Luigi Lunari: Three on the Seesaw, Act two, Scene one
by Stefania Bufano
The same scene, a few hours later. The Prof. and the Sergeant are playing cards. Mr. A is sitting in an armchair, facing the audience, deep in thought, staring into the distance.
SGT. B (at the end of a hand, scoring) – Seven points to me, nil to you!
PROF. C – Congratulations.
SGT. B – The last to play should never leave only one card on the table.
PROF. C – Did I do that?
SGT. B – Yes! When you picked up the five and two with the seven.
(He deals the cards)
MR. A – Where did you get those cards?
SGT. B (In a good mood) – Out of the fridge.
PROF. C (To Mr. A, reassuringly) – Noo, noo, it’s not true…
(To the Sergeant)
Don’t say things like that, you’ll get him worried.
SGT. B – St. Patrick’s fridge! Aladdin’s fridge! Ha, ha!
PROF. C – We found them on the counter, under the Singapore directory.
MR. A – But they weren’t there before!
PROF. C – We didn’t see them before.
MR. A – Don’t you think it’s strange, a Singapore directory?
SGT. B – Why? There must be tons around!
MR. A – Yes, in Singapore!
(No-one replies. He repeats)
SGT. B – I’m sorry… But we’re trying to play.
PROF. C – Why don’t you join in?
MR. A – What, and have three players?
SGT. B – We could play Bridge. The Holy Spirit can play dummy!
MR. A (almost shouting) – That’s enough!
(He gets up, goes to the bench, rummages around, finds a big black book – a Bible? – which he takes to the arm-chair, where he begins to read, very carefully. The others are finishing the hand)
SGT. B – Seven points to me, nil to you.
PROF. C – Congratulations, you’re very good!
SGT. B – Yes, but you’re hopeless. The first to play must always try to leave a card on the table.
PROF. C – But I never got the chance!
SGT. B – Of course you did: when there was an ace and a six on the table, and you had a seven!
PROF. C – But that only left the four. What if you had picked it up?
SGT. B – Impossible, all the fours were already down.
PROF. C – No, I remember that, there was still one around.
SGT. B – Yes, but you had it!
PROF. C – That’s true…
SGT. B – It’s incredible how hopeless academics are at playing cards. I mean all games: Bridge, Whist, Rummy… What’s the point of all that studying if you can’t tell an Ace of Hearts from an Ace of Spades?
(To Mr. A)
Maybe you businessmen are better. Hey, I’m talking to you.
(But Mr. A is totally absorbed)
Good Heavens… He’s praying!
PROF. C – Shhh! Leave him alone… What’s the score?
SGT. B – One hundred and forty-seven to nil. Shall we go on?
PROF. C – What do you usually go up to?
SGT. B – Twenty-one, usually
PROF. C – Deal the cards. I want to see if I manage to score at least one point.
SGT. B (Dealing the cards, and then playing) – May I tell you something in confidence?
PROF. C – Please…
SGT. B – You won’t be offended, will you?
PROF. C – I don’t think so.
SGT. B – You know, in the Army we sometimes have a coarse, only-for-the- boys sense of humour.
PROF. C – Well, that seems reasonable.
SGT. B – Do you mind?
PROF. C – Please, go on…
SGT. B – If by any chance you should get offended, let me apologise right now.
PROF. C – Well, I feel curious now.
SGT. B – If you want to score at least one point, you should try playing a cat’s tail!
PROF. C – Sorry…?
SGT. B – Or a mosquito’s wing.
PROF. C – But I didn’t…
SGT. B – Or maybe a falcon’s beak!
PROF. C – Yes, but…
SGT. B – In other words, you should stop playing the dog’s bollocks! Ha, ha.
PROF. C – Oh, nice one! Ha, ha, ha.
SGT. B. – You got it?
PROF. C. – I think I did.
SGT. B – Isn’t it good? Rather subtle, if you think about it. They say we have no sense of humour in the Army, but it isn’t true. The Army, for those who know it well, is full of life… Always jolly… Even when we’re staring death in the face…
(He stops abruptly, thinking about Mr. A’s reaction. But Mr. A seems deep in thought)
He’s really praying.
PROF. C – Shhh, leave him alone!
SGT. B – He must be really scared!
PROF. C – Shhh!
MR. A – I heard, I heard… But this isn’t the moment for jokes, my dear Sergeant! You should be praying too. If nothing else, pray that it isn’t really like I say! I’d like to see you if, through that door, or that one, or through the ceiling, or from wherever… Someone were to come in!
SGT. B – Someone who?
MR. A – Someone, someone!
SGT. B – Yes but which someone? Anyone?
MR. A – Someone I’m thinking of!
SGT. B – And who are you thinking of?
PROF. C (Pointing up) – Someone…
SGT. B – Ahh, God!…And why can’t you come out with it? He’s not the devil: the very name says so. Someone, someone… Listen, once and for all: first, this idea that you’ve got into your head, that we’re dead and waiting for an entry visa… I don’t believe it. Second, even if I were dead… I see no difference from being alive. But let’s imagine: suddenly someone comes in, so what? What does he do?
MR. A – What does he do? He passes judgement on us!
SGT. B – Very well! ‘Nothing to declare!’
MR. A – I can’t stand him! What does that mean, ‘nothing to declare’?
SGT. B – It means that I’ve done nothing in my life that I regret or reproach myself for. I’ve never stolen, I’ve never hurt anyone, not even in war, because I haven’t fought any wars. I’ve done all that anyone, and not only a ‘someone’, can expect from somebody like me…
MR. A – You haven’t got any doubts?
SGT. B – Nossir. There is no place for doubts in the rulebook. Doubts are for sissies, or for philosophers…
MR. A – All in all, a clear conscience!
SGT. B – It’s four o’clock and all is well!
MR. A – I can’t stand him!
SGT. B – “Holy Father”, I’d tell him, “did you perhaps expect more from me than what I’ve done? You should have made me different!”
MR. A – What do you mean?
SGT. B – ‘Did you want me to be a saint, a hero, a great man?… You should have made me a saint, a hero, a great man’.
MR. A – Who, Him?
SGT. B – Who else?
MR. A – I can’t stand him! I simply can’t!
PROF. C – Just a moment, just a moment! I think the sergeant has hit the nail on the head: which, if you like, it crucial question of free will.
SGT. B – Seven points to me, nil to you!
PROF. C – All right, I’ve lost.
SGT. B – From now on, if you want to play, we’re playing for money. Lessons must be paid for, ha, ha.
PROF. C – The Sergeant has a specific point of view. Ah, let me just state that I am neither on one side or the other. Fair enough, the situation is rather strange, strange things happen. If we were really dead… If this were, let’s say, the anteroom of the hereafter… I… Accept… I make no opposition… I bow down…
(He realises he’s talking more loudly than normal, addressing himself to the floor above, as if the listener were far away and high up. He starts to talk normally again)
Obviously, I’m talking hypothetically. Nevertheless…
MR.A – Nevertheless?
PROF. C – Nevertheless… Well, I haven’t committed any deadly sins either. Let’s say that I too have a clean conscience.
MR. A – Well, if that’s what we’re talking about, mine is perfectly clean.
SGT. B – Well, one wouldn’t think so, looking at you. You sit there, restless, tense, nervous, saying nothing but ‘I can’t stand him’!
MR. A – It’s you I can’t stand! You, you! With your hippopotamus-like calm, out there in the river, wallowing, nostrils above water, with your ‘nothing to declare’, with your comments… You’ve no conscience.
SGT. B – I don’t understand what I’ve said…
MR. A – You’ve said that, if you haven’t behaved as a hero or a great man, it’s the fault of someone who hasn’t made you a hero or a great man.
SGT. B – Actually, I didn’t mention the word “fault”.
PROF. C – That’s true: no appraisal of merit has been made. The Sergeant has merely… Made an observation.
SGT. B – That’s right.
MR. A – But this way nobody can ever say anything about anyone. Hitler and Stalin, for example, did what they did because they were what they were.
SGT. B – Of course, how can you deny it? You explain it to him, Professor.
PROF. C – It may be tautological, but it’s nonetheless irrefutable.
SGT. B – I’ve got a cousin called Adolph: he’s short, he’s even got a moustache, and if he combed his quiff over his forehead he would be the spitting image of Hitler. But he would never do what Hitler did for anything in the world. He’s on a small income, he’s got no interest in women or his career, and all he’s got he spends on travelling. Why?
MR. A – Why what?
SGT. B – Why hasn’t he done what Hitler did?
MR. A – Why?
SGT. B – Because he’s different. Because ‘someone’ has made him different.
MR. A – I can’t stand him.
SGT. B – It seems very simple to me.
MR. A – If you reason like that… I don’t know… If that’s what you think… There’d no need for laws, no more trials… Nothing at all. Somebody kills his wife… And says ‘Sorry! That’s the way I’m made!’ and there’s nothing anybody can say. You! In the Army, if a soldier punches a colonel on the nose, what happens? Does everybody say ‘Poor thing, it’s not his fault, that’s the way he’s made!’ or do they throw him behind bars?
SGT. B – Behind bars, court-martialled, and perhaps even shot.
MR. A – So, do you see?
SGT. B – But that’s an entirely different matter altogether. The colonel is not that ‘Someone’ you’re talking about! The colonel is not responsible for how that soldier is made: nor is the general, nor the Army. So, if a soldier punches me on the nose, he daren’t come out with ‘You know, that’s the way I am made’, because then I answer ‘And that’s the way I am made, and I’m going to drag you in front of the firing squad’. And I drag him in front of the firing squad.
MR. A – What, what?
SGT. B – One all, and everything still at stake!
MR. A – I can’t stand him!
PROF. C – Very interesting line of thought.
SGT. B – But to that Someone you’re talking about you can say something more than ‘You know, that’s the way I’m made’. You can tell him: That’s the way you made me! And then what does he say?
MR. A – What does he say?
SGT. B – What may he say? Nothing! There is no answer. He’s all-powerful, he’s perfect, he’s good, he’s just, he’s all-knowing, and God knows what else! He created Heaven and Earth, and no leaf falls that He doesn’t want to fall… If a poor devil on this Earth kills his wife, whose fault is it? It is a leaf that’s fallen the wrong way! And who makes the leaves fall?
PROF. C – Well… Here… Perhaps you’ve a little got carried away. Maybe this it’s a little extreme… I, for one, would look for a compromise, for a more moderate line…
SGT. B. – There’s no moderating possible!
PROF. C – Well, I’m sorry, but there is! It’s true that we’re all made differently, but it’s also true that in our own particular make-up – I mean, the way we’re made – each of us is faced by a number of choices: you can go a little this way or lean more that way. This gentleman, for instance, is a businessman: he’s certainly a tax-evader.
MR. A (rises, protesting) – Who, me?
PROF. C – Do you pay your taxes?
MR. A – Well… Of course.
PROF. C – To the last penny?
SGT. B – To the last penny, without exception?
MR. A – Well…
PROF. C – If you wanted to… Could you pay more? Evade… A little less?
MR. A – Well…
PROF. C – What is it that holds you back? Something stronger than you? Something irresistable, something insurmountable?
MR. A – Nn… No.
PROF. C – It’s probably quite the contrary: Heaven alone knows what you get up to to evade them! It would doubtless be far easier to pay up!
MR. A – Well…
PROF. C – Voilà! If the gentleman doesn’t pay his taxes, it’s not the fault of ‘Someone’. It’s his fault and his alone.
MR. A – For your information, I would pay my taxes, and willingly too, if… First, everybody paid them! Second, if the Government didn’t flush the money down the toilet! Anyway, it’s true – I’m a small time tax-evader. But I’d never dare to say that it’s Somebody else’s fault other than mine. In any case, I hope you’ll excuse me, but I don’t feel like arguing.
(He takes the Singapore directory and sits down in the arm-chair to read)
SGT. B – I don’t understand why he takes it all so to heart. He seems to hate me to death… Pardon!
PROF. C (After a pause) – I have to confess, I don’t pay a penny in taxes either on my private lessons. If we include my wife, it’s not a small amount.
PROF. C – Anyway, I must admit that I could easily pay my taxes. All it would take would be a little good will…
SGT. B – And why don’t you put your good will into practice?
PROF. C – Who knows? I’m obviously too self-interested.
SGT. B – And why are you so seld-interested?
PROF. C – A question of character!
SGT. B – Can’t you change your character?
PROF. C – Well, I’m made this way.
SGT. B – You see? You’re made this way! If you had a different character, less self-interested, more strong-willed.Yes, it’s true; you would pay your taxes! But you’d be another person, and this whole discussion would be meaningless.
(The professor shrugs, and seems to give up)
MR. A (Bursts out, abandoning his isolation) – So, all in all, according to you, everything’s all right the way it is…
SGT. B (singing softly) – ‘All is well! All is well, yes, yes, all goes very weeell!’…
MR. A – The professor couldn’t be better than he already is.
SGT. B – Obviously, otherwise he’d be somebody else.
MR. A – And so this world…
SGT. B – Is the best of all possible worlds. It wasn’t me who said it; someone else said it, I don’t know who…
PROF. C – Leibnitz.
SGT. B – And I totally and utterly agree.
MR. A – And I have never heard such absurd, such disgusting optimism…
SGT. B (quoting) – ‘If you can’t go to bed with the most beautiful woman in the world, just imagine the woman you’re going to bed with is the most beautiful woman in the world!’.
MR. A (To the Prof.) – Hear what he says?
(To the Sgt., growing heated despite himself) And who said that: a blindman?
SGT. B – My uncle said it, who still reads without glasses at the age of ninety.
MR. A (More and more het up) – Imagine, eh? What about in the morning? And what about when the sun comes up? And during the day? And if you get up to go to the toilet, turn on the light, and see her?
(Almost slapping himself)
And here I am answering him! Even argueing with him!
SGT. B – Well, it’s more to kill time than anything else!
MR. A – Oh, of course; if we don’t talk about death, or killings…
SGT. B – Pardon! But I don’t see what’s to be gained by being pessimistic…
(Pause. Mr. A continues reading, the sergeant sings softly)
“When I was just
a little girl
I asked my mother
what will I be…”
PROF. C – Hmmm. Anyway,don’t think you’re as big an optimist as you think. To say that this is the best of all possible worlds, well… It’s a two-sided statement.
SGT. B – “Will I be happy
will I be rich
here’s what she said to me…”
PROF. C – In fact, if you come to think about it, one could say –
(In a triumphant tone)
“This is the best of all possible worlds! Yes, friends, brothers, comrades! Out of all the infinite and possible word, destiny has given us the very best one!”
Okay? But one could also say:
“Nothing we can do about it, gentlemen! This shitty world we live in is the best of all possible worlds! We’re never going to make it better! There’s no hope! Kaputt!”
SGT. B – “… Whatever will be, will be,
the future’s not ours to see…”
PROF. C – What do you think about that? Eh?
SGT. B – Nothing! Only if you want to make life more complicated than it is… Do you know what we say in the army?
MR. A – That’s your own bloody business.
SGT. B – You see? He knows it as well!
MR. A – But I wonder if we really need to go on talking, talking, talking… If we then ask ourselves what we were talking about, we haven’t got a clue. We’ve been talking nonsense, that’s the only possible answer. I can’t even concentrate on what I’m reading!
SGT. B – It’s difficult to follow what a directory says. Ha, ha. There are too many characters, and many by the same name.
(Mr. A, irritated, gets up and shuts himself in the toilet, with the Singapore directory under his arm)
Do you think he’s offended?
PROF. C – No, no, he’s only a bit edgy.
SGT. B – I’ll tell you what’s the matter with him: he’s really afraid of being dead.
PROF. C – Yup!
SGT. B – Well, anyway, he should take it easy! If you gets het up on the first day… With the whole of eternity before you…
“Que será, será
whatever will be, will be.
NNNow I have children of my own
they ask their mother
what will I be…”
PROF. C – Shhh!
(He goes to the ‘phone, and unhooks the receiver)
No luck, it’s still dead.
SGT. B – Who do you want to call?
PROF. C – Home.
SGT. B – At this time?
PROF. C – Yes. I wanted to ask… Whether I was in.
SGT. B – Ah, I see you’ve also been influenced by our friend! This is catching.
(Suddenly the ‘phone rings. The two of them stop in their tracks. The toilet door opens, and Mr. A leans out and stays there, motionless, as if paralyzed. One, two, three, four, five rings…)
MR. A – Why didn’t you answer, dammit?
SGT. B – I’m not expecting any calls; it’s definitely not for me.
PROF. C – Why didn’t you answer?
(Pause. Another two or three rings, then silence)
MR. A – They’ve hung up! Couldn’t you bloody well answer, damn you?
PROF. C – Why didn’t you answer?
MR. A – Who was standing closest? You were!
PROF. C – So what? Who’s the most on edge?
MR. A – Why, must the one who’s most on edge answer?
PROF. C – Well, the one who’s least on edge, then! You’re the most on edge, he…
(Indicating the SGT.)
… Is the least on edge: what have I do to with it? If there is one person who really has nothing to do.
(Suddenly, the phone rings again)
SGT. B – O.K. gentlemen: the phone is ringing, I’ll answer it. Don’t panick, remember Tobruk! The knight in shining armour answers the phone. He picks up the receiver…
(Picks up the receiver)
(With a stentorian voice)
Hello! This is Infotec, Aurora Guesthouse, Olympus Press: as you prefer!… I beg your pardon?… No, I’m sorry, you’ve got the wrong number… Good Lord, don’t worry!… These things happen… Yes, it’s a bit late, but everybody’s still up… You too…
(He hangs up)
See? Wrong number. He wanted to speak to Mr. Coleridge.
MR. A – What about beforehand?
SGT. B – Beforehand? It was him again. Nobody answered, so he tried again.
PROF. C – Did he tell you?
SGT. B – No, but it’s logical.
MR. A – Logical my foot!
SGT. B – He called again straightaway.
MR. A – It wasn’t him, it wasn’t him!
SGT. B – Excuse me, but how do you know? We didn’t even answer.
MR. A – It’s impossible to make the same mistake twice.
SGT. B – The gospel says that the holiest of saints makes seven mistakes seven times a day.
MR. A (Getting nervous) – Yes, but a mistake happens by chance: you dial a three instead of a four, or a nine instead of an eight. And if you try again, the chances of making the same mistake are almost nil. There’s only one way of dialling a number right, but infinite ways of dialling it wrong.
SGT. B – What?! Only one way of dialling a number right…?
MR. A – And infinite ways of dialling it incorrectly! Of course!
SGT. B – Well, I’m sorry, but that seems utterly stupid to me. If it was really like that, people would dial wrong numbers all the time, don’t you think? While in fact, in most cases they dial the number they want.
MR. A – I can’t stand him.
SGT. B – Professor, what do you think. Doesn’t what I’ve said make sense?
PROF. C – I wouldn’t know… I teach literature.
SGT. B – Anyway, if he calls back we’ll ask him.
PROF. C (beside the minibar) – I’m thirsty, would you like something to drink?
SGT. B – No thanks.
PROF. C (to Mr. A) – What about you?
(But Mr. A doesn’t answer. On his knees is the directory, he puts his hand to his heart with a moan)
Mr. Topping!… What’s the matter!… Are you feeling all right?
(The SGT. and the professor rush to his side to help him)
SGT. B – Quick, quick… Get something strong.
PROF. C – Where? Have a look in the bathroom… A first-aid kit.
SGT. B – In the minibar… A brandy…
PROF. C – But there is no…
(He stops, runs without hesitation to the minibar, and gets a bottle of brandy and a glass out of it)
SGT. B – Mr. Topping… Mr. Topping…
(He takes the glass the professor is handing to him)
Napoleon Special Reserve! Mr. Topping, this stuff brings the dead back to life!
PROF. C – Shhh!
MR. A – No, no…
PROF. C – What happened? Are you feeling ill?
MR. A (pointing at the directory, almost incapable of speaking) – There… In the book…
PROF. C – What book?
MR. A – The… Directory…
SGT. B – This one?
PROF. C – The Singapore directory?
(Mr. A nods)
And what’s the matter? What’s the matter with the Singapore directory?
(Mr. A – still full of dread – replies by repeatedly jabbing himself in the chest with his right index finger…)
SGT. B – Something about you? What?
MR. A (slowly getting his breath back) – Me!… I’m in there! Do you understand? In the Singapore directory! I’m in there – my name, my surname… In Singapore…
PROF. C – What are you saying?
MR. A – Me!… I’m in there…
PROF. C – Calm down, calm down… It’s clearly quite by chance…
MR. A (tragic) – No, no, professor! No coincidence! This is proof!
SGT. B – But … Do you by any chance have a house in Singapore? No? So? What are you getting so hat up about?
MR. A – That’s proof, professor! That isn’t the Singapore directory!… That’s the last cruel joke from someone who’s enjoying himself at our expense… It’s the list… I don’t know… Today’s list, or this month’s, or this week’s… There are all kinds of names, look: Italian, French, German…
PROF. C – Well, all kinds of people live in Singapore, it’s a well-known fact. You know, one of those cosmopolitan cities…
MR. A – Quiet, for God’s sake, shut up! That’s not the list of those living in Singapore… That’s the list of those living in Singapore… Because they’re nowhere on Earth… Because they’re not here any more… Because they’re dead, do you understand? Dead! And I’m in there! Me!
(In the meantime the sergeant has picked up the directory. From a position slightly away from the other two, he flicks through it)
SGT. B (triumphant, serene, reassuring) – Ah, here we are, you see? Look! There isn’t anything to be afraid of!
(The other two stop, surprised, looking at him as if expecting an explanation)
Look, there’s even someone with the same name as me!
(Mr. A crumbles. The professor rushes to the sergeant and tears the directory out of his hands)
PROF. C – Give it here! Let me have a look!
(Flicks feverishly through the ‘phone book, muttering to himself)
Wittfield… Wittfield… With two tees! Wilkee… Wirtz… Wisnes… Wittek… Wittig… Wloczewska… Mr. Topping… Mr. Topping… Calm down… There’s still a chance… Wittfield isn’t in here!..
(He almost kneels in front of him, shaking him)
Do you hear me? I’m not in there.
SGT. B (Picks up the directory again, and leafs through it calmly) – What’s your first name?
PROF. C – Who, me? Jonathan. Why?
SGT. B – Here it is. Witfield Jonathan. Wittfield with two tees is obviously a bit unusual. There’s a printing mistake. You see? Full marks the Army, eh? See how it solves the little problems in life? Voilà!
MR. A – Shut up! For God’s sake, I’m beg you! Shut up, or I’ll throttle you with my own hands!
SGT. B – I’m sorry, but aren’t you being a bit incoherent? If we’re really dead, as you say, what do you want to throttle me for? And above all: how can you manage it?
MR. A – I was reading the Bible, a minute ago. I opened it at random, stuck my finger on the page with my eyes closed, and read… ‘I shall come like a thief in the night’. Dawn is near… And here we are…
SGT. B – Who’s coming?
PROF. C – Shhh!
The three men are motionless. Mr. A is filled with dread, the professor worried and dismayed, the sergeant calm as always. Suddenly thuds can be heard, like a stick beating against wood, similar to those that signalled the beginning of the performance in classical theatre. The three react, each one in his own way: reactions ranging from curiosity to anguished expectation. All of a sudden a trap-door in the centre of the stage opens: the door, pushed up from below, turns and slams down onto the floor with a loud crash, kicking up a cloud of dust. A moment’s pause, and then from the hole in the stage floor – thrown by an invisible hand – out comes a shapeless rag that falls on the floor beside the opening. Mr. A kneels down; then, all of a sudden, everything goes dark.
End of scene one
Copyright © Luigi Lunari – All rights worldwide reserved
Thanks. Make Yours Italy would like to thank Luigi Lunari for his kindness and availability. We are honored to have been allowed by him to publish on our website his play Three on the Seesaw, represented around the world and soon staged in Canada. If there is anyone among our readers in Calgary and surroundings, we suggest you to go and see it!
Three men walk into a room, each with a different destination, yet all three end up exactly where they are supposed to be. […].
Luigi Lunari Wikipedia (Italian)
Luigi Lunari (English)
Learn Italian: Tre sull’altalena (Three on the Seesaw)