Author's Note: This play was written as a creative response to Art Spiegelman's Maus. A longer explanation of the play will be included at the end. The style owes a lot to Juliet Jenkin's The Boy Who Fell From the Roof, an absolutely excellent South African play that I hope the rest of world will one day get to see. The projections are inspired by Ubu and the Truth Commission, another South African work, by Jane Taylor and William Kentridge. I do not own Maus, The Boy Who Fell From the Roof or Ubu and the Truth Commission.
The play, however, is mine.
The Story of a Tragedy
VLADEK: An old Jewish man from Poland, now living in America. Anja's husband and ARTIE's father. He speaks mostly good English, but it is noticeably not his first language – there are peculiar grammatical constructions and he speaks with an accent. He is stingy and often difficult, but he was deeply devoted to Anja, and his ongoing love for her is apparent. He misses her more than he is willing to admit.
ARTIE: VLADEK and Anja's son. Born and raised in America, now trying to understand his mother's life and death through his conversations with his father.
NARRATOR: Female, sweet and well-spoken. She is usually cheerful, but never inappropriately so. She has great sympathy for the characters, which is revealed when she speaks their thoughts. She is mostly an observer, listening to the stories and intervening where she deems it necessary. The characters do not seem to be aware of her, although they may notice her from time to time.
A Note on the Projections
The projections are intended to be simple animations, often providing the backdrop to the scene. The drawings are simple white line drawings on a black background, simpler than the drawings in Maus. In the projections, the characters are portrayed as they are in Maus – Jews are mice and Germans are cats. They are done in the style of William Kentridge's art for Ubu and the Truth Commission,which also combines human action with projected drawings. Similarly, these animations help with the portrayal of difficult issues. The characters in the projections can be voiced by the onstage characters and the narrator where appropriate.
Stage dark. Spot on NARRATOR, stage left. She walks towards the right of the stage as she speaks. The spotlight follows her.
NARRATOR: The year is 1968. The place? Chicago. The lighting? Dark. Yes, definitely dark. With just one spotlight, to show us a man.
She reaches ARTIE's chair, and he is brought into the spotlight. NARRATOR stops, resting her hands on the chair back. ARTIE is sitting on a straight-backed wooden chair. He wears slacks and a buttoned shirt, open at the neck. He holds a cigarette and draws from it at intervals. He looks drained, tired. NARRATOR looks down at him.
NARRATOR: A son.
Exit NARRATOR. Spot stays on ARTIE.
ARTIE: I was twenty when my mother died – (he corrects himself deliberately, perhaps a little bitterly) when my mother killed herself. It was my father who found her.
Projection: Vladek kneels on the floor, with Anja in his arms. She has slashed her wrists. He shakes her, then rocks her, strokes her cheek. ARTIE watches dispassionately, smoking.
VLADEK: Anja… Anja, please wake up. Don't leave me, Anja. Please, Anja. (Crying more and more) Please Anja! Anja!
The last cry is raw and filled with despair. It echoes in the silence that follows. Projection off. ARTIE stands up and takes one last drag of the cigarette before grinding it underfoot.
ARTIE: She didn't leave a note.
Lights off. ARTIE's chair off.