Archives for September 2014

Viva Zapata!—Steinbeck, Motion Pictures, and the Mexican Revolution

Image of title frame from the motion picture Viva Zapata!

Unlike other famous authors of his generation such as Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway, John Steinbeck experienced more success than failure in motion picture adaptations of his fiction while he was alive. Uniquely among American writers who worked in Hollywood during the first half of the 20th century, he also found creating original scripts for motion pictures a productive vehicle for his social message and artistic vision, as well as a useful outlet for personal issues when needed. The 1952 film Viva Zapata! starring Marlon Brando as the hero of the recent Mexican Revolution exemplifies these aspects of Steinbeck’s career as a writer.

Working with his friend Elia Kazan—the director of On the Waterfront, also starring Marlon Brando, and the 1955 motion picture adaptation of East of Eden—Steinbeck produced a remarkable screenplay about the Mexican Revolution that explores themes central to his social-protest novels of the 1930s. Like the best of his books, his screen treatment of Emiliano Zapata, the martyred leader of the Mexican Revolution, represents a compelling vision of personal virtue, group corruption, and individual responsibility in a fast-moving narrative that seems fresh today.

Like the best of his books, his screen treatment of Emiliano Zapata, the martyred leader of the Mexican Revolution, seems fresh today.

But Viva Zapata! is also the story of a rebel with a divided conscience, conflicted and confused, whose fame threatens his integrity when he succeeds in his effort. The same could be said of John Steinbeck’s life following The Grapes of Wrath. He feared wealth and celebrity, and when they came they cost him. The Grapes of Wrath was an overnight sensation, both as a Pulitzer Prize-winning book and as an Academy Award-winning motion picture. Like the stage version of Of Mice and Men, it was adapted by others with John Steinbeck’s blessing. Throughout the 1940s, he wrote scripts for Hollywood motion pictures with disappointing results. Viva Zapata! he kept for himself, instigating and overseeing the project and researching the Mexican Revolution with the care of a historian before writing the script.

What made Viva Zapata! so good when other motion pictures produced from stories by John Steinbeck—such as Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 disaster, Lifeboat—were so bad? Control, commitment, and collaboration were key to the quality of the motion picture Steinbeck wrote, financed, and produced with his trusted colleague Kazan.

Steinbeck’s Motion Pictures: From Adaptation to Original

In his introduction to the 1993 Penguin edition of Viva Zapata!—which includes John Steinbeck’s thoughtful essay on the Mexican Revolution—the scholar Robert Morsberger repeated his judgment, first expressed 20 years earlier, that “[a]mong modern American authors, John Steinbeck has had the greatest success in the movies, both with adaptations of his novels to the screen and as a screenwriter himself.” Adaptations of Of Mice and Men (directed by Lewis Milestone), The Grapes of Wrath (directed by John Ford), and East of Eden (directed, as noted, by Kazan) were major motion pictures appealing to a broad audience. They made John Steinbeck a name recognizable to millions who never read his books.

Less well known is the fact that Steinbeck started his own production company in the period between the first and last of these motion picture hits. Three of his best screenplays–The Pearl (also published as a short novel), The Forgotten Village (1941), and Viva Zapata!–are set in Mexico, a country he loved to visit, with a history that fascinated him, particularly the Mexican Revolution that gave him the idea for Viva Zapata! His script about the conflicted rebel leader Emiliano Zapata is considered by some the best work that he produced in any medium between Cannery Row (1945) and East of Eden (1952), novels based on the author’s life growing up in California.

His script about the conflicted rebel leader is considered by some the best work that he produced in any medium between Cannery Row  and East of Eden.

Writing Viva Zapata! reinvigorated John Steinbeck’s interest in collective action and principled martyrdom, the dignity of the poor, and the eternal conflict between the individual and the group—the subjects of his greatest novels of the 1930s and themes addressed in Sea of Cortez, his collaborative account with his friend Ed Ricketts of their 1940 sailing expedition to Mexico. Writing Viva Zapata! also provided an outlet for self-reflection. Like his revolutionary hero, John Steinbeck was a man in crisis and conflict, with others and with himself.

John Steinbeck and Zapata: A Personal Revolution?

Between The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, much of John Steinbeck’s energy was devoted to journalism, motion pictures, and plays. While his novels of this period—including, despite its popularity, Cannery Row—irritated critics in New York, he was embraced by Hollywood, where he had friends and, occasionally, lovers. His motion picture projects included some of the biggest names in the industry: John Ford, Hal Roach, Alfred Hitchcock, Elia Kazan, Darryl F. Zanuck, Henry Fonda, Spencer Tracy, Burgess Meredith, James Dean, and Brando. All told, motion pictures based on his writing received 25 Academy Award nominations and produced several winners. Ironically, Steinbeck received an Oscar nomination for best screenwriting for Lifeboat, a motion picture he tried to disown. He was nominated for best original story for another wartime film, A Medal for Benny (1945), and later for writing the story and screenplay of Viva Zapata!

All told, motion pictures based on his writing received 25 Academy Award nominations and produced several winners.

As biographers have noted without elaborating at sufficient length, Steinbeck created his own film production company in the 1940s in partnership with another friend, the colorful war photographer Robert Capa. Like Kazan, Capa was a willing collaborator, and his state-sanctioned trip to the Soviet Union with Steinbeck in 1948 resulted in A Russian Journal, a word-and-picture book. Steinbeck was attracted to common people living far from cities, and part of the book is devoted to daily life in a Ukrainian farming village. The Forgotten Village and Viva Zapata! grew from the same soil: rural folk in damaging conflict with urban culture and corruption. The films also reflect Steinbeck’s interest in documentary motion pictures, particularly the social-protest documentaries—notably The Plow That Broke the Fields (1936)—of Pare Lorentz, another friend and would-be collaborator from John Steinbeck’s most productive period.

Image of John Steinbeck's screen credit for writing Viva Zapata!

Were Motion Pictures a Way to Escape Steinbeck’s Critics?

Although John Steinbeck won a Critics Circle Award for the stage adaptation of Of Mice and Men in 1938, his reputation as a dramatist and novelist plummeted following World War II. The stage version of his short novel The Moon is Down (1942), although popular with wartime audiences, was disliked by New York critics. Burning Bright, his astringent experiment in Expressionist drama, bombed when it was produced in 1951. Pipe Dream, the 1955 Broadway musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein based on his novel Sweet Thursday, had a respectable run but lost money and was quickly forgotten.

As Warren French notes in his book John Steinbeck (1975), the aging author was increasingly compared by influential critics—unfavorably—with the young social-protest writer of The Grapes of Wrath and with stage and motion-picture “has-beens” such as Dalton Trumbo—the blacklisted scriptwriter who, like John Steinbeck, went on writing anyway and continued to make money in exile from Hollywood. But as Jackson J. Benson notes in his 1983 biography, The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer, Steinbeck distrusted celebrity and disdained critics, considering his primary responsibility to communicate truthfully through his art to common people, not book reviewers.

Steinbeck distrusted celebrity and disdained critics, considering his primary responsibility to communicate truthfully through his art to common people, not book reviewers.

A 1951 article by H. J. Oliver in The Australian Quarterly describes this dichotomy in the context of Steinbeck’s declining critical reputation at the time:

By now John Steinbeck has written over a dozen books in addition to the two or three said to have been rejected before Cup of Gold was accepted in 1929. Yet there is still no general agreement about his literary status: by some he is mentioned in the same breath as Hemingway, Faulkner and Wolfe, as a leading contemporary American novelist (and even dramatist: his stage version of his own novel Of Mice and Men won the Award of the New York Drama Critics Circle for the best American play of 1937-8); but by others he is regarded as merely a second-rate writer of realistic stories which, like most so-called “hardboiled” fiction, are really too sentimental to deserve serious consideration.

Steinbeck’s 1948 novel The Wayward Bus and A Russian Journal, published the following year, were critical failures. Warren French suggests that both efforts are evidence of an author who was out of touch with post-war culture–a John Steinbeck who “no longer had his finger firmly fixed on the frenzied pulse of the paranoid postwar world.” Were these the warning signs of a distracted, disengaged novelist with personal problems? The answer seems to be yes.  But Steinbeck was still writing, and he was quietly moving in a new direction, away from New York. Motion pictures offered an outlet for his vision and a platform for his opinions without exposing him to the ire of critics back east. As a result, the low point of John Steinbeck’s career as a novelist coincided with the high-water mark of his involvement in motion pictures—Viva Zapata!.

Viva Zapata!—Evolution, Embodiment, and Ending

Throughout the 1940s, Steinbeck dug deeply into research on Zapata’s role in the Mexican Revolution, producing a substantial screenplay that one person on the project compared to a doctoral dissertation. After winnowing the script to filmable form, Steinbeck could take pride in his only full-length, original screenplay produced with dialogue—a minor motion-picture masterpiece.

Finally released as a motion picture in 1952, Viva Zapata! was John Steinbeck’s last original piece of writing for the movies, the culmination of his desire to translate his artistic vision to the screen—for once—in his own terms. The Zapata story was legend in the guise of history, a formula familiar to readers and a return to the themes that made Steinbeck’s early fiction famous–the Arthurian anti-romance of Tortilla Flat, the labor violence of In Dubious Battle, the social drama of Of Mice and Men, and the triumphant populism of The Grapes of Wrath.

Viva Zapata! stands out as a motion picture not only because it is “his finest work in the genre,” as Robert Morsberger notes, but because “the script cannot be ignored in tracing the development of Steinbeck’s philosophy of man.” Morseberger is right in suggesting that the screenplay for Viva Zapata! is a milestone in John Steinbeck’s career because it represents the author’s “final statement about the nature of leadership, land reform, and revolution.”  When Steinbeck’s Zapata says, “I don’t want to be the conscience of the world. I don’t want to be the conscience of anybody,” readers are reminded that the insecure author of The Grapes of Wrath never wanted to be the poster child for any cause.

Image of Marlon Brandon as the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata

The conflict between living as an individual and following the dictates of one’s conscience is powerfully articulated in Steinbeck’s Mexican Revolutionary hero. Can a person be fully himself, true to his individuality and selfless at the same time? The crisis created by this dilemma ends in the hero’s martyrdom in Viva Zapata!, just as it had for the young strike organizer in In Dubious Battle. A similar note is also detectable in the execution of Lennie in Of Mice and Men and Casy’s murder in The Grapes of Wrath. Thus Viva Zapata! represents continuum and consistency, as well as change, in John Steinbeck’s protean career as a writer.

Steinbeck’s motion picture portrays the internal conflict at the center of his most memorable fictional protagonists through visual techniques that highlight the commentary implicit in the dialogue he wrote for the film. In some scenes, Kazan presents action taking place simultaneously on two planes, in the foreground and in the background of the shot, drawing the viewer’s eye to the distant movement of armed men on horseback while focusing on figures engaged in intimate conversation at a table. Immediacy is set against scope, individual against group. Brando often enters the frame only to pause in place, considering two courses of action, his strong, static profile surrounded by movement and violence. Zapata’s urge to run away from the action, conflict, and fame resembles—embodies?—Steinbeck’s impulse to escape his critics.

Seen this way, Viva Zapata! is a form of autobiography, less obvious than East of Eden but—because motion pictures show what books only suggest—more powerful for some viewers. Although John Steinbeck continued to write fiction and nonfiction in the decades following Viva Zapata!, the film represents his best effort at film writing, an important departure in a varied career developed as much by Hollywood and motion pictures as by Salinas, Monterey, and literary New York.

After the Ferris Wheel Stops: Tom Kozlowski Sings Poetry

Image of ferris wheel light from Tom Kozlowski's lyric

All the Light I Had at the Time

All the light I had at the time: fairy dust, blue and fine.
Fellini-esque flying Christ. Moonlight walks, rivershine.

All the love you left behind: markets fell, but I survived.
We crashed and burned, o love of mine. Flames never go out of style.
Flames never go out of style.

Tilt O’Whirl, Ferris wheel. Laughing in a House of Mirrors.
You said you wanted the carnival life, the Tunnel of Love.

All the light I had at the time couldn’t keep us satisfied.
That hit-and-run turned me inside out: faith like a phoenix on wings of doubt.
Faith like a phoenix on wings of doubt…

Fortune Teller, Wonder Wheel. I learned to laugh, I learned to feel.
Took a chance on the carnival life. Got lost in a Tunnel of Love…

Thrive on nothing, maybe less. Defining zero as nothingness.
Sayin’ “life is sweet” is such a curse. To kill a mockingbird is even worse.

All the light I had at the time: fairy dust, blue and fine.
All the love you left behind—we crashed and burned, o love of mine.

Music by Tom Kozlowski. Lyrics by Tom Kozlowski and Roy Bentley.

Copyright © 2014 by Tom Kozlowski and Roy Bentley. All rights reserved.

Steinbeck Suite for Organ Published by Zimbel Press

Cover image of Steinbeck Suite, a new work for pipe organ

Steinbeck Suite for Organ, a new work by the American composer Franklin D. Ashdown, has been published by Zimbel Press. Commissioned in celebration of the 75th anniversary of The Grapes of Wrath and in memory of Randall Ray, the five-movement work was premiered by the organ music expert and virtuoso James Welch on the pipe organ of California’s Mission Santa Clara in February 2014. The performance, which can be heard in full here, was recently repeated on a program of organ music related to Steinbeck’s life and writing played by Welch at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Steinbeck’s childhood parish in Salinas. Ashdown’s colorful and dramatic piece is believed to be the only example of organ music written with Steinbeck specifically in mind. Passages from The Grapes of Wrath and Tortilla Flat, Ashdown’s favorite Steinbeck novels, are quoted in headnotes above each movement. According to pipe organ enthusiasts who have heard or played the piece, it is technically challenging but well-suited for use as service organ music on most pipe organs. The 18-minute work is available from Subito Music Corporation.

Reflections of an American Mossad: A Documentary Drama by Steve Hauk

Image of Steve Hauk, Pacific Grove playwright and John Steinbeck expert

Photo by Nancy Hauk

Was John Steinbeck the Albert Einstein of American fiction? If relativity means interrelatedness, the answer is yes. That’s the view of Steve Hauk, the California writer who lives in the Pacific Grove home once owned by John Steinbeck’s friend Ed Ricketts. In stories and plays set in Pacific Grove, Monterey, and Salinas, Steve captures the spirit of Steinbeck and his California circle. Everything and everybody connects. Past and present coexist, conflicting and coalescing in the lives of characters who knew John Steinbeck personally or love his work with a passion. In the play published here for the first time, Steve dramatizes the final days of a mystery man—a former member of Mossad whose habit of collecting and connecting hidden pieces of the past reveals secrets about Albert Einstein and Lise Meitner, the House of Windsor and the Vatican, and the nightmare of Nazi Germany that are almost as amazing as the man himself. 

Reflections of an American Mossad


The Book Collector’s Dilemma

A play in two acts
by Steve Hauk

Copyright © 2014 by Steve Hauk. All rights reserved.


MH, mid-seventies, dapper, likeable, charismatic
S, fifteen years younger, casual
MICHAEL, mid-forties, a large man, perhaps a beard
HERMAN and IDA, an attractive late middle-aged couple
A Nurse’s Voice
A Doctor’s Voice
Helen’s Voice
Some `Presences’
STANLEY HUBER WOOD (1894-1949), an American artist
ERIC MOTTRAM ( 1924-1995), a British poet and essayist
LISE MEITNER ( 1878–1968), Austrian-born physicist
ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879-1955), theoretical physicist
MARY CRAVEN (1946-2003), writer-actress from an important
American theater family
Mrs. TAKOMINI, a friend of MH’s

Act One
Scene I

The set, in an abstract way, should represent the interior of an
art gallery and upstage a door and windows looking out to a
quiet street on which a car or cars can be seen. The gallery
includes a desk and chair, phones and a computer, a settle (a
kind of arts and crafts couch), a number of paintings, mainly
landscapes. Two figures, S and MH, in separate lights. S, the
younger of the two men, open shirt, sport coat, jeans. MH, mid-
seventies, in silk tie, well-cut sport coat, slacks, shined shoes.
He approaches S and they come under a single light.

MH: Hello, I’m –
S (Cautious): Glad to meet –
MH: Richard – you know Richard at the photography
gallery in Carmel – he said you might be interested in –
S: Well, I’m pretty busy.
MH (Very polite, a subtle hint of hurt): Oh, well, I’m certainly
sorry to have bothered you. My deepest apology. (Staring
off.) I didn’t mean . . .
S: Oh, wait, but . . .
(MH stops, a pause.)
S: I do have a few minutes.
MH: You do?
S (Uncertainly): Yes . . .
MH: You’re sure about that, sir? Because . . .
S: Oh, yes . . .
MH: Well, I don’t want to . . .
S: No, no . . .
MH (Starting away): Because I can certainly understand a
busy man.
S: No, fine.
MH: Richard said – well, I have these paintings in my car
. . . You see my car, don’t you?
(Staring out, walking unsteadily, S following him.)
MH: If you wouldn’t mind following me.
S: The white Cadillac with the blue vinyl top?
MH: You don’t mind, I hope, that I parked in front of your
fine gallery . . .
S: No, not at all. (Looking at car.) A classic?
MH (Smiles): Well, I like it. It’s been faithful. Never let me
down that car. That’s important, don’t you think? (Opens
trunk, bends over with some pain, moves things around, pulling
items out): What I’m looking for under . . . likely under
these sport coats which I’ll move to . . . to the back seat.
(Moves around, opens door, etc.) Always travel with a few
S (Observing, interested but awkward): Lot of . . . pressed
shirts . . .
MH: Just picked them up at the cleaners around the
corner. Trying them out. Hoping I like their work, we’ll
see. I’m particular.
S: Nice . . . ties.
MH: Silk – can never have enough silk ties.
S: (Picking them up, looking at them, then): And shoes . . .
MH: Italian. Slippery soles, though, not good for me now,
I’m, you know . . . (Regretting saying it, changing subject he
shows sport coat.) Brooks Brothers . . . People that pack like
Brooks Brothers, you know.
S: Pack?
MH: Oh, sorry – carry a gun. Boxy cut, Brooks Brothers,
famous for it . . . in certain quarters that is . . . conceals you
might be packing.
S: Oh.
MH (Smiles): Well, you generally don’t want people to
know something like that, do you?
S: I’d guess not.
MH: Well, makes sense, of course. FBI likes Brooks
Brothers, too, same reason, but if it helps them dress a
little better, well that’s a godsend . . . Anyway, inside stuff.
Don’t worry, I don’t pack. Don’t favor Brooks Brothers
either. This I’m giving to a friend. (Reassuringly.) He
doesn’t pack either. My friend, I mean. I’ll put this . . .
(Loses his balance; S reaches out, helps him.) Thanks, balance a
little . . . off . . . (Embarrassed, he busies himself.) Now let’s
see, I wanted to show you . . . (Moving things around in the
trunk.) . . . There’s a portfolio in here somewhere unless . . .
unless I left it in San Francisco, I hope not, but mentally
I’m not . . . well, forgetful lately . . .
S (Awkward pause, embarrassed for him, looking in trunk,
picking up a book to cover): “The Innocents Abroad” . . .
Mark Twain . . .
MH (Large smile, glad for the change of subject): You like
Twain? You have good taste, sir! First edition, 1870,
American Publishing Company, illustrated. (Pushing it at
him.) Let’s make it a gift.
S: No, I couldn’t.
MH: Please, I’d be honored . . .
S: I just . . .
MH: It’s worn, but lot of character . . . lists at something
over . . . at . . . well, not sure about the numbers anymore
the way the market fluctuates . . . haven’t kept up . . . but
collectible, could pay for dinner . . .
S: Well . . . I am from Missouri, like Twain.
MH: There! You see? . . . Meant to be.
S: Thank you.
MH: Good. You make me very happy, sir. Hannibal?
S: Excuse me?
MH: From Hannibal, Missouri, like Twain?
S: No, St. Louis.
MH: Good Jewish town, St. Louis.
S: Lot of Catholics, too.
MH (More to himself, preoccupied): Good Jewish and
Catholic town. (Turning back to the trunk.) Now, the
portfolio . . . (Moving things.) Where oh where? . . . (Finds
something, looks at it.) Pornography. Not your thing I’m
sure. (Easily, pleasantly, a second look at the item, then putting
it back.) Another time that was. Not even sure how it got
here. I should be ashamed . . . (Smiles.) . . . but I’m not
when you live the life I . . . (Pauses. Then moving things
around, finds something, hands it back to S as he keeps his head
in trunk, looking.) The menu for the Cathedral Oaks dinner
this evening seven sharp. One of my homes, the Cathedral
Oaks Apartments. Tell me if it’s worth the drive to San
S: I’m sorry . . .
MH: I mean, read from the menu if you would, please.
S: Really?
MH: If you would . . . hope not an unreasonable request –
reading . . . fine print and my eyes, you see . . .
S (Looks at him, then reading): “Meat loaf and lentils.”
MH: I don’t think so . . . Next, please.
S: “Poached salmon and asparagus spears with a light
cream sauce.”
MH: Healthy except for the cream sauce, but worth a
hundred mile drive? . . . I don’t know. Read, please.
S (Loosening up a bit): How about “Rib-eye steak, mashed
potatoes and steamed broccoli”?
MH: No shequets, but I’m afraid not. I think I’ll stay in
town, pick up a greasy sandwich . . . On the other hand, if
I go up I can have tea with Mrs. Takomini on the third
floor of the Cathedral Oaks Apartments. Mrs. Takomini
has the whole floor you know. Where’s that portfolio? . . .
Oh, here . . . (Tries to remove something, has trouble.) Could
you give me a hand with this portfolio, please? Sciatica,
you see . . .
(They remove portfolio, S carrying it.)
MH: Serves me right. I didn’t believe my patients when
they told me how much sciatica hurt their balance . . .
accused them of whining. I’m a doctor, you see, but
sometimes not very understanding. Shall we carry this
back into your gallery? Good. Thank you.
(They move back in.)
MH: Thank you. Maybe we can open it now – hold steady,
please. (He unties portfolio ties, pulls out a large, unframed
watercolor, a dark, powerful image of a tree shattered by
lightning, holds it for S to see.) What do you think?
S: Well . . . . strong.
MH: The artist’s name is Stanley Wood. Stanley Huber
S: Deceased?
MH (Nodding): Some time ago, as a matter of fact –1940s
something . . . I have a dozen here, many, many more in
S: Really?
MH: Dozens and dozens and those are just the ones I can
S; They have a . . .
MH: Yes?
S: Georgia O’Keeffe look . . .
MH: Young man, you have the eye! Well, I was told you
are good. As it happens, Mr. Wood and Miss O’Keeffe
were lovers – according to Stanley Wood.
S: How do you know?
MH: I have his diary . . . (Pause, concerned.) Well,
somewhere . . .
S: Somewhere?
MH: Well, in storage in Oakland or here or Los Angeles
. . . Any of a dozen storage units to be more precise.
S: Oh. It could be important.
MH: The diary? Oh, no doubt – very important. But it’s
been a few years since I’ve seen it, the diary that is, and it’s
small as most diaries are, unless we’re talking some of the
larger literary egos like Mailer and Vidal – who never got
along, by the way – and it could be anywhere in the midst
of piles of boxes in any one of three or four cities, but I
have a good memory and might be able to recreate . . .
S (Eager, after a few moments trying not to show it): And it
said?. . .
MH: Generally? . . . What I said: that they were lovers.
Rather, our Mr. Wood indicates that was the case. We
have only his word for it . . . the man’s word for it, so . . .
need to tread gently. Taos, in the 1930s. He went down
there with Edward Weston the photographer.
S (Excited): Really? Because –
MH: Yes, there’s the look of Weston, too – you are very
(S looks through portfolio, quietly excited.)
S: Some of these are dated 1920s, so he could have –
Stanley Wood could have –
MH: – Yes, influenced O’Keeffe and Weston, my very
S: It’s possible. If we had the diary. . .
MH: Yes, well, no telling. Perhaps we’ll get lucky. I can’t
guarantee anything. Think we can do something with Mr.
Wood?. . .
S (Pause): All this good?
MH: I’m not the one to judge. I like them for what they are
and what they are is paintings. You see, I am not a visual
person – an art person. Pictures don’t necessarily move
me. I’m a book person, a rare manuscripts person. Letters,
too, I collect those by interesting people. I have storage
units up and down the coast of valuable books
and manuscripts and letters. When you get down to it, I’m
a collector of words. Yes, words are my . . . my passion.
S: Paintings, too, since you do have a few?
MH: Oh, yes, but a sideline. No more than two, three
storage units.
S: Storage units of paintings?
MH: Something like that – speaking volume wise, not in
one place, spread around – here, Oakland, Los Angeles,
maybe some New York. I’m not sure about New York.
New York might have been auctioned off; you know how
they do that with storage units if you don’t keep up the
rent. I don’t think I did . . . keep up with the rent, was off
in South America doing my . . . job . . . or something
. . . when the due notice came up. But I never kept letters
there . . . certain documents . . . hope I didn’t . . . just never
trusted the storage people there . . . so that’s good, but
could have lost a Shakespeare folio, maybe a Picasso
drawing or two, God knows what else. The Shakespeare, I
could cry. The Picassos, no, I wouldn’t cry just be . . . sad.
Anyway, so, if you’re interested and we could come to an
arrangement . . .
S: Yes, I think so.
MH (Smiles warmly): Good. (Starting off.) Well, this has
been a great pleasure for me, meeting you and discovering
we can do business. But if you don’t mind, I would prefer
to work out the details later. I’m a little tired. Can I leave
these with you? You sell them at whatever. You would get
what you usually get, and I would get . . . Well, what
would I get?
S: Seventy percent?
MH (Thinks about it): Seventy . . . yes, I’d accept that.
(He stumbles, S reacting, MH warding him off.)
MH: Thank you, I’m fine. (An attempt at being breezy.)
Except, it is only fair to tell you, I’m not really – I am
dying. I have perhaps seven or eight months left. Don’t
worry, it’s nothing catching, and I’m quite resigned to it.
That’s life. Well, death. I am so happy to have met you. It
has been a pleasure.

Starts out toward his Cadillac as the lights fade.

Act One
Scene II

S. MH enters, holding a can of soda in one hand, a book under
his other arm. He stops, pauses.

MH: If you, my good sir, don’t want me to bring a can of
soda into your beautiful gallery . . .
S (Mildly surprised): Hello . . .
MH: And hello to you. Surprised to see me? The – (Holds
up soda can.)
S: That’s . . . OK.
MH: Thank you. A small addiction. I know this stuff’s not
good for you . . . but health’s not much of an issue with me
anymore, is it? I’ll be careful. Won’t spill Have you sold a
S: There’s some interest.
MH: Good. I thought there might be. I hope this isn’t a
great inconvenience, but when it happens I would like
cash only.
S (A beat): Yes, of course.
MH: Thank you. It’s really very simple. I have . . . enemies
. . . and anything that could leave a trail . . . (Waits.) But no
reason for concern. You’re safe, nothing would ever
happen to you. (Smiles.) And there may be a time or two
when I will ask you to make out a check to a certain, well,
lady friend of mine. There could be several, in fact – lady
friends, I mean. Women who have been a great comfort to
me in difficult times. I want them to have something.
Would that be okay with you? I hope so. (Shows him a
book.) I brought this for you. “The Sun Also Rises.” Signed
by the man himself – Ernest Hemingway.
S: Oh no, thank you, I couldn’t.
MH: Why not, because you’re a Steinbeck man? I have
been told you are a Steinbeck man.
S: Well . . .
MH: You write on him, don’t you?. . . The threats on his
life because of what he was writing . . . I’ve seen some of
those pieces . . . well done, sir . . . So it’s understandable if
the idea of Hemingway . . .
S: No, that’s not the reason.
MH: Any other reason doesn’t hold water unless you don’t
like Hemingway, and I know some people don’t – that
macho thing they pin on him. You don’t like Hemingway?
S: I like Hemingway.
MH: Well then. I won’t be able to enjoy such treasures
much longer, so why shouldn’t I share them with people
who will appreciate them, such as yourself? You like
words, being a writer, don’t you? Literature? I mean,
S: Of course.
MH: Very well then, enjoy the book. Could I sit down?
S: Please.
MH: That sciatica I mentioned before. Steinbeck men tend
to want to know the truth straight out, am I correct?
S (Smiles): I hadn’t necessarily thought of it like that. I
mean, eventually . . .
MH: I think that’s a relatively true statement. Hemingway
men – and women – I think it’s a little different with them,
don’t you, Hemingway being more a stylist and all. But
Steinbeck . . . a writer more from the gut . . . Steinbeck men
– and women – well . . .
S: Yes, I suppose.
MH (Smiles): Take my word for it – I told you I am a book
person. (A beat.) I also told you I was dying . . . didn’t I?
(S nods.)
MH: I thought so . . . (Pulls up sleeve of his jacket and shirt.) I
could understand you not believing that. I had the
poached salmon and asparagus spears, by the way, not
bad . . .
S: I’m sorry?. . .
MH: The dinner at my home, the Cathedral Oaks, in San
Francisco. I had them hold the cream sauce. And I did
have tea with Miss Takomini and I told her about you and
your place here and if you ever need help with your work,
she would be glad to help you . . . financially or any other
way. I can take you up to the city anytime to meet her, just
let me know . . . Anyway – see the marks?
S (Pause): Yes . . .
MH: Marks of my profession, though I’d rather not have
had them done to me. I could go into a description of them
– transfusion hole, needle marks, you know. We even
have a little lifting of some skin for a graft – right here –
before they realized they’d be making so many holes in me
and a little unsullied skin would have some testing value.
(Lowers sleeves.) Anyway, I didn’t want you to think I make
these things up.
S: I really didn’t . . .
MH: Good, I don’t. So I am beginning to tie up loose ends.
And I want to be straight with you as we do business. I am
– not was, but still am, despite my terrible physical
condition – a member of the Mossad. (Pause.) Since I was
twenty-three. (Pause.) You know the Mossad?
S (A pause): I’ve heard some things.
MH: I’m sure you have. (Pause, sounding exotically foreign.)
HaMossad leModi’ in ule Tafkidim Meyuchadim – the
Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations. Over the
years I have assassinated seven Nazis, all but one by
garroting. Don’t ask about the all but one . . . that turns
even my stomach. The others – used a wire. Seven may
not seem much to people anymore, with all these thrillers
and movies seven seems like an hour’s work. Trust me,
seven is a career. Anyway, even just seven you still may
not believe me. I have strong hands, even now. Let me
show you . . . (Puts a hand on his arm, squeezes; friendly,
Well? . . .
S (Uncomfortable): Yes, very strong.
MH: I am told you wrestled – I can feel quite a bit of
muscle there, you stay in condition – you would recognize
strength . . . you could take care of yourself I suppose. . .
(Waits a moment, then releases his arm.)
S (A moment to compose himself): How do you know?
MH: Know?
S: That I wrestled.
MH: Mossad, sir. I told you. I knew about you before I
came here, easy enough. (Pauses.) You looked at me . . . a
moment ago . . . when I said . . .
S: Did I? What?
MH: I saw some disapproval? . . . When I mentioned what
I did.
S.: I’m sorry, but . . .
MH: Understandable. I understand. I’m not insensitive.
Killing, after all. Not easy to swallow. But when you go to
a family, when you say to that family that the monster
who murdered their father and mother and raped their
sister all those terrible years ago, when you tell them that
monster is dead, well, the look of relief, the sense that these
people might be able to find some peace, to sleep again, if
just a little . . . well, that is reward enough and wipes out
any guilt, believe me I have no guilt. (Begins to pace, his
balance not good, sounding German.) A death camp
commandant. He’d pull out Jews, men he’d known as a
boy. They thought they’d been saved. (Grabs a chair for
balance.) Oh no. He cut their heads off with the help of his
wife, who was a nurse and could handle a knife and later
became a concert pianist and played Wagner. They did
this to fifteen or twenty, maybe more. He had a photo
taken with each severed head. We tried to get him for
decades, but always he was guarded and we didn’t want
to kill him from a distance. We wanted him to know. And
he was smart as killers often are. But he had a passion for
books as well as heads – like me, like you for paintings.
He turned book pages like this . . . (Pantomimes licking
fingers, turning pages.) Every page that way. Lick, turn. So
we put a book at auction he desired: a rare Kafka. A
Jewish writer, imagine. Our death camp commandant was
high bidder. We made sure of that. He took the book
home and died that night. We had poisoned the pages.
(Licking pantomime again.) A slow-working poison chosen
just for him – so he would know what was happening to
him . . . and by whom. Still, an easy death compared to
what he did to his school mates. (Pauses, opens portfolio.)
Some more paintings for you, an artist named Arthur
Faber, died in a bathtub overlooking the Little Sur River.
A woman in the tub with him. Both naked. She lived.
(Shows a small figurative painting.) What do you think?
S (Pause): Lively.
MH: People – I like people in paintings. Listed in Who
Was Who in American Art, exhibited at the Whitney in the
1940s, maybe the Corcoran too . . . Do you think you can
do anything with these?
S: Yes, I think so.
MH: Good. I’ll leave them with you. A dozen sketches.
Same financial arrangement? . . . Good. (Pause, again
sounding German.) The death camp commandant’s wife,
who cut off the heads, we finally got her, too, though like
him it was difficult. A few years later . . . poison on the
piano keys an hour before she gave a concert. She fell
forward early into Wagner’s piano sonata in B flat. A
stunning finish I can tell you. I was there, front row . . .
Can I borrow twenty dollars for gasoline? . . . I’m a little
low on cash.
S (A beat): Of course.

Lights begin to fade as S reaches for his wallet.

MH: Thank you. Very kind of you, sir. I will have it when
I return next week. One thing, please, that I’ve meant to
mention . . . do not ever look me up on the internet. Do not
do that. It would be very dangerous for me. Perhaps for
both of us. There are people. Good day to you, sir.

MH takes money, starts out as lights fade.

Act One
Scene III

S and an attractive late middle-aged couple.

HERMAN: Tell us about –
IDA: There’s a painting in the back gallery . . .
HERMAN: The Chinese man –
S: Wing Chong – Steinbeck wrote about him . . . character
in “Cannery Row.”
IDA: But a real person?
S (Enthusiastic): Oh, yes – really had a general store on the
Row, knew Steinbeck, Ricketts . . .
HERMAN: Ida likes it.
S: Painted by Ellwood Graham, friend of Steinbeck’s . . .
Steinbeck gave him money, told him to go to Mexico with
his wife Judith Deim, also an artist . . . told them to learn
to paint out loud. This was, oh, 1940, ’41, when he had
money from . . . from “Grapes of Wrath.”
HERMAN: Paint out loud?
S: Steinbeck, you know – figure of speech – to open up,
paint from the soul.
S: The way he was, well, could be.
IDA (Looks at her husband, persuasively): I do like it, Herman.
HERMAN (A beat, to S): Price firm?
S: Could move a little . . . for you.
(MH enters, stops.)
MH: Oh, sorry . . . I’ll come back later.
S (Awkward, not convincing): No . . . that’s fine . . .
MH: Well . . .
S: Ida . . . Herman . . .
MH (Quickly, taking Herman’s hand): Maurice. Happy to
meet you, Herman. (Takes Ida’s hand, bows his head, comes
close but does not kiss her hand, smiles while slightly covering
his mouth with his free hand.) So you must be Ida.
(MH holds her hand a moment too long.)
IDA: I suppose I must. (Blushes, then to S:) Well, we’ll think
about it.
HERMAN (To S, taking Ida by the arm): Remember now, see
what you can do – sharpen your pencil.
IDA (To MH, a bit charmed, as they begin to exit): And nice to
meet you, Mr. . . . (Stuck on the name.)
MH (Smiling, again covering his mouth): What did I say?
HERMAN: Maurice, I think.
MH: Good. Then call me Maurice.
HERMAN (A beat, then to S.) We’ll think on the painting.
See that you sharpen your pencil . . . Ida.
(They go. A moment.)
MH (Watching them leave): Ida . . . (Pause.) I meet a woman
like that and . . . (Quick change, deep concern.) Did I hurt a
possible sale?
S: Maurice?
MH: A name. No, really, did I get in the way of a sale?
S: They always think about it.
MH: Jews, yes?
S (Uncomfortable with it): Well . . .
MH: Of course they are.
S (Conceding): Beverly Hills.
MH: Temple Emanuel, I’d guess . . . Burton Way, eighty-eight
hundred block . . . good vintage book stores not far,
they know me . . . When I walked in you looked surprised.
S: It has been a while.
MH: How long?
S: You don’t know?
MH: No. I’ve been . . . well, under. Tell me.
S: A few weeks. I was worried. (A beat, surprised he said
MH (After a moment): So was I. Did you think I’d died?
S: Of course not.
MH: I appreciate your concern. (Smiles, covering his mouth
with his hand.) Thank you. Reason you haven’t seen me, as
I said, been under. And been muddled more than usual
lately .
S: Oh?. . .
MH: Yes. Been at Stanford. Maybe that’s the same thing.
They’ve figured it out, what I’ve got I mean. It’s called, it’s
the same name as, the same name as . . . as the chancellor
of Germany. A woman, you know. Do you know her
name? I’ve forgotten, on purpose probably.
S: German chancellor, that’s Angela – (Trying to remember.)
Angela . . .
MH: Yes, you have it almost – Angela Merkel! Yes, Angela
Merkel! German chancellor. I don’t have Angela, I have
Merkel! (Giggles, covers his mouth with his hand again, pauses
to regain composure.) You’ll pardon me covering my mouth
. . . I was ordered to Travis Air Force Base. The brass
wanted my opinion on a new jet in development stage. I
cracked my teeth on the controls – an overeager young
pilot preparing to take me up. A sudden stop as we taxied.
My fault also, having not attached my safety belt. My
mouth is numb. The government will fix me. If it makes
sense now with what I was saying. I was saying I have the
German chancellor disease – Merkel Cell Carcinoma. She
doesn’t have it, the chancellor doesn’t. It’s just the same
name. A skin cancer. Hard to detect, grows under the skin,
most people don’t notice it until it’s too late. That includes
me, a doctor, so that’s why I am dying.
S: You’re sure? They said that?
MH: I already knew I was dying, I just didn’t know of
what. Doctors don’t try to fool doctors, even a neurologist
such as me who has not practiced for so long now . . . One
of the doctors who saw me, he’s a friend, we were in a
kibbutz together, shared a canteen once in the Negev
Desert . . . Three, four months at most, that’s what they’re
giving me and then kaput I’m gone. So should I get my
teeth fixed, what do you think?
S (Pause): I’m sorry that you are dying.
MH: Thank you, that is very kind, but I’m a vain man, so I
think I will get my teeth fixed. I hate even I am losing my
hair – that’s how I am. We can still do business. I’m still
Mossad. Nothing changes. I can help you, Mrs. Takomini
will help you, even after I am gone. I have set that up. It is
done, don’t worry. You can contact her when I die.
S: How will I know that?
MH: That I have died? You probably won’t. They won’t
tell you. Let’s say if you haven’t heard from me for a time
then I am probably dead. If you need money . . . perhaps
to go to Taos to research Stanley Wood . . . go to Mrs.
Takomini, Cathedral Oaks Apartments, San Francisco. I
told her all about you and she feels you are a worthy
cause. Have you sold anything? A Stanley Wood or one of
those Arthur Fabers?
S: I have sold two Stanley Woods. People are excited about
them. We will sell more.
MH: Good. I am glad you will profit from our
relationship, that we will both profit. I will give you the
name and address of the woman to write the check to.
S: You don’t want the money?
MH: No. (Takes out wallet, hands him money.) Here is the
money I owe you. The twenty dollars. (Pause.) Tell me –
would you mind very much if I borrow it back? I will
return it in just a few days this time, I promise.

The light fades as S hands him back the money. S seems at
ease with the “transaction.”

Act One
Scene IV

MH waiting by the car. Lights up on it. S enters from the
distance, pulling on a jacket, looking hurried. MH looks very
pale, shaky, trouble standing, bracing himself against the car.
There are some oil paintings on the roof of the car, a manila
envelope. Sounds of traffic.

MH: I apologize for –
S: No, that’s OK.
MH: I do not like bothering people at home, the home is a
sacred place, but there was no time, so I called, I hope I
didn’t bother your wife.
S: It is not a problem.
MH: I think, I do not know, but think, that my time has
come, sooner than I thought it would. You can see . . .
well, I am not good. Pale is not a good color for me. I am
going to the University of California hospital in San
Francisco. It has been arranged. A surgeon, an old friend,
is flying up from Los Angeles. He will be in charge of my
treatment. I have given him instructions if this cannot be
turned around to give me a few decent months . . . well, he
knows what to do, or rather what not to do. He owes me a
favor, so . . .
S: I am so sorry.
MH (Trying to be brisk): Yes, thank you. Because I may not
see you again I wanted to give you these . . . put them into
your care . . . (Begins to lose his balance trying to reach the
paintings, S grabbing him, then helping with the paintings.)
Thank you . . . Oils by our Mr. Stanley Wood . . . I found
them in the storage here in a large box with Italian shoes,
Salvatore Ferragamos if you are interested . . . nine-and-a-halves
. . . (Smiles.) . . . Very painful . . .
S: The diary? Did you find the diary? (Pause.) I’m sorry, I
shouldn’t . . .
MH: No, I understand, don’t worry so much. There isn’t
time for worry. You do it for Stanley Huber Wood. He
should be remembered if he influenced these other great
artists. I understand, one understands these things when
one is dying, but you are a fine writer, you have written
for museums, isn’t that so? – people will believe you if you
write it, if you do it well . . . (Indicates the top of the car and
the manila envelope, grimaces in sudden pain.) Could you,
(S grabs manila envelope, hands it to MH, who immediately
hands it back.)
MH: Thank you, for you. Inside a letter of introduction to
Mrs. Takomini. A formality since I have told her so much
about you she said she feels she knows you and she will
be glad to welcome you. She would be expecting you after
my death. Cathedral Oaks, third floor. She appreciates
company and likes to serve tea. Also (Indicating envelope.)
names of two more women to send money from the sales
of the paintings. The instructions are clear. You see, I have
loved women all my life.
S: But you never married.
MH (Smiles sadly): It would have been very unwise and
unfair, don’t you think, considering my life. There was a
young woman I loved, her father was a record executive, a
very rich man, and he said he would never allow his
daughter to marry someone like me, and he was a Jew, so
it wasn’t that, I was never sure what it was, so I accepted
. . . accommodations from him – a job with his company
and an apartment in New York City that I have only been
in once in fifty years believe me or not and is worth a
king’s ransom but I can’t abide it and I can’t make myself
sell it for some reason I do not understand . . . and this
was all when I was young and before the Mossad, so I
could have married her despite him, and she was willing
and we loved each other as I have said, and it might have
all been different, so someone punished me . . . maybe
God, I think God . . . (His breathing has become labored.)
Now if you will help me to the driver’s seat while I can . . .
S (Helping him): Should you drive?
MH: If I find I can’t . . . there are people to help me. I
simply make a call. (Begins getting into the car.) One more
thing – I have left a provision for you in my will. You have
been good to me so I am good to you. (Suddenly.) Have
you looked me up on the internet?
S: No.
MH (Pauses, smiles): I know. Believe me I will know if you
do – my people would inform me immediately. One
leaves chicken scratches, all over the universe, and they
never go away. Remember that – they never go away.
(Seated inside.) Help me, please, to close the door.
S (Suddenly moved): You are a great man.
MH (Smiles, sadly): I am not leaving you so much money
as that. Goodbye, sir.

Lights fade as S closes the door.

Act One
Scene V

S enters, removing his jacket, sits at his desk, decides to collect
phone messages, pushes button.

MH’S VOICE (Foggy, disoriented): Hello, sir, it’s me. I’m at
the hospital . . . about to go under . . .
NURSE’S VOICE: Doctor – you really shouldn’t . . . we are
about to wheel you in.
MH’S VOICE: Madam, this is very impor . . . (With
difficulty.) . . . important . . . I am speaking to a friend, a
dealer of fine art. (To S.) The nurse, she means well. Sir, if I
die, and the odds seem good . . . look for a box marked . . .
a box marked with a red letter C . . . a red C . . .
(S stands, paces, looks at the telephone as he listens.)
MH’S VOICE: Red C on a cardboard box. Important. If I
don’t make much sense . . . it’s because . . . going under . . .
and this just came to me, you know, like a dream, but I’m
not delusional believe me, this exists . . . the box . . . the
cardboard box contains letters . . . correspondence
between Einstein – Albert Einstein– and Lise Meitner . . .
(S sits at desk, makes notes.)
MH’S VOICE: . . . Important letters, I’m counting on you
. . . they mustn’t be lost or allowed to get into the wrong
hands . . . Lise Meitner you don’t know was a brilliant
nuclear physicist, worked with Otto Hahn . . . deserved
the Nobel Prize as much as Hahn, but a woman, a
beautiful woman, and a Jewess, so . . . so, you can guess a
woman and a Jew how much justice can be found there . . .
I’m sorry, dizzy . . . When the Nazis come into power,
Einstein comes here, ends up at Princeton as we all know
. . . Lise Meitner we know less . . . she escapes through The
Netherlands trying to reach Sweden and escape death or
worse . . . Hahn a man after my heart in this affair gives
her his mother’s diamond wedding ring to bribe border
guards . . . she makes it to Sweden . . . Stockholm . . .
(Pause, his words becoming “thick.”)
Over the war years, seventy-one letters between Einstein
and Lise Meitner . . . in the box marked with the red letter
C . . . After the war she’s invited to Los Alamos . . . She
does not go. She says, “I will not work on a bomb” . . .You
can imagine the importance of these letters . . . what a
treasure . . .
I can’t die, sir, knowing they are lost or in the wrong
hands . . . The box would be in storage in maybe Oakland,
perhaps Monterey, at a place called . . . at a storage
franchise called . . . (Pronouncing it “safe-keep’’) Saf-Keep.
(A beat.) There, I’ve told you where I keep things. Tell no
one. (With sleepy humor, close to going under.) Nice people at
Saf-Keep, but they don’t know how to spell. They spell
safe –
NURSE’S VOICE (Stern if defeated): You have five seconds,
MH’S VOICE (Sounding more under): Yes, yes, thank you,
nurse, I can do this in five seconds. (To S.) They spell safe
S – A – F. (He giggles.) No E! Well, for literary men like you
and I – and with you a Steinbeck man – what can we say?
(Giggles again.)
MAN’S VOICE (Considerable authority): What’s going on
NURSE’S VOICE: I’ve tried, he won’t get off the telephone.
MAN’S VOICE: Okay, that’s quite enough, my dear friend.
Don’t you understand we’re trying to save your life. Take
the phone from him, nurse – let’s wheel him in.

Phone connection is cut. S stops writing, lights fade.

Act One
Scene VI

S. Sound of car approaching, stopping. A figure – a large man –
gets out of the driver’s seat, opens rear door, MH gets out,
enters with a spring in his step; he carries a manuscript. S looks
at him, dumbfounded. The large man remains in shadow, stands
by the car; it is a taxi cab. The figure remains more or less
motionless, arms crossed or at his side, now and then shifting
his weight from foot to foot.

MH (Smiling): So, you see, I didn’t die after all. Still several
months left it seems. I am like the person who yells fire in
the crowded building. Today’s a gift . . . My lungs were
filled with carbon monoxide – that’s why I looked that
way – from my car, my Cadillac. Leaky exhaust system.
Some doctor I am. My friend the surgeon, he said, “You
should have been dead yesterday. How did you get here?”
“I drove,” I told him. “Really? Then you should have
been arrested yesterday before you killed someone else.”
So they gave me oxygen and . . . (Spreads his arms, giggles,
covers his mouth.) . . . you see, I am still alive. As you can
tell, my teeth have not been fixed . . . the Cadillac, I drove
back with the windows down. I have parked it for a time.
Maybe I will fix it, I don’t know, maybe not, but it could
come in handy, I could give a Nazi a lift, we could go
together . . . This is my driver now – Michael . . .
(He waves, Michael stares a moment, then waves back, a simple
motion, leans against car.)
Michael is being paid for by our taxpayers, so I may never
go back to the Cadillac. Don’t tell him I said so, but I have
a feeling Michael is also being paid by the CIA. Or
perhaps is the CIA. That’s OK. A quiet man, Michael.
Have you sold any Stanley Woods?
S: One.
MH: Good. Hold the money. I need to think who to give it
to. (A beat.) They said I called you, left a message and
spoke of Einstein and Lise Meitner. Is this so?
S: Yes.
MH: I hope I didn’t say too much . . . didn’t bore you. Did
you research her? If you researched her perhaps you saw
her image and fell in love with her. A dark-eyed beauty
with the courage to call out the scientists who capitulated
to the Nazis who turned me into the killer without guilt I
now find myself. I hate them for it. They tore my passions
from me – a very great sin.
S (Pause): You said you had letters between her and
MH: Yes. I don’t know where – believe me, I’ve looked.
Like the Stanley Wood diary. There are so many boxes, so
heavy, and you can see physically I am not able to . . . and
there’s no one I can trust.
S: Could I help?
MH: Come to the storage units? . . . I asked my superiors
about you. They said no. They aren’t sure about you. They
looked into your past. They don’t know where you stand.
They see things in black and white – you are for them or
you are not. Of course you have never made such a stand
either way, why would you, you’re neither a Jew or a
Nazi, are you? (Shrug, smiles.) But it makes you a puzzle –
to them. I’m sorry, that is the way they are. Very careful.
Very . . . regimented? Some day, perhaps. (Hands him
manuscript.) This I did find. I entrust it to you. The only
copy, never published, given to me long ago by the
author, Mary Craven. She called it “A Portrait of Harold
Clurman.” The most important person in American
theater in his time was Mr. Clurman. Mary’s life’s work –
yet unfinished at the end of her life . . . Abuse of drugs
and alcohol . . . She called me one night when I was living
in Los Angeles, from a telephone booth. This was years
ago when they still had telephone booths. I could tell she
was in trouble. I said, “Do you see a cab driver nearby? If
so, call him over.” I had the cab driver deliver her to my
apartment. She slept thirty hours and when she woke she
wanted heroin, not food. It was then I knew it was over
for her. Not the same with Janis Joplin. I told you I took a
job with a record company in return for not marrying the
executive’s daughter? . . . Joplin was one of this record
company’s artists. I cared for her, got her a year or two
more. When she woke up from a drunk, she was very
hungry. Could eat for hours. Not Mary Craven . . . no
interest in food, it means something, that difference. Think
about it. So . . . anyway, Mary gave me the manuscript. I
promised I would try to do something with it. It has
slipped through the cracks with time. I have betrayed her
memory. I give it to you. Do what you can. She was a
woman who should have been loved, like Lise Meitner,
like . . . well, like many in my life. (Pause.)
(A cell phone rings. MH pulls it from his jacket.)
MH: Excuse me. My apologies. Very rude I know.
(Listens.) Hello. I will. (Pause.) Yes. Of course. (Listens,
hangs up.) I am wanted right away. I still live, so I am still
needed. I remain useful, even like this. You do not retire
from the Mossad. Something going on in the . . . (Stops,
thinks whether he should say it, decides he won’t.) . . . Anyway,
they need me . . . (Turns.) So, Michael!

He smiles then leaves, stooped slightly as he walks toward the
car, the cab driver, Michael, carefully opening a car door for
him, as the lights fade.

Act One
Scene VII

S at his desk. Car pulls up, same as before, the cab driver,
Michael, opens the door for MH, then stands by car, watches.
MH enters. S looks at him, they are silent for a few moments.

MH: I’m thinking aloud. (Pause.) Do you understand? Do
you understand what I am saying to you?
S: You are not speaking?
MH (Nods): Just thinking. If you are questioned, well, you
know what I mean. I am trying to protect you and, if you
wish, I won’t . . . won’t think aloud . . . Do you wish me to
not think aloud?
S (Pause, looks toward Michael then back): No.
MH (Pause): Very well, then I will think aloud . . . The call
I received here yesterday . . . I’ve been ordered to
Washington tonight to be briefed by . . . officials . . . then
make a call from Washington to a member of the Israeli
cabinet. Someone I once knew. Something important to
say to him but before that I have been given a joke to tell
him. I hate jokes, I tell them badly. I asked, “Why the
joke?” They said, “Listen, we want him in a good mood
when you tell him what we want you to tell him.” I said,
“The way I tell jokes, he will be in a terrible mood.”
(Pause.) This all makes me very . . . very nervous. I am
thinking aloud you recall . . . Do you?
(S nods. MH pauses to look furtively in the direction of Michael,
then turns back.)

MH (Lowering his voice): “Look,” they said,  “just do as we
ask, tell the joke, we have psychologists on the payroll and
they tell us this is the best approach.” I could try the joke
out on you but I am thinking aloud and no one thinks
aloud a joke . . . You do recall that I am thinking aloud?
S: Yes.
MH: Good. (After another glance toward Michael.) After I tell
him the joke, I am to tell him that the United States
government is well aware Israel is trailing a flotilla of
ships and planning a blockade at Gaza – yes, this they are
preparing to do . . . So you now know something very few
people know . . . Of course the cabinet member I am
calling will already know about the ships, just as the
Mossad knows, but knowing that the United States knows
will not be pleasant for the Israeli cabinet, not at this time.
In a few days, fine, but not now. . . they are doing this on
their own. The United States wants this Israeli I am to tell
a joke, and the cabinet and the prime minister to rethink
what they are doing, because this planned blockade could
possibly lead to . . . the danger exists . . . of bloodshed . . .
worse, of a nuclear confrontation. (Pause, nervously.) That
is the feeling . . . so . . .
(He takes a few unsteady steps.)
S (Pause): I don’t understand – are you with the Mossad or
the CIA?
MH (Turns, stares at him, not pleased): I am just thinking,
remember? . . . I am thinking possible nuclear catastrophe
and you ask me that? What does it matter if I am Mossad
or CIA or both if there is a nuclear catastrophe? How
stupid people can be. Perhaps it is only the assassins and
spies who love humanity. It seems we must kill a few of
you to save the rest of you from yourselves. (Pause, softer.)
You don’t question what a man’s thinking to himself or
aloud. I thought you understood this . . . I thought I made
that clear to you. (Pause.) Or are you trying to trick me
out? (Pause.) I thought you were my friend. I am
disappointed in you.

They look at each other as lights fade.

End of Act One

Act Two
Scene I

S. The cab already pulled up. Michael, the cab driver, helps MH
into the gallery, holding his elbow. MH holds his can of soda,
which is open.

MH: This is Michael.
S: Hello.
MICHAEL (Without expression): Hello. I’ll get the trunk.
(He goes to car trunk, opens, etc.)
MH (Pause.): You saw? The incident in the Mediterranean?
S: It was all over the news.
MH: Ship boarded. Nine dead. We failed . . . I failed. (A
beat, a melancholy smile.) The joke fell flat, flatter now.
S: But no nuclear incident.
MH (Morose): But still possible. I haven’t long to live . . .
but now I feel I live too long.
(Michael enters with box, sets it down quietly, goes back to car,
leans on it, waits.)
MH: (Pause) You’re looking at the box – what do you
think is in it?
S: You’ve found the Einstein and Lise Meitner letters?
MH: No, I haven’t found them, but I think . . .
S: Yes?
MH: I hope maybe Oakland, you know, the storage
company in Oakland with the nice people who can’t spell.
That’s my thought, that perhaps that’s where the box is
with the red C . . . but just a guess.
S (Pause, then indicating the box): The Stanley Wood diary?
MH: No. I haven’t found it. I’m sorry. Odds very slim . . .
one book in all that . . . among all those things . . . more
than eight-hundred cartons. I will show you someday if
my people allow it – allow me to take you to the storage
units, when they are no longer suspicious of you . . . when
you take a stand . . . Did you sell another Stanley Wood?
S: No.
MH (Critically): You are losing your touch . . . like me. Are
you dying also? Should I find another art dealer? So, the
box Michael brought in, look in it please, tell me what you
(S goes through box.)
S: Letters.
MH: I told you I have a fondness for letters.
S: And something else . . .
MH: I should imagine . . .
S (Pulling out, displaying an ice pick.): This? . . .
MH: Oh, a mistake . . . shouldn’t have been in . . . For
assassination I’m afraid. (With a gesture.) The back of the
neck up into the brain . . . really quite merciful and quick,
just a dull pain and that’s it . . . method used quite often, to
this day . . . (Smiles.) Demonstration only, that one, never
used for the real thing . . . to the best of my recollection.
(S pauses, returns it to box, removes several letters.)
S (Studying them): Eric Mottram? . . .
MH: His letters. Found them in storage here just this
morning, thought of you . . . thought they would interest
you, being a literary man.
S: I’m sorry, who is . . . ?
MH: You don’t know? I have been giving you too much
credit as a literary man! Are you sure you’re a Steinbeck
man? Eric Mottram, prominent British poet and academic
of the Beat Era. Brilliant biographer of William Burroughs
–”William Burroughs: the algebra of need.” (Pause.) You
recall, one day I told you I was teaching a class on Kafka at
Kent State during the 1970 killings – that I led my students
off campus, and you gave me one of your looks of doubt I
did such a thing or even taught Kafka? You know the look
. . . Do you recall? . . . (Gesturing.) The top letter – read the
return address and first paragraph . . .
S (A pause, looks at him, then at letter): “15 Vicarage Gate,
London W. 8. . . .”
MH: Mr. Eric Mottram’s home for many years . . . Properly
postmarked? . . . London, air mail?
S: “Par Avion Aerogramme.”
MH: July 1970? . . .
S: Yes.
MH: And what happened the summer of 1970?
S: Kent State.
MH: Yes, read, please.
S: “Hello –  ”
MH (Quickly): Don’t say my name. (Indicates someone or
something might be listening.) Humor me. Now – read,
S: “Congratulations on your latest Kafka piece . . . ”
MH (Interjecting): Kafka, you hear? You may write on
Steinbeck, I can write on Kafka. Read, please.
S: “. . . on your latest Kafka piece. Rather disarming,
though, that the sheer order of a great work should still
have to be stated so clearly . . .”
(S looks at him.)
MH: Continue, please.
S (A beat): “You may imagine you have been in my mind
during the painful and disgraceful events at Kent State.
We heard what you did, saving your class . . . Bravo – one
almost imagines you were trained for this kind of thing
from the reports we were given . . . I hope that you are
well and not abominably shaken. I’ll be in Kent to lecture
this September, in spite of alarms at my safety expressed
here. Everyone here seems to think America is an armed
camp of thugs and National Guardsmen . . . ”
(S looks at him.)
MH: You hear? . . . What I say I did, I did. What I say I will
do, I do . . . remember that. So . . . many such letters from
Professor Mottram in that box. Reflections, observations
.  . . William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Bowles,
Burroughs of course . . . Important . . . if life and thought
and passion are important, if not . . . (Shrugs.) Will you see
that they get to Kent State, please . . . No, better, King’s
College London, which was his academic home. Can you
do this? Can I trust you to do this when I am gone?
S: Yes. Of course.
MH: Good, then I leave them with you. They are a
treasure. I thank you, sir. It is a great relief that these at
least won’t be lost . . . that I can leave something. Now I
am off to San Francisco to see Mrs. Takomini and have
dinner in the Cathedral Oaks dining room. Perhaps
poached salmon again to keep my strength up. Mrs.
Takomini says hello. (He sips from the soda can, then calls,
somewhat depressed.) Michael! . . .

Starts off as lights fade.

Act Two
Scene II

S. The cab driver Michael helps MH into the gallery. MH limps
noticeably. MH indicates the settle. Michael helps him to the
settle. MH is having some trouble breathing. Michael hesitates.
MH signals him that he is OK, that he can leave. Ending with:

MH: Thank you, Michael. I won’t be long. Oh, can you
bring me a can of soda, please?
(Michael leaves.)
S: Can I get you something?
(MH signals no – he has trouble catching his breath – that he
would prefer silence, ends with:)
MH: Thank you . . . (He looks down.)
(A few moments silence. Michael enters with can of soda, opens
it, hands it gently to MH, leaves, leans against cab, opens and
reads a paperback book, glancing over the top of it now and then
at S and MH. MH removes a vial of pills from his sport coat,
takes a pill, drinks, swallows slowly, pauses.)
MH: My third today of the little morphine pills . . . they
are help from God . . . (Pause, looks at him sharply.) Tell me:
what have you done? . . .
S (Pause): What do you mean?
MH: My people have said you may visit the storage – you
must have done something. They have given their
permission. What happened – have you taken a stand?
S: I am not a Jew and I am certainly not a Nazi.
MH (Pauses, studies him, then smiles ironically.): I know you
are not a Jew . . . And the other – of course not. Yet
something changed their minds.
S: Did you ask them?
MH (Irritated, mockingly): Do you think they would tell
S: Perhaps you spoke up for me?
MH: Yes, but I spoke up for you long ago and that didn’t
seem to matter to them. I told them you were a Steinbeck
man – that didn’t carry much weight. Now if I had said
you were a Kafka man . . . or a Gertrude Stein man . . . or a
Golda Meir man . . . that’s probably what I should have
done, when there was still time . . .
S: There is still time.
MH: Is there? To visit the storage? . . . If so, there is very
little and I must use it wisely. I have an appointment to fix
my teeth in two days, the United States government to
pay for everything, but is there any sense to it? Is that a
wise use of my time? Simple vanity? Am I going to be
eating much longer? No . . . Is there any reason to have a
good smile? Why? What’s so funny? . . . Going to the
Oakland storage, even with your help and Michael’s help,
is that a good idea I wonder. (He pauses, waits.)
S (Also a pause): I think it is a good idea.
MH (Small smile): Ah, of course you do, you are thinking
of the Stanley Wood diary . . .
S: And the letters of Einstein and Lise Meitner . . .
MH: Yes . . . perhaps Albert and Lise say something in the
letters that can save the world we can hope . . . Mary
Craven, her book, her manuscript, and Eric Mottram, his
letters, they are safe with you, correct? . . . So maybe you
have enough; we have saved something, you and I. Well, I
had a feeling about you from the beginning. (Pause.) There
is something else if we are to do this, save the storage
from . . . well, I’ll get to that. (Sets aside soda, tries to stand,
holds out his hand.) Will you? I need to stand . . . my sciatica
. . . I don’t want to call Michael . . . he is enjoying his book
. . .
(S crosses, helps him up, stands nearby for a few moments as
MH, grimacing in pain, stabilizes his balance, collects himself.)

MH: (Indicates can of soda): Could you . . . my cola . . .
(S gives him can of soda; MH sips, his balance precarious.)
S: You said there was something else?
MH: You want to go to Oakland with me then, meet the
storage people who can’t spell? Am I correct? . . . we have
permission now . . . Well, there is something that must be
done, but I don’t think you want to hear it. (Pause, a
dismissive gesture.) And now that I think of it, better to
forget the whole thing . . . (Turning in direction toward door
and cab.) Could you call Michael for me, please . . . so I can
S: I want to hear it.
MH (Takes a step away, stops, pauses): Why? You won’t
believe me – you will think it is a trick.
S: I won’t.
MH: You’re sure of that?. . .
S: I am sure.
MH: Well, this I don’t believe but we’ll see . . . (Smiles.)
We’ll test you, shall we? (Turns slowly.) So . . . you know I
do not write or accept checks or use credit cards? And you
know why – just as I do not want to be searched on the
S: Yes.
MH: I have a friend, Victor, a rare books appraiser in New
York, he pays for the storage in Oakland as a favor to me
for that reason we speak of. There is a lady friend who
pays the bill for storage here. I repay them with cash every
four months, and with gifts of books and jewelry and
whatever I have that they may fancy. Well, something has
happened to Victor. I don’t know what; he can’t be
reached, perhaps he is dead . . . perhaps because of me he
is dead . . . not like him to not fulfill . . . obligations . . .
such a good friend . . . So, a few days ago I receive a call
from the Oakland storage people, the people who can’t
spell “safe,” and they tell me Victor is three months
behind in storage payments and tomorrow at this time
everything will be auctioned off. (He waits.) I have money,
but I can’t get to it, it is not a good time . . . not a safe time
for me . . . (He waits again.)
S: The letters are in that storage unit, the diary . . .
MH: I can’t say for sure . . . only maybe, perhaps . . . no
one can guarantee . . . In any case, I need thirty-six
hundred dollars to pay the back rent fees or everything
will be auctioned off.
S: So you need cash?
MH: It may surprise you, but cash is not a good idea in
this situation. Michael and I could drive to Oakland with
the cash, but what if something happens? An auto
accident, perhaps? . . . And you’ll laugh at this – an
assassin? . . . I can’t think clearly . . . (Shows pills.) . . . so I
am ripe for picking . . . anyone can kill me . . . (Small smile.)
Well, some can. (Serious again.) And I have lost my value
since the Gaza incident . . . I do not think I will be called
on again . . . (Pause, a subtle look toward the cab.) . . . and I
can’t be sure even about Michael . . . (Pause.) Or you, my
friend . . .
S: You think that I? . . .
MH: I wonder why it is now okay for you to visit the
storage when before . . . but I will I trust you. If the storage
is auctioned everything will be gone, scattered among
dozens of used book dealers and bric-a-brac collectors . . .
It pains me to think . . . picked over by vultures . . . gone to
who knows whom . . . maybe the Albert Einstein and Lise
Meitner letters that could save the world, perhaps the . . .
the Stanley Wood diary talking of modern art and Georgia
O’Keeffe that is so important in your world . . . (He waits.)
S (A beat): You’re saying you need my money anyway?
MH: Of course the money is needed. I have said that.
S: A credit card then?
MH (Nods slowly): The ubiquitous credit card, if we wish
to save these words of Lise Meitner and Einstein and
Stanley Wood . . .
S: If they are there.
MH: If they are there and maybe they are not . . . You look
up the telephone number yourself, sir. You call them. Ask
any questions you wish of them. Use my name if you
must; I will cover my ears. You will know where your
money is going. That should assure you . . .
S (A beat): Fine.
MH: You’ll do it?
S: Yes, fine.
MH (A beat): You realize, of course, you must call by
tomorrow morning . . .
S: I’ll call now.
MH: You will call Oakland now? S: Yes.
MH: Thank you, my friend. (He sits gingerly on the settle,
lowering himself with the help of his arms.) I am much
relieved . . . to think of those letters gone . . . well . . .
(S opens a telephone book, turns pages.)
S (To himself): Oakland . . .
MH (Tired but a smile): The Yellow Pages, under storage,
safe misspelled, no E remember . . .
(He watches. S writes down a number. MH’s cell phone rings.)
MH: Pardon me, please. Hello? Yes? (To S.) This is
fortuitous, sir. It is the storage people from Oakland who
can’t spell.
S (Immediately suspicious): Is it?
MH (Nods, small smile): A setup, is that what you think?
Such a suspicious mind you have, like some of my Jewish
friends – like me. Maybe you are Jewish after all. (Then into
phone): Yes . . . yes, we will have the money . . . you . . .
excuse me? . . . (Pause.) I was told tomorrow . . . the
fifteenth . . . (He falters.) Today is tomorrow? (Pause.) Today is
the fifteenth? . . . (Pause, his hand trembles, tries to steady it
with other hand.) I see . . . I know I was warned . . . I know
you are just doing your job . . . Tell me, young lady . . .
was there a box with a red letter C? . . . “Perhaps?” . . .
And if “perhaps” is “yes” – what did it sell for? Not that it
matters . . . I see. So it is all gone, all sold?. . . (Pause.)
Thank you, you have been very gracious . . . Yes, it is
difficult, I know, don’t be so upset, my dear, I don’t blame
you, these things happen . . . (Hangs up, puts phone in
pocket.) Put away your telephone book and credit card – I
have taken so many of these I confused the day. (Indicates
vial of pills.) It is all gone, everything auctioned off, so
many years of collecting. She – the young woman who is
so upset – she seems to recall a box with a red letter C . . .
but there was so much she can’t be sure . . . We can pray if
you believe in prayer . . . pray that the woman in Oakland
is color blind and saw instead a blue letter G . . . (Pause.)
To have let down Lise Meitner this way. . . and Einstein
. . . Well, not so much Einstein, he’s Einstein, and with me
it is always the women anyway . . . So, the box, if it was
the box with the Lise letters, it went for between twenty
and thirty dollars, to the best of her memory, as did most
of the boxes. Nothing over fifty dollars, imagine . . .
(Pause.) So . . .
S: Is there any way that –
MH: No to your question: they do not give out the names
of buyers, there’s a law . . . and who would return them in
any case? . . . they are worth a fortune, any publisher
would snap them up like that . . . I am sorry to have put
you to so much trouble for nothing . . . (Pause, takes a sip
from the can, dully.) I wonder . . .
S: Yes?
MH: What our Mrs. Takomini will say . . .
(He drops his head, then tries to stand, can’t, lifts his head,
holds out his hand for assistance to stand.)
MH: . . . She loves Lise Meitner too.
(S hesitates as lights fade.)

Act Two
Scene III

S is going through a large box on his desk, studying a document.
MH seated as before on the settle, leaning forward onto a cane
he holds with both hands. A soda can on the arm of the settle.
Michael can be seen leaning against the cab, reading a paperback
book. MH looks in Michael’s direction.

MH (After several moments): Michael is not CIA.
S (Distracted by what he is looking at): No?. . .
MH: He is a taxi cab driver. He reads mysteries. That is
what threw me.
S (Looking up, smiles.): Really?
MH: It is not always so sophisticated, this business you
know. (Taps his head.) One can think too much. I thought
he was – they were – trying to throw me off the trail by the
obvious . . . (Gestures toward Michael reading, then:) And of
course I’ve been addled . . . (A sly tone.) So tell me, what do
you think of that document?
S: What is the language?
MH (Looks at him acutely.) Italian. You told me you are part
Italian, that your grandparents on your mother’s side were
from the old country. You can’t read Italian?
S: No.
MH: You didn’t recognize the language?
S (Sheepishly): Well, I didn’t look closely, but now that I . . .
MH: I worry for you, my friend. If you had been raised a
Jew in Cleveland like me you would have been driven
from the temple. It is a letter for your information – on
S: You found these in storage here?
MH (Nods): Some weeks ago. I just thought to show them
to you.
S: Nothing on –
MH (Gloomily): Don’t ask, please. No box with a red letter
C . . . so far. No Lise Meitner and Albert Einstein. Probably
gone in Oakland, but still two storage units it could be
found, and maybe Los Angeles so there’s hope . . .
S: But you don’t think Los Angeles?
MH: No. Unlikely. Mostly Hollywood things there and I
would not have knowingly subjected Lise Meitner or
Albert Einstein to Hollywood.
S: But unknowingly?
MH (Nods slowly): Always possible. I forget sometimes,
more lately.
S: And the Stanley Wood diary?
MH: Please, I would tell you . . . So, the letter you are
holding, you recognize it is written on parchment?
S: That would be my guess.
MH: Good, we are progressing. There is some hope for
you if you can recognize sheepskin. You note the date,
you don’t need a foreign language to see it is Seventeenth
Century. I will tell you what you are holding – letters from
a pope – you’ll find his name there – to an archbishop
whose name is also there, Garradini I think. I’ve had them
for years, purchased them in Ohio . . . in Akron I think . . .
from an old American soldier who stole them somewhere
in Italy during World War II and knew I collected words,
even stolen words. And I will be honest with you, I do not
read Italian and never knew what they said, so when I
rediscovered them a few weeks ago I sent several copies
off to an important library in Europe and copies of those
letters to a friend who is an Italian scholar at Harvard. I
received a lightning-bolt reply from the library: they
offered to purchase all of the letters for a very large sum.
Never have I had such a swift response. I said, “What
would you do with them?” They said, “Why do you
care?” I said, “Because they are words and I care about
words, so I must know or I will not sell.” They said, “We
would, at first, sequester them.” Well, that got my interest.
Then I received a call from my professor friend at Harvard
and when I told him what the library said, he replied, “I
am not surprised at their quick response. From the letters I
have translated, it seems the pope was furious with an
archbishop who was profligate and fathered many
children, and two of the children – boys – were the issue
of a woman cousin to the pope, which naturally further
enraged the pope, so he ousted the archbishop, sending
him to a monastery in Bulgaria to spend his remaining
days eating beans and breaking bread with monks.” (He
pauses to take a pill washed down by a sip of soda.) So . . .
S: So that is why the library would sequester the letters?
MH: Hardly. That’s just a ripple as scandals go, religious
or otherwise . . . (Another sip.) . . . especially religious. It
might tickle the interest of some academics or Church
critics, but not much else. No, there’s something far more
intriguing, something that would resound today, and it
concerned what the pope did with the two boys – for my
friend continued, and naturally I paraphrase, my memory
faulty, “From the third letter, it seems the pope arranged
something through the Holy See and the German family
we now know as the House of Windsor, and the boys
were sent to them and became members of that family –
the House of Windsor.” (He pauses, sips.) That’s the reason
the library wants to sequester the letters – (He grins,
reflexively covering his mouth.) Don’t you see? – to hide the
fact there are swarthy people in the House of Windsor.
S (After a pause): Will you sell them the letters?
MH: I can’t say. Being a swarthy person myself I would
trade them in a second for the Lise Meitner letters. Like
every other woman I have loved, I love her more once I
have lost her . . . this part of her . . . her words, her soul . . .
gone to where? . . .
S: You may still have them . . . we can search storage here,
Los Angeles . . .
MH: We could, but if they cannot be found? Then all hope
is gone. That I couldn’t bear. At least now I still have hope
. . . So finally I am a coward and I look slowly, maybe I
find them, maybe I don’t . . . The pope letters, I was going
to give them to you to do as you wish, sell them if you
wish, but then . . . but then . . . I have not wanted to say
this . . . I have put it off . . . (Pause, stares at him, with
intensity.) . . . but you now leave me no choice – you are
not a Steinbeck man. Steinbeck men are straight with you,
but you have not been straight with me. (Pause.) I asked
you to not google me and you have googled me, putting
my life in danger . . . Little chicken scratches all over the
internet, leading to me. Like tracks in the snow. Google
google! Buck buck buck! (Slams one shaky hand into the
other.) Now my enemies have an idea where I am . . . Even
now they are tightening the circle . . . You see, if people
google a person’s name, people in pursuit of that person
tend to think their prey is where the google comes from.
And these people are on the watch, all the time – they
know!. . . (Pauses, his breathing labored.) So you say to
yourself, this old man with the broken teeth and thin hair
is close to death anyway, so what can the difference be?
. . . If I have two seconds to live, I do not want those people
to end it a second sooner. I loathe them! So you see what
you’ve done thank you very much.
S: You believe I did that?
MH: Little chicken scratches! (He tries to stand, fails.) My
people told me! Can never be erased! Even when I am
dead they will point to here! Yes, even when I am dead
these ghouls can track me. The googles came from here or
near here. Who else but you? (Pauses, holds out his hand.)
Help me, please.
(S helps him to stand.)
S: Other people have met you here. They ask about you.
Anyone could have done it.
MH: But I believe it was you . . . You used to make me
happy, not so much anymore. (Pause, resignedly.)
Whatever, whomever, it is done . . . But I am ready if they
come – have you noticed my sport coat? Square cut . . .
Brooks Brothers . . . Do you like the fashion? . . . not
beautiful but useful . . .
(He opens the jacket to reveal a shoulder holster and revolver.)
S (Pause): Could you use that?
MH: Shoot them? Of course . . . Aim it?. . . There was the
day. Now?. . . with shaky hand?. . . (Shrugs, closes jacket.)
Life is full of questions of this question we shall perhaps
soon see . . . Here is another: Can I have forty dollars? I am
meeting a charming woman – Helen – at Costco. Michael
will drive me. I want to buy Helen a Polish dog. One for
Michael, too. You may ask why Costco . . . It is a good
place to relax . . . sample foods . . . and hide when one is
not strong . . .Tell me, sir. Have you sold another Stanley
S (Taking money from his wallet): No.
MH (Taking the money from S): An Arthur Faber?
S (Pause): No.
MH: I have someone else with you, another artist? . . . My
memory you know.
S: No.
MH (Sighs): Times are not good . . .

He moves slowly toward cab and Michael who, seeing him,
closes his book and opens a back door of the cab as the lights fade.

Act Two
Scene IV

MH on the settle, S behind his desk, Herman writing a check.
Ida standing nearby. A few moments silence as MH studies his

HERMAN (Kidding): I.D.?
S (Also): Birth certificate will do.
(Herman hands him check.)
S: Thank you.
HERMAN (Picking up a package that is obviously a wrapped
painting): Ida.
MH: You’re going so soon?
HERMAN (Gesturing): Well, driving back this afternoon, a
long drive . . . (To S.) Watch over our good friend, please.
(MH begins to stand, has trouble, holds out a hand to Ida.)
MH (Looking up, smiling weakly): Ida, please . . .
(She helps him to his feet.)
MH: Thank you.
HERMAN (To MH): You’ll visit us again?
MH: If I can get that way.
IDA (Pats his hand): Please try. We’ll have lunch, the three
of us.
MH (Kisses her hand, looks at her): I look forward to it.
HERMAN (Watches, pleased): Take care, Maurice.
(MH smiles at his use of the name, nods. A moment, then
Herman and Ida leave, Herman carrying the package.)
MH (He watches them go. Pause): I didn’t ask for this life,
you know . . . I wanted a family, a wife like Ida . . .
Herman doesn’t realize how lucky . . . (Pulling himself up
straighter, moves a few steps.) I wanted to be a teacher and
poet like my very good friend Eric Mottram . . . but not an
artist like Stanley Wood because, as I told you, I am not a
visual person except for illustrations in books. I do like
book illustrations did I tell you?. . . I suppose it goes
without saying . . .
(The pill vial, clumsily.)
Pardon me, another pill . . . I am upset. And the morphine
again another addiction . . .
I grew up in the city of Cleveland I think I told you, social
climbing parents – not only in the Jewish community by
the way. My mother specialized in being beautiful and
perfect. Never a hair out of place. Arranging events to
raise money for the museum, the symphony, the garden
club . . . My father a businessman. A closed man – not
private, closed . . . closed off. I once asked him to come to
my baseball game. I wasn’t more than twelve. He said to
me, a boy, “Never ask anything like that of me again.
Never.” But I was stubborn and wanted his love and if
you tell a child not to do something he will do it . . . so I
did – and the next year ended up in a military preparatory
school far from Cleveland and my friends, the few I had
. . . American Jewish boys did not do well in military
schools then, you know, but I did not back down from
anyone and now I look back it prepared me for my life to
come . . .
My father had a second house in Cleveland where he did
some of his business. It was downtown in a bad area. A
simple place with bars on the windows. As a boy I never
understood. I only really thought about it years later, after
it had been closed up, after his death, after the Mossad
recruited me. I think I didn’t want to know what he had
been up to . . . I still don’t want to know . . . Some agent I
Sometimes I look back and think . . . think I was
manipulated to have this life, even as a boy . . . I do not
say brainwashed . . . persuasively “guided” is better . . . My
family’s synagogue . . . Temple Tifereth Israel in Cleveland
. . . is a great temple. Our rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was a
brilliant orator and a passionate Zionist who gave
powerful speeches for the establishment of a homeland.
He backed his words raising millions of dollars for the
new country Israel . . . If he had lived later and not under
God’s holy hand he might have been Mossad so read his
book some day about Jewish survival. He knew what
dangers we face . . . Look him up, there are books on him,
even a website on your treasured internet . . . (Smiles
ironically.) So the Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver him you can
look up.
I suppose Rabbi Silver was an inspiration to me . . . You
know how these things can happen and you don’t know
they are happening until much later . . . He convinced me I
should visit Israel to see for myself . . . and perhaps serve,
he said, “if a way presented itself to me.”
So when I was twenty-three I visited Israel – and what do
you know “a way” presented itself to me. Two men greeted
me on the tarmac of the Tel Aviv airport. They said to me,
“Young man, do something for your country, serve your
country.” I said, “I have.” They said, “We don’t mean
America, that is fine what you have done for America, we
know about that, America is our friend, but we mean for
this country – for Israel.”
I didn’t know what they meant, not really . . . but they
seemed wise and powerful . . . and I was flattered . . . it is
easy to flatter the young of course . . . so I said, “Very well
. . . yes . . . I will . . . ”
And so I did . . .
. . . and soon I knew . . .
(He stands slowly with a weary smile, shrugs.)
. . . soon I know what they meant.

He touches S’s desk for a moment, then begins to move away as
the lights fade.

Act Two
Scene V

S enters. A few moments later the cab pulls up. It is twilight.
Michael enters with a cardboard box, sets it on the settle. S
stares at it for a few moments. The light dims slowly throughout
the scene.

S: Letters?
MICHAEL: I don’t know. I was just told to deliver it to
S: Where is he?
MICHAEL: Gone, with a woman named Helen. A friend
he has been seeing.
S: Gone where?
MICHAEL: I don’t know. They went off in an old Cadillac.
I tried to talk him out of it. (Shrugs.) The Cadillac was
smoking, might not go far . . . I warned him, but he knows.
(Pauses, then indicates telephone.) Have you listened? . . . He
left something. He said to listen . . .
(Leaves, cab pulling off. S watches him, waits a moment, then
pushes message button on phone.)
MH’S VOICE: Hello, sir. I am down to a few days.
You may believe me or not. I know you are of a suspicious
These days I will spend with Helen . . . Finally in my life I
choose the woman, not the duty . . . I have said goodbye to
Mrs. Takomini, so now I say goodbye to you . . .
Remember, Mrs. Takomini will help you . . . the Cathedral
Oaks Apartments. Whatever you need . . .
What can you do I hear you saying . . . say a prayer, it
needn’t be long.
(The sound of something dropping.)
HELEN’S VOICE (Slightly old country German): Here . . .
MH’S VOICE: No, let me . . .
HELEN’S VOICE: Don’t be so stubborn . . . Here it is, now
hold tight.
MH’S VOICE (After a moment, breathing irregular): Excuse
me, not doing well . . . dropping my phone . . . A friend
helping . . . Helen . . . remember I told you about Helen
and the Polish dog at Costco? . . . Say something to my
friend, Helen . . .
HELEN’S VOICE: Bless you, sir, bless you.
MH’S VOICE: You see, I tell her about you and she blesses
you that should tell you something . . .
We will go for a trip in the old white Cadillac with the
blue vinyl roof, Helen and I . . . maybe to Los Angeles to
see the storage there if the car will go that far . . . If not we
will not.
Perhaps we will see Herman . . . and the lovely Ida.
Michael will deliver a box to you. It is, I am sorry to say,
not the Stanley Wood diary . . . nor the Lise Meitner
letters. It contains things of importance so take care of
them, but not so important as Lise Meitner’s letters.
Someone somewhere has those. We can only hope good
and not evil will be done with them. They are worth much
more than twenty or thirty dollars . . .
So why that should bother me now I don’t know.
Pardon me, another pill.
Good luck with the Stanley Woods . . . and my good
friends both gone Mary Craven and Eric Mottram treat
them kindly . . .
(With a touch of humor.)
. . . and the pope letters –the scandal will be great so stand
strong . . .
Of Albert Einstein and Lise Meitner . . .
(Pause, falters.)
. . . well, Albert can take care of himself . . . even in death
. . .
As to Lise Meitner, not so easy when you are forgotten . . .
. . . but maybe she forgives me for not doing more . . .
(A few moments, then the sound of a click.)
S looks over at cardboard box as lights dim to darkness.

End of play

Instructions for a Sky Burial

Songs of a Hungry Heart from the Country of Not-knowing

Image of Tom Kozlowski, singer in the spirit of John SteinbeckIf you ask me what friendship is, I’ll look to Tom Kozlowski. I’ve known Tom since 1966. One characteristic we share is what Bruce Springsteen refers to as a “hungry heart,” which, to me, is a mind that asks fundamental questions and revises the answer based on ever-evolving experience. Take “Instructions for a Sky Burial,” a song about journeying that we wrote as a result of reading about a practice the Tibetans use to send the souls of their dead to some Next Place. The song starts off: “Take a cup of loss / Add a body breaker / Flashing shiny knives / under Tibetan skies.” Tom and I were born in Dayton, Ohio in 1954. Both of us loved books and music at an early age, and our friendship became collaboration. In the songs we write together, we share a territory whose frontiers are states of ecstasy and imagination. (I call it The Country of Not-knowing.) Performed by Tom in his signature style, this song is from an unfinished CD called In the Pocket. I hope you enjoy it.

Photo of Tom Kozlowski by Deni Naffziger.

Copyright © 2014 by Tom Kozlowski and Roy Bentley. All rights reserved.


Steve McQueen, Leaning

Image of Steve McQueen, movie star King of Cool

How does one describe a look that resolute?
The left hand on a wall. The shoulder holster
and the black-handled .38 suspended in midair.
Maybe that unseen right hand holds the weapon
we have failed to notice like certain small facts
about furniture in the room the morning we die.
The best of us are equal parts enthralling and sad.
Some are one or two truths rendered more enduring
by a collision between Accident and Good Looks.
But the expression on his face is roughly the same
in any quadrangle of sunlight he’s asked to stand in
in a walk-up loud with San Francisco street traffic
and freighter horns warning small boats in the bay.
And he leans this same swaggering way each take.
Why? Because the King of Cool was a foundling.
An orphan knows the worst about us. And standing
like this, staring off into some unfaltering distance
in a turtleneck and slacks, wearing close-cropped hair,
he suspects he is relinquishing those parts of himself
he is likely never to get back. The best of a generation
model a look like his as one consequence of rebellion
and turning in the sheets at night in cold water flats.
A look that says Tell me how you want me to stand
and Show me that again. And, Go fuck yourself.