Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A play

Going through some old documents I came across my first attempt at writing a play. Maybe a little embarrassing now, but I am afraid I will lose the document sooner or later. This is for the record. I remember that I couldn't settle on a name for the play, and the file that I found is called "ytbn" - short for "yet to be named". As far as I remember, it never was named.


The play is an incident in a society that dictatorially enforces conformance of deeds and ideas. This society is loosely fashioned after the society portrayed by George Orwell in his book, “1984”.


The salesman (our protagonist)
The shopkeeper
Merry, assistant to the shopkeeper
Agents of the government

The curtains open to melancholy setting of a neighborhood. It is evening. Our protagonist, a salesman, walks on a street lined with shabby looking houses. He, apparently, is new to the neighborhood, since he walks slowly and allows his eyes to inspect every signboard that he notices. Shortly he comes near a lamp post and is momentarily shocked to see two men, dressed in black overcoats standing beneath it. Their surreptitious presence makes him pause, but with a voluntary effort he resumes his pace, to stop again after a few brisk strides. He has found what he was looking for. His eyes travel over the signboard of a shop. The shop is small, and almost looks as if it has been forcefully tucked into an incredibly narrow space between two houses by a superhuman cause. The sign reads, “The Curio Shop”. Without further deliberation the salesman walks in.

            The shop is dimly lit. In the prevailing semi-darkness it is difficult to see any merchandise that the shop might deal in. Presently a person appears and addresses the salesman.

New character/Shopkeeper: Good evening! I am the shopkeeper. How may I help you? (Smiles pleasantly)

Salesman: I am a salesman. I am looking for a few things (clears his throat) that I might find here – so I have been told.

Shopkeeper: (Pleasantly smiling) Yes, of course! We sell quite a few things here that are hard to come by otherwise.

He gently sways his hand in a gesture of welcome towards his left. The light adjusts to reveal an array of mantelpieces.

Shopkeeper: (Continuing, with unmistakable excitement in his voice) Mantelpieces like these, Sir, I assure you, you will find nowhere. We also have some exquisite furniture, and certain other things I would like to show you, should you have the leisure to look at them!

Salesman: (Shuffles his feet and looks uncomfortable) Er..yes. (Pauses) But this is not what I came here for.

Shopkeeper: (Narrowing his eyes, but keeping his smile intact) I am not sure what you are talking about. Perhaps, you would want to quote a reference?

Salesman: Frank.

Shopkeeper: (Pauses, but quite commendably still holds his smile) Ah, yes. This way please.

The shopkeeper leads the salesman to a wall in an inner room. Placing his palms together on the wall, he gently slides them towards himself. A faint click… a hidden door!
The door opens to reveal another badly lit room, the contents of which are not immediately visible.

Shopkeeper: Before we enter ….(looks about himself)…Merry! Merry!

Another man appears, He is unremarkable in any other way but for the calmly morose expression he wears.

Shopkeeper: (To the salesman) This is Merry, my assistant.

Merry looks at the guest but doesn’t attempt a smile. It is almost as if Merry and the shopkeeper complement each other as far as their expressions go. The shopkeeper is a perfect salesman with a ready smile at his disposal. He seems almost incapable of any other expression, something that can be said equally well for Merry, who, however, is a picture of gloom. They are like two poles of emotions in a balanced conversation, embodied apart.

Shopkeeper: Merry would watch the shop while we are inside. I apologize for my earlier behavior. You are obviously aware of how things stand today.

The salesman, the shopkeeper and Merry stop mid-air in their actions, as another part of the stage lights up to depict their thoughts at the moment. Here we see a bonfire of books and paintings, tended by men wearing black overcoats. Nearby, a person, presumably the owner of the property that feeds the spiteful fire, is being forcefully dragged away by more men in black overcoats. He resists, but his face is painfully calm, proclaiming that this was inevitable, and he knew that such a day must arrive. This distressing sight stays for a moment and then vanishes, with the portion of the stage returning to darkness, as our three characters become animate again.

The shopkeeper and salesman walk into the newly revealed room while Merry stays outside. Inside the room, we now see shelves lined with transparent masks.

Shopkeeper: (Smiling) These masks, as you would know, have no features, only expressions. When you wear them, they take on the features of the face underneath, but the expression is theirs. A happy mask makes you look happy; a sad mask makes you look sad. Always.

The salesman reaches inside his pocket to draw out his purse to pay the shopkeeper.

Shopkeeper: (Smiling) Which one will it be then?

Salesman: The one that smiles, of course.

Taking down a mask from the shelf, the shopkeeper wraps it in a piece of brown paper.

Shopkeeper: Here it is. Please hide it well when you carry it outside. Our shop is already being watched.

The salesman and the shopkeeper leave the inner room and the sliding door is pushed back into place. Merry, with his unchanging morose look, who has been waiting at the other side, disappears as soon as they return.

The salesman carefully tucks the wrapped parcel into his jacket and makes to leave the shop.

Salesman: Thank you!

Shopkeeper: You are welcome! But be very discreet about this little affair.

Smiling a knowing smile, the salesman walks out. He makes brisk pace on his way back. As he nears the lamp post, he spots the two men in black overcoats still present. Distracted, he tries to take a quick step, and trips and falls. The brown package is thrown away from his person due to the impact. The wrapping was not well done, and a part of the mask is now clearly visible in the package, which is now lying on the ground.

The men become suddenly alert, and lose no time to run to the shop after they notice the now ill-guised contents of the package. The salesman is paralyzed with fear, and not knowing how to react to this new development, watches panic stricken in the direction of the shop.

The men disappear into the shop. Awhile later Merry and the shopkeeper are brutally dragged outside into the street. As they shout, scream and their limbs flail wildly in the air, the salesman notices that the shopkeeper can’t help but still smile pleasantly. Merry, too, like a vivid contradiction to the world around him, to the reaction of his body and his very name, wears a mask of calm moroseness.