A play in one act

by Susan Smith Nash

copyright 2001 by Susan Smith Nash, all rights reserved



Please register all performances in advance by contacting Susan Smith Nash at susan@beyondutopia.com†† Also, please inquire about scholarships, grants, and prizes available for those who perform this play and provide information about the performance (reviews, photographs, copy of the program, etc.)Special incentives / prizes available to repertory groups using high school and undergraduate students.Please note that this play and others are collected in catfishes & jackals, published by potes & poets press, and available through Small Press Distribution.http://www.spd.org



The Players:


Dante:cheetah who has certain moth-eaten characteristics, either from friction or from nervous, incessant gnawing


Boethius:edgy, nervous cheetah with an even worse fur coat, lots of bald spots and mange


Merck:woman in her late 20s


Mandolin:woman in her early 20s


Ulfie:man in his early 30s, wears t-shirt with the following words stenciled on it:


††††††††††† ZOO

††††††††††† SECURITY





The Setting:


A cheetah cage at a zoo, one of the new "enviro-style" cage.A large sign hangs over the bars of the cheetah pen:


††††††††††† Zoos Without "Cages"


††††††††††† OUR ZOO PATRONS

††††† †††††††† ****†††† NEW†† †† ****




Then, across from that, another sign:


††††††††††† **** FABULOUS FELINES!****


The cheetah pen consists of bars, two big rocks -- one on stage right, the other on stage left, a big tree trunk, and a big bucket with water.A painting of an African plain adorns the back wall of their pen.There are tall bars on the cage.On the outside of the cage is a bench and a sign:DO NOT PLACE BODY PARTS THROUGH THE RESTRAINTS.††


Dante is crouched behind one rock; Boethius is crouched behind the other.Each is suffused in shadows.The audience can see them, but only vaguely.They are not visible to zoo patrons.


Ulfie walks by with tranquilizer gun in one hand, a rope in the other.


ULFIE:Iíd better not have any trouble today, you hear?Weíre not putting up with any more of this.Youíre bad for business.


(Walks up to cheetah cage.Holds up tranquilizer gun.)


I donít want to have to tranq you.




BOETHIUS:Hey, Dante.Don't look at me -- I'm not coming out!-- it's your day!We already worked out the schedule.


ULFIE:Hey!Just keep it up, and youíre gonna get tranqed.




BOETHIUS:You agreed.Just because the zoo didn't have many visitors yesterday doesn't change anything.It rained.What do you expect.


DANTE:I hate rain.


ULFIE:You two are bad for business.


BOETHIUS:Oh gag, it's despicable isn't it.Rain mats my fur.


DANTE:Honey, look at you.Nothing could make your fur any worse.Will you stop gnawing on it?


(Ulfie walks away.Looks back at cheetah cage and lets out a disgusted sound.)


ULFIE:I donít know why we even bother.Everyone loves the dolphins and the monkeys.But you two -- youíre more trouble than youíre worth, if you ask me.


BOETHIUS:Thanks to my mange, I'm not some womanís coat.Hah.A ďleopardĒ coat.


DANTE:Yeah, they even get the name wrong.LEOPARD.What idiots.We're cheetahs.


BOETHIUS:Don't talk about this.This conversation is making me itch all over.(scratches self, gnaws on shoulder.)Honor is not the true good, nor is it the way to true happiness.


DANTE:Stop that!You'll only make it worse.(pauses.)And why are you quoting from The Consolation of Philosophy again?


BOETHIUS:Hey.Back off.It itches. And I want to.Okay?


(Boethius scrambles out from from his rock and pounces toward Dante. Dante jumps out in response.They tussle.Yowling ensues.)


DANTE & BOETHIUS (back and forth):Hey!Itís your turn, I tell you!Itís YOUR turn!Iím NOT going out.Iím not doing it!Iím tell you, you really bug me!


BOETHIUS (shouting):Why do the Good have to suffer?!?


DANTE:(half-yowling)Love.Love lost.Love searching.Love promising transformationó


(Sound of gates clanging offstage.Boethius and Dante stop their skirmish and run back to their rocks where they hide.)


DANTE:Look.They're coming in already.(Lifts up head and looks over the rock.Sees people, ducks down quickly.)


BOETHIUS:I told you, I'm NOT covering for you!


DANTE:Why don't we both refuse to go out?Both of us?


BOETHIUS:Won't work.


DANTE:Why not?


BOETHIUS:Don't you remember?We tried that already.


DANTE:Oh yeah.


BOETHIUS:†† Yeah, they tied our food up and hung it from the ceiling.


DANTE:And they thought they were so clever.That little strategy was sadistic is you ask me.My left front paw was messed up for a month after I took a dive jumping for it.


BOETHIUS:Yeah.And the stupid Zoops loved every minute.


DANTE:(titters hilariously)Zoops -- I love it when you call them that.Stupid Zoops.


BOETHIUS:Zoops.It's their own name for themselves."Zoo Patrons" -- ZOOPS.


DANTE:(still tittering) Remember the time they left the gate open?hee-hee (titters) and when we'd push it open like we were going to escape --


BOETHIUS:Like we'd really want to -- like we really wanted the zoo-stapo to gun us down in cold blood.


DANTE:hee-hee -- that one hag wearing the leopard-skin coat (titters) she just about lost it when I pushed the gate open with my nose and looked her straight in her bloodsucking eyes.


BOETHIUS:haha -- yeah, she really snagged her pantyhose trying to get away.ooff -- that coat.aaargh.I'm itching again.(gnaws on other shoulder)


DANTE:(Hopefully)Did they leave the gate open?




DANTE:(in hick accent)Then I aint-a goin' out there - no place, no way, no how.I ain't no gawl-dang clown.


BOETHIUS:Now you sound like a Zoop.aahh -- here comes one now.


(Merck enters.She looks despondent.Carries a large purse and a bright-colored scarf. She's wearing a large floppy hat, torn fishnet hose, flowing dress -- very Bohemian)


MERCK:I wonder if I'll see him here.He said he sometimes comes here -- likes to "commune with his unspoiled, primitive nature."


(walks toward the cheetah pen.puts down bag)


That's better.This is too heavy -- I should have known better than to bring it with me...


(reads sign.)


Fabulous Felines.Oh how nice.I love cats.Especially leopards like these.




BOETHIUS:What do you expect?Another stupid Zoop.


MERCK:I miss him.I don't want to talk to him.I just want to see him -- that would be enough.


DANTE:Yeah a Zoop.With bad taste.Look at that hat.That scarf.


BOETHIUS:(prissily) That is truly appalling.Is she a gypsy or is she simply trying to wear her entire closet at once?


DANTE:Now don't be tacky.(peaks up over the rock)Is that a fur hat???I'm going to be sick.


(Merck, who has seen Dante peaking over the rock, looks closely.)


MERCK:Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!


BOETHIUS:That makes me sick.


DANTE:(Lifts up from behind rock and shouts in a high-pitched voice at Merck)Here, bitchy, bitchy, bitchy!!!


MERCK:Oh, she's meowing.She must be hungry.†† Are you hungry, kitty?


BOETHIUS:Howíd she know you were female?


DANTE:I donít know.She really canít see you, you know.


BOETHIUS:Well, I like it here.Hiding behind the rock.


DANTE:She canít understand you either.


BOETHIUS:Well, we had already established that.


DANTE:(lifts up again)Hey you -- you cat-killer.Why donít you beg us to come out?Yeah.Beg me!I want to see you beg for it.


BOETHIUS:Whereíd you learn that line? From your last boyfriend?


DANTE:Beg for it baby!Start acting like you want it!


BOETHIUS:(addresses audience -- points to Dante) This is one thing I hate about being locked up with heró


DANTE:(getting a little too carried away)Beg, I mean B E G, I meanBEEEHHGGG --


BOETHIUS:This cage a prison cell.


DANTE:(jumping up on rock, yowling and twisting around)Arenít you just GLAD youíre alive!†† Rrrrroowwwrr!!


BOETHIUS:Will you stop?Youíre making me sick.(jumps up onto other rock)All right! Iíll perform for the stupid Zoop.I just canít stand to see you degrade yourself like this!


MERCK:(In baby-talk) Ahhh -- arenít you an adorable kitty.What a strong, tough leopard you are!


BOETHIUS:(shouting)Are you Lady Philosophy?Are you here to lead me out of my misery?Have you come to me in my jail cell?


MERCK:My.What a loud roar.


DANTE:Calm down, Boethius -- theyíre gonna tranq you if youíre not careful.


MERCK:Youíre friend is so cute, too.Hi kitty.


BOETHIUS:Iím ugly -- rrrowwrr!!!


BOETHIUS:I have been imprisoned because Iím different.And Iím endangered. Iím an animal who thinks.




They say my ideas are dangerous -- Iím an artist -- it shows in my coat.Iím not worth skinning.Look at me!


My art is in need of a flea bath.


Bald spots!I deserve it.


MERCK:Your eyes look so sad.(takes out camera)


BOETHIUS:Please donít do that.Donít take my picture.


MERCK:Oh.You have mange, donít you.


BOETHIUS:Please.Itís embarrassing.


MERCK:Someone ought to report this zoo.(focuses, then snaps picture)


BOETHIUS:Nooooooo!(weeping, hysterical)†† Please, no.Why did you?


MERCK:Now I have a photograph!


BOETHIUS:Dante -- Dante -- where are you?


(Begins running in circles, yowling all the while.)


DANTE:(dejected)Whereís breakfast?


(Enter Mandolin.She is wiping her face with a handkerchief -- has obviously been weeping.She is wearing a huge t-shirt that has words stencilled on it:

††††††††††† ARTIST

††††††††††† DONíT ASK

††††††††††† DONíT TELL


She is lost in thought.)


MANDOLIN:My mother wasnít any kind of role model at all.


(Boethius runs toward the bars of the cage, does a little flip, hits the ground and rolls on theground hysterically.)


DANTE:(whispering) ††Boethius.Come on.Snap out of it.


(Boethius is still sniveling, weeping)


MERCK:Those leopards are starting to scare me.I wonder if theyíre psychotic.


(Goes to EMERGENCY ONLY phone box at side of cage.Lifts up receiver.)


Hi.I want to report that the leopards have gone berserk.Theyíre about to maul something.One is acting crazy & Iím scared --


Thanks.But I donít want to go to another exhibit.I came here today to look at the FABULOUS FELINES.I read about it in the paper.


Is this the way they act in their natural habitat?


(Boethius does a mock charge toward Merck)


Oh my God!(Hangs up phone and backs away from cage)


DANTE:BOETHIUS!!!!†† Get a grip!!!


BOETHIUS:Tranq me!Go ahead ! Tranq me!Existence is too painful!


MERCK:This leopard is acting weird.(to Boethius) Hey kitty, kitty -- calm down -- itís going to be a beautiful day in the neighborhood.


MANDOLIN:My father left home before I was 3.I donít remember him.


††††† And now they talk to me about patriarchy, male-domination, oppression.

††††† Everythingís so literal.Where did the concept of metaphor go?Doesnít

††††† anyone have the ability to think in figurative terms any more?


DANTE:(perking up -- has been listening)No!Of course not!You lost that privilege, honey, when you and your kind started killing off the endangered & calling it a ďfashion statementĒ!!


MERCK:Iím going to call the zookeeper about this.They look dangerous.I wonder if they have rabies.


BOETHIUS:I used to be beautiful and now look at me!I try to say Iím happy Iím not someoneís coat, but really I donít care.Sometimes I wish they had taken me down.At least it would be over -- this suffering ---


MANDOLIN:Now extinction is a good example.Extinction is more a state of mind than a reality, isnít it.I mean, things are always dying, being born, dying --


(pause) ††† even dying out.


Itís not healthy to think of extinction as literal.Only figuratively.As part of the great chain of being.Metamorphosis.Transformation.


BOETHIUS:Iím dead either way.Either they take me for my skin.Or they tear up my home and kill my family.Or I get the slow death of being here in this cage -- every day a humiliation.


MERCK:Here kitty -- HAPPY CAT -- can you say that?Iím a HAPPY CAT.


BOETHIUS:(skips around the cage) This is NOT Mr. Rogerís Neighborhood.No I CAN NOTpronounce ďhappy catĒ -- are you happy with your fut hat?Can you say HAPPYHAT?


(yowls in a sing-song tone)


Happy happy HAPPY oh H A P P Y oh HAPPY -- Can you say happy HAG?Hee-hee-hee.(Laughs hysterically while prancing around the cage.)††† Happy HAG!Iím a hag, youíre a hag -- weíre all hags here!


DANTE: Boethius!CALM DOWN!You are going to bring bad things on us!


BOETHIUS:What do you mean -- ďgoing to bringĒ-- isnít this bad enough??(Yowls)


MERCK:(looking at Mandolin)Mandolin?Is that you?


MANDOLIN:(startled)†† Merck?Is that you?


MERCK:What are you doing here?






MANDOLIN:Well, not exactly.I thought this would be a good place to collect my thoughts.Iíve been kind of depressed lately.


MERCK:Look at those leopards.


(Boethius, who has been skipping and prancing around the cage turns and taunts Dante.Dante runs up and tries to restrain Boethius.)


MANDOLIN:Theyíre not leopards.Theyíre cheetahs.


MERCK:I think theyíre psychotic.Or rabid.


MANDOLIN:Theyíre worked up about something, all right.Maybe they havenít been fed.


MERCK:What have you been depressed about?


MANDOLIN:Thinking too much.Just that.


MERCK:†† Have you seen Ulfie?


MANDOLIN: Whatís so real about an action?An action is only a gesture.A gesture is the cousin of the sign.All gestures are signs.They symbolize something else.So, itís wrong to think about things literally.


MERCK:†† Like you literally seducing my fiancť?


MANDOLIN:Fiancť?He was a boyfriend.


MERCK:He would have married me.




MERCK:I had already planned our wedding.You wrecked my future.


MANDOLIN:Just because you give something a label, doesnít make your designation correct.


MERCK:Quit trying to play mind games.


MANDOLIN:If you look at it that way, youíre missing the point.


MERCK:What point?That you just wanted to steal him away from me.Just for the sport of it.Once you knew you had him, you decided to throw him away.Right?


(Boethius and Dante are struggling with each other).


MANDOLIN:That entire episode was an extended metaphor -- a metonymy, if you will -- of the Wheel of Fortune.


MERCK:Vanna White?


MANDOLIN:You are Lady Philosophy, so you spin the wheel.Whatever comes up, you have to buy.


MERCK:I already did.I bought a big pain in the ass.(pauses)You.


MANDOLIN:Iím only speaking for your own good, Merck.




Plus, I did you a favor. I liberated you from your captivity.Ulfie isnít right for you.


MERCK:Donít you think I know whatís good for me?


MANDOLIN:We often donít know whatís good for us.Thatís why someone else has to take charge.Take care of us.


MERCK:Take away everything we care about?


MANDOLIN:All I know is that I am more attuned to the universe than most people -- most people are afraid to stop and look around them.


MERCK:Do you know how arrogant you sound?You like to patronize everyone else.




MERCK:Yeah.You.You say youíre an artist. But, youíre so cool, you pretend youíre some sort anti-artist.DONíT ASK, DONíT TELL.Hah!


MANDOLIN:†† Iím starting to hear a little hostility in your voice, Merck.


MERCK:(tauntingly)Iím starting to hear a little FEAR in your voice, Mandolin.(charges toward Mandolin.Mandolin jumps back).


MANDOLIN:Hey.Calm down.Theyíll throw you out.


MERCK:Or lock me up in a cage???For wanting to be an artist like you?

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† (tone changes -- speaks with resignation)

I wanted to take some pictures of the FABULOUS FELINES and make a series of greeting cards.But the cats have gone whacko.Plus theyíre all mangy.Who wants to look at mangy wildlife for Christmas?Itís enough to turn your stomach.


MANDOLIN:Captivity of any sort is enough to make you sick.


MERCK:Itís all a state of mind, though.Right?Thatís what youíve been telling me.


MANDOLIN:Thatís not the same.


MERCK:So if I say, hey, youíre a freak Ďcause you look so freaky & you think youíre cool but we all know youíre just making a cheap bid for attention -- and --


MANDOLIN:Iím hearing that youíre upset with me, Merck.


MERCK:Stop patronizing me!You ďartist typesĒ - you think youíre so cool.You can insult and trample anyoneís feelings, steal their boyfriends, ruin their future -- and then if anyone complains, you just say, ďI have to have my freedom of speech!Ē


MANDOLIN:Youíre twisting everything around.Iím more likely to be locked up like one of these cheetahs -- called crazy and put away -- or zombied out on Haldol or some high-powered tranquilizer that makes me stupid, but keeps me in my place.


(Boethius and Dante go back behind the rocks.They hide.)


MERCK:Look at the cats.Theyíre waiting to get us.Theyíre trying to trick us.


(Ulfie comes up carrying tranquilizer gun.)


ULFIE:Trouble here?


(As he approaches he recognizes Merck & Mandolin).


ULFIE:What are you two doing here?Havenít you caused me enough problems?What are you doing to the cats?


MERCK:You never told me you WORKED here.


MANDOLIN:Ulfie, youíre doing it again.Remember what I told you?Deception is only self-deception.


ULFIE:Oh.Youíre still into your Zen-Master phase.I donít need your fake-philosophy sound bites.


MERCK:Sheís done this to you, too?


ULFIE:Where are the cheetahs?


MERCK:I thought we were at the leopard cage.I donít see any monkeys.


MANDOLIN:What did you ever see in her?


MERCK:What we do is not relevent to each other -- only to the frame.The frame keeps us inside.The frame relates us to each other.


MANDOLIN:Frame?Bars of a cage?


ULFIE:Outside the frame, spiritual transformation is possible.


MERCK:Youíre wrong.It all goes on inside the frame.


ULFIE:What about those outside, looking in?


MERCK:Like us looking at the cats?


ULFIE:And the cats looking at us.


MERCK:Thatís not the same.They canít get out.


ULFIE:And we can?


MERCK:As soon as the artist thinks she or he is outside the frame -- well, itís not art any more.Art is inside the frame, too.


ULFIE:Inside the cage?


MANDOLIN:You two donít know what youíre talking about.


MERCK:If youíre such an artist, you go into the cage.


ULFIE:Hey.Donít do that.Canít you read the sign?


(Boethius and Dante pop up from behind the rocks.)


BOETHIUS:Surely sheís not going to come inside here.


DANTE: Thatís great.Zoops inside AND outside.


BOETHIUS:(sighing)Well, I guess Iíll just be forced to maul her.


DANTE:Look.Heís got his gun.


BOETHIUS:Forget it.Iím having some fun with this Zoop.Sheís been getting on my nerves.




MANDOLIN:Iím going inside.Iím talking to them.I understand their pain better than they do --




(Mandolin sticks arms through bars of cage.Boethius runs toward her, yowling and roaring.)


BOETHIUS:Yah, yah, yah!Does this scare you?Iím a pacifist, you know -- Iíd never hurt you.

††††††††††††††††† (runs forward)


All my rage is directed inward.Thatís why my fur is so ratty.


MANDOLIN:Merck!Photograph me while they shred me and gouge out my eyes.It will be my final artistic statement.


ULFIE:I donít want to have to do this!(raises gun) Get away from the cage!Iím going to have to tranq the cat.


(shoots tranquilizer gun -- hits Mandolin by mistake.Mandolin falls to ground, arm inside cage)


BOETHIUS:Damn it!You missed me!I was looking forward to being tranqued out for the afternoon!


MANDOLIN:Iím dying -- Iím dyyyyiiiiinnnng.


ULFIE:No youíre not.Youíre going to be sedated for a few hours.I told you to move out of the way, didnít I.


MERCK:Will she be okay?


ULFIE:Oh, just a little dazed for a while, thatís all.Probably shouldnít drive.


MERCK:What are you going to do about the cats?


(They look at Boethius and Dante.The two cheetahs are sitting down, looking very dejected.)


BOETHIUS:Dante, whatís going to happen to us?


DANTE:I donít know.


ULFIE:People torment the cats all the time.I donít know why they do it.I guess they think itís fun to see them get angry.


MERCK:Itís cruel.


ULFIE:The more ďnaturalĒ the habitat, the more we can blind ourselves to our insensitivity and arrogance.


MERCK:Can we let them go?Give them their freedom.


ULFIE:Of course not.


MERCK:Are you going to have them put down?Killed?






ULFIE:Iím going to give them bigger rocks to hide behind.Then Iím quitting.


MERCK:What are you going to do?


ULFIE:Will you marry me?


MERCK:I knew I wasnít imagining things -- we DID have something together.


ULFIE:We always have --


MERCK:What about her?(gestures to Mandolin, who is seated on the ground, humming the theme to Andrew Lloyd Weberís CATS, but itís very offkey)


ULFIE:What do you want to do?


MERCK:Take her picture.(Takes her picture with a Polaroid.Places photo next to Mandolin).Well Mandolin.Hereís something for you.Hope you like it.


ULFIE:Letís go -- I need to get rid of this tranquilizer gun.


MERCK:Wait.(Takes off sweater. Underneath is a baggy t-shirt which reads:)


††††††††††††††††††††††† Art

††††††††††††††††††††††† Real Life


ULFIE:Good idea.(Takes off Zoo Security t-shirt.Underneath is a different t-shirt with the following word on it.)


††††††††††††††††††††††† PEACE



MERCK:I love you, Ulfie.


ULFIE:I love you, Merck.


(The walk offstage.)


BOETHIUS:Did you see that?


DANTE:(wiping eyes)Yes.


BOETHIUS:What are you crying about?


DANTE:I always cry at weddings.


BOETHIUS:Oh, I know.Weíre just a couple of old maids and we never get to do anything like that any more.


(Looks at Mandolin.)


You know, I feel sort of sorry for her.


DANTE:Itís all your fault.You should feel sorry.


BOETHIUS:Does she have a camera?


DANTE:Yeah, the other one left it there.


BOETHIUS:Why donít we do her a favor.Letís really give her something to photograph.


DANTE:What are you talking about?


BOETHIUS:Can you reach her hat?


DANTE:†† Ugggh.You want me to TOUCH that?


BOETHIUS:Itís fake fur, isnít it?


DANTE:All the same, it looks real.(Extends paw through cage and grabs her fur hat.)You want me to get the fake fur bag, too?


BOETHIUS:†† Yes.Look at me.Just look at me.My fur is worse than ever -- even this fake fur is better.


DANTE:Will you stop?Mine is just as bad.What to you have in mind?


BOETHIUS:Put it on.(Dante puts on the hat)My donít you look silly.Do you remember when we were both absolutely drop-dead beautiful? Throw me the bag.(Boethius draps it around her neck -- does some campy posing)


Now look.Sheís waking up -- sheíll take a picture of us and sheíll be rich and famous.


DANTE:Are you sure?


BOETHIUS:Sure!Zoops love this dreck.Look at this.


DANTE:Look at this pose!


BOETHIUS:Arenít we just the lovely pair!


(Mandolin staggers to her feet, gathers her belongings, clutches head -- finds hat missing.Looks in cage and shrieks.)


MANDOLIN:†† AARRGGH!!!!!HOW HIDEOUS!!!!What has happened??What have you done?WHY ARE YOU WEARING THOSE THINGS?Who have you mauled????


(Runs shrieking offstage)


DANTE:Well.That was another failed attempt at art.


BOETHIUS:I give up.I donít understand that Zoop at all.(walks toward rock)Well, Iím taking a nap.This has worn me out.


DANTE:Whereís breakfast?


(joins Boethius behind rock)


(Merck runs onstage -- obviously overjoyed -- holds up hand with ring on it)


MERCK:I knew I could trust my senses -- I knew he really cared!And now weíre married!What more can I ask of art?There is more to knowledge than the five senses.Knowledge is a simply a promise of more knowledge.Itís all in technique and not in the image.Itís how you see, not what you see.


And still. Action and perception.They go together.


Like mange and the perception of being caged.


Like being tranqed and fighting the realization we have to live somewhere in relation to a frame.


Like greeting cards and


††††††††††††††††††††††† (pauses.wipes eyes)

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† SADNESS.


I feel happy and yet, I feel -- sad?


(looks toward the rocks)


I miss you two leopards -- no -- CHEETAHS.I miss you.Do you miss Africa?




Okay.I wonít ask things when I already know the answer.Thatís cruel, too, isnít it?

I just came back to tell you how beautiful you are.


(Pauses.Raises voice).


Youíre beautiful!(turns to go offstage -- begins to run)Iíll be late -- but remember -- youíre beautiful.(offstage -- voice, echoing)And -- I love you!



The End.