VAUD RATS

A Ukulele Operetta

Short Version

 

by K. Brian Neel

July 2006

ACT I

SETTING: an abandoned warehouse, circa early 20th Century. Raw wooden crates are stacked high in various states of decay against a brick-and-wood painted canvass backdrop. Other various items are strewn about. Stage left, an industrial-type door.

Outside the door, we hear a tap-tap-tap of running feet. The shoes halt and retrace their steps, ending just behind the door. A knock. A rattling. Silence. Again, a rattle, this time more heavily. Suddenly, it swings open as if split at the seam.

CECIL B. DEUKULELE stands framed in the archway. He looks like he's been through the ringer. He wears a once-nice grey, pin-stripe morning suit with a bowler cap. One of his hand's holds a small beat-up suitcase; in the other, a uke-case. He peers into the room. Swallowing his breath, he crosses the threshold and searches for signs of habitation. None to be seen, he kicks the door shut and steps on stage. Our hero sets down his baggage center, reaches up to pull the cord of a hanging light and plops down wearily upon on the suitcase. He looks around, a little relieved, a little disgusted, very weary.

He uncorks the uke and begins strumming a sad set of chords... 

'HAS BEEN' OVERTURE

Something in the audience catches his eye. He moves closer to investigate. Suddenly, he jumps back in fright. 

CECIL: Double hockey sticks!

He climbs atop the suitcase, wavering a bit.

CECIL: Rats.

A major infestation. Or minor, depending on the audience size.

Shock evolves into wry laughter. He arms himself with the uke and begins, singing to the rats:

 

 

TRAVEL SONG

This is a song about traveling.

A song about train whistles and plane engines,

Truck horns and squawkin' bus drivers.

A song about big city neon nights,

Cold pavement, strange faces,

Dark alley entrances to Chinese restaurant cocktail clubs.

A song about greasy roadside diners,

Orange Naugahyde,

Bottomless cups of black coffee,

Bottom-full 3am waitresses.

A song about grassy field praries,

A song about snowy mountain retreats,

A song about Bavarian anachronistic towns.

A song about nowhere

Where lost is a way of life

(Vocalizing Chorus.

 Yodeling Chorus.)

That was a song about traveling

A traveler navigates to the stars

Like dice in a game of craps

Arriving and leaving, leaving and arriving,

Until the leaving becomes the arriving

And the arriving becomes exploratory surgery.

To a traveler, every stranger is a best friend,

And a friend is just someone

To say farewell to in the morning.

To a traveler, familiar is a shackle,

And home is a death sentence.

 

The final G chord lingers... and ends.

 

CECIL: Very Much. Very Much. Most generous audience I've had in weeks. Only audience I've had in weeks.

Cecil hesitantly lowers himself to the floor and takes in the place. He finds, among other crap, a rolling cart, a coat rack, and a sheet.

 

   Hope you don't mind some company this evening. Just a one-night-stand, mind you, no extended run. Don't worry, I won't get too comfortable. Not that this isn't a charming place you have here. A little dusty. A little dingy. A little hot. But that is a beautiful wall you have over there. You know what that wall reminds me of? This one over here.

Cecil puts the suitcase on the rolling cart and opens it. He undresses, putting the clothes in the case. Beneath it all, he sports an old-timey one-piece white cotton undergarment.

   I feel right comfortable here, amongst my fellow rats. That's right, I'm a rat myself, or was, once upon a time: card carrying member of the "White Rats of America" performer's union. Mind you, I joined after the original eight were blacklisted. I see some white rats here tonight. (halts, shocked.) Just keep gnawing on whatever it is you're gnawing. Liver and let liver, that's my motto.

 

   Don't mind me, I'm not exactly real, anyway. Performers aren't real, no. They're entertainments, little candies for you to savor and swallow. So just sit back and let me guide you through a tour of an authentic variety performer...

 

 

MUSEUM OF ME

CECIL goes into a shuffle and snap dance with a cappella patter:

Welcome to the museum of me,

Witness the life-size taxidermied--

glued, stuffed, sewn, fluffed

varnished, polished, waxed, buffed--

Performer of the Vaude-du-ville.

He ends on one knee in the classic "ta-da!".

CECIL: Where to begin? Every life has a beginning. And so does this one...

He picks up the instrument and steps inside the suitcase on the rolling cart, like a preacher in a pulpit. Throughout the song, he takes various poses -- birthing, curled like a sleeping babe, twirling around, etc. -- all inside the suitcase, at times coasting around the stage on the rollers.

DAYLIGHT MOON

Chesapeake Henesy, a Protestant Minister,

Preached one Sunday the judgment Revelations.

Pregnant wife Gloria, ill with listeria,

Collapsed on the alter 20 days premature.

   Be quiet little boy,

   cold arms keep you warm

   hide like a daylight moon

             a daylight moon

 

Pa named him Benjamin, but never felt comfortable

raising this odd, estranged, separate being.

One dark night Benjamin crawled from his bassinet,

That day on he made him sleep in a cabinet.

   Invisible little boy,

   Bright hiding little boy,

   Shy as a daylight moon

          a daylight moon

Instrumental.

Pa took to preaching to drunks and the homeless.

Oft he brought his son to pass pious propaganda,

In the bustling hubbub, Benjamin was swallowed up.

Lost and confused he wandered into a Burlesque.

   Wake up shy little boy,

   A world outside for you own...

   Rise with the midnight moon

             the midnight moon

Instrumental Finale.

 

CECIL: It was years later I officially ran away from home and was officially disowned by the family. Mine is the same old story: scruffy kid dazzled by the glamorous world of variety. Strange thing is, even when you find out how grueling, vicious, and back stabbing Vaude is, you just want more.

(He picks up a wire hanger and puts his coat on it, hangs it on the coat tree and tops it with his hat.)

I began working running crew at the Liberty theater on the Moss and Proctor circuit--raising and lowering curtains mostly. Never even set foot on stage, except to sweep and mop. But I loved watching the acts from the wings. That's where I saw for the first time...

SOPHIE: ...the incomparable Sophie Faye...

 

(The sound of applause, she bows and exits off left where she begins singing flirtatiously to the coat-rack CECIL:)

 

DEMURE SOUBRETTE WALTZ

SOPHIE:

I caught ya watching me perform my act.

Come to me dressing room, let's have a chat.

Do you mind if I change into me Gatsby dress?

It's very comfortable. (I don't like underwear.)

You have a presence, you're meant for the stage.

I sense a talent, youthful and of vast array.

Partner with me, I'll show you the ropes.

Vaude is a game--lots of soirees and jokes.

 

(She twirls upstage and becomes an old man leaning against the wall with his back to the audience. He talks over his shoulder, gesturing with a cigar in a shaky hand. It's like he's been smoking it for two centuries.)

CHARLES: Welcome to the business of show Benjamin Henesy. 'Benjamin,' that's no good. Let's see... Ben? Benny? Benny? Benny. Benny Joe. Benny Jack. Benny... Where were you born? Doesn't matter. I was born in Carson City. Benny Carson. Benny... Phoenix. Benny Nevada. Benny Nevada, that's good. Friendly with a nod to the Donner Party. This is a gift I am giving you. Contract is eight dollars a week plus transportation. We arrange room and board--sometimes a nice hotel, sometimes a boarding house, sometimes whatever hole. You pay. Thats it, tomorrow we travel to Oklahoma City. After that to Muskogee to Dallas to Huston, Galviston, New Orleans, Mobile, Alabama... finish the Kemp Circuit. Then head west for 20 weeks on the Pantages, then 25 weeks of Lowes, which brings us back to West Coast for Keith and Orpheum, 30 weeks... Oh, we buy lunches. On Mondays.

BENNY: I was puzzle-pieced into her scene in the role of a walking tuxedo.

(Nice society music plays under. SOPHIE performs AFTER THE SHOWER part 1, clutching the uke with outstretched arm as if it were BENNY.)

SOPHIE: Say–I know a joke on you. I saw you fall in the lake yesterday while you were fishing. It was so amusing. I don't know when I've enjoyed such a hearty joke. How did you come to fall in? Well, I guess you didn't come to fall in, did you? You came to fish. Have you caught any fish since you came? A dog fish? With a litter of puppies. You must make frankfurter sausages out of the little ones, and use the big one to guard the camp. That's a watch-dog fish. Well, certainly you've heard of sea-dogs, so I suppose you heard the cat-fish having a concert last night. They were all tom-cats. You've heard of tom-cods, haven't you? Well, why not tom-cats then? Say, you must be sure to come over to our camp and see the collection in our private aquarium. We have two compartments, and keep the little daughter fish on one side... yes, and the son-fish on the other.

 

(Canned applause rises from the imaginary crowd. They bow and exit.)

SOPHIE: 

Audience loves me... hear that applause.

Once at the Palace I had twenty curtain calls!

I'll teach you to dance and increase your pay.

Geniuses taught me, but now they're all dead.

(The mood drops, tempo slows.)

I'm just a kid, oh, this world is so crazy.

It's overwhelming, please come here, hold me.

 

(Canned uke waltz music plays and they (SOPHIE and uke-BENNY) waltz around the stage, slowly at first, then building faster to a swirling merry-go-round. It ends suddenly with the back of cigar-man.)

CHARLES: She is old, Benny. Believe me. She performed in medicine shows--horse and buggy--honest to goodness. Parents came over on the boat from Ireland, had her singing in their family act when she was three--under-aged. The Gerry Society would have her father arrested after every matinee; but theyd bail him out by supper, so she could go on for the evening show. She's never not been on the road. There are roads named after her. Because she is a star. A sweet lovely little angel.

(Same society music rises. SOPHIE performs AFTER THE SHOWER part 2, this time dancing a bit with uke-BENNY:)

SOPHIE: Say–I know a joke on you. I saw you fall in the lake yesterday while you were fishing. It was so amusing. I don't know when I've enjoyed such a hearty joke. How did you come to fall in? Well, I guess you didn't come to fall in, did you? You came to fish. Have you caught any fish since you came? A dog fish? With a litter of puppies. You must make frankfurter sausages out of the little ones, and use the big one to guard the camp. That's a watch-dog fish. Well, certainly you've heard of sea-dogs, so I suppose you heard the cat-fish having a concert last night. They were all tom-cats. You've heard of tom-cods, haven't you? Well, why not tom-cats then? Say, you must be sure to come over to our camp and see the collection in our private aquarium. We have two compartments, and keep the little daughter fish on one side...

BENNY: (Taking the hat from the uke, coming to life.) and the son-fish on the other.

 

(Canned applause rises from the imaginary crowd. BENNY bows, they exit.)

SOPHIE: (Upset, singing curtly:)

Benny you mustn't interrupt my scene.

You're not paid to talk, just to look pretty.

Do not cavort with those tawdry chorus girls!

Don't stay out late. And no more liquor!

(She mellows and gets dreamy again.)

From now on you'll sleep in me suite

We will play hide and seek under the bed sheets.

It'll be like we are sister and brother.

We will smoke opium and play Gangster.

(She's ended on her knees, dazed, lost in her imaginary world. The same society music plays, she jerks out of the dream and gets to her places for AFTER THE SHOWER part 3. This time, the uke switches between being uke-BENNY and uke-SOPHIE.)

SOPHIE: Say–I know a joke on you. I saw you fall in the lake yesterday.

BENNY: While I was fishing?

SOPHIE: Yes; it was so amusing. I don't know when I've enjoyed such a hearty joke. How did you come to fall in?

BENNY: I didn't come to fall in. I came to fish.

SOPHIE: Have you caught any fish since you came?

BENNY: Only a dog-fish, with a litter of puppies.

SOPHIE: (With wide-open eyes.) How interesting!

BENNY: We made frankfurter sausages out of the little ones, and we are using the big one to guard the camp.

SOPHIE: To guard the camp?

BENNY: Yes–it's a watch-dog fish.

SOPHIE: Well, I've heard of sea-dogs–

BENNY: Oh, yes–quite common. I suppose, of course, you heard the cat-fish having a concert last night.

SOPHIE: No–surely you are joking.

BENNY: No, indeed–they were all tom-cats.

SOPHIE: Who ever heard of such a thing?

BENNY: Well, you've heard of tom-cods, haven't you?

SOPHIE: Yes, of course–

BENNY: Well, why not tom-cats then? Say, you must be sure to come over to our camp and see the collection in our private aquarium. We have two compartments, and keep the little daughter fish on one side, and–

SOPHIE: The daughter fish!

BENNY: Yes, and the son-fish on the other. (THE GIRL springs to her feet, angrily.)

SOPHIE: You are simply guying me. I shan't listen to you another moment.

BENNY: (Also jumping to his feet and grasping her by the arm.) Oh, please don't get mad. We were getting along so nicely, too.

SOPHIE: (Sneeringly.) "WE" were getting along so nicely. You mean YOU were. I wasn't.

BENNY: Yes, you were doing FINE. You were listening to me, and I can get along all right with anybody that will listen to me.

 

(Canned applause rises again, fading as BENNY turns around, becoming cigar-man.)

CHARLES: Sophie Fay is the greatest performer who ever lived. She is Vaudeville. I've seen many a young buck play opposite her. You're just another one, Benjamin. And You're all washed up--services no longer required.

(SOPHIE's husband flicks the cigar at BENNY and walks up stage and away, becoming CECIL walking back to center.)

CECIL: Last I heard, Sophie and her husband settled down in the Catskills; where she still sang, alone with piano, to a very welcoming audience of retired gentry.

(CECIL puts his pants on and puts the suitcase upright on the rolling cart.)

As for me... i'd been fooling with an Eastern European knockabout olio act call the Tumbling Tumbo Brothers. They said I had a penchant for the alley-oop and the applesauce. So I suitcased with them for a few years

(He dons a cowboy hat pulled from the suitcase.)

 

CECIL: After that I partnered with Betty Lee. Betty Lee was an expert roper and bull-whipper. At the capper of our scene shed crack a cigarette out of my mouth, crack the hat off my head, and crack, crack, crack... the newspaper in my hands into confetti; then Id run out into the audience and shed rope me from back of the house! That was a good act.

But I stiffed her when I met Elanor Isbell. Now I know what you're thinking... but ain't what you're thinking.

(He puts on a ragged wicker cowboy had on his head and straddles the case.)

 

COWBOY UKULELE

(He mounts suitcase on wheels and rides it around the stage like a horse.)

Tuckered and slouched at the L'ville station,

Dreamin' the hours 'til ropin' and wranglin'.

In front of me she's leanin' 'gainst a sill,

Waitin' fer a train,

Unowned and unplayn.

Her luscious curves in bright silhouette

Of the high noon and dry noon

Makes me doze off to slumber thinkin'

Nothin's sadder than an unplayed guitar,

No matter how small.

 

(Whistling respite.)

My horse be a train on the lone prairie,

I pay no mind to tinny ukulele

Settin' by the caboose window

Like every sunset you knowed.

Don't 'spect me to find

Yer tone.

Sunrise. (Seems like she always tends to the light.)

Se calls me a strummer,

So, gentle and sweet, I uncork her...

 

(He finger picks up and down the fretboard--they're a match made in heaven.)

 

CECIL: Guess you'd say, legally, I found Elinore Isbell, here. (Elinore is the uke.) But I prefer to think of it as theft. I became Cecil B. DeUkulele.

Took me no time at all to come up with some solo uke-schtick. I knocked em bowlegged in Shreveport, and that place is a morgue. All miners and industrial workers. (gets the idea) My big-wig agent in Gotham says to me:

AGENT: (Jimmy Cagney voice) If you can make it in Shreveport, baby, you could make it anywhere. Mya, mya, mya.

 

CECIL: I thought he was screwy in the noggin. Fact is, I tailored my material to everywhere I went.

At the RKO in Yonkers, a talent scout saw me clobber a packed matinee on Monday. Booked me to the Palace for Friday. The Palace! the pinnacle! the zenith! the tops of Vaudeville--ain't that great. Don't get me wrong, I was dazzled to be there, even in the three spot. But the pay ain't that good, and the audience is tough. I know many a big-time performer who refuse to play the Palace.

But Bookers and agents flood the joint. So from there...

THE SHORT BLUES WITH THE LONG NAME

I signed on to a brand new midwest circuit

  called the Schubert.

High class big time Vaudeville houses,

treated me like a king,

           like a king,

           like a king.

In forty two weeks the organization

  went bankrupt.

Every ritzy plush gold velvet stage

   was dark,

it was dark,

it was dark.

I found myself in Kansas City,

  not a penny to my name.

Telegram said Keith and Orpheum

had blacklisted my name,

the blacklist,

    blacklist,

    black...

 

(He strums and drums the uke in rhythm.)

...No more Big Time for me. No more two-a-days. No comfort. Worst part is... I hadn't saved up a dime.

So I did small-time, pro-am stringing my way

across this barren land,

            barren land,

            barren land,

            barren...

 

(The strum and drum takes to his feet--he stomps a shuffle left and right, to finish.)

CECIL: I remember the feeling playing my last show at the magnificent Shubert Theater, 'House Cozy' they called it; in Kansas City one week, and the next week... lights rising on yours truly in a tent. In Sioux Falls. South Dakota. In winter.

 

(He puts on his coat.)

   We also played in Odd Fellows Halls, community centers, town squares, state fairs. Let's use the term 'theater' liberally here, shall we.

 

(He rolls a newspaper into a cone, mounts it on the coat tree like a ole-timey microphone.)

Now. A performer is only as good as his last nine-act bill. And mine was the most bizarre you'd ever catch trodding the oak. A veritable mish-mash of second-rate performers, some on the rise, most on the fall, and some crashing right before your very eyes...

 

 

THE NINE ACT

(He sings into the cone:)

Opening the show: Poodle Penumbra,

  An act the audience

  Gave little attention.

  Dogs dressed like humans

  Playing cards in a bar.

    Their trainer, a pristine lady,

    Would whip and kick them while smiling.

      She fed them steak and gravy after every show.

      She never saved any money for the road.

The deuce spot is the worst spot on the bill.

  Baseball's Randall Greewall,

  Pitcher from Brooklyn.

  He'd lean against the oli,

  Talking championship rings.

    He had been a real hero,

    Now drank himself sick before every show.

      I used to take him to minor league now and then.

      He was a normal joe, a good friend.

Reid & Mert were a comedy act:

  Rube character

  And patting rabbit hash

  They'd enter opposite,

  Crossover, hokum and slap.

    Originally in the army

    Entertaining troops abroadly,

      I never saw so much fruit hurled at the stage.

      Mopping up was taken from their pay.

 

(A big band swing intro hits the speakers under CECIL's patter:)

 

 THE ART OF FLIRTATION

REID: Say, whenever we go out together, you always got a kick coming. What's the matter with you?

MERT: Nothing is the matter with me.

REID: With you always everything is the matter.

MERT: What's the trouble?

REID: The trouble is you don't know nothing.

MERT: Yes, I do.

REID: You know! If I only knew one-half of what you don't know, I would know twice as much as the smartest man in the world.

MERT: What you got against me?

REID: You ain't a gentlemen. I mean you ain't got no refinement–like me. Me, I am a lady killer.

MERT: One look at you is enough to kill any lady.

REID: Ven I am with the ladies, I talk to dem vit soft words; I whisper sweet nothings, but you, you rummy you, you don't know how to make the ladies feel unhappy.

MERT: How do you make them unhappy?

REID: You got to be disagreeable to them.

MERT: And vat do you do to be disagreeable to ladies?

REID: The only vay to be disagreeable to a lady, you got to flirt vit her.

MERT: Flirt. Vats dat, flirt?

REID: Flirting is a thing that begins in nothing. You say something, you talk like everything and you mean nothing, and it liable to end up in anything. A flirtation is a clan-destination meeting with a lady.

MERT: How do you know so much about flirting?

REID: Now you come to it. I got here a book on the art of flirtation. (He shows book.)

MERT: What is the name of that book?

REID: The art of flirtation. How to make a lady fall in love with you for ten cents.

MERT: A lady fell in love with me once and it cost me Five Hundred Dollars.

REID: That's because you didn't have this book. This book tells you how to make love. This book is full of the finest kind of love.

MERT: For ten cents.

REID: Yes, for ten cents.

MERT: Oh, it's ten cents love.

REID: No, it ain't ten-cent love. It's fine love (opens book). See–here is the destructions. Right on the first page you learn something. See--how to flirt with a handkerchief.

MERT: Who wants to flirt with a handkerchief? I want to flirt with a woman.

REID: Listen to what the book says. To a flirter all things have got a language. According to this book, flirters can speak with the eye, with the fan, with the cane, with the umbrella, with the handkerchief, with anything. This book tells you how to do it.

MERT: For ten cents.

REID: Shut up. This is the handkerchief flirtation: when you see a pretty woman coming along who wants to flirt with you, you put your hands in your pockets.

MERT: And hold on to your money.

REID: No, you take out your handkerchief and you shake it three times like this (biz). Do you know what that means?

MERT: (Biz. of shaking head.)

REID: That means you want her to give you–

MERT: Ten cents.

REID: No. Dat means you want her to give you a smile. Den you hold your handkerchief by the corner like dis (biz).

MERT: Vat does that mean?

REID: Meet me on the corner.

MERT: Och, (takes handkerchief). Den if you hold it dis way, dat means (biz). "Are you on the square?"

REID: You are learning already. Soon you will soon be a flirter. Now I vill show you how you flirt according to the book. You are a man flirter, and I am a beautiful female.

MERT: You are what?

REID: A female. A female.

MERT: Vat's dat, a female?

REID: A female. Don't you know what fee means? Fee, that means money. Male, that means man. Female. That means "Get money from a man." That's a female. I am a beautiful woman and just to teach you how to flirt, I am going to take a walk thro' the park and I will make eyes at you.

MERT: If you do, I will smash my nose in your face.

REID: No. No. When I make eyes at you, you must wave your handkerchief three times. Den you reproach me vit all the disrespect in the world and den you take off your hat and you say something. Vat do you say?

MERT: Ten cents

REID: No. No. You say something pleasant. You speak of the weather, for instance. You say "Good-evening, Madam, nice day."

MERT: Suppose it ain't a nice day?

REID: No matter what kind of a day it is, you speak about it. Now I'm the lady and I am coming. Get ready.

       (Reid does burlesque walk around Mert. . . .  

          Reid stops and drops handkerchief.)

MERT: Say–you dropped something.

REID: I know it. I know it. Flirt. Flirt.

      (Mert biz. of pulling out red handkerchief.)

MERT: Im flirting! Im flirting!

REID: What are you trying to do, flag a train? Why don't you pick up my handkerchief?

MERT: I don't need any, I got one.

REID: (Picks up handkerchief and turns.) Oh, you rummy you. Why don't you reproach me and say something about the weather?

MERT: All right, you do it again.

REID: Now don't be bashful! Don't be bashful! Here I come (biz of walk).

MERT: (pose with hat.) Good evening. Are you a flirter?

REID: Oh you fool (gives comedian a push).

MERT: Oh, what a mean lady dat is.

REID: You musn't ask her if she's a flirter. You must say something. De way it says in the book. You must speak of something. If you can't speak of anything else, speak of the weather.

MERT: All right, I'll do it again this time.

REID: This is the last time I'll be a lady for you. Here I come. (biz)

MERT: Good evening, Mrs. Lady. Sloppy weather we're having.

REID: Sloppy weather! It's no use; I can't teach you, you got to learn it from the book. Come here. "After you made the acquaintanceship of de lady, you should call at her house in the evening. You go in the parlor, you sit on the sofa, side by side, you take her hand, den you say: "Whose goo-goo luvin' baby is oosum?"

MERT: Does it say that in the book?

REID: Sure.

MERT: Let me see it. (He tears out page, hands the book back to Reid.) Den vat do you do?

REID: You put her vaist around your arms. Den you squeeze it–

MERT: And den?

REID: She'll press her head upon your manly shoulder–

MERT: And den–

REID: She looks up into your eyes–

MERT: And den?

REID: You put the other arm around her and hold her tight–

MERT: And den?

REID: She sighs–

MERT: And den?

REID: You sigh–

MERT: And den?

REID: Dat's the end of the book.

MERT: Is dat all?

REID: Sure. What do you want for ten cents?

 

(The swing music reprises, taking 'them' off. Cecil takes the uke and continues the riffs:)

THE NINE ACT (Reprise)

CECIL: It's a whirl-wind, ain't it? Imagine how real audiences felt. For the next act, imagine... dancing girls. There they are, behind me. See em? Kicking their gams high for your delight...

    (stops playing, gets serious.)

CECIL: Wait a minute, that's Burlesque. This is clean Vaude, there were no dancing girls in this nine-act. I read the Blue-laws back stage: "No Damns, No skin, No Deities." Here we go...

    (plays:)

After intermission came Mr. Sing,

  An Asian man with pipes

  As smooth as baby skin.

  Dressed in tails to the nines,

  Big teeth sparkling,

    He looked like a fortune cookie

    Served after an Irish dinner.

      He spoke and sang perfect English,

      But the audience preferred an incomprehensible
        accent.

Trixie Fraganza, singer of renown,

  Audience repore

  Like none I've ever found.

  Her voice was bass, her dress

  twenty-eight (three hundred pounds)

    Why she was slumming here

    I never actually became aware.

      She always demanded first dressing room,

      Even though she wasn't headlining the show.

Menotti Brothers - twirling torpedos

  Acrobatic dumb act,

  They closed the show,

  Playing to the haircuts,

  Alley-ooh-pah lingo.

    To be forthwith and honest here,

    I never actually caught their schtick.

      By this time I'd exit back stage door

      To the bar... hotel... train depot...

(Riffs a bit, then cuts off awkwardly.)

CECIL: Now, I realize that was unsupportive of me, a fellow vaudevillian, disrespectfully evacuating the theater, disrespectfully, not staying for their act even once on the entire 48 week tour. In my defense, I was working the crowd just moments before, headlining the show, ladies and gentlemen! Top of the bill, ladies and gentlemen! Which given this small-small-small-time bunch, doesn't mean mud.

Now, the astute of you may have noticed that, even including my spot, that last song did not represent a full nine-act bill. More like... (counting business) ...seven.

Of the two remaining acts: one was my favorite; and one was impetus of my demise.

First, my favorite: Madam Flora, the Psychic Medium...

MADAME FLORA

(Flora sits in her dressing room, eyes bulging and passionate, recalling her past...)

Greasepaint and rouge,

Eyelashes and lipstick,

Another dressing room

Up the hall, down the stairs,

To the stage,

To my crystal ball,

My son on the ropes...

  Curtain

    Rise!

Channeling a proctor

At the Hippodrome.

Lean into the glass...

"I see a man in robes,

Unhappy, hurting,

someone's done him wrong."

Build up,

  Build up,

    Moan...

      To black!

Smoke fills the stage

My son takes his cue

floats high above

I chant

  I chant

    Audience

      gasp!

   Mirrors and crystal balls

   And performers

   Lie.

   Audience reflect

   Desire and

   Awe.

A storm rises all around

This I did not plan

Then I feel a hand

On my neck, squeezing,

Choking... I can't breathe.

Stop the show,

Stop the show.

Stop the show!

   Mirrors and crystal balls

   And performers

   Lie.

   Audience reflect

   Desire and

   Awe.

Tremble in the night,

Afraid of impossibles.

I sleep, clutching knife

My son waking me,

Startled, I scream out

Stabbing with the knife

Oh no

  oh no

    oh no

I never believed

In my own power.

An unknown hand

    Tricked me.

       Tricked me.

           Tricked me.

(She wails like a tormented gipsy, emotion bringing her to her knees right on top of the center footlight, shining harsh in her wet face. The wailing subsides to jaded numb...)

   Mirrors and crystal balls

   And performers

   Convey.

   Audience witness

   Alone in the

   Dark.

(INTERMISSION)

ACT II

SETTING: same as Act I. Cecil sits in the kid chair behind the suitcase, center stage, plucking away. He tells the song simply.

 

 

VULCNO THE PUGILIST

Born in Lower East Side New York

A sickly kid his mother named Raymond O'Rourke

By the age of nine barely made it out of bed

By twenty three could lift pound 500

Fighting his way across the nation

Bare-knuckle fistacuff sensation

Changed his name to Vulcano the Great

wore a mustache with curled edges

  By the age of thirty-five

  He is losing all his fights

  Gets a booker in Vaudeville

  And tours the midwest region

The orchestra would play Schubert

Vulcano lifted round buckshot barbells

And fifty fat audience volunteers

In between flex dynamic tension

His reputation and bill placement

Rose, but so did his temperment

In Boston arrested killing a stagehand

For loading bricks inside his pockets

  Keith and Albee staged the defense

  Press seduced by muscle and tan

  Vulcno lifted the jury box

  The judge declared mistrial

Years on tour, his act was all wet

To spice it up he hired a singing midget

For comic relief and contortion

He bandied her around like gin

  Offstage he abused her for fun

  But Ringling Brothers wasn't hiring on

  He broke her arm in Baltimore

  And demanded that she still perform

  When she complained to the union

  He demoted her to prop management

  Then to stage a publicity stunt

  Vulcano forced her to marry him

HEY THERE LITTLE GIRL

(This song follows the previous immediately. Our hero raises his stockinged feet atop. They become Cecil and Opal feet-puppets, enacting the song.)

First time I saw her standing in the wings,

Watching me perform "Avenue Lane."

She leaned longingly into the lights.

After encore I bowed to her graciously,

She glowered, charging me: "voluptuary"

She even kicked my shin as she pushed past me.

  Still, I saw her every day, in that same spot,       (high octave)

  She missed the stage, missed the audience,

  She was intriguing, like none I'd ever seen

One dark night returning for my trunk,

After a three-show day 'break a jump'

I heard a sound on stage, like an accordion.

(Foot-puppet OPAL re-appears with a little accordion strapped around her.)

Standing alone in the ghost light singing

sweet ole 'Harvest Moon,' her voice like rain,

Echoing solemnly above the empty seats.

   Her song rose to a bittersweet crescendo,

   Her feet shim-shammed the Jittering Jitterbug,

   Crossin' sideways, shufflin' off to Buffalo.

(High octave. OPAL puppet shuffles into CECIL puppet and screams.)

 

CECIL PUPPET: Sorry to startle you.

OPAL PUPPET:     Oh my goodness.

CECIL PUPPET: That was, eh, very nice.

OPAL PUPPET:     How dare you!

CECIL PUPPET: Excuse me?

OPAL PUPPET:     Just what do you think you doing?

CECIL PUPPET: Eh... watching.

OPAL PUPPET:     Peeping Tom.

CECIL PUPPET: Excuse me?

OPAL PUPPET:     I know about you.

CECIL PUPPET: Well, of course...

OPAL PUPPET:     Pervert.

CECIL PUPPET: What!?

(She goes to walk around him, he tries to counter, but ends up in her way every time.)

OPAL PUPPET:     Would you please move out of my way?

CECIL PUPPET: Why don't you go around?

OPAL PUPPET:     How dare you.

CECIL PUPPET:Here we go again.

(Opal-puppet throttles him over the head with the toy accordion. Cecil-puppet collapses.)

 

My skull throbbed when I regained consciousness,

Cradled in her lap, my cheeks in her hands,

She whispered sweetly... I could feel her breathe.

I asked her name, and she replied, "Opal"

I said, "You're a very lovely dwarf."

"Midget is correct," she said,

and then she dropped my head.

  Weeks passed, she wouldn't even look at me.
(high octave)

  I stole moments, staring ungracefully.

  Then I ran into an opera friend in Saskatoon.

  He taught me how to win Opal's approval...

  (Patter:)

CECIL: This friend of mine was a big time opera singer, all legit on Broadway, but the money in Vaude was too good to pass up. Between Balto and Chi-town is where we hitched up, riding the same lines. He always used to call me Don Juan, for obvious reasons. So, his plan was to teach me a dueto from Don Giovanni to sing on midget guitar to. Learning and rehearsing was easy enough, but getting Opal to listen was another bag of wax. Finally, at the Mishler Theater in Pennsylvania, I trapped her backstage...

 

 

LA CI DAREM LA MANO (from Don Giovanni)

(Cecil, as Giovanni, chases 'Zerlina' around the ladder, seducing her. She fights him off.)

GIOVANNI: La ci darem la mano,

        La mi dirai di si!

        Vedi, non e lontano

        Partiam, ben mio, da qui!

ZERLINA:   Vorrei, e non vorrei;

        Mi trema un poco il cor:

        Felice, e ver sarei,

        Ma puo burlarmi ancor.

        Ma puo burlarmi ancor.

(She tries to escape up the ladder, but he follows brashly.)

GIOVANNI: Vieni nio bel diletto!

ZERLINA: Mi fa pieta Masetto.

GIOVANNI: Io changiero tua sorte.

ZERLINA: Presto, non son piu forte,

non son piu forte,

non son piu forte,

GIOVANNI: Vieni! vieni!

        La ci darem la mano,

ZERLINA: Vorrei e non vorrei;

GIOVANNI: La mi dirai di si!

ZERLINA:   Mi trema un poco il cor.

GIOVANNI: ...tiam, ben mio, da qui!

ZERLINA:   Ma puo burlarmi an...

GIOVANNI: Vieni nio bel...

ZERLINA:   Mi...

GIOVANNI: ...sorte...

ZERLINA: ...non son piu forte,

non son piu forte,

non son piu forte,

GIOVANNI: Andiam! Andiam!

(They reach the top of the ladder, it's too much for her, she finally gives in to his manliness.)

GIOVANNI:  Andiam!

(CECIL sits atop the ladder.)

 

CECIL: We became close as crossed fingers, tight as two coats of paint, two birds in separate cages thanks to her her bulky deadweight 3-spot of a false husband. Opal and I went everywhere together. Innocent enough, at first...

 

 

STORM CHASER

(Through this song, Cecil strolls the stage like a roving troubadour, entering the audience at times.)

A foreign hallway at dawn,

Im walking you home,

innocent and peaceful,

we halt to say goodbye...

then...

Longing suffuses me,

flooding my reasoning.

Im submerged suddenly

within your eyes.

a high pressure system,

intense precipitation,

no point surviving,

just let me drown.

Im stuck, Im stuck, IĶ IĶ Im stuck

Im stuck, Im stuck, IĶ IĶ Im stuck

Im stuck, Im stuck

I collapse into your

intoxicating tornado,

inhale mercilessly,

lifted without delicacy,

winds surrounding me,

holding and twisting,

bathing — a tumbleweed

sweetly drubbed.

Im stuck, Im stuck, IĶ IĶ Im stuck

Im stuck, Im stuck, IĶ IĶ Im stuck

Im stuck, Im stuck, IĶ IĶ Im chasing storms

  Please dont exhale, I want this to stay

  a storm without an end.

  Dont keep me wandering aimlessly,

  outside looking in.

  Rip me apart again.

(la, la chorus.)

 

Im stuck, Im stuck, IĶ IĶ Im stuck

Im stuck, Im stuck, IĶ IĶ Im stuck

Im stuck, Im stuck, IĶ IĶ

 

 

HEY THERE LITTLE GIRL (Australia)

 

(Our hero sits behind the open suitcase, reprising the feet-puppets...)

A week later on the sleeper train,

I found her beaten, crying in the hallway.

I took her to my berth and held her gently.

(The feet close the case, as the Opal-footpuppet is brought onto Cecils lap. He sings directly to the foot as if it were OPAL.)

"He's a violent, crazy, crazy man.

Leave him, come with me, I've got a plan."

She thought and dreamed, but said, "I can't."

       I said:

       "This is bad, and getting worse, Opal

       I'm not afraid of Vulcno.
          Well, actually, I am.

         That's the point.

       We need to get away. Vaude is dying.

       Look at Cincy and Pitts, it's only

          a matter of time.

         I think we should go

           to Australia.

       Look at Rudy Horn and May Tilly

       They're doing well in Australia

       We'll slip off the train in Reading,

       catch the Eastern back.

         We're gonna be fine, Opal.

           Go to sleep."

(He breaks the foot puppet convention, singing out, coming down off the kid-chair and resting down on the closed suitcase.)

   Opal, my little girl, oh, so sweet,          (high octave)

   I miss your hands, miss them on my cheek,

   Your black-hair, moon face, your lips cerise,

   Ignite in me like a remedy.

 

 

BEATING JUST OUTSIDE OF READING

 

(Cecil lowers his head as the rhythm of the train begins to vibrate...)

Opal and I shock awake

Is the train derailing?

Opal suddenly jerked away.

What is happening?

(He spastically jerks at each word...)

  bang, bash, batter, beat,

  blast, blitz, buffet, box.

(...and ends up laying contorted across the suitcase.)

The door is gone

Is that the hallway?

Opal hunched in the corner

Did she scream?

(More spastically jerking...)

  clap, clobber, clout, club,

  flail, flog, cuff, crack.

(... he ends up splayed across the suitcase.)

My face is raw.

How did the floor get here?

Opal is gone.

Do I keep blacking out?

(More spastically jerking...)

  hammer, hook, jab, kick,

  knock, nail, pelt, pound.

(... to end up leaning against the suitcase.)

I can't move.

Something dripping down my face.

Shattered glass everywhere.

Is that Volcno's shoe?

(More spastically jerking all over the stage, kicking the suitcase and chair into the extremities.)

  rap, slap, sock, smack,

  thrash, wallop, whack, pop, 

  Bang, bash, batter, beat,

  blast, blitz, buffet, box,

  clap, clobber, clout, club,

  flail, flog, cuff, crack,

  hammer, hook, jab, kick,

  knock, nail, pelt, pound!

(He stands erect center stage, still.)

I wake up in a room.

Is this a hotel?

I'm wrapped in towels.

I must get to my tour.

Is there a doctor in this town?

What town is this anyway?

Where is Opal?

How long have I been here?

 

GETTING BACK THE PICTURES

(He lowers the uke. He pulls out a letter from his pants pocket, opens it, reads:)

From:        Gus Sun Booking Exchange

      Springfield, Ohio

      H. M. Addison, Managing Director

To: Mr. Cecil B. DeUkulele

Dear Mr. Ukulele,

   Mrs. Opal Bayes is no longer touring to Gus Sun theaters.

   We took the liberty of forwarding your letters by way of the Langtry Fair Booking exchange in Lawrence, Kansas, as her husband, Vulcno Bayes, is currently touring under contract to county fairs in the midwest. However, their records do not list an Opal Bayes currently under employ, nor was a forwarding address made available. Please find your letters here returned, undeliverable.

   Furthermore, enclosed is a bill for one-half the sum total damage cost incurred to Northern Pacific Railway on April 23 of this year. Remit payment immediately.

   Please do not attempt to contact this agency for further bookings or recommendation.

   We sincerely hope you are recovering. Best wishes for success in all future endeavors.

Signed,

   M. E. Comerford

 

MUSEUM OF ME part deux

(CECIL reprises the shuffle slap dance with a cappella patter:)

Welcome to the museum of me,

Under microscope he looks so sparkly--

Can you see a soul behind

these glazey, glassy, glossy eyes?

HEY THERE LITTLE GIRL (Dead Tonight)

(He drops the persona, gets his shoes, walks US, uprights the chair, sits with his back to the audience. Pause. He pulls up his foot to shoe it, recognizes Opal-puppet. He becomes angry, putting the shoe over her.)

But oh, that she had never, never been.

Of her many faces I'd never seen!

Still they come and go before me.

(Shoes on, he goes to pick up the uke, crosses DSR to put it in the case, halts, plays, strolls to center.)

   And oh, my love, as I sing for you tonight,    (high octave)

   I have no longer any hope

   To heal the suffering, or make requite,

   I own that some of me is dead tonight.

 

'HAS-BEEN' FINALE

(As if it's all done? Over? Hopeless?)

I've been tossed about like a shadow

buffeted by flames,

A shadow that's gone astray

and is lost.

  My name is mud.

  My act forgot,

  A washed-up bust.

    I don't know who I am,

    A stranger in familiar land,

    A no-act vaudevillian.

I don't have a home,

But even if I did,

I'd long for the road.

(A change of heart is brewing...)

  So why not begin again

  Right here at the end——

  Invent a new name,

  Step back onto the stage,

  Hit the amateur spots,

  And soon they'll bill me up,

  And up, and up, and up, up, up, up.

    And I'll be saving up, up, up, up, up...

      For Australia!

        Where I'll show them...

(He sets the uke on the edge of the stage and stands unfettered.)

...My Wow finish.

WOW FINISH

 

(Over the sound-system, a wild-fast uke strums in constant crescendo.)

Wow, wow, wow, wow finish,

Wow, wow, wow, wow finish,

Wow, wow, wow, wow finish,

Wow, wow, wow...

Wow finish!

(This repeats several times while our hero dances and sings a magnificent number, just like the ole greats. It finishes with him circling the stage in a cross-over tap-step, walking over the kid chair, doing a forward roll, sliding on his knees down center to the uke. He picks it up, joining the canned music with the final chord-crawl up the frets to finale--rocking til the last power-strum brings down the lights.)

  END