silver dollars.
SHERIFF: I bet my honor.

[KID, TEX, and MEX look at SHERIFF as if he were nuts.]

SHERIFF: Gotta leave something to chance.
KID: You ain't got a chance with 3 guys like us.
SHERIFF: Gotta leave something to chance.

[The four form a group on the floor practically under the horse's belly and begin to play strip poker. KID loses the first round and takes off his hat.]

KID: I'm scared, scared of what might happen.

[Another round is played.]

SHERIFF: You lost that one, Mex!

[MEX takes off his shirt.]

MEX: I ain't got a chance with 3 gringos!
SHERIFF: Get going, and don't you never open your trap.

[KID loses the next round and takes off his shirt.]

KID: I'm scared, scared of what might happen.

[MEX loses the next round.]

SHERIFF: You lost again, Mex!
MEX: Let's talk this over, civilized.
SHERIFF: Take it off! Take it off!
TEX: Take it off! Take it off!

[MEX and KID both take off their trousers and sit in their underwear.]

MEX: Aie!! It is cold in your country!

[They continue playing and swilling the milk. Finally, SHERIFF loses a round.]

TEX: You lost that one, Sheriff!
KID: You lost the game, Sheriff!
MEX: You lost the whole game, Gringo!
TEX: Let's get the Sheriff!!!

[MEX, KID and TEX rush at the SHERIFF. They all tie him up with one belt, first hands and then they tie the belt to the horse's reins. They take turns whipping him with the other belts. MEX kicks SHERIFF, etc. Much yelling and crying out with pain and joy. KID sings during this scene.]

KID: Beat it, beat it!
Get along, get along.

Beat it, beat it!
Get out of town.

Beat it, gotta beat it,
Gotta beat it every day!

MEX: There's no time for that now. We gotta get out of here fast.
KID: You're too good a man, Sheriff, to die for nothing.
MEX: Get in the rig, Mary.
TEX: Yeah, Indians done it.
KID: Where you headed for?
TEX: Out west. I'm going west.
KID: I'm scared, scared of what might happen.
MEX: Keep a-going!
KID: We was just funnin', wasn't we?
TEX: Yeah, having good old cowboy fun.

[The finale of Faust plays again on the recorder. MEX and SHERIFF resume their parody of the roles. TEX and KID drink milk.
This goes on to the end of reel two.]


Copyright ©1965 by Ronald Tavel.

Ronald Tavel's numerous plays include Gorilla Queen, The Life of Juanita Castro, The Life of Lady Godiva, Kitchenette, How Jacqueline Kennedy Became the Queen of Greece, The Last Days of British Honduras, Gazelle Boy, Tarzan of the Flicks, Boy on a Straight-Back Chair and numerous others. Tavel wrote many screenplays for Andy Warhol, and was the founder of The Theatre of the Ridiculous, writing its one line manifesto: "We have passed beyond the Absurd: our position is absolutely preposterous." Tavel died in 2009 on a plane returning from Berlin to Bangkok, where he lived.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Douglas Messerli "The Dogs Howl" (on Anton Chekov's The Seagull)

An 1898 production of The Seagull

by Douglas Messerli

Anton Chekov The Seagull, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, Massachuetts / 1974
Anton Chekov The Seagull, Royal Shakespeare Company, Royce Hall, University of California, Los Angeles / October 28, 2007
Anton Chekov Plays, translated from the Russian by Peter Carson (London: Penguin Classics, 2002)

No sooner has the snuff-sniffing, vodka-tippling Masha melodramtically announced to the school teacher Medvedenko that she wears black because she is in mourning for her life than Sorin, the owner the country estate, asks her to tell her father to unchain the dog who has been barking all night. His guests, particularly his sister Irina Nikolayevna Arkadina, have been unable to sleep.
Far more than the seagull (which I might remind the reader is itself a rather noisy, barking bird—at least most mornings in my Los Angeles neighborhood), Anton Chekov’s metaphor of the howling dog dominates his four-act “comedy.” If the young Nina is ruthlessly transformed by the end of the play into a dead seagull, all of Chekov’s characters are clearly howling dogs, beasts who endlessly cry out for love and attention

Arkadina’s son, Konstantin, having grown up in a world of important figures of the day, feels he has no identity and has made little contribution to the world. He desperately seeks a way to please his mother by presenting his own play. The audience—on stage and off—are never permitted to witness the whole of his work, but it clearly is the writing of an amateur, an abstract howl of sorrow set in a bleak holocaust of the future where “men, lions, eagles and partridges, antlered deer, geese, spiders, silent fish which live in the water, starfish and organisms invisible to the eye—in short, all life…” has vanished, leaving only the red eye of the sulphurous smelling demon in its place.

The young actress of this piece, Konstantin’s beloved Nina, has not yet learned to howl—although she warns Konstantin not to stand, as he threatens to, by her window garden for fear her dog, Trésor, will bark. Her unfortunate situation is well known, however, by the surrounding adults: her mother has left her large estate to Nina’s father, who having remarried, keeps a close watch over his now disinherited daughter. By play’s end, moreover, she too will discover how to growl, howling out her sad tale to Konstantin before she leaves him forever for a career on the stage. Might she, in the future, become an Arkadina, a Duse, a Bernhardt?

Interrupting her son’s literary contribution, Arkadina is perhaps the most selfish of Chekhov’s beasts, a penurious, self-enchanted actress who insists on being the center of everyone’s attentions while serving them up tales of her own success. Trigorin, with whom she is having an affair, is a successful novelist, but as he describes himself later to Nina, he uses all others in his never-ending cycle of transforming life into words. Any stray image, any passing expression he hears becomes grist for the mill of his creative endeavor. It is he who compares Nina to the dead seagull Konstantin has lain at her feet, and after using the metaphor for his writing and actually enacting the transformation in real life—destroying the innocent girl in a self-serving sexual relationship, he utterly forgets the original event.

Even the minor characters of The Seagull reveal their bestial behaviors. Masha is desperately infatuated with Konstantin, while her mother, Polina, is still in love with Dorn, the local doctor, who evidently was the center of many women’s attentions early in his life. Dorn lives in his memories without attending to the present. Medvedneko is a nebbish without any sense of self-worth, Masha’s father Shamrayev, an utter bore.

In short, these monstrous beasts, locked away for the summer in a country estate, sniff out one another as they bray to the skies for relief. Only Sorin can comfortably sleep, a condition into which he falls continuously throughout the play, while awaking each time as if into a nightmare.

Since the characters of Chehkov’s play, accordingly, each represent a version of the same thing, it is crucial that the company work not just as a closely-knit ensemble, but that their acting talents are relatively equal. Medvedneko must be as fearfully intimidated as Arkadina is fearlessly intimidating. Trevor Nunn’s Royal Shakespeare Company’s production, which I witnessed at UCLA on October 28, 2007, was a failure on several levels. Misinterpreting the confrontation throughout the play of peasant life against the largely imagined world of the artistes, Nunn drudged up British class distinctions, insisting Masha, Medvedneko, and others speak in a kind pigeon-Cockney while the artists spoke “proper English,” drawing distinctions between Chekhov’s characters that do not appear—at least in my reading—in the original.

Some of the actors, particularly the young ingénue Romola Garai (playing Nina), simply did not have the acting abilities of more minor figures, such as William Gaunt’s Sorin—who alternated with Ian McKellen (who was also performing in Lear). While as a character Nina may be unable to act, as an actress her performance must match the level of the others of the cast or the dreadful chorus of these braying dogs becomes occasional howls alternating with yaps.

Finally, the Royal Shakespeare Company literalized Konstantin’s early suicide attempt by forcing characters and audience to hear the gun go off—an event that does not occur in the original—tragically prefiguring the final shriek of the gun.

How much better, I was reminded, was the American production from the 1974 Williamstown Theatre Festival, starring a very young Frank Langella, Blythe Danner, Olympia Dukakis, Lee Grant, Kevin McCarthy, and Marian Mercer—a splendid cast working as a true ensemble—a production preserved on tape.

In this version, we truly understand why Chekhov subtitled his play a comedy. For although The Seagull ends in death, Konstantin’s suicide is a ludicrous act based on absurd notions of fame and infamy, on a misunderstood sense of meaning, and a feeling of purposelessness. The so-called famous necessarily must convey to others their importance in the world or they will be robbed of their very identities. Those at the other end—the Konstantins, the Mashas, the Medvednekos—can only see themselves in this context as worthless, living without a reason. Yet the sacrifices they perceive themselves as making are only slightly different from their demand that attention to be paid to those in positions of fame. All are calling out so desperately, each in their own way, that they have no possibility of hearing one another. And in their cries, each has no time to truly observe the truths of life. Dorn’s quiet insistence at play’s end that Trigorin quickly take Arkadina away from the house only reiterates the lies on which each of their lives is based. Will Arkadina be able to accept the truth of her son’s death better at a distance given the fact that she has distanced all humans from herself throughout her life? By play’s end, we recognize that these dogs will howl wherever they are chained up for the night.

Los Angeles, December 9, 2007

In late 2002, at the suggestion of the publisher of Archipelago Books, Jill Schoolman, George Malko (son of the famed Russian symphony conductor Nicolai Malko) sent me his translation of the complete short plays of Anton Chekov. The plays not only included Chekhov’s most famous short works, but sketches and skits that had never appeared in English before.

I read the book with great interest, suggesting that for the volume’s title we steal one of Chekhov’s own play titles, “A Tragic Man Despite Himself,” particularly since Malko was insistent upon revealing in these works that Chekhov was an author of comedies, not of melodramas or tragedies as his plays have often been represented.

In 2005 we published the 20 short works, including two versions of “On the Injuriousness of Tobacco” in a Green Integer edition of 456 pages, one of our longest books to date. The London Times Literary Supplement described these plays in 2007 as revising the way to see Chekhov: “For Chekhov, farce is a glimpse of hell only momentarily obscured by laughter. It's surely the case that we can learn about the hinterland of those masterpieces from the environments Chekhov created as backdrops to farce. And, in fact, there are parallels and echoes with the plays we know best: outbreaks of fire (Three Sisters), distant railway lines that promise illusory escape (The Cherry Orchard), murderous attacks that come to nothing (Uncle Vanya). There are oddly inconsequential moments—a postman enters a tavern, downs a drink, pays and leaves without saying a word—and characters frequently talk to themselves. Above all, as in The Seagull, there are realizations of the failed, anti-climactic theatricality of life itself. With help from an aging prompter, the equally aging actor of "Swan Song" performs solitary scenes from Hamlet and King Lear in an attempt to elevate his own sense of self-disgust. Looking out at an empty auditorium he sees only a "black bottomless pit, just like a grave, where death itself is hiding."

Over the years George and his wife Elizabeth and I have become good friends. When I recently told George that I was writing a piece on the Royal Shakespeare production of The Seagull, he told me he was at work on a new translation of the play—which obviously Green Integer will want to publish.

Los Angeles, December 10, 2007
Copyright (c) 2007 by Douglas Messerli