Prince Phillip is dead at 99. FOX news is asking when the Queen plans to remarry. "Being queen is no job for a woman, especially a single one," quipped Tucker Carlson. Sean Hannity asked whether a widowed Queen Elizabeth II automatically becomes Queen Elizabeth I. "It just makes sense, since she's on her own now.," he explained to his listeners.
Friday, April 09, 2021
Wednesday, April 07, 2021
Tuesday, April 06, 2021
Sunday, April 04, 2021
Thursday, April 01, 2021
Speak Easily - 1932 - Editing Exercise - Sequences 11 and 12 blend for The Climax and We're OUTTA HERE!
At times, portions of the final section of Speak Easily seem to predict the climax of A Night at the Opera, with Keaton swinging from the rafters across the stage. Originally, it ran like this:
The class went nuts. Armetta was out! OUT! and Keaton needed to have a tighter focus and not drag out his time on the diorama. In addition, an editing continuity had them rerunning the sequence where he stumbles from the catwalk, apparently on the right side of the stage, and then swings onto the stage from the left. Using the miracle of digital editing, that was adjusted as well. And who puts a fade out in the middle of a comedy climax!?!?
And whoosh! It is over at last.
While 20:20 hindsight is always an easy thing, we cannot fault everyone involved in the production of Speak Easily with its shortcomings, but we can use it as an exercise on how not to put together a comedy. By today's tastes, Speak Easily doesn't hold up very well, but we must remember that in its 1932 release, it made more money than any of Keaton's silent films ever did. So like Pixar and its Cars series, MGM felt it was making the right decisions based on what truly mattered to Louis B. and Irving T.
1932 - 8 minutes, 2 seconds
2021 - 6 minutes, 25 seconds
The complete, entire original film - 81 minutes
The class edit project final length - 72 minutes
Next we're going to work on either Intolerance or Gone with the Wind. Or perhaps invest in a popcorn machine.
Complete assembly of the Speak Easily "Redux" is on archive.org --
And so it begins - the show starts, Keaton reels from a sincere kiss and things start falling apart. A face in the crowd is targeted as someone really enjoying the show. At first, we all thought it was the university butler in attendance at opening night, but it is actually one of the show's backers. It seemed odd to introduce him so late in the proceedings.
Keaton has a nice slide onto the stage, Durante does one of his specialty songs (which he was still doing on the Mike Douglas Show in the 1960s), and Thelma Todd gets covered in bleached corn flakes. The sequence doesn't really build, but there it is:
Nobody really cared for Henry Armetta here, either. I told them to check out the Marx Brothers' The Big Store someday, where the producers thought they needed a "funny Italian" (apparently Chico wasn't a comedian to them by that time in his MGM career). Regardless, he was trimmed.
In 1932 - 8 minutes, 22 seconds.
2021 - 6 minutes, 58 seconds
Speak Easily has been building up to this point. Unlike A Night at the Opera three years later, the show is supposed to go on, and we're supposed to hope for the best with this collection of wandering vaudevillians and a befuddled professor.
Cross your fingers!
The original ran thusly:
And the project produced this version:
1932 - 6 minutes, 35 seconds
2021 - 5 minutes, 56 seconds
The sequence begins with a Durante caricature with his nose protruding downward at a specific angle. It comes at a reel change, so it is extended by Durante's laugh over the image. Now think how Keaton was positioned in the shot immediately preceding this one. I think a fade in/out transition was chosen instead of a lap dissolve for a reason.
Of course it leads to a possible compromising situation, and the troupe has now learned the truth behind the professor's inheritance, so it's time for a nice switcheroo. And a few trims, because by now everyone was on a roll.
Appendix - here are the screen shots of the end of sequence 7 and the start of sequence 8, with a simulated midpoint of a slow lap dissolve of the two, had the transition been performed in that manner -
Considering the chemistry that Thelma Todd had with the Marx Brothers in Horsefeathers, also from 1932, it is interesting to compare her scenes with Keaton with those of Groucho. Chico, and even Zeppo. It doesn't help that this is a drinking scene, and perhaps something other than tea had been placed in the decanters. Todd's reactions are great, nonetheless, if somewhat lost in the medium shots. And Spite Marriage is used again for material, however briefly, in getting her to stand up near the end.
What rhythm the scene has is broken with the extended insert of the cuckoo clock, no matter how clever the swirling effect, and the class agreed that one clumsy backflip over the sofa was quite enough. So out came the scissors, and everyone had fun resizing those master shots!
The rehearsal is centered around Durante and Toler, and somewhere along the line, someone (possibly the film's editor) noticed that the film's star was missing. Thus the insert shots appear of Keaton, with a neutral background, looking interested in the goings on and saying nothing, so when he does appear near the end we get the impression he has been in the rehearsal room the entire time. The "Singing in the Rain" gag is still cute, and was featured in the compilation film, That's Entertainment (1976).
Of course we had to snip here, and there:
In 1932, it ran 6 minutes, 30 seconds.
In 2021, 5 minutes, 59 seconds.
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Speak Easily - 1932 - Editing Exercise - Sequence 5 - Broadway Bound and Down to Business with Thelma
Despite Durante's brash presence, he brings the picture a splash of welcome energy with a bit of his anthem, "Can Broadway Do Without Me?" and his march through the hallway to his new business office. This is followed by a bit of stock footage pulled from King Vidor's 1928 masterpiece, The Crowd. The rest of the scene is dominated by Sidney Toler, known at the time as a Broadway comic actor, but destined to be remembered for his later portrayal of Charlie Chan at 20th Century Fox and Monogram pictures. Then Thelma Todd arrives, full of tough charm and hard-boiled agendas.
Most of the changes here are for staging - again, to adjust for the dark set and master shot mentality of MGM's misunderstanding of comedy.
1932 - 7 minutes, 2021 - 6 minutes, 58 seconds
Speak Easily - 1932 - Editing Exercise - Sequences 3 and 4 - To the Show! and The Professor Saves the Show!
TO THE SHOW!
Sequence 3 of Speak Easily is one of the smoothest of the film. It begins with goodbyes at the station, with Keaton getting mixed up with Jimmy Durante and then getting on the wrong train - the shot is one of the best composed of the feature, with Keaton staring ahead, while his departing train can be seen through the doorway behind him. He is for a fleeting moment, a contented statue.
The banter with the station master is a well performed give and take, for as short as it is, followed by an undercranked ride in a jalopy. Keaton is deposited in front of the opera house and, like his 1929 feature Spite Marriage, we get to see the troupe's performance before it is later disrupted by Keaton's inclusion.
The original sequence ran 4 minutes, 45 seconds. The edit came in at 4 minutes, 20 seconds.
Monday, March 29, 2021
The first sequence was a warm up for this class project to play with the 1932 Keaton film, "Speak Easily."
Once the Professor has been informed of a $750,000 inheritance, he is off to seek companionship and rub elbows with the common man. Instead, he encounters Jimmy Durante and an impoverished vaudeville troupe. I ran the clip from the original film, and then we made suggestions based on what we saw. To be honest, I had already made the edit for this portion, but the students were a savvy lot and they identified nearly everything destined for the cutting-room floor.
Here is how it ran in 1932:
One line everyone seemed to like was, "I'll tell it to the guy with the face." Other than that, the questions were, "What does the baby have to do with anything besides being a prop? Can we get the baby to stop crying? Why does Jimmy tell the joke twice? Why does the professor have to repeat 'equivocate'? Why can't we get more camera movement? Why aren't there second takes when lines get muffed or talked over? Was this when Keaton was drinking? Why are they going on past the best line to close a shot?"
During this sequence, the audience learns that the inheritance was a ruse by the professor's butler (well, a shared butler, I guess...what kind of college is this?!?). His confession is staged in another cavernous set at a college where buildings are 50% higher than they should be to accommodate the high ceilings.
So I showed them my edited version, and they suggested further cuts and resized shots which were then incorporated:
The 1932 scene ran 10 minutes, 36 seconds. The edited version came in at 8 minutes, 34 seconds. Already we have trimmed about a third of a reel! It won't be the last time Henry Armetta gets his underwritten and overacted part trimmed in the course of this project.
Sunday, March 28, 2021
There are the ruins of a good comedy in the penultimate Keaton feature for MGM, "Speak Easily." Released in 1932, it has the typical overwritten, over-explained plot of his "talkies," often more noise than humor. I turned it over to my students in a dozen sequences after discussing film editing, use of close-ups, tightening action, and knowing when to end a scene.
Here is sequence #1 of the film, as released by MGM. It has gone into the public domain, so that was the main reason I chose it for the exercise:
Friday, March 26, 2021
Thursday, March 25, 2021
With CoVid vaccinations becoming more available and some possible light at the end of the tunnel emerging, it's time to reflect on a favorite Michigan past-time, namely, road trips. Here's a bit of one from 1984...on SUPER 8mm FILM!!
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
Early sound films were concentrated on just that - sound - with the visuals often suffering as a result. Keaton was able to insert little bits of silent business in them, but when compared to his silent work, they frequently seem slower paced. This is because - they were. Sound film is filmed and projected at 24 frames per second, based on the projection speeds in place in the late 1920s, speeds set to increase the number of daily projections of the features of the time.
Silent film began at being shot at 16 frames per second (to squeeze in the most action within a limited film budget, Griffith had his Battle at Edlerbrush Gulch shot at 14fps!). So, filmmakers caught onto the increased projection rate by increasing their camera speed to about 20fps by 1920, and more like 22fps by the mid to late 1920s. Actors, editors, and directors became used to that rhythm and performed accordingly.
When 24fps became the standard from 1928 onward, it took a while for the pacing to accommodate the change, and especially visual humor. Keaton's early MGM work is a case study in this. First of all, MGM didn't understand humor, shooting and lighting their comedies in the same manner as a courtroom drama (just look at the dreary sets of Speak Easily).
For a visual comparison, here is a silent sequence (with ambient sound, no dialogue) from the frustratingly staged Parlor, Bedroom and Bath from 1931. This is how it looks, shot at 24fps, the standard sound camera speed. The gag is a variation from the house-demolition climax of his 1920 One Week:
Now, if it had been shot at 22fps (about 10% "quicker" during projection), the standard for the mid-1920s, it would have appeared as this:
And if it had been at 20fps (20% quicker during projection), the general speed of around 1920, it would have appeared this way:
The differences are subtle and work on a subconscious level - the eye can absorb the information faster, so what we are left with is the pacing. At 20-22fps you can see how the performers of the silent era were thinking things would appear during the early sound era.
When The Artist was produced in 2011, it used the 22fps camera speed - and it worked very well on many levels that the Brooks film, Silent Movie, failed to achieve in 1976.
Keaton's work at MGM showed many production blunders besides misunderstanding visual humor - my film production students were able to shave 10 minutes off of Speak Easily by following basic editing techniques - avoiding redundancy, punching a joke by proper cutting, creating inserts to direct the audience attention - and were working on Doughboys to experiment with varying film speeds during the silent sections. "We can fix it in post," may have been a phrase used then, but rarely employed.
(The use of varying camera speeds is still employed today and not only for comedic effect - Raiders of the Lost Ark used 20-22fps for some of the action sequences. When blended with music, sound effects, and editing, nobody really notices that things are moving 10-20% faster than might be humanly possible. Movie magic!)
Timing can work both ways. Here is the original gag from Keaton's One Week in 1920, projected at 24fps, followed by a projection at 20fps (both clips are silent):
And, regarding the 1920 film, it is interesting (to me, anyway) even how carefully the For Sale sign is positioned, how it stays rigidly in place with its gentle posing, and how the instructions envelope sits at the right spot - nothing wobbles, nothing moves, with all that surrounding destruction.
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
After hearing it discussed on the Marx Brother's Council Podcast, I found a copy of the Zucker Brother's Brain Donors from 1992. It follows the plotline from the Marx Brothers' MGM film Night at the Opera from 1935, with pacing by comedian Dennis Dugan to match their later, more frantic Paramount releases. There is even credit to the original Kaufman-Ryskind screenplay at the closing credits.
Sunday, March 21, 2021
The retired author is among the emeriti from MSU regarding land management and other educational topics. From the Greenville Daily News, 20 March, 2021. So, subscribe, already!
Again, (c) 2021 Greenville Daily News
Saturday, March 20, 2021
Back when computer games were a hoot, James Burke put out a two disc set based on his television program, "Connections." I spent a weekend playing through the whole thing, felt completely fine that it also expanded my appreciation for just about everything scientific.
Of course, that was in the days of Windows 95, and the "improved" Windows 10 is utterly incapable of understanding how to run the game, so I am left with just the small-resolution video bits that peppered the experience. This is one, particularly of interest to those with pharmacology occasionally cluttering their minds:
Friday, March 19, 2021
And that calls for more experimentation with layered color exercises! Oh does The Animating Apothecary know how to PARTY!
1. Tweener Easter Bunny - "Whatever"
|(c) 2021 The Animating Apothecary, Jim Middleton|
|(c) 2021 The Animating Apothecary, Jim Middleton|
|(c) 2021 The Animating Apothecary, Jim Middleton|
|(c) 2020-2021 The Animating Apothecary, Jim Middleton|
|(c) 2020-2021, "Holiday Specific," The Animating Apothecary, Jim Middleton|
Tuesday, March 16, 2021
Originally a six week project in 1998, using a DOS animation version of "Autodesk Animator Pro," this collection of 2800 frames was initially paired with a 1917 recording of a Chopin Waltz composed in the 1830s. When first uploaded to test the limits of a Facebook posting, FB said, "Oh that music violates copyright!" based on some parallel world regulations.
So I went with a 1911 performance of Victor Herbert performing his own work, "Scherzo."
Thought I'd test the limits on uploads to Blogger...
Sunday, March 14, 2021
Saturday, February 27, 2021
Beatrice sighed, "Here we are, going around with all this energy, and some days I'm just so tired."
The building was donated to the university on their death and demolished in the 1980s for a stadium parking lot.
In the course of demolition, it was discovered that the walls contained about $150,000 in 1920's-era "horseblanket" $50 bills, which scattered around the site, to the dismay of the university trustees and delight of students attending the event.
Only a small fraction of the money could be recovered by the university.
Monday, February 22, 2021
The latest incarnation of "Blithe Spirit" contains more slapstick than the 1945 Rex Harrison version, and the plot is often driven more by vengeance than avidity; nevertheless, the art deco mansion Joldwynds in Surrey, the white cliffs of Dover (still in Dover), and Judy Dench (what a Dame!) are worth the experience. Ghosts haven't been this hormonal since "High Spirits."
I particularly missed the striking, dramatic entry of the ghostly wives employed in the first film - with the greenish cast given by lighting and make up rather chilling.
Sunday, February 21, 2021
I began by drawing a grid in perspective, and after about three attempts, just pulled out the digital camera and took a photo of a 1" x 1" grid already built for another project, and then drew a trio of black holes on it, experimenting with various Photoshop brushes. Then, when attempting to have them merge into one GINORMOUS black hole in Photoshop using the "pinch" distortion tool, I found it less than satisfying. However, the images did offer a potential for some random animation, which still seeks an explanation.
And here we go - the grid - (boring):
Now to create a series of sequential images to show the merger of the three black holes. I think the hand-drawn method may still work best.
Friday, February 19, 2021
Thursday, February 18, 2021
While Ted Cruz Cancuns but will not help Texans during this cold snap, the rift in the firmament permitting the entry of one R. Limbaugh provides warmth from the stygian depths for some mortals seeking respite from political boneheads.
Sketches on the subject over the years....
Sunday, February 14, 2021
Saturday, February 13, 2021
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Thursday, February 04, 2021
“I dreamt I was nothing,” began Beatrice, without any warning.
“Nothing?” Calamus was accustomed to acknowledge her declarations without a tone of judgement.
“Nothing. Then I heard a ‘pop’, and everything lit up and I was a cold, hot rock.”
“You offer a simultaneous contradiction.”
“That is proof that I am a genius.”
“I was a cold, hot rock, and I flew into a star, and suddenly, all was dark.”
“I am not finished.”
“You are expecting a lot out of a rock, Beatrice.”
“And then I was a rock - a meteor - and an ocean on earth at the same time. And the meteor - me - hit the earth and I felt the ocean - also me - turn into steam!”
“So,” Calamus attempted to summarize, “you were a solid, liquid, and a gas almost simultaneously.”
“Yes,” Beatrice said. “What does that mean?”
“That depends. What did you have for dinner last night?”
“Mashed potatoes. Instant mashed potatoes.”
“I means you should probably avoid instant mashed potatoes.”
Beatrice appeared annoyed.
Sunday, January 31, 2021
Saturday, January 30, 2021
“I never know when you’re serious!” “You’re always joking around!” “Why don’t you just say what you mean!!?”
I get this a lot. First of all, I’m always serious. Especially when I’m joking. As far as hiding the feelings thing, well, those are always on my shirtsleeve. Right there. Plain sight. Sometimes they drip into my coffee. I just make more.
The trouble is, the feelings are not always what people want to see, so they usually get dismissed. Rather than make a case of it, I make a joke. There is something about making a joke, creating a different way of looking at a situation that is troubling, that gives me a lot of comfort. I reserve my tears for “It’s a Wonderful Life” and movies that celebrate the possibilities of living, which amuses people to no end, or for those moments alone following a funeral where I can have a personal meditation on the extra chill created in an often chilly world.
Then I claw my way to happy. Sometimes I overreach my grasp, and happiness becomes joy. And I tear up again.
I laugh inappropriately. I find that when the world threatens to roll over you, if you hop just a bit, it will roll under you. And it tickles. So I laugh.
I love to hear others laugh. There’s a certain exaltation in a room filled with laughter, akin to a choir belting out a chorus by Handel. I think Dante was looking in the wrong direction when he wrote his Divine Comedy. It’s not above, or below, it’s within.
If I joke with you, it’s because, frankly, I give a damn. If I don’t give a damn, well, I can be as serious and functional as a stapler. If I joke with you, it’s because I want to fuss. I can’t build you a chair, I can’t repair your carburetor, I can only do a moderate job of mowing your lawn. But I will try to have you laugh.
It’s for you own good, dammit.
21 May 2008
Monday, January 25, 2021
You Didn’t Hear It From Me - A One Act Play in Three Scenes - Perpetrated by Jim Middleton
The Police Inspector
An Old Lady - Relief Nurse - Volunteer
An Elderly Man
A Head Nurse
An ER physician
The CHORUS - who double as background characters and prop managers
Scene One: The Police Station
A NEWSBOY comes down the audience center aisle, waving papers
NEWSBOY: "Extra! Extra! Police flummoxed about string of homicides. Read All About It! Murder most foul! Blood! Mayhem! Pictures on page...four! And oh man, are there pictures! Extra! Extra!"
(If props allow, he hands copies out to members of the audience)
(NEWSBOY ascends to stage, retreats behind the curtain)
The curtain opens on a darkened stage, but we hear a bustling police station in a large city, with teletypes, telephones, doors slamming, and radio communications in the background.
A CHORUS, here of police staff, are drawn to the open window on stage left, listening to the newsboy.
NEWSBOY (off): EXTRA! EXTRA!
A scandal we can handle
But if it comes from fates of man, we’ll
Be stained with words on paper
That won’t taper in their tone!
They use every machination
We are smeared with every ring we hear
Upon our telephone!
NEWSBOY (off): EXTRA! EXTRA!
(Phone rings) The CHORUS resumes its role as police operatives at the station. They will serve other functions as the story progresses.
The lights rise to show the police office, with a detective desk upstage and off-center.
Police are examining a white board of connected evidence clues written on scraps of paper, photographs, and maps of the city.An INSPECTOR is at the desk, on the phone, looking through stacks of folders and papers, pulling stray bits of food (stray bits of pizza) and possibly a sock, from between them, upending a paper cup of cold coffee on top of desk, soaking a load of paperwork, which, now damaged by coffee he sweeps into a waste basket upstage from the desk.
Into the flutter of activity, apparently lost, comes a sweet looking old lady, nearly a cliche in appearance - her white hair pulled back in a bun, her black outfit from a 1908 Sears catalog, her purse more like a carpet bag. She is helped along with a slender, hooked cane.
She is out for a formal visit, so she is wearing white gloves, as a proper lady should.
She walks up to the INSPECTOR’s desk, and is ignored, so she quietly sits in the chair and observes his frustration with all the material that he's juggling around his desk during this current investigation. The old fashioned rotary phone is pressed to his ear.
LADY: “Excuse me.”
She is ignored.
LADY: "Excuse me?”
She taps the desk with her cane.
LADY: “Excuse me!”
She takes her little cane and hooks it through the INSPECTOR’S phone cord and yanks it from his ear.
The INSPECTOR spins around, furious.
LADY: “Oh, I'm sorry, did I interrupt you?”
INSPECTOR: “How'd you get in here?!”
LADY: “That nice young sergeant sent me over to you.”
INSPECTOR: "Oh he did, did he? The nice young.... Mulligan!"
MULLIGAN: "Pleasure's mine, Inspector. Thought you could use a distraction!”
INSPECTOR (returning to the lady at his desk): "Lady, you may not have noticed, but we're pretty busy here tonight. Perhaps you've caught some news about it in the papers- a serial killer is on the loose.”
LADY: "I don't pay attention to such trifles. I'm here on a very important matter.”
INSPECTOR: "Important matter?”
LADY: "Most important. I am here to report - a missing cat."
INSPECTOR: “A missing cat.”
LADY: “Oh, you're already treating me like a crazy person. I can tell you're not a cat lover."
INSPECTROR: Tonight of all nights is a very bad time to deal with a missing cat.'
LADY: "This is no common feline, inspector.. He has been my one reliable companion, my one true source of comfort, these many years.”
INSPECTOR: “I see.”
(the old woman begins to stare off into the distance, as the INSPECTOR decides to let her ramble and surreptitiously returns to his stack of reports)
The LADY stands, moves downstage from the desk. The stage darkens and she is spotlighted.
The CHORUS of police staff circles her.
LADY: “I don't think you can - few have true sight. My first true love professed a fondness for felines, but it was a ruse, one of his many, a ruse to cloud my clear vision. I didn't realize his – his insincerity - but my cat could, he could smell it on him like cheap tuna. That, and his Bay Rum was mostly rum. It was no wonder that he died as he did, as he deserved.”
At “died,” the INSPECTOR regains some interest. The spotlight dims, the stage lights return, and the CHORUS pulls away. The LADY returns to her chair.
INSPECTOR: “Your cat?”
LADY: “No, my first love. Do try to pay attention, inspector. First loves always die, don't they? Nothing so intense can last forever, can it? Love is exhausting. My cat, however, perseveres. Purrr-severes.”
She chuckles. The INSPECTOR is becoming a bit impatient.
INSPECTOR: “OK, lady, I suppose I can find you a form here.” He pulls a sheet out his desk drawer. “This one is for missing persons, so just scratch out “person” and put in “cat.”
LADY (almost to herself): "Scratching out persons, funny you should say that."
Another detective with a new report comes to the INSPECTOR and they continue to chat about some new information while the old lady continues with her story. More pages get pinned to the data board in the background.
The room darkens, the LADY stands and moves forward again, and the CHORUS returns near her.
Surrounds each investigation!
Our inspector can’t inspect her
Suitors who hardly seem to suit her!
NEWSBOY (off): EXTRA! EXTRA! INEPTITUDERY EXPOSED!
LADY: "Cats can get into the most interesting things, and it doesn't seem to affect them at all. But people get just the slightest scratch, and if they're not truly cat people, they can be gone in just a few heartbeats.”
The stage lights return. The LADY turns to the INSPECTOR.
LADY: “You know, the heart pushes its entire supply of blood through the body in less then five minutes."
INSPECTOR: “I'm sorry, lady, but I have to attend to this report. You, you just wait right here end we'll finish up with your cat story in just a little bit...I need to check on some forensics right now, you know, that silly police work we do around here."
The two policemen leave. The lady pulls a bit of cat hair from her dress and examines it. She moves again downstage.
LADY: “Some kitty confetti.”
She puts it in her purse.
“It has only been an hour and how I miss you. Remember how they would get so upset when you came around the secretarial pool and curled up at momma's desk? I learned to type to your purr. It was like a waltz. And all those salesmen would come around and try to flirt. All that talk about chattels, indemnities, and whole life. We've led a whole life many times, haven't we? A whole lot of lives. And you always knew what they really wanted and you kept them all away. Good thing we liked to travel, wasn't it? So many men, but not one could get near my cat.”
She begins to waltz with members of the CHORUS, one to another, and particularly close with a female member.
LADY: “My, what happens in the chorus, stays in the chorus, doesn’t it?”
The lights come up, the CHORUS disperses. The INSPECTOR and detective return.
INSPECTOR: "So, how's that missing cat report coming along?"
LADY: "I don't believe you are taking me seriously, young man."
INSPECTOR: “Well, ma'am, we can't move forward without a report, can we?"
LADY: “Could I trouble you for a pen, then? Pencil? Perhaps you use crayons?”
The INSPECTOR is not amused.
INSPECTOR: “Perhaps I should fill it out for you. With a pen.”
He takes the form.
INSPECTOR: “Ok, Missing cat” He scratches through the word person.
LADY: “That's C-A-T.”
INSPECTOR: “You wouldn't prefer a K?”
LADY: “No, C is fine."
INSPECTOR: “l was thinking of using another letter myself. OK -- Cat. What was the name of your cat?'
LADY: “Is. Nine lives, you know. This would be his....third. (she looks off in a wistful way)
INSPECTOR: “The name, lady, the name.”
LADY: “That's what I said - Euripides. Need I spell that to you as well?”
INSPECTOR: "No, it doesn't really matter. Cats don't come when you call them, anyway.”
LADY: "Oh, not my Euripides. He's quite accommodating.”
Tbe LADY looks off for another monolog. The lights dim, the CHORUS joins from behind, perhaps a soft waltz emerges.
LADY: “Euripides... what is a name? I’m used to being ignored now, in fact, I’m nearly invisible. But I was once always seen, often sought, and very selective. Men - well, boys, performed their rituals, those dances, those lovely dances (the chorus responds) , smeared with their Bay Rum and macassar oils, hair untouched by these fingers. Those untuned banjos and voices barely cracked, in a singular quest like a stag in spring. As time went by, they slowly learned I was impervious and inempressed, even as I slowly dimmed the parlor lights to obscure the mirrored reality.” (The lights have been dimming through this monologue)
“And then I met - Olivier!”
(The lights pop back)
“I didn’t feel invisible! I wasn’t old, I possessed character. My hair wasn’t gray, it was a braided, silvered memory of melodies. I...”
The LADY sighs, turns, encounters the CHORUS/POLICE swaying to the music, if any, or just to the melodies in their heads.
LADY: “Speech is what distinguishes men from the other animals. But they are still animals.”
“I detect impetuous eavesdropping!
Imperious shadows needing stopping!
While current speeches move amusement’s gauge,
These staged events remain on the stage!!!
Remember - not a word to share
Or by Aphrodite, I’ll rain despair!!”
The CHORUS, chastised, disperses to their background.
The LADY returns to her seat.
INSPECTOR: “I need a description on this feline – Color?”
LADY: "Is that on your people form? In this day and age?”
INSPECTOR: “Yeah, it is. And it still applies here. Color.”
LADY: °In the dark, all cats are gray. Ben Franklin said that once.”
INSPECTOR: "Not surprised you would know what Ben Franklin said about cats.” (he flip a page on his report)
LADY: “I'll wait. Do you need to get a crayon after all?”
INSPECTOR: “No, no no no no. How much does the cat...” the LADY raises a finger at him – "How much does Euripides weigh?”
LADY: "He's very light on his feet. He always lands on them, you know. Let's see, he weighs 12 pounds, so that makes ... "
INSPECTOR: “Three pounds per foot.”
LADY: "In physics, they call that foot-pounds. Have you ever studied physics? Perhaps you need a physic?"
Another detective comes over and they confer about the homicide case under investigation.
INSPECTOR (to LADY) "I'll be right back."
LADY: “I'll stay right here, young man. It'll be my weighty matter.”
INSPECTOR (to detective) "Come on, Bill, show me the splatter report."
LADY: "Don't run with anything sharp, inspector.”
The lady opens her purse again.
LADY: “If this is Euripides' third life, then it must be my – (she produces some 3 x 5 cards from her purse and looks them over) – my fifth."
The LADY pulls out a small vial from her purse and places it on the lieutenant's desk. She also pulls out a little ring of measuring spoons, chooses the smallest of them, measures out some fluid, and drips it into her open purse. She then pulls out a small glass from her purse, now containing the little amount of fluid she dripped in, and puts it on his desk (or other unexpected stage business).
The LADY slides her cane back onto the desktop as well. The INSPECTOR returns. He is carrying another cup of coffee.
LADY: "Young man, may I trouble you for a little water?”
He comes back with a small glass. The lady mixes it with the cup of fluid.
LADY: "My medicine is very touchy. A little bit fine, a lot - not so fine.”
INSPECTOR: "Have you finished your little wildcat chronicle for me?"
LADY: "Oh yes.” She slides her paper over to the inspector.
LADY: “All this talk about murders. Murders are so messy, so noisy, and all that flailing about, begging for mercy..."
The inspector's phone rings.
INSPECTOR: "Detective bureau. (His voice softens) Oh, hello, honey."
He turns his chair around from the lady for privacy. “Just tell me how Sam's doing.”
The lady pours her “medicine” into his coffee.
INSPECTOR: “You know I wish I could be there, this string of murders is keeping us here all night again. Tell you what, I'll finish up with a little matter here and get right over to the hospital. They can reach me there and you could get a break. Sure. OK, Love you, too. Bye.”
He hangs up.
LADY: "Something wrong with your son?"
INSPECTOR: “Daughter. Samantha. She is my special – she has, ah, special needs. Her caregivers can be – careless, let's say. Our only child. She means the world to us. (brief, but thoughtful pause) So, I have to ask again, why all this concern tonight about your Euripides? Tonight, of all nights.”
LADY: "I'm afraid Euripides can be a bit willful and not completely follow my instructions at times. He just might have gotten into some - some- cleaning fluid at home and...”
A street cop comes in, carrying a small plastic animal transport box. We hear a muted “meow” from within.
LADY (ecstatic) : "Euripides!"
In her excitement, the LADY seems to inadvertently push the tainted coffee into the abused wastebasket with her cane.
INSPECTOR: “This is your cat?”
LADY: “Gray and light on his feet! Light gray, you could say! Oh my, yes! He complains in perfect pitch – the key of C. It's music to my ears!"
The LADY happily peers into the box.
LADY: “You have family, too, lieutenant, you have others who depend on you, who need you. I might say that is a very redeeming characteristic – to me, anyway.”
INSPECTOR: "Well, let's just look at this feline."
He opens the box's door, and reaches in.
INSPECTOR: “Hello, there, troublemaker...”
LADY: “Oh, my, young man, don't do that!"
The cat growls. the INSPECTOR pulls his hand back.
LADY: “He doesn't care for strangers. you should know that about cats."
INSPECTOR: “My mistake. After all our talk, I felt I had already met him. He certainly seems healthy.”
He turns to the street cop.
INSPECTOR: "Where'd you find it?”
COP: "About a block from the scene. You told us to round up anything unusual."
INSPECTOR (irritated): “Well, give it to her!”
The INSPECTOR sucks on his scratched finger.
INSPECTOR: “Just give it to her, ok? I've had enough distractions involving cats for a lifetime."
The LADY takes the box.
LADY: “Oh, Euripides, up to mischief, my naughty boy. Thank you so much, inspector."
The LADY begins to walk off stage. The INSPECTOR looks at his desk.
INSPECTOR: “All this mess and now two cups of coffee shot.”
The LADY is still talking to her cat.
LADY: “AIl these noisy murders, all these people falling out of buildings. When someone yelled medic! they should have yelled spatula!”
She turns to the INSPECTOR just before leaving completely offstage.
LADY: "Thank you for your help, inspector. Be sure to get that scratch looked after. From my experience, it may need more than a little ointment, no matter how redeeming your character is."
(then back to the cat)
LADY: “Good thing he's already going to the hospital, isn't, it? Now that puts our number still at eight, doesn't it?”
The policemen watch her leave.
INSPECTOR: “That splatter report wasn't made public, was it?”
INSPECTOR: “And the M.E. did rule out suicide, didn't he?"
COP: “Yeah, in fact, the last examination showed he a series of raised welts, consistent with subcutaneous exposure to concentrated formic acid. It's not a common chemical, we usually associate it with bee stings. But these weren't stings, more along the line of incisions.”
COP: “Yeah, and pretty painful.”
INSPECTOR: “The three story fall probably didn't help much, either.”
COP: “And it wasn't his idea. There is evidence of a struggle.”
INSPECTOR: “What did this guy do for a living?”
COP: “Insurance salesman – term life, indemnities, the whole thing. You ok... sir?”
The INSPECTOR is holding his throbbing hand, now turning red.
INSPECTOR: “I've felt better. Get forensics up here to analyze my wastebasket – and call me an ambulance.”
He slumps into his chair....
Curtain closes, Newsboy walks across stage, waving papers.
NEWSBOY: “Extra! Extra! Inspector in hospital! Killer still at large! EXTRA! EXTRA!”
Introduction to Scene Two:
LADY and CHORUS COME ON STAGE, in front of drawn curtain
The proscenium calls! Quick! Move your joints!
We’ll do naught to disappoint!
We shall never break our promise!
We’re no scheming Nostradamus!
An oath for both
A creed, indeed!
We’ll utter not a word.
A sacred trust
It’s love, not lust,
The thought is just absurd!
NEWSBOY (off) : “EXTRA! EXTRA! Suspect Still at Large!”
The curtain arises, the CHORUS takes its assigned places - holding tree branches, representing street lights...
Scene Two - The Next Morning, In the Park
An ELDERLY MAN is sitting on a bench, with a few books and his lunch.
The LADY approaches and joins him on the seat, at a respectable distance. She is carrying her cat in the same box from the police station.
The ELDERLY MAN takes no real notice of her, and finishes his sandwich. He carefully refolds the wax paper that held it, places it in a little brown bag, and then folds the bag carefully before putting it in one of his jacket pockets.
With an expression of satisfaction, he says to himself:
ELDERLY MAN: “O...K.”
The LADY perks up.
The elderly man takes notice of her.
ELDERLY MAN: "Excuse me?"
LADY: "Oh , I'm sorry. I thought you were addressing me."
The ELDERLY MAN is bewildered.
LADY: "My name is Kay. And this is my cat, Euripides."
ELDERLY MAN: "Do we know each other?"
LADY: "Possibly. I've become quite forgetful, I'm afraid, so if someone says my name, I reply. I don’t wish to be rude.."
ELDERLY MAN: "I understand that feeling very well."
LADY: "You come here often?".
ELDERLY MAN: "I believe that’s supposed to be my line. But I do try to have my little lunch here each day, on this bench, among these trees. I enjoy the birds, the people walking their animals."
LADY: "Routines are important."
ELDERLY MAN: "And your cat. Such an interesting name - Euripides. I'm reading this little book about him."
LADY: "Imagine that."
ELDERLY MAN: "Just catching up on things I should have read in school. Did you know be said 'leave no stone unturned'?"
LADY: "I may have heard that.”
ELDERLY MAN: "Sometimes he sounds almost like Ben Franklin.”
He points at her carrier.
“Did you know Franklin once said, 'in the be dark, all cats are gray'?"
LADY: “I may have heard that, too."
ELDERLY MAN: “I'm sorry - I'm being inconsiderate - I'm called Julius."
LADY: "How do you do, Julius."
ELDERLY MAN: "Very well, thank you. And you are Kay, and your cat is Euripides, and isn't this a lovely day?"
LADY: “It is a lovely day, Julius.”
ELDERLY MAN: "A day that makes you feel good to be alive."
LADY: "It's a good habit."
ELDERLY MAN: “I’m a creature of habit. I need structure. I guess I get that from my years of selling insurance."
LADY: “Oh, you sell insurance? Imagine that!” says the lady.
ELDERLY MAN: "Oh , I quit the business nearly 20 years ago - I only do policies for family and friends now. Don't even charge a fee. Just to keep myself busy."
LADY: "Everyone needs a hobby, Julius.”
ELDERLY MAN: “I'm so sorry - here I am; finishing up my lunch and I don't have a thing to offer you or your cat.”
LADY: “That’s quite all right. But you know, I am in the market for an insurance policy."
ELDERLY MAN: "There you go again, you're taking all my lines! This is all quite a coincidence."
LADY: "Quite a coincidence."
ELDERLY MAN: "I don't have any of the forms with me – they're back at my apartment."
LADY: “I imagine that isn't very far away."
ELDERLY MAN: "Oh , I could go and get them and - it’s only a short walk. I can....”
The LADY stands, picking up the carrier with Euripides.
LADY: "Oh, I can manage the three blocks, just fine."
ELDERLY MAN: "Oh, my. Well, it is a nice day for a walk."
He stands as well.
LADY: "A lovely day to be alive."
ELDERLY MAN: "And I must apologize in advance for the state of my place. I get so few visitors."
They begin walking off stage.
LADY: "I'm sure it will be fine. Not too many flights, I expect?"
ELDERLY MAN: "Well, I'm on the fourth floor - that isn't too many, is it? I take the stairs for exercise, but they do have an elevator."
LADY: "Four floors should be about right."
ELDERLY MAN: "Well, this has turned out to be quite a day. Quite a day. I meet you, a cat called Euripides, and I get to do something redeeming, and -- how' d you know I’m only three blocks away?"
LADY: "Just a lucky guess."
ELDERLY MAN: "A lovely, lucky day."
They walk off stage together.
NEWSBOY (across stage, waving papers): “EXTRA! EXTRA! HOSPITAL ON LOCKDOWN! Food still terrible!”
Scene three - The Hospital Room
The CHORUS has taken its place as props for the scene, holding a window frame, an IV, serving as an IV pump and cardiac monitor.
A NURSE is attending to an IV attached to the INSPECTOR. She is dressed in a typical, if somewhat old fashioned, crisp, white nurse's uniform. Her hair is almost unnaturally red.
When she leaves, the stage is fully lit on the hospital room. The bed is angled downstage so that movement may be seen on either side. The IV is to the right of the bed, near a bedstand table. A window, or a representation, is to the left. There is a hospital curtain that can seclude the bed at any time. Members of the CHORUS fulfill the manual duties.
NURSE (now off-stage): "He should be up soon. Looks like you arrived just in time."
The INSPECTOR’S wife, MOLLY, enters and approaches the bed. The INSPECTOR sits up.
MOLLY: "A fine show this is. The only way our family can get together is at the hospital. At least you and Sam both have beds."
INSPECTOR: “Hi, Molly."
MOLLY kisses his forehead.
MOLLY: "You were in surgery for nearly five hours. Like these guys don't get paid enough - you gave them overtime."
INSPECTOR: “At least with the ether, the food doesn't taste as bad."
MOLLY: "Speaking of food. I ordered your breakfast. Hope you like egg-flavored mush. Does it hurt?”
INSPECTOR: "It's still pretty numb. I’ve been told not to move my hand, but I can feel the bandages. Cancel my ukulele lessons."
MOLLY: “Still no sign of the crazy cat lady?"
INSPECTOR: “Nothing. We have a man at the hospital entrance with a description. How’s Sam doing?”
MOLLY: "She'll be fine. She's like you - just keeps bouncing back. Not much of a view here. Is that a poster of a window?"
The CHORUS member holding the poster of a window reacts.
INSPECTOR: “That's fine with me. I’ve had enough stimulation for a while. Think we’ll be able to see Sam together today? I suppose they can wheel me down there if all my vital signs stay vital."
MOLLY: "That sounds like a reasonable goal. We’ll see what the surgeon says.”
THE HEAD NURSE and a candy-striper VOLUNTEER enter. This new, HEAD NURSE is in scrubs, and the VOLUNTEER is in the typical costume of a “candy striper.” They are both putting on rubber gloves.
HEAD NURSE: "This is your first day, so you need to get in the habit of gloving up before interacting with patients with this level of infection. Oh - I see you're already gloved. That's a great start. Inspector, good morning. I see your wife is here already. We have a new volunteer with us today, so I'll be showing her some of the procedures.”
VOLUNTEER: "I get to bring breakfast today.”
MOLLY: "Is he still getting antibiotics?”
HEAD NURSE: "He'll be on clindamycin for a week, at least, and since he's a good little inspector, we'll keep it in an oral form."
INSPECTOR: “As long as it's not a suppository. I promise to be a good boy”
At the word "suppository," the volunteer girl reacts uneasily.
HEAD NURSE (to the VOLUNTEER): “Now the layout here is like all the rooms on this floor - charts are by the patient door, emergency call switch by the bed.”
MOLLY: “I’ll check on Sam now and will be back to help with your feeding time. Do as you're told, dear," MOLLY kisses him again and leaves.
VOLUNTEER: "I can help feed him!"
HEAD NURSE : “It’s my opinion, that a good candy striper should try to be invisible.”
The VOLUNTEER makes a pouty face.
INSPECTOR: "Between the hand surgery and the IV there, I'll be glad for any help.”
The VOLUNTEER seems happier with that.
The HEAD NURSE approaches the IV.
HEAD NURSE: "And about that IV... odd.... it’s been stopped. It should be at a keep-open rate, at least. I’ll check the main orders at the desk.... there. Don't go away, inspector.”
The INSPECTOR reacts to that by waiving his bandaged hand and IV’d arm.
HEAD NURSE: “I'll be right back."
The HEAD NURSE and the VOLUNTEER leave together.
INSPECTOR: “And I'll be right here!"
The VOLUNTEER shyly returns to the room after a few moments.
VOLUNTEER: "Are you really the policeman who got poisoned by a cat?”
INSPECTOR: "Yes, ma'am, I'm that lucky dog. All this fuss over a little gray cat."
VOLUNTEER: "I hear that, in the dark, all cats are gray,"
The VOLUNTEER is getting closer.
INSPECTOR: “I remember hearing tha-- hearing .. huh huh haaa -"
The INSPECTOR is struggling to talk.
VOLUNTEER: "Don't be alarmed. It's just the curare. A very little dose. Vocal paralysis is usually an early sign that it’s working."
The INSPECTOR tries to reach out. His arm flops down.
VOLUNTEER : " ... followed by interrupted motor reflexes ... "
The INSPECTOR is staring at the VOLUNTEER , helpless.
VOLUNTEER: “You're probably a little confused. You don’t remember me, because we really haven’t met yet.”
She taps at the IV (actually the head of a CHORUS member. The CHORUS member reacts.)
VOLUNTEER : "That's a little too fast."
The VOLUNTEER makes adjustments.
VOLUNTEER: "Hospitals are such dangerous places, don’t you think? Accidents happen all the time. It's not all about being the cradle for life, the pillar for health, providing succor to serrated souls. Isn't that right, inspector? Sometimes it's just one strange coincidence after another. At least on the ground floor, you can’t drop far from a window.”
VOLUNTEER (switching to an old lady's voice): "But you brought me my cat."
VOLUNTEER (reverting to her previous voice): "And I like to be sure I've covered all my bases before I leave a town. And you're going to let me leave, aren't you, because you love your job, you love your daughter Samantha, and you love your patient wife Molly, your home at 320 Sycamore Street. And I think you love your breathing. I'm pretty sure you have a safe enough dose, but you’re covered if this hospital experience becomes something less hospitable."
She looks at the IV again, then back to the INSPECTOR.
VOLUNTEER: "Oh, my, I may have forgotten to move a decimal point. You appear to be going into shock."
She reverts to her candy-striper persona, hits the emergency call button (another member of the CHORUS), and runs from the room.
VOLUNTEER: "Help! Help! We need help in room 104!”
The HEAD NURSE runs in, followed by MOLLY and another aide.
HEAD NURSE : "I double checked the orders and your husband isn’t supposed to have any IV. I called a code blue."
(much activity and coordinated pandemonium as a handful of clinicians - more CHORUS - rush in)
The HEAD NURSE pulls the bed curtain (CHORUS business), and MOLLY stands outside of it as we hear CPR being administered - “Keep chest compressions until we get the ventilator!” “Where’s that crash cart?!” “I need epinephrine!”
(stage fades to black for a few moments)
(fade back up, it is now a few minutes later)
An ER DOCTOR emerges from behind the curtain, now being pulled back (a flourish by a CHORUS member). He turns to the HEAD NURSE.
ER DOCTOR: "He’ll be ok , but follow that monitor. It's nice when basic CPR does the trick. What set it off? He was perfect after surgery.”
MOLLY runs to check out her husband.
INSPECTOR (rasping out): "Curare. Curare in the IV."
ER DOCTOR: “Curare? How do you know that?”
INSPECTOR: “She told me. The volunteer."
HEAD NURSE: "The new candy striper? Oh, sure, inspector.”
MOLLY: “If he says it happened, it happened.”
ER DOCTOR: “But we don’t even keep curare, plain curare, anywhere in this hospital.”
HEAD NURSE, stunned, produces a vial from the bedstand.
HEAD NURSE: “We do now.”
The ER DOCTOR examines it.
ER DOCTOR: “This looks like army surplus - something from an old bomb shelter. It has to be 30 years old!”
INSPECTOR: “But it wasn't a candy striper. It was the crazy lady with that damn cat."
MOLLY: “Oh honey, they’ll track her down.”
A POLICE GUARD comes in, carrying a red wig and a candy striper outfit.
POLICE GUARD: “I just found these in a laundry bag as I was comin’ down the hall.”
INSPECTOR: “No sign of an old lady, though, right?”
POLICE GUARD: “Right.”
INSPECTOR: “Oh, she’s long gone.”
An ELDERLY MAN enters. He is the same ELDERLY MAN from the park bench.
ELDERLY MAN: "Excuse me, is this where the ... (he looks at some papers) " ... the inspector is staying? He wasn't at his home on Sycamore."
MOLLY: “"What do you want?”
ELDERLY MAN: "I just need to get a signature on this insurance policy."
MOLLY: "Insurance policy?"
ELDERLY MAN: “Yes – you see, if a party of the first part takes out a policy on a second party, and that second party is not present at the time of the policy being granted, I am obligated to get a signature from that insured second party before it can become active."
ELDERLY MAN: "Oh, please, don't make me repeat that. I've had a long morning.”
MOLLY: "So have we."
ELDERLY MAN: "This term policy has had its premiums paid in advance, in cash, but I need to get a signature. A signature from the inspector. It's his policy.”
He hands it to MOLLY, who takes it to the inspector and begins reading it. The clinicians are looking rather stupified.
MOLLY: “Honey, it's for $50,000, it's in your name, and Sam and I are listed as the beneficiaries.”
ELDERLY MAN: “Yes, and if you could please sign it, then I can be on my way, and I’ll never, never have lunch at that park bench again.”
INSPECTOR: “You know, we’re going to have a lot of questions for you about this.”
The INSPECTOR scrawls on the paper, and MOLLY: hands it back to the ELDERLY MAN.
ELDERLY MAN: “I don’t care. I just want to go back to my apartment and try to figure out how to get this new cat of mine to shut up!"
ELDERLY MAN: "Yes, Euripides,”
ELDERLY MAN moves offstage.
Lights dim. Curtain closes. CHORUS emerges.
Frightened felines, feigned senescence
Making known their punctured presence
For those of you who gaze this stage.
Remember, when serene observering
The gauze used for sedate preserving
Makes one inclined
To tricks of mind
By wisened, willful, wicked age.
So check things twice, and sometimes thrice
And claw your way to being nice
For shades exist,
Attending to what we now decree.
But if such as you become enlightened,
There’s not a need to become frightened
In words discreet,
You Didn’t Hear It From Me!
NEWSBOY walks across stage. The CHORUS scatters.
NEWSBOY: “Extra! Extra! Inspector survives death attack! Serial killer leaves town! Read all about it!”
Behind him, the LADY follows, with a deliberate pace.
LADY (sinister tone): “Oh, young man...young man... I need to have a word with you! Young man!”
(Fade to black)
25 January 2021