Tag Archives: Plays

The Dogs of Foo: Excerpt from Act Two

The Dogs of Foo—Description

The Dogs of Foo refracts Hollywood of the 1940s through the prism of memory, and memory through the stylistic vernacular of the movies.

The frame is a series of dialogues, circa 1972, between Paul Lehrman, a long-retired film director who has just completed his memoirs, and Keith, a young, gay cineaste contracted by Lehrman’s publisher to ghost the book. The discussions—Keith’s attempts to fill in the gaps produced by Lehrman’s memory—center around Lehrman’s past as a respected writer-director of movie adaptations and the new project on which he hopes to embark: a film adaptation of John Okada’s post-war novel of Japanese-Americans, No-No Boy.

Among the personalities whose relationship to the younger Paul Lehrman figure prominently in memory are: Sid Geldman, the savvy Russian-Jewish immigrant head of the studio whose shrewdness and love of talent are overshadowed by his flamboyantly uneducated mangling of the language; Leo Jaffe, the oily studio Production Manager; Lita Gravesend, a popular musical personality trying to attain dramatic credentials; Millie Haver, Lehrman’s cinematic muse; Polly Harper, the fanatical radio gossip; Rod Mitchell, the egocentric but sexually anxious matinee idol; the ambitious starlet Madeline Overstreet; and Sammy Detweiller, Lehrman’s contemporary, a Viennese-born writer/director, raconteur and acid-tongued wit.

Lehrman, whose homosexuality is something of an open secret, relives his 30-year-old memories even as he filters out of them those elements about which he prefers Keith remain ignorant; only the audience is privy to Lehrman’s selective memories.  This is especially true of those involving Lehrman’s sexuality:

*His love affair with the young Japanese-American actor Johnny Tamaribuchi, whose ambitions Lehrman discourages to protect him from the realities of Hollywood’s prejudice (which leads to a split between them as Johnny endures a futile pursuit of his craft at a rival studio); Johnny’s relationship with Paul—which will leave the director virtually incapable of ever again expressing love—is on an inexorable collision course with history, exacerbated by Paul’s intransigence in not trying harder to further Johnny’s career;

*His physical attraction to a rising new contract player, Tyler Davidson (doubled by the actor portraying Keith) who is willing to sacrifice Lehrman—indeed any personal happiness—to satisfy his ambitions of movie stardom;

*His climactic brush with the racist tensions (and sexual terrors) of Rod Mitchell and with Lita’s secret rage, which result in Lerhman’s removal from the helm of his massive film version of War and Peace and precipitate his withdrawal from the movie colony. In this sequence, Lehrman himself “plays” Mitchell, in effect becoming his own persecutor.

As the play progresses, Lehrman descends deeper into the realm of memory. At moments of special pain or stress he breaks through the past itself, venting his emotions at his younger alter ego as the line between past and present vanishes and he watches his own history repeat itself, helpless to alter it. Finally, Lehrman lowers his resistance to Keith, intellectually and physically, only to pull back as three decades of torch carrying—coupled with his belief that No-No Boy will never be made–conquer his momentary courage. Keith is compelled to leave the older man alone with his memories, voluntarily surrounded by the ghosts of his largely unresolved past.

The Dogs of Foo has a cast of  11 (7m, 4f  with 1 male and 1 female each doubling 2 speaking roles) and requires fluid staging and imaginatively-designed lighting to convey its cinematic presentation, particularly that involving the collision of past and present.

The following consists of excerpts from the second act.

The Dogs of Foo

by Scott Ross

ACT TWO

(In the garden, 1972. KEITH and LEHRMAN. Morning. LEHRMAN is clipping with the shears.)

KEITH:

[…] How do you feel about the two Granville-Barker adaptations you did in the late ‘30s?  The Madras House and The Voysey Inheritance? You discuss them in great detail, but you don’t give your opinion.

LEHRMAN:

Well, I haven’t seen them in over thirty years.

KEITH:

I have a feeling they’ll come into their own in time.

LEHRMAN:

They were done as well as they could have been. By me, in any event. And very definitely and distinctly male, those plays. Which no one ever remembers. In connection with me, they only think of Millie Haver. The Bostonians. Paul Lehrman—oh, yes, the woman’s director.

KEITH:

Doesn’t reputation have more to do with whether one was a club member than anything else?

LEHRMAN:

Of course. The Fraternal Order of the Hairy Chest.

KEITH:

Meaning if one didn’t go in for whoring and drinking—

LEHRMAN:

And boasting much too much about both.

KEITH:

The John Fords.

LEHRMAN:

Oh, Ford was a phony. He had to behave that way so no one would suspect how sensitive he really was. How else do you explain his pictures? That visual poetry? You know, I’ve always thought it most interesting that the very pinnacle of achievement, as it’s seen here, is represented by the statue of a naked man with a sword but no genitals.

KEITH:

Getting back to you—

LEHRMAN:

By all means!

KEITH:

You were making enormous strides throughout the mid to late thirties, and even though you seem to have been in great command of your craft, seem to have been moving toward doing something really astonishing, your output during the early ‘40s in fact slowed to practically nil.

LEHRMAN:

Well, there are a number of good reasons for that. It took over a year to create a script for War and Peace that would satisfy me. And another year of revision to satisfy Sid. At least I thought I’d satisfied Sid. And of course, the casting was a nightmare—that’s another book in itself. And in the meanwhile, I had an idea for a smaller picture I wanted to do after the Tolstoy was finished. So, I was working on those two projects, one contingent upon the completion of the other. And, of course, with War and Peace …  Well.

KEITH:

Was the other picture The Shining Prince?

(LEHRMAN is startled)

The Geldman archives are very complete.

(Beat)

I suppose the war put an end to that.

LEHRMAN:

The war changed everything.

KEITH:

You don’t mention The Shining Prince in the manuscript at all. What was your idea with the project? It’s The Tale of Genji, isn’t it?

LEHRMAN:

Yes.

KEITH:

Massive book.

LEHRMAN:

Enormous. Fifty-four chapters, as I recall. Very episodic. I knew no one would be able to come to terms with the movie under the original title. Since we were already trying to create a work set in a culture alien to our audience, I thought it best to anglicize as much as possible. And Genji is called Shining Prince in the story, so that seemed easier on the American tongue. I thought a few of the episodes could be condensed into a reasonably small picture. I still think so. My—assistant—was a young Nisei.

KEITH:

Second generation.

LEHRMAN:

Yes. Johnny was—had been a stage actor. I’d seen him, in fact, in a stage version of Genji in Los Angeles. He was going to help me with the adaptation.

KEITH:

All of the Asian actors in those days were bit players.

LEHRMAN:

As opposed to now?

KEITH:

Well … Who were you planning to cast?

LEHRMAN:

Well, they’d done a couple of Pearl Bucks earlier, and I must tell you: truth flies out the window when Kate Hepburn traipses in wearing Light Egyptian.

(PAUL’s garden, 1941. PAUL is typing)

JOHNNY:

Paulie, have you spoken to Sid about my screen test yet?

PAUL:

Oh, Christ. I’m sorry. Look, these pages have to be ready to go to the studio by tomorrow morning.  I’ll ask him then. Okay?

JOHNNY:

Yeah.

LEHRMAN:

I wanted to avoid having to cast Tyrone Power or someone like that as Genji, but I knew there’d be a fight about it. I thought that if most of the roles went to the usual suspects, maybe we could get away with it.

JOHNNY:

Paulie—?

PAUL:

(Annoyed)

If he’s in a good enough mood, I’ll mention it.

LEHRMAN:

Because Johnny, aside from being a superb actor, was extraordinarily attractive.

JOHNNY:

Paulie, you won’t—

PAUL:

Not now, Johnny—please!

(Beat)

I’m sorry.

JOHNNY:

(Beat)

When?

PAUL:

Soon.  I promise.

KEITH:

I assume The Shining Prince was a casualty of the War?

LEHRMAN:

You always think, there’s time. But the world can alter overnight. Believe that.

KEITH:

This is an awful cliché of a question to ask, but—the question for my generation is always, “What were you doing when you heard that JFK had been shot?” For yours, I gather it’s “Where were you on December 7th?”

 (Long pause)

LEHRMAN:

I was having a late breakfast. Johnny, who was my—assistant, I told you, didn’t I? Of course. He’d just passed me the maple syrup. He made a wonderful French toast, and I was greedy for it, so we’d have it every other Sunday. We were listening to Orson Welles reading Walt Whitman on CBS radio, and when the announcement was made in the middle of the broadcast, as I was taking the syrup from Johnny’s hand, well—all I could think was, “Oh, god, Orson! This time they’ll throw you in jail and lose the key!”

(We are simultaneously in 1972 and 1941.)

 RADIO ANNOUNCER’S VOICE:

We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a special bulletin. This morning at 7:38 AM, Japanese airplanes attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, on the island of Hawaii. The President has called an emergency joint session of the Senate and the House…

(PAUL comes behind JOHNNY, puts his arms around his waist and they stand there silently. They disappear.)

KEITH:

Was he—put in a camp?

LEHRMAN:

Of course! He was—“undesirable.” Oh, yes. Johnny’s family was sent to Manzanar. I tried, oh god. Tried to get him some kind of dispensation—anything. All Japanese were suspect. You can’t … imagine—what it was like. The ugliness, the hysteria. The way the war gave everyone in this country an excuse to use the word “Jap.” Even Eleanor Roosevelt! In the end, the only thing I could do for him at all was to buy his family’s business before it could be seized, along with some land in the Valley and hold it for them—the business, the land, the money, in my own name—until the war ended. Oh, it was an—evil business. Evil.

KEITH:

Jesus.

LEHRMAN:

One day we were—working together, and the next—I never—saw him again. And I don’t wish to talk about it anymore.

(JOHNNY appears, in service uniform. PAUL appears from the opposite side.)

JOHNNY:

Dear Paulie—

(LEHRMAN watches PAUL reading the letter.)

I’ve enlisted. I’m being shipped overseas. I thought I should tell you myself. I’d have sent a photo, but I think I know how you’d feel about seeing me in uniform.

(Beat)

Paulie, I’m married.

(PAUL puts down the letter.  When he picks it up again, JOHNNY speaks)

It was arranged, Paulie. Her parents, mine. I had no choice. They had the ceremony the day before we were sent to Manzanar. See, her family was being sent to Hart Mountain, so it had to be done quickly. I’ve only ever been with her once.

PAUL:

At the station—you were married when we said goodbye?

JOHNNY:

I couldn’t have told you at the train. Your heart was breaking as it was.

PAUL:

And yours?

(He crumples the letter, hurls it away, and exits. LEHRMAN retrieves the letter, smoothing it out again as JOHNNY speaks to him.)

JOHNNY:

I swear to you, Paulie, I didn’t have any say in it. Ma—she suspects. Her best friend had this young, unmarried niece—she barely speaks English. The two old ladies figure they can kill two birds between them. No old maid niece and no queer son. And if they’re lucky, after the wedding night everybody gets to be a grandparent. God—the wedding night. I was so afraid of her—I thought of her lips as your lips, and I made love to you, Paulie. I—I haven’t seen her since. Ma says her friend wrote to her that my wife is very much not pregnant, and the way she looks at me when she says it, I know she thinks I couldn’t do my duty as a husband. And I don’t even bother to contradict her. She says, go on, then—go to your American army and learn to be a man if you can’t learn any other way. So my Ma hates me for not giving her grandchildren, and my wife probably hates me for not wanting her, and some of my friends hate me for going into the service. And if you hate me for any of this, Paulie, I don’t know what I’ll do.

LEHRMAN:

Hate you? Oh, you—idiot! How can you know so little about me? Don’t you realize, even now, that I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love you?

JOHNNY:

Don’t love me, Paulie. It’d be so much easier if you didn’t.

LEHRMAN:

Easier! When I think of you in that—that—fucking prison camp, I almost wish I’d never seen you on that stage in Little Tokyo. If I’d had the strength to keep from going backstage. If I’d had the spine to not want that first night to go on for the rest of my life. If I hadn’t fallen and fallen hard. But I did. And we can’t change that. Not that I’d part with a single memory. And when you come back—

JOHNNY:

When I come back, I come back to a wife. And everything that in my parents’ culture goes with it. Unless one of us has the good sense to die first. I hope for everyone’s sake it’s me.

LEHRMAN:

Johnny—

JOHNNY:

I hated you, Paulie, that day in the station. For being free. For being white. Maybe for not being a girl I’d be allowed to kiss goodbye. But I love you, Paulie. In spite of everything, I do love you. If things were different, if—Forget me, Paulie. Try. Find someone who can be what I can’t, and make a life for yourself. That’s all, I think—except—your touch sustains me, my love. No matter what I say. I do get through hell on the memory of it.

LEHRMAN:

Dearest friend. So do I.

JOHNNY:

I wish I had the courage to tell you all of this in person. I can face the trenches, Paulie, but not you. I’m sorry for this letter. I’m sorry for a lot of things. But I’m not sorry we met. Sayonara, koibito.

(He disappears.)

LEHRMAN:

Shining Prince.

KEITH:

Look, if this isn’t a good time—I mean, if you’d rather I come back later, I—

(LEHRMAN indicates he should continue)

About War and Peace.

(Beat)

Um—I’ve had to slog my way through a muddy field of conflicting testimony on this one, and I’m having a great deal of difficulty getting to the truth of the matter.

LEHRMAN:

(Beat)

The truth is in my book.

KEITH:

Is it?

(Beat)

I mean, that’s your truth. Millicent Haver has her truth. And if Sid Geldman had left a memoir, it would probably contain his truth. But somewhere in that jumble of recollections is the true truth.

LEHRMAN:

Perhaps you’ll tell me what the truth of it is.

(We’re in SID’s office, 1942. SID and PAUL.)

SID:

Paulie, you got trouble. You got trouble because I got trouble.

PAUL:

What trouble, Sid?

SID:

This damn script is no damn good.

PAUL:

Now, just a moment, Sid. That is the same script that yesterday you said was the most brilliant adaptation you’d ever read. I’m quoting.

SID:

Yesterday Ben Hecht had not read this brilliant script. Today, it’s no damn good.

PAUL:

You’ve brought in Hecht? On my project? Since when have any of my films required a re-write?

SID:

Since now, goddamnit! Since three million dollars of Sid Geldman’s money has gone into the preparation of this no good, it stinks already adaptation script. Narration—feh! Voices, voices, and no story! I answer to you now? Your name is Sid Geldman? You paid for sets and costumes and blood money to Jack and Harry Warner for the services of Mr. Rod Mitchell, they should only plotz from what they’re charging me? And your Millie Haver, who must play Natasha, her price isn’t what it used to be, either. Paulie.  I respect you. Have I ever said no to you? Even when you wasted my money on that first English stiff with that meshugge name I can’t pronounce? No. I gave you more money to waste on a second English stiff with a name I can’t pronounce even worse. But, Paulie—little Napoleon himself with his hand inside his vest didn’t spend so much on his entire campaign as I have spent on this War and Peace that’s breaking my back and giving me no sleep so soon I should be popping Listerine pills like that schmuck David Selznick if I don’t see a script I can use.

PAUL:

Benzedrine.

SID:

What, Benzedrine?

PAUL:

It’s Benzedrine, not Listerine.

SID:

So maybe David should stop with the Benzedrine and start already with the Listerine. That’s his problem. But War and Peace, Paulie, that’s my problem. This script, it needs more romance. More kissing the lips, less flapping the gums. How many times I must tell you, Paulie? We’re like any other business. Like Ford and Kellogg and Chevrolet. We sell a product. Drama—that’s our commodity. It must have the most scrumptious packaging, that’s what makes the people buy. Get them to buy the package, they’ll eat what’s inside. Mr. Hunt, what makes him sell so many grosses tomatoes? Big, juicy, red on the package he must have to sell canned tomatoes. Well! Don’t movies come in canisters? What’s the difference? We sell dreams in a can.

(We’re back in 1972. LEHRMAN and KEITH.)

KEITH:

That’s an interesting statement.

LEHRMAN:

A businessman’s rationalization. What comes in cans? Canned goods. By the way, Chris Isherwood passed on a couple of your articles from that magazine, the homosexual one—what is it called? Oh, yes: The Advocate. He admires your writing style. Not that I mind your being—I believe the term you prefer is “gay” —although you might have told me yourself. You see, I’ve also been doing a little research. Or did you think I would agree to these sessions without knowing a little about the man I’m revealing myself to?

KEITH:

Let’s see how much revealing you’re up to. I want to talk a little more about War and Peace. There have been a half-dozen different explanations for why you were taken off the picture. The least plausible of which—the costume controversy—

(Tapping the manuscript)

—you repeat here.

LEHRMAN:

Not so implausible. Not with Rod Mitchell. Your judgment stems from irrefutable logic. But it’s  not Hollywood logic. You must abandon any normal methodology when dealing with the movies. And most especially when dealing with movie stars. Now. War and Peace was, obviously, a period story, a costume epic. And Rod Mitchell hated costumes. A compromise to his virility—as though he was being asked to wear lace around his cock. That masculine identity was so terribly precious to him.

KEITH:

And precarious to maintain?

LEHRMAN:

I won’t comment on that.

KEITH:

I only meant that, so often the men who fear the most for their masculine image are the ones with the most reason to fear.

LEHRMAN:

I can’t confirm or deny that.

KEITH:

Well, what will you confirm, or deny?

LEHRMAN:

Rod Mitchell didn’t like to feel threatened by anything, even a costume. I wanted the clothing, Sid wanted Mitchell. So Mitchell persuaded Sid to have me taken off the picture.

KEITH:

Your own picture.

LEHRMAN:

Of course. Personalities are always more important than picture-makers. To a studio, I mean. Who knows from directors, for god’s sake, except for critics. Oh, and cineastes. You don’t fire Mitchell when you can fire Lehrman.

KEITH:

Well, I’m not convinced. But let me ask you something else. You worked very diligently to have Millicent Haver cast as Natasha. You shot the first week with her. Then, inexplicably, once you’re off the picture, Haver is out and Gravesend—whose last two movies were terrific fiascoes—Gravesend is in.

LEHRMAN:

You no doubt have your pick of theories to choose from there as well. Maybe Sid Geldman had the hots for her and wanted her near him. Or, she was shacked up with Rod Mitchell and Sid had to take her to keep his star happily satiated. Perhaps some genius in the art department thought she looked more Russian. I wasn’t in the room when the decisions were made. Who knows the truth of it? They fired me anyway, so what in hell can it possibly matter?

(We’re in SID’s office, 1942. LEHRMAN observes the following: SID, JAFFE, LITA, MADELINE in period costume.)

 JAFFE:

I think you ought to hear this, Sid.

(To MADELINE)

Go ahead, kid.

MITCHELL:

Tell him what the Jap kid said, honey. Like you told it to me.

MADELINE:

Please, Mr. Mitchell. I don’t want to make trouble for Mr. Lehrman.

LITA:

But you do want to make a name for yourself. Don’t you? And you’ll do it any way you can. Change your name, knife your director. It’s all the same. You’re no better than anyone else in this room. If you were, you’d have kept your trap shut.

MADELINE:

Mr. Geldman, do I have to do this? I only mentioned it to Mr. Mitchell because—well, because I thought it was funny.

LITA:

You didn’t think it was so funny at the time.

MADELINE:

But I was so green then!

LITA:

And now you’ve developed a sense of humor. And ethics to go with it. Convenient. Watch and learn, honey. This is a lot less humiliating than the casting couch. And in its own, sweet way, a lot more fun for everyone.

SID:

Miss Aubersohn—

LITA:

Overstreet—you picked it out yourself.  Remember?

SID:

My dear. If you have anything at all to tell Sid Geldman that affects maybe one of Sid Geldman’s pictures—well … I leave it to you.

LITA:

Let the fact that it could also affect your future remain incidental.

(Pause)

MADELINE:

Well, it was at one of Mr. Lehrman’s parties. I met you there, Mr. Geldman. Do you remember? Anyway, I was talking to that boy, the Japanese—Mr. Lehrman’s assistant.

MITCHELL:

Assistant!

MADELINE:

Only I didn’t know that, you see, and—

LITA:

Of course, she’s modestly leaving out the fact that she was practically salivating on his lapels.

MADELINE:

(Beat)

I said, “And what do you do?” And he said—

LITA:

Go on. Go on!

MADELINE:

—he said—‘I fuck Mr. Lehrman.’”

MITCHELL:

You hear that? Not even trying to hide it! Right out, like it was nothing! They’re probably both in Hirohito’s pocket.

JAFFE:

Security risk.

MITCHELL:

Our own little Tokyo Rose. And this is the kind of “artiste” you think you can foist on a Rod Mitchell picture?

SID:

I gave you the keys to my studio? You’re paying out of your own pocket the four million dollars this farblondget picture is costing me? Your name now is suddenly Geldman? I run this studio! I! Me! Not you.

MADELINE:

I hope everyone is very happy now.

LITA:

You’ve made us all delirious. […]

SID:

What do you want from me? Paulie Lehrman is already the best director I’ve got. Okay, so some of the rushes have been a little slow. You want I should fire him from this project? And replace him with who? Sammy Detweiller, maybe?

MITCHELL:

That’s your headache. I don’t care who you get, but I want that Jap-kissing faggot off this picture! Now!

(Everyone but SID and JAFFE disappear. PAUL appears.)

PAUL:

What?!?

SID:

Paulie, you want I should repeat it?

JAFFE:

I’ll tell him. I’ll be delighted to tell him.

PAUL:

Shut up, you.

JAFFE:

I don’t believe you’re in any position to give me orders, Leerman.

SID:

Mr. Jaffe. Paulie, don’t ask me to repeat this, huh? To say it once already makes me ill.

PAUL:

But not ill enough to tell Rod Mitchell to go to hell.

SID:

Paulie, you’re tired. From the rushes, the dailies, anyone can see it. You don’t have that old Paulie Lehrman energy. So, you’re tired. So maybe even you no longer care about Natasha and Pierre and little Napoleon. So, nu?—who could blame you? But if you feel tired, I should suffer? This picture is shortening my life. I have to replace you. I’m sorry, Paulie, but—what can I do?

PAUL:

So that’s it, then? I’m no longer on? Well, that brings about a perfect sense of closure, doesn’t it? First you take my words away, now you take my picture. Since it no longer matters, let me give Mr. Jaffe one more item to add to his files. Rod Mitchell, like so many young punks, came to this town on a rail. Broke. And proceeded to make his entree into the circles of the Hollywood elite by allowing—

SID:

By letting the faygelehs suck on his tinkle for money. And maybe he sometimes put in his mouth their tinkles. You think I don’t know everything that goes on in this town? I helped build this town! And now I need you to tell me about Mr. Suck-My-Rod-for-a-Shekel-Mitchell? You think I know fuck-nothing! Well, let me tell you, I know fuck-all!

(He storms out)

JAFFE:

He knew all about you and your little “assistants.” He just looks the other way when it suits him. Like everyone else. Until it becomes a liability. Go home, Mr. Lehrman. Your services are no longer required. I’ve prepared the standard statement for Polly Harper. “Artistic differences” has the proper ambiguity, don’t you think?

PAUL:

Tell me, Mr. Jaffe: I may be the one employee of this studio who hasn’t insulted you. Sammy Detweiller shows open contempt for you. That you tolerate. What have I ever done to you to make you despise me so?

JAFFE:

Detweiller I hate. But his movies make money, so I swallow it, that’s all. I have to. You just make me sick. And since your pictures are stiffs, I don’t have to swallow it. But, hey—it ain’t personal. I just don’t like fags. […]

 (The 1972 garden again.)

LEHRMAN:

The subject of War and Peace is one I’ve avoided for a long time. I hadn’t realized I was still so touchy about it. You see, I’d simply lost interest in making pictures after we had to abandon The Shining Prince. The house was paid for. I had no debts. I’d a more-than-adequate savings account. I wrote a few magazine pieces during the war, just to keep the juices flowing. Started a novel, lost interest. But I had my Master’s Degree in Literature. And with the GI Bill of Rights and the sudden explosion in college admissions, academic employment was not terribly difficult to obtain. I wasn’t sorry to leave the studios. I’d done good work, but the tide was turning. Television was on the horizon, and as the years went by, I knew I’d have been hard-pressed to compete in the arena of glorious Technicolor, breath-taking CinemaScope—

KEITH:

And Stereophonic Sound!

LEHRMAN:

And anyway, at least I was spared the blacklist years. Oh, and peddling lies for the boys from Washington.

KEITH:

Propaganda, you mean. Weren’t there loyalty oaths on campus as well?

LEHRMAN:

Yes. Somehow, I just never got around to signing mine. Whenever the subject came up, I’d take another sabbatical.

KEITH:

Do you think the internment of the Japanese was part of a racist agenda?

(Pause)

 LEHRMAN:

Nothing can convince me that it wasn’t. And of course, the way Japanese-American boys, if they were of draft-age, were given exactly two options to escape those wretched camps. The first was: prove you’re a good, loyal American. Kill your little slant-eyed brothers. The second: refuse to serve and go to jail.

KEITH:

Be a no-no boy.

LEHRMAN:

Exactly. You’ve read the book. Well, just apply that Hobson’s Choice to something like a blacklist: what does it take to make anyone spill his guts?

KEITH:

That’s an argument for openness.

LEHRMAN:

What do you mean?

KEITH:

What isn’t hidden can’t be exposed. The worst they can do is kill you.

LEHRMAN:

I must say that’s a compelling point to favor your argument! Look, all the intellectual preparation in the world can’t help you when the adrenaline is pumping and you have only precious seconds to decide. And in a case like that, you’re damned either way. Drowned either way. And as usual, I have the oddest feeling we’re talking about something else entirely.

KEITH:

Do you?

LEHRMAN:

Don’t be coy, young man. It’s not a becoming trait.

KEITH:

No, I don’t suppose it is.

LEHRMAN:

I imagine you’ve noticed that even in documentaries, people “behave” for the camera. They do it for tape recorders as well.

KEITH:

Do you know what you are, Mr. Lehrman? A consummate academic prick-tease. And I’m sick of nursing a set of researcher’s blue-balls.

(He begins gathering his materials.)

For weeks now, I’ve let you evade and dissemble to the point where I’d look for a hidden meaning if you merely said, “Good morning.” I don’t know what it is you’re so damned afraid of disclosing. Or even why, because I’ve already told you I know everything about you. And what I can’t ascertain completely, I can sure as hell extrapolate.

(Suddenly, we’re at a train station in 1942. PAUL and JOHNNY, wearing a jacket and carrying a suitcase.  Music comes in, lush and over-done: Steineresque.)

PAUL:

I—I don’t know what to say to you, Johnny. I never believed it would come to this. I was so sure I could get something arranged. So sure.

JOHNNY:

Paulie, don’t—

PAUL:

I’m sorry. I’m trying to be strong, but I don’t have it in me.

JOHNNY:

I thought I saw Millie. Outside. She waiting for you?

PAUL:

Yes. Oh, god, Johnny, I don’t believe this.

JOHNNY:

You would, if you were me.

PAUL:

Oh, understand, comprehend! But believe? Forgive? I can’t.

JOHNNY:

Paulie, stop it. I haven’t cried yet, and I won’t allow you to make me. You understand? No more words, okay?

(PAUL nods. JOHNNY takes PAUL’s hand in his and gently brings it to his lips.  Then he picks up his suitcase and walks away as PAUL watches him leave.  The music rises, swells, crashes, in the bestor worstMax Steiner tradition. At its climax, there is a kind of strobe effect, accompanied by a whirring sound, as of a film projector dying in the middle of a scene; the music slows until it runs down and stops, wobbling to a groaning close; the lights go to black.)

LEHRMAN:

Remember it right, for god’s sake. Remember it the way it was!

 (JOHNNY and PAUL reappear. This time there is no music.)

PAUL:

I should have walked over hot coals to get you that goddamned screen test.

JOHNNY:

It wouldn’t matter anyway, now.

PAUL:

Your folks, uh, have plenty of blankets? The nights are cold in Utah.

(JOHNNY nods.)

I want so desperately to kiss you.

JOHNNY:

My family’s watching.

PAUL:

Everyone is saying farewell to someone. No one is watching.

JOHNNY:

Everyone is watching.

PAUL:

Write to me.

JOHNNY:

You’re the writer, Paulie.

(Beat)

They’ll censor my letters.

PAUL:

Write to me.

JOHNNY:

(Pause)

Okay, I’ll write. Look, they’re starting to herd us animals into our pens. I gotta help my Ma.

(He looks at PAUL, then solemnly extends his hand.  PAUL looks at it, stares into JOHNNY’s face, then takes the proffered hand.  Beat. JOHNNY lets go of PAUL’s hand and, picking up the suitcase, exits. PAUL stands watching then slowly turns, devastated, and walks in the opposite direction.)

(LEHRMAN crosses back to 1972)

KEITH:

Well, you can just sit here with your palms and your cognac and play the perpetual gentleman if that’s the way you see yourself. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, Mr. Lehrman: The world has never taken root. It keeps moving, even if you don’t.

(Suddenly LEHRMAN grabs the young man. They are now face to face.)

LEHRMAN:

You see, I can move.

(Pause. LEHRMAN moves his head toward KEITH, who yields.

(Now we are in the L.A. of 1939. JOHNNY appears, wearing a robe and sits, removing stage make-up. PAUL appears behind him. LEHRMAN watches the following, still holding KEITH.)

PAUL:

Excuse me.

JOHNNY:

Yes?

PAUL:

Mr. Tamaribuchi? I—uh—thought you were superb. In the play.

(JOHNNY turns now, and smiles)

JOHNNY:

Thank you. Mr. —?

PAUL:

My name’s Paul.

JOHNNY:

Well. Thank you very much. Paul.

(They regard each other shyly.)

PAUL:

Well. Perhaps I should—I mean, I’m just in your way here—

JOHNNY:

No. No, you’re not. Please stay. And please call me Johnny. I don’t get many back-stage visitors. In fact, you’re the first.

PAUL:

Really? I find that hard to believe.

JOHNNY:

That’s a—queer sort of remark.

PAUL:

Is it? I just meant, you’re so good on that stage, it’s hard to imagine no one would— People should come back-stage to compliment a performer—

JOHNNY:

(Overlapping)

Of course, if it was a come-on—

PAUL:

(Overlapping)

—as fine as you, that’s all I—

JOHNNY:

(Overlapping)

—that’d be all right, too.

(Pause)

PAUL:

—meant.

(Beat)

Would you like to have dinner?

JOHNNY:

Love to. Go to the lobby and wait for me to change into my street-clothes, okay?

PAUL:

Okay.

JOHNNY:

Paul—

(JOHNNY brings PAUL to him and gently kisses him. LEHRMAN and KEITH re-appear. KEITH is about to kiss LEHRMAN, when LEHRMAN sees that JOHNNY has turned to stare at him. LEHRMAN turns back to KEITH.  PAUL fades from the scene.)

LEHRMAN:

The master bedroom. Go—quickly.

(KEITH exits, followed by LEHRMAN.  JOHNNY moves toward him. LEHRMAN turns back and sees JOHNNY. Pause. LEHRMAN leaves, followed again by JOHNNY.) […]

Copyright 1995, 2013 by Scott Ross

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Filed under Plays

The Dogs of Foo: Excerpts from Act One

The Dogs of Foo—Description

The Dogs of Foo refracts Hollywood of the 1940s through the prism of memory, and memory through the stylistic vernacular of the movies.

The frame is a series of dialogues, circa 1972, between Paul Lehrman, a long-retired film director who has just completed his memoirs, and Keith, a young, gay cineaste contracted by Lehrman’s publisher to ghost the book. The discussions—Keith’s attempts to fill in the gaps produced by Lehrman’s memory—center around Lehrman’s past as a respected writer-director of movie adaptations and the new project on which he hopes to embark: a film adaptation of John Okada’s post-war novel of Japanese-Americans, No-No Boy.

Among the personalities whose relationship to the younger Paul Lehrman figure prominently in memory are: Sid Geldman, the savvy Russian-Jewish immigrant head of the studio whose shrewdness and love of talent are overshadowed by his flamboyantly uneducated mangling of the language; Leo Jaffe, the oily studio Production Manager; Lita Gravesend, a popular musical personality trying to attain dramatic credentials; Millie Haver, Lehrman’s cinematic muse; Polly Harper, the fanatical radio gossip; Rod Mitchell, the egocentric but sexually anxious matinee idol; the ambitious starlet Madeline Overstreet; and Sammy Detweiller, Lehrman’s contemporary, a Viennese-born writer/director, raconteur and acid-tongued wit.

Lehrman, whose homosexuality is something of an open secret, relives his 30-year-old memories even as he filters out of them those elements about which he prefers Keith remain ignorant; only the audience is privy to Lehrman’s selective memories.  This is especially true of those involving Lehrman’s sexuality:

*His love affair with the young Japanese-American actor Johnny Tamaribuchi, whose ambitions Lehrman discourages to protect him from the realities of Hollywood’s prejudice (which leads to a split between them as Johnny endures a futile pursuit of his craft at a rival studio); Johnny’s relationship with Paul—which will leave the director virtually incapable of ever again expressing love—is on an inexorable collision course with history, exacerbated by Paul’s intransigence in not trying harder to further Johnny’s career;

*His physical attraction to a rising new contract player, Tyler Davidson (doubled by the actor portraying Keith) who is willing to sacrifice Lehrman—indeed any personal happiness—to satisfy his ambitions of movie stardom;

*His climactic brush with the racist tensions (and sexual terrors) of Rod Mitchell and with Lita’s secret rage, which result in Lerhman’s removal from the helm of his massive film version of War and Peace and precipitate his withdrawal from the movie colony. In this sequence, Lehrman himself “plays” Mitchell, in effect becoming his own persecutor.

As the play progresses, Lehrman descends deeper into the realm of memory. At moments of special pain or stress he breaks through the past itself, venting his emotions at his younger alter ego as the line between past and present vanishes and he watches his own history repeat itself, helpless to alter it. Finally, Lehrman lowers his resistance to Keith, intellectually and physically, only to pull back as three decades of torch carrying—coupled with his belief that No-No Boy will never be made–conquer his momentary courage. Keith is compelled to leave the older man alone with his memories, voluntarily surrounded by the ghosts of his largely unresolved past.

      The Dogs of Foo has a cast of  11 (7m, 4f  with 1 male and 1 female each doubling 2 speaking roles) and requires fluid staging and imaginatively-designed lighting to convey its cinematic presentation, particularly that involving the collision of past and present.

The following consists of excerpts from the first act.

ACT ONE

(Bel Air, 1972. The patio garden of the retired film writer-director PAUL LEHRMAN.) […]

LEHRMAN:

[…] Gene Scharff tells me you’re something of an expert on the work of my antiquity.

KEITH:

Guilty.

LEHRMAN:

[…] Well, you’ve read the thing—tell me: do you think there’s any interest in the memoirs of an alta kaka movie director who hasn’t made a film in 25 years?

KEITH:

You’re being disingenuous.

LEHRMAN:

Realistic. I must tell you, in all honesty I’m a bit annoyed with Gene for suggesting I use a ghost on this book. I wrote thirteen pretty fair pictures in my day. And the only time someone else revised my work, I ended up being thrown off the whole silly project. So you’ll pardon my lack of enthusiasm at being told how to write this late in the season.

KEITH:

I’m not exactly salivating at the prospect of being a back-seat writer to someone of your gifts myself. In fact, it makes me damned nervous. But Mr. Scharff feels there are sections of your manuscript that are—well—thin on detail. And I agree.

LEHRMAN:

So you’re to add dashes of lubricous sex and scandal to my poor, weak porridge so we can market a minestrone, is that it?

KEITH:

If it helps, think of me less as a collaborator than as a spur to your memory.

LEHRMAN:

I’m very well aware of whose name is going to be on the dust jacket, dear boy. And I’ve absolutely no intention of thinking of you as a collaborator, so you needn’t worry about that.

(Pause)

KEITH:

I apologize if my presence antagonizes you.

(Gathering his paraphernalia)

Look, why don’t we just pretend this unfortunate meeting never happened. I showed up late, and you refused to see me. Mr. Scharff can tear up my contract, and you may go back to puttering in your garden.

LEHRMAN:

Bravo. Just what you should say. Now, sit down, calm down, drink up and tell me just what sort of a burr beneath my saddle you intend to be. 

KEITH:

(Beat)

Well, the passages Mr. Scharff would like to beef up are the ones that describe your films. You have a tendency to skim, and since there are a number of people—like me—who believe your work has been unfairly overlooked, he feels, and I feel, that there’s an advantage in having a researcher to assist you in recalling the specifics. I took this work on because I’d like to see your films re-evaluated. I mean, the lies and innuendo that have been associated with you for so—

LEHRMAN:

Such as?

(KEITH says nothing.)

You know, I’d much rather talk about the future than unearth ancient history.

KEITH:

You mean No-No Boy.

LEHRMAN:

You know about that?

KEITH:

There’s not much I don’t know about you.

LEHRMAN:

(Beat)

Indeed. Well, then. Let’s be completely honest, shall we? The only reason I agreed to this extraordinary breach of my privacy to begin with was the hope that some attention to it might assist me in getting No-No Boy made. So if I agree to work with you, there must be an understanding between us. You can ask me anything you like about my movies. I’ll open up my home, my memorabilia, my photos, my shooting scripts. I have copies of most of my films. I’ll loan them to you, screen them with you. I’ll ease your access to my friends and colleagues. I’ll do my best to answer any question you put to me without a scintilla of guile.

(Beat)

But not one word about my private life.

(Pause)

That’s not such a Faustian bargain, surely.

(Beat)

It is the films you’re interested in?

KEITH:

Yes. Yes, of course.

LEHRMAN:

Then I need a decision from you.

KEITH:

You must want to talk as badly as I want to hear you. Otherwise, why bother to meet me at all?

LEHRMAN:

Don’t be ungracious.

KEITH:

But?

LEHRMAN:

But: I want a decision. My terms. Yes or no.

KEITH:

There’s no choice, is there? Of course I agree to your terms.

LEHRMAN:

Good. Then I shall answer your questions. But not tonight. Come tomorrow with your infernal memory machine and we’ll begin again.  Seven—

(We are now in PAUL’s garden, 1940. PAUL and JOHNNY TAMARIBUCHI, a very attractive Japanese-American, 26.) 

PAUL:

—o’clock. That’s standard. It’s no joke that movie people go to bed early. Hilda will know the seating arrangements. You can defer any details you’re uncertain of to her. Now. Menu books. These are terribly important, Johnny, so I want you to listen carefully. For every dinner served at this house, I want a clear description noted in these books. Date, guest list, and, most important, who sat next to whom and what they ate.

(JOHNNY smiles.)

This is deadly earnest, Johnny. I’m not being eccentric. Good food makes good policy. If Sid Geldman likes the chicken paprikash it may put him in the right frame of mind to say yes to anything. One party’s success or failure in this town may influence Metro’s production line-up for the next six months. And a case of indigestion could very well adversely affect the national culture for years to come. So it’s absolutely essential that you remember who ate what, when.

JOHNNY:

Okay, okay! Just as long as you don’t ask me to serve.

PAUL:

Johnny!

JOHNNY:

Cecil Wentworth makes Peter tend the gardens. Why else would anyone have a Jap around?

PAUL:

Johnny, I love you.

JOHNNY:

Cecil Wentworth says the same thing to Peter.

PAUL:

Listen to me now! If we hope to carry off the idea that you’re my assistant, we have to make a pretty convincing show of it. You have to be my assistant. Even Hilda mustn’t know the truth of it.

JOHNNY:

I just wish I knew whether it was because I’m a Jap, or because we’re fags.

PAUL:

That’s a word I don’t like.

JOHNNY:

Fag”? You say it often enough.

PAUL:

Only in jest, and among family. I mean the other one. No one in this house has ever used those pejoratives, and you get no special privilege because you’re Nisei. “Jap,” “Chink,” “Kike.” They’re all the same, and I’ll not have them used in my home. Not even by you. I’m not one of those sexual anthropologists; you’re not here because I find you exotic.  Although god knows—

(He pulls JOHNNY to him)

—god knows you’re beautiful enough. Shining Prince. What was that word again? The one for lover—koibito?

JOHNNY:

Koibito. And there are times—like this—

(Kisses PAUL)

—I almost believe you.

PAUL:

Remind me to prove it. After dinner. Because as much as I’d like to play newlyweds for the remainder of the day—

(He breaks the embrace)

—we have a dinner party to arrange. And Hilda will be back any minute.

JOHNNY:

(Seductive)

You know that pillow-book Peter mentioned? I bought a copy this morning.

PAUL:

You utter rat. And I have to be at the studio early tomorrow morning.

JOHNNY:

Oh? Well, too bad. Guess it’ll have to wait.

PAUL:

How would it be if I run a documentary after dinner? That should precipitate an epidemic of early departures.

JOHNNY:

I like documentaries.

PAUL:

So do I. But they only profess to if Robert Flaherty’s in the room.

(We are now in the midst of PAUL’s dinner party. In attendance: the stunning auburn-haired actress LITA GRAVESEND, 25; the acidic Austrian-born director SAMMY DETWEILLER, 35; the lovely actress MILLICENT HAVER, 32; the gossip columnist POLLY HARPER, 45; and MADELINE AUBERSOHN, an aspiring starlet, 20; GELDMAN; JAFFE.)

POLLY:

Well, at least that dreadful Welles brat isn’t here. I can’t imagine how Paul managed it. Little Orson Annie seems to be everywhere at once these days. My dear, you can’t pass a radio in this country without that doleful baritone assailing you.

SID:

Junior, I want you should come work for me. I know you want to make it on your own, I respect that. But, my son, I ask you, in all fairness and humble: have you? What have you made? At Universal? Working for pishers! Come, bubbulah, come work for Pop. We’ll make fewer pictures, but better. I want you should make a thing of yourself. When are you going to make a thing of yourself? You’re 34 years old—my god! Christ had gotten himself crucified before he was your age!

LITA:

Millie, you’ve got to tell me about working with Rod Mitchell. I’ve heard the wickedest gossip from the wardrobe mistress at Warners.

MILLIE:

Listen, hon: anything you hear from me is going to second-hand information. I wouldn’t let that mustachioed horse’s ass touch me if I had the clap and he was the world’s last dose of penicillin.

SID:

And what’s your name, my dear?

MADELINE:

Oh, I’m no one.

SID:

None of that modesty with me, young lady.

SAMMY:

Alone at last.

JAFFE:

I knew I was having too good a time.

SAMMY:

That’s no way to talk to a friend, is it, Mr. Jaffe?

JAFFE:

If you were a friend, it wouldn’t be.

SAMMY:

You’re so hostile to me. After all I’ve done earning little golden Oscars for your boss. Why are you so hostile to me, Mr. Jaffe?

JAFFE:

Because you’re an arrogant little Prussian sonofabitch, and I can’t wait for the day when you push your luck.

SAMMY:

I heard a story the other day, Mr. Jaffe, that made me think of you.

JAFFE:

Christ. I wish I was in hell with my back broken.

SAMMY:

Ach, you make my mouth water.

SID:

Everybody is someone in America. Look at me! A haberdasher from Brownsville. Born in the Ukraine, yet. And now I make movies with no help from anyone!

PAUL:

Except the Bank of America. Hello, Sid.

SID:

Always with the wise-crackers, this one. You’ve met Paul Lehrman, Miss-I’m-No-One?

MADELINE:

Oh, yes. Hello, Mr. Lehrman.

PAUL:

Paul. You came with Millie?

SID:

Paulie, Paulie. Such ill manners. Am I to get no introduction to this charming girl?

PAUL:

Forgive me. Madeline Aubersohn, Sid Geldman. Miss Aubersohn is Millie Haver’s cousin.

MADELINE:

Of course I knew who you were, Mr. Geldman.

SID:

My dear Miss Aubershon, that’s just what I was saying—that’s America!

PAUL:

Sammy. Leo.

SAMMY:

You should hear the story I was telling Mr. Jaffe.

POLLY:

If he misses it tonight I’m sure he can catch it at the next party.

JAFFE:

(Rushing after POLLY)

Polly! Just the gal I wanted to see…

PAUL:

Tsk-tsk. So early in the evening, and already trying to self-destruct.

SAMMY:

Ach! With that thing? How many Oscars are weighing down his mantelpiece?

PAUL:

The serpentine Mr. Jaffe has a way of getting even all the same. Little naked statues or no.

SAMMY:

When I start losing sleep over a cretin like him, you can chop up my movies for ukulele picks. So, how’s the kid?

PAUL:

You mean my assistant?

SAMMY:

Is that what I mean?

PAUL:

Johnny is just fine. Why don’t you go talk to him? He likes you.

SAMMY:

I’d like to meet someone who actually likes me.

PAUL:

Everybody likes you. I like you.

SAMMY:

Nobody in this town really likes me. I insult too many of them. So, you want to hear this story or don’t you? You know the difference between a snake that’s been run over by an automobile, and—

(Indicating JAFFE)

—a production chief who’s been run over by an automobile? There are skid-marks in front of the snake.

(JOHNNY walks past MADELINE. As he nears her she swigs back her drink and as he passes, taps his shoulder.)

MADELINE:

Oh, boy—

(She extends her empty glass.)

Could you get me a drink?

JOHNNY:

No, but you might ask one of the waiters.

(He walks away, livid.)

PAUL:

Hello, my darlings. Are we still meeting for lunch at Chasen’s tomorrow?

LITA:

Natch.

PAUL:

Millie?

MILLIE:

Of course.

PAUL:

It’s about time we had a heart-to-heart.

MILLIE:

This darling girl has been sucking my veins all night to get some dirt on Rod Mitchell. Promise me by tomorrow you’ll have some to give her.

LITA:

Or is there a story you already know?

PAUL:

Me, impugn the pure and noble character of that paragon of masculine virtue? I wouldn’t dream of it.

LITA:

knew it! C’mon—spill!

PAUL:

Lunch. At Chasen’s.

LITA:

Ohhhh!!

MADELINE:

Hello.

SAMMY:

Good evening. You are a friend of Millie’s, ja?

MADELINE:

Her cousin. My name’s Madeline Aubersohn.

(She holds out her hand.  He looks at it disdainfully.)

And you’re Samuel Detweiller. I’ve seen all of your pictures. You know, I can’t decide which one I like best.

SAMMY:

Neither can I.

MADELINE:

It must be such fun to be in one of your pictures. Having all that wonderful dialogue to speak. Heaven! Say, you couldn’t write a part for me in your next picture, could you?

PAUL:

Dinner, everyone.

(SAMMY blows PAUL a grateful kiss.)

SAMMY:

Have you met Johnny Tamaribuchi?

MADELINE:

Hi.

SAMMY:

Mr. Tamaribuchi is a very big man in this town.

(MADELINE, perking up, slips her arm rather grandly in JOHNNY’s.)

MADELINE:

Have I seen you some place before, Mr. Tamaribuchi? A picture, maybe?

JOHNNY:

Yeah. It was in House Beautiful.

MADELINE:

Huh?

JOHNNY:

Skip it.

MADELINE:

Well, just what is it you do, Mr. Tamaribuchi?

(JOHNNY extricates his arm from hers)

JOHNNY:

I fuck Mr. Lehrman.

(Gesturing and smiling sweetly)

After you, Miss Aubersohn.

(In a state of shock, she goes.  SAMMY roars with laughter.)

(We are back in LEHRMAN’s garden. LEHRMAN and KEITH walking, drinks in hand.)

LEHRMAN:

I love this time of the day. The light here does such exquisite things at dusk. So much has been said, you know, and written, about how dreadful California is, but do you realize that painters used to come here just for the light? Our South of France. Something about the texture. Of course, it was much more extraordinary in the old days. Pre-smog. What’s remarkable to me is that, with that absolutely brilliant natural example, and with all the superb craftsmen we’ve had out here, so little has been done in movies to match it.

(Light from above suggests a small covered bridge: roof-slats arranged with space between thema kind of shuttering as they pass beneath.)

Of course, I don’t mean to denigrate the work of my colleagues. But that sort of work is interior. Controlled. I’m talking about natural light.

KEITH:

It’s beautiful.

LEHRMAN:

Isn’t it? Only reason I had this bridge designed. Impractical thing, really. There’s nothing down here. It doesn’t lead to anything. It exists solely to showcase the light. Which makes it about the most singularly useless object I own, I suppose. Just a prop.

KEITH:

The light’s real enough.

LEHRMAN:

Still, the structure’s designed for the effect. So, in a way it’s just as artificial as everything else in this town.

(Beat)

After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we had some extraordinary sunsets. But at a cost too dear for the painting. Well, now. We’ve had drinks, dinner, and a digestive constitutional, and you’ve not uttered a word of complaint that we’ve yet to speak one syllable about my career. You’re remarkably patient. The young are usually so impatient.

KEITH:

My family had three children and one bathroom. Patience isn’t a virtue with me. More like a habit. Anyway, I was waiting for you to bring it up yourself.

LEHRMAN:

Very diplomatic. I do like young people, you know. I like their energy. I like their courage. I even like their recklessness.

(We’re back in PAUL’s 1940 garden. PAUL and JOHNNY.)

PAUL:

Recklessness! Sheer recklessness! Just what in the name of all that’s holy did you think you were doing tonight?

JOHNNY:

Playing by your damn rules! What do you think?

PAUL:

After what I said this very afternoon, you go and pull a reckless, stupid stunt like Do you want to ruin your name and mine as well, for the sake of outraging that obsequious little fool?

JOHNNY:

Oh. That.

PAUL:

It means so little to you?

JOHNNY:

You saw the way she was hanging on me. First she insults me, then she all but puts my hand down the back of her dress. It’s bad enough to have to play pretend all evening for a bunch of bigots—but her! I don’t care whose damn cousin she is, she behaved like a dumb whore who doesn’t know the right ear to blow into.

PAUL:

And you wised her up—in no uncertain terms.

JOHNNY:

Would you rather I lead her on?

PAUL:

Of course not! But there is such a thing as largesse. And in a town like this, where people rise and fall on something as unpredictable as public taste, you show it to everyone.

JOHNNY:

The ass you kiss today may save your own tomorrow.

PAUL:

You keep making jokes. But you never know when a sliver of careless conversation will end up lodged in your back.

JOHNNY:

Paulie, I’m sorry.  I really am.

(Puts his arms around PAUL)

Forgive me?

(Beat)

PAUL:

Oh, of course I do.

(Embraces JOHNNY)

We’re just lucky it was Millie Haver’s cousin.

JOHNNY:

It won’t happen again.

(PAUL breaks the embrace)

PAUL:

No, I don’t think it will. Your profile will have to be lowered. For a while.

(Back to 1972.)

LEHRMAN:

The young have a natural courage. They seem to breathe a different air. It’s communicable, in a way. It was one of the attractions of university life for me when I was teaching. All that energy concentrated in one place makes the atmosphere positively kinetic.

KEITH:

A lot of that’s nothing but sex.

LEHRMAN:

Oh, of course. There’s nothing quite so potent as the hum of several thousand adolescent libidos calling out to one another. It’s no wonder the young find courage so unremarkably easy—after all, what’s more fearless than a continual erection? No wonder Eve was so easily tempted. That is, if you believe Genesis.

KEITH:

And do you?

LEHRMAN:

Will that be the lead for your introduction? “Paul Lehrman doesn’t believe in God.”

KEITH:

I wasn’t thinking as a writer just now.

LEHRMAN:

Of course you were. We all do it, every moment, we whores of invention. There isn’t an act I go through in a given moment of the day that I don’t see framed through an internal camera lens. It becomes habitual, if you have any talent at all, I think. The moment it ceases to occupy your every waking perception, the day you realize it isn’t second nature to you any longer is the day you ought to find a different profession.

KEITH:

But that wasn’t why you—

LEHRMAN:

No matter how friendly or philosophical these discussions of ours seem to be, I still have the uneasy feeling you’re taking notes. There, the light’s going. I must tell you, I’m very nervous about that damned piece of technology of yours. It makes me aware that every word I utter is for posterity.

KEITH:

We can always change a word or two here and there in the manuscript.

LEHRMAN:

Yes, but the stammering and stuttering will be locked in on those little reels of plastic tape. Which will no doubt find their circuitous little way into some university collection after I’m dead, and there I’ll be, groping for speech through whatever eternity the human race has earned for itself.

KEITH:

Think of it as a movie, with yourself as the subject.

(PAUL’s garden, 1940. He raises a glass. LITA and MILLIE lift their glasses with him.)

PAUL:

Cheers, darlings.

(They drink)

I always feel I should hurl my glass into the fireplace after a toast. It’s become a curious feeling merely to hold it.

MILLIE:

You’ve seen too many movies.

PAUL:

That’s the danger in this town, haven’t you noticed? We all see too many movies.

LITA:

What else is there to do?

(JOHNNY enters, standing at a respectable remove.)

MILLIE:

(Glancing surreptitiously at JOHNNY)

Well, there’s always sex, dear.

LITA:

No, that’s no good, either. Most of the men in this town have seen too many movies, too. Or been in too many.

MILLIE:

Speaking of men—

LITA:

Yes! Paul, you coy little fink.

PAUL:

I?

LITA:

You’ve been holding out on us, and you know it. First you seduce us into lunching at Chasen’s on the promise of some salacious gossip about Rod Mitchell, and then you say it’s too public a place. Now. There’s no one within hearing distance except us, so out with it.

MILLIE:

Yes, for god’s sake. If you have the tiniest scrap to throw this bitch, please do so. I’m so bored with the subject I could scream.

JOHNNY:

If you don’t need me any further, Mr. Lehrman—

(Pointedly)

I have some reading I’d like to do.

PAUL:

(Overly casual)

Yes, yes, of course, Johnny. I think I can manage. Thank you.

JOHNNY:

Well, goodnight, then.

(He exits)

LITA:

He never stays after dinner. I wish he would. He’s terribly good-looking.

PAUL:

Shall I tell him you said so?

LITA:

That’s all I need. Another set of balls to contend with.

MILLIE:

That makes how many—counting your own?

LITA:

Kiss, kiss, darling.

MILLIE:

You ought to cast him in something, you know. The camera would love him.

LITA:

Oh, no you don’t! Tonight it’s Mitchell or nothing. Now, give.

PAUL:

Honestly, it’s as I told you. I have absolutely no information about the breeding habits of Rod Mitchell. Nor the slightest interest. He may copulate with chickens in Macy’s window for all I care.

MILLIE:

Which I believe he has.

LITA:

All right, if that’s the way you two intend to behave, I’m going home.

(Kisses PAUL.)

I’ve just got an early call tomorrow. Millie?

MILLIE:

I’m not on set in the morning. I’ll just stay here for a bit. […]

(She and LITA exchange kisses and LITA exits.) […]

That boy really is exquisite, you know. There must be some way to get him in front of a camera, even if it’s only a walk-on.

PAUL:

He’s a man, not a boy. And I won’t lift a finger to put Johnny in a movie. He wants it too badly.

MILLIE:

Just when I believe I’m beginning to understand you, I see I haven’t begun to comprehend. If I loved a man, there’d be nothing on earth that would stop me getting him anything he wanted.

PAUL:

Millie—

MILLIE:

Oh, please don’t. This is Millie, darling. I see the way you look at him when you think no one’s paying attention. I also see the way he looks at you. And, frankly, I’ve seldom heard a crueler statement in my life.

PAUL:

Millie, Millie. You don’t see the evidence when it’s before you every day. What is the most he could ever expect? The highest pinnacle he could scale in this industry would be to play Bette Davis’ houseboat. You’ve seen it, we all have. The brightest talents of every hue come here, year after year, and either leave in disgust or resign themselves to an endless succession of the most demeaning and subservient—look at Paul Robeson! There is no way I will be a party to subjecting Johnny to that. One walk-on would be enough to inflame his fantasies to a level so unrealistic that he might never recover from the eventual realization of the unscalable wall they’ve put before him. No. I will not whet an appetite we both know full well can never be anything other than starved, slowly, to death. I care about him too deeply.

MILLIE:

I still think it’s a sin not to share that face with the rest of the world.

PAUL:

If it makes you feel any better, so do I.

MILLIE:

No, somehow that only makes me feel worse. Oh, this town makes me so fucking angry sometimes. So, nu, huh?

(They exchange a kiss)

But, Paulie. How long do you think he’s going to be content to be known as your assistant?

(PAUL doesn’t answer.)

Goddamn. Some people never learn to exit with grace.

(She goes. PAUL is oblivious to JOHNNY’s entrance. He looks up. JOHNNY smiles. PAUL looks at him. JOHNNY’s smile fades.)

(We’re back in LEHRMAN’s 1972 garden.) […]

KEITH:

You want to change the subject.

LEHRMAN:

I want to change a great many things. The subject will do for now.

KEITH:

Well, why don’t we call it a day, then? I’d have to go soon anyway. A friend of mine works for the Hollywood Bowl. He got me a ticket for tonight. They’re playing some of Rozsa’s film music. Would you like to come with me? I’m sure my friend could get you in.

LEHRMAN:

Can’t tonight, I’m afraid. […] As long as you’re seeing the sights, tell me: have you been to Grauman’s?

KEITH:

The Chinese Theatre? No. I don’t go in for tourist-y things.

LEHRMAN:

Oh, you must go! It’s the perfect Hollywood emblem. Just a moment.

(He goes off-stage)

Grauman erected two enormous beasts at the entrance, seven feet tall. Called them “heaven dogs.” Claimed they were Ming Dynasty.

(Returns, wearing half-glasses and a book. He pages, searching.)

They may even be, for all I know. Ah, here it is. Near the statuary is a sign which reads, “Half lion and half dog, these sacred sentinels stood guard for many centuries at a Ming tomb in China. These massive monsters, surnamed the dogs of Foo or Buddha combined leonine ferocity with dog-like devotion and served to terrify the transgressors and inspire the righteous.”

(Removes his glasses and closes the book.)

Of course, in Hollywood the reverse is true.

KEITH:

You mean, the righteous are terrified and the transgressors are rewarded?

LEHRMAN:

No. I mean fear inspires the self-righteous—and they can’t wait to transgress!

KEITH:

And “the perfect Hollywood emblem”?

LEHRMAN:

The architecture—it’s absolute camp. It exemplifies our fascination with the exotic, yet the fact that it’s not really Chinese comforts our collective xenophobia.

KEITH:

Repeat that for me tomorrow, so I can get it on tape.

LEHRMAN:

You should be in television.

KEITH:

I’ll see it tomorrow. Grauman’s.

LEHRMAN:

Oh, no. See it tonight. Without the lights, the full and gaudy spectacle of its sublime tackiness simply cannot be appreciated.

(KEITH starts to exit, turns.)

What?

KEITH:

Nothing. A question.

LEHRMAN:

Ask.

KEITH:

It might cross a line.

(Beat)

LEHRMAN:

Enjoy your concert.

(KEITH stands for a moment, then exits. JOHNNY enters in a bathrobe, stands in front of LEHRMAN. We are simultaneously in both 1940 and 1972.)

JOHNNY:

Why can’t you be honest?

LEHRMAN:

Johnny—?

(The light alters, casting shadows of deep evening filtered through the palms and plants.)

JOHNNY:

Answer me!

(PAUL appears)

PAUL:

Which answer do you want that I haven’t already given you? You know you’re more valuable to the studio as my assistant than you could ever be on the other side of the cameras. Johnny—

JOHNNY:

That’s not an answer, it’s an evasion.

          LEHRMAN:                                                PAUL:

                                                  (Simultaneous)

Johnny—                                                                           Johnny—

JOHNNY:

I thought you meant it when you said you weren’t like the rest of them. All of these parasites, those—goddamned—rice queens! With their glorified house-boys! You want a piece of exotic ass, go to Little Tokyo. Stop your Isotta-Fraschini on any street and open the back door. You’ll have to beat them off with a stick!

LEHRMAN:

Is that all you thought you were to me, Johnny?

JOHNNY:

What am I, if not your—

         LEHRMAN:                                                JOHNNY:

                                                 (Simultaneous)

         A houseboy?                                                          —houseboy?

JOHNNY:

Your concubine. Your geisha.

LEHRMAN:

Stop it! Stop! 

JOHNNY:

We fuck, you pay me. I must be your—

         PAUL:                                                         JOHNNY:

                                                                   (Simultaneous)

         Lover!                                                                     —whore.

PAUL:

The man I love. My dearest friend. I pay you because your assistance is valuable to me. Do you want to work for someone else? Would that remove the price tag from your back?

JOHNNY:

You know what I want.

PAUL:

No.

JOHNNY:

I want my shot, Paulie. You’ve seen me act. You know I’m better than half the stupid mannequins in this town with seven-year contracts. Is Tyrone Power a better actor than me?

LEHRMAN:

(To PAUL)

No. Tell him.

JOHNNY:

Is Flynn?

LEHRMAN:

No! You know he isn’t. Both of you! You know!

JOHNNY:

Can they move as well? When was the last time Rod Mitchell acted? What do they have that I don’t?  White skin. Round eyes.

PAUL:

I agree with you! You know I do. But what do you want me to do? I don’t set the criterion! I don’t have the power.

LEHRMAN:

Of course you do! You’re one of them! If you don’t make the rules, who does? What’s the matter with you?

PAUL:

What do you want to make a career of? Hissing, opium-doped villains? White slavers? Do you want to demean your gifts by assuming the mantle of Inscrutable Oriental master-criminal? Is that what you want? That’s one option. Or would you feel better promoting the image of the Asian Uncle Tom? Could you really be happy playing servants?

JOHNNY:

What would be the difference?

LEHRMAN:

Get him a test. Put him in a part, a good part. Small but important. Give him some dignity! Promote a new image. Be the one to slip in the first wedge. Make a contribution, goddamn you!

PAUL:

A part of you dies when you see Richard Loo and Philip Ahn debase themselves—you’ve said so. Because you know it isn’t the truth of your lives. What do you want me to do? Hand you that self-abasement on a platter?

LEHRMAN:

You! It’s always you, isn’t it? Selfish—

PAUL:

Johnny, you want too much.

LEHRMAN:

—calculating—

PAUL:

So do I, come to that.

LEHRMAN:

—egocentric—

PAUL:

But, who can I ask for what want? Not that we aren’t entitled to it. But you want too much from me.

LEHRMAN:

He wants dignity. It’s in your gift.

PAUL:

(Kneeling beside JOHNNY.)

Ask me for something I can give.

JOHNNY:

I want to be a romantic Japanese actor.

PAUL:

Johnny, there are no romantic Japanese actors!

JOHNNY:

(Beat)

And whose fault is that?

LEHRMAN:

His, I suppose.

JOHNNY:

If you won’t help me, maybe someone else will.

(Beat)

I have a screen test in the morning.

PAUL:

Oh.  Who’s—

JOHNNY:

Marshall Kramer.

PAUL:

(Beat)

I see. And what does Marshall want you to give him?

JOHNNY:

He said he might have a part for me at Paramount. He thinks I have potential.

PAUL:

I’ll just bet he does.

JOHNNY:

It just can’t be because I’m good, can it? Why are everyone’s motives suspect except your own?

PAUL:

It’s Marshall’s motives I distrust, not yours.

(Beat)

Does this mean you’re leaving?

JOHNNY:

It might. I don’t know. But Paulie—you can’t hide an actor in your guesthouse. I know how you value a sense of propriety.

(He exits)

LEHRMAN:

You disgust me! Coward!

KEITH:

Did you say something?

(We’re fully back in 1972 but LEHRMAN is halfway between worlds.)

LEHRMAN:

Johnny—? What—?

KEITH:

I forgot my notes. I’m sorry if I’m disturbing you. I’ll just—I’m sorry, I—Look, I don’t mean to offend, but are you okay?

LEHRMAN:

I must look terribly dotty to you. No, don’t mind me. I was thinking about a new scene. For No-No Boy. When I work on a script, you see, I often go into a kind of trance-state. Acting out the different parts. I’m told it’s quite unnerving. Judging by the look on your face, it must be.

KEITH:

Oh. Well, I’ll leave you to it, then. Sorry to interrupt.

LEHRMAN:

Keith!

KEITH:

Yes?

LEHRMAN:

Is it too late to say yes? To the Bowl? I think I’ve been cooped up here with my own thoughts for too long. A good concert might be just the thing to clear the cobwebs.

KEITH:

Of course. Please. Come. I’d—I’d be honored.

LEHRMAN:

I’ll only be a moment. Go on out to your car. I just want to grab a jacket.

(KEITH exits. A whisper in the breeze rifles through the fronds and leaves. It grows in texture and volume; the air seems alive with unseen specters.)

(LEHRMAN, putting on his jacket, senses it.  He stands motionless, listening, then shivers and starts to go. He sees the dejected figure of PAUL, stares for a beat, then hurries out.) […]

Copyright 1995, 2013 by Scott Ross

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Filed under Plays

Playwright’s Progress

By Scott Ross

Production photos from The Collected Works of Yr. Humble and Obed’n’t

Butler Did It Garner News enhanced Dec 2013

A play I wrote in high school — a sketch, really — called The Butler Did It was performed for the students, and taped for local access cable. The Garner News interviewed me about it. January 1979.

Past Caring IMG_0001

My first “serious” play, Past Caring, was performed in 1986, in conjunction with Richard L. Spencer’s Western melodrama burlesque The Plight of the Nelly Queen, or: A Girl’s Got to Live. Out of necessity, I acted in Richard’s play, he in mine. That’s him, on the left. I’m in the center, but I wasn’t in Past Caring; we were still looking for a third actor when the promotional photos were taken. Hence, my hand in front of my face.  (As good an excuse as any for the camera-shy.) Richard instantly became, and has remained, one of my very best friends.

O, the stories were could both tell about this production… and have.

Living Room playbill Dec 2013The playbill for my first full-length play, at Hampshire College. The plot concerned a gay man and his adopted son. I was directly inspired by a playwriting class exercise, a story in the Sunday New York Times and, subliminally, by the third act of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy.

Witness Dec 2013

Nancy Watkins, the star of my monodrama Unreliable Witness, confers with the playwright… at least as far as the Cary News photographer is concerned. Produced by Raleigh Ensemble Players in February 1991, in a double-bill with Harvey Fierstein’s On Tidy Endings. It was the lowest-attended production in REP’s history at that time, by record. That both were un-pre-digested work, one of them a new play, was a hazard. An especially nasty, homophobic review by a local critic with a revolving closet-door was probably the final kiss of death. The direction, by Roy C. Dicks, was lovely, and Nancy was everything I could have asked for, and more.

Scottmarquee resized

The playwright beneath the marquee announcing his play The Dogs of Foo. Thompson Theatre, NC State University, May 1995. (Photo: Patrick Watters.)

Foo Dog

One of the eponymous Foo Dogs in front of the former Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in L.A. Photo taken by my pal (and fellow Roddy McDowall fanatic) Roxanne Mills.

Mic and Mike in Foo Dec 2013

Micah Cover, with the late and deeply lamented Mike Roark as the aged and retired George Cukor-like movie director in the early 1970s, in The Dogs of Foo.

Martin and Lihn in Foo Dec 2013

Martin Thompson as the younger version of the director, with Linh Schladweiler as his assistant and lover in the late 1930s, in The Dogs of Foo.

Dogs of Foo playbill IMG

Playbill from the Thompson Theatre production.

Lib Ed Larry and Scott

Larry Evans as the journalist Nick, with Scott Cherryholmes as the Terry Dolanesque GOP fund-raiser Micheal Kelly, deep into their dark, obsessive sexual relationship in A Liberal Education. Produced at Thompson Theatre in 1999. Larry lacked experience but would have stood on his head had we asked him, and ended up giving a very effective performance. Scotty was astonishingly good.

Lib Ed Larry and David

Larry Evans in A Liberal Education, with David Klionsky, who played his friend and verbal sparring-partner.

Lib Ed Deborah and Jan

The luminous Deborah Lederer and the great Jan Doub Morgan, as the Lesbian partners in A Liberal Education.

A Liberal Education playbill IMG_0007

The Liberal Education playbill.

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Filed under Personal Hisotry