A Fiery Young Man: Or, an Incendiary Lover

A Fiery Young Man: Or, an Incendiary Lover

By Enriqué Zumel 

Translated by Christopher Kidder-Mostrom

Volume 6, Issue 3 (Spring 2017)

Of Mummies and Mustard: Addressing scientific terms in Zumel’s Un mancebo combustible

Being married to a chemist, I spend what some may consider an unhealthy amount of time contemplating puns about chemicals (specifically) and science (generally). So, when I first discovered that Enriqué Zumel’s Un mancebo combustible was set within the walls of an apothecary shop, I was certain that I’d found an appropriate outlet for my comedic experimentation. Translating a pun can be difficult. Translating a pun based on outdated scientific practices, well, that is something special.

The play’s titular character, Casimiro, is indeed a fiery young man. He is also an apothecary’s apprentice, and as such he spends much of the play pulverizing materials with a mortar and pestle. The activity allows for some humorous moments to grow out of the pounding motion of the work. At times it is used to punctuate moments of anger; at others it simulates sexual intercourse. These moments of physical humor resonate no matter what language the piece is in.

However, it is within Casimiro’s first monologue on the first page of the play that the translator is confronted with a pun that works in Spanish, but not so well in English. The curtain rises on Casimiro grinding mostaza (mustard). He closes his monologue by saying, “Volvamos á pesar mostaza? Mi destino es vivir amostazado.” He suggests returning to weighing out the mustard, then he states that his destiny is to live a life full of bother and annoyance. The challenge was to find a similar pun in English that reflected the wordplay between mostaza and the verb amostazar (to bug, to annoy, to pester). My first attempt was to search for another chemical or medicinal herb that might have a similar feel. But nothing that I found could quite cut the mustard (sorry). So, instead I returned to the substance at hand, mustard.

While not well known at the time of this play, sulfur mustard or C4H8Cl2S (known commonly as “mustard gas”) had already been discovered by Fredrick Guthrie, who first synthesized it in 1860. Written in 1865 and set in that time’s present day, it is possible that a pharmacist at the cutting edge of his field would know about that chemical. However, as we know, mustard gas did not become weaponized (and thereby world-famous) until 1916, when it was used by the German armed forces in World War I. Given the depth of knowledge Casimiro and his mentor Nicasio exhibit during the play, I could not imagine that these two individuals would know about mustard gas. But, my twenty-first century audience assuredly would. So it is that with a dash of sarcasm, Casimiro is able claim “After all, my life is such a gas.” The chemistry-based pun is perhaps anachronistic, but it is there. And, it carries a similar meaning to the original.

Much has changed about the field of chemistry in the last hundred fifty years. Weights and measures have altered greatly. Early in the play Casimiro talks of a customer ordering 200 dracmas of a substance. Initially one might suppose that is 200 Greek coins’ worth. But, in reality the dracma was an archaic Castilian unit of weight that is equivalent to 1/16 of an ounce. One of my favorite things about translating is learning such things. The dramaturgical research that informs the translated work is always quite rewarding in my opinion.

For instance, did you know that people used to ingest a powder produced by grinding up desiccated human corpses? In English, that substance was called mummia, or mummy powder. In Spanish, it was simply termed momia. About halfway through the play, Nicasio declares “Estoy hecho una momia,” in order to show his dedication to his wife. Without some knowledge of old time cure-alls, that line would seem a bit of a non-sequitur, at the very least. However, knowing that by 1865 anyone making mummy powder had to have robbed a grave to accomplish the task (the powder was originally obtained by grinding up actual Egyptian mummies, hence the name), does shed some light on what measures Nicasio would take to prove his devotion. Sadly, conveying that information within the text isn’t really possible. Due to the line being a single thought within a rapid exchange between Nicasio and his mother-in-law, Ursula, its potential significance should be explored in the rehearsal room.

Each of the above examples involved researching the science behind the phrasing, yet the implementation of the knowledge gained during the research is what is most important. Studying and learning was fun, but the work of taking scientific and historical facts and fitting them into the final work took place in a workshop setting with two full casts of actors.

When I translate a piece (or when I write an original play, for that matter), most of the characters sound a bit too much like me at first. So, in 2005 I devised a system of workshopping based on the physical acting methods of Michael Chekhov, Jacques Lecoq, and Rudolf Laban, paired with a heuristic exercise borrowed from psychological counselling pedagogy. After a multiple-week workshop, the characters of the play each take on unique voices that speak less like the translator, but still maintain the essence of the meaning of their lines. Each of the previous examples benefited from this process to varying degrees: mustard most, mummy powder least. In the workshop setting the actors were able to play with the potential puns that I’d found (or attempted to find) that were similar to the mostaza/amostazar wordplay. It was discovered through the workshop process that none of the proposed solutions flowed as well, or conveyed the right tone, when in the mouths of our Casimiro actors. And it was through play during the workshop that the option of mustard gas evolved to being the correct solution to the problem.

With regard to dracmas, the process was less involved, but through improvisational exercises around that segment, it became clear that explaining what a dracma was would kill the scene’s momentum, and that referring to milliliters and kilograms (modern units of measure in chemistry labs) would sound clunky and anachronistic, so the imperial unit of ounces was chosen and fitted into the script. Similarly, the treatment of mummy powder was not elaborate. Once it was established that the scene’s momentum would be greatly hindered by defining momia, I decided to allow the lines surrounding it to carry the scene forward.

I’d like to close by taking a moment to return my wife’s involvement in this process. Not only was her day job a catalyst for my choosing this play, but her role as Ursula within the workshop assisted in the synthesis of many solutions used in the final product. Though the inclusion of scientific terminology in this play presented some of its biggest translation challenges, the work is made richer through the application of research into with world of the 19th century chemist. If applied correctly, I hypothesize that A Fiery Young Man: or, An Incendiary Lover will have a positive effect the audience’s dopamine and serotonin levels.


Enrique Zumel was a prolific and oft-produced playwright in Spain during the 19th century. His playwriting career spanned over 40 years beginning in 1849. In that time he wrote over one hundred twenty plays (as well as a couple of novels and some poetry). Zumel is best known for breathing new life into the Spanish dramatic form comedia de magia, a type of play that heavily featured the special effects of the day: puppetry, trap doors, rigging, smoke, mirrors, quick changes, transformations, and disappearances. Among his works there are also many light comedies, historical dramas, melodramas, zarzuelas, and farces. A native of Málaga (born 1822), he did much of his early writing there, prior to moving to Madrid in 1859. In Madrid he continued to write, as well as working as the editor of La España Artistica, a local newspaper. Zumel died in Madrid in 1897.

Christopher Kidder-Mostrom is a Chicago-based playwright, director, and actor. He received his MFA in Playwriting from the University of New Orleans, whose low-residency program (then based in Madrid, Spain) led him to start translating plays for the stage. Kidder-Mostrom’s plays have been seen in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis/St Paul, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Iowa, and Washington, DC. From 1999 to 2016, he was the Artistic Director of Commedia Beauregard, a theatre company dedicated to performing translated works. His own translations include “The Young Lady’s Consent” (El sí de las niñas) by Leandro Fernandez de Moratín and “The Mandrake” (La Mandragola) by Niccolo Machiavelli. Additionally, Christopher has the odd distinction of having written the only full—length play ever produced in the constructed language of tlhIngan Hol: “A Klingon Christmas Carol.”


A Fiery Young Man

or, An Incendiary Lover

Translated from “Un mancebo combustible” by Enriqué Zumel


Doña Ursula



Don Nicasio



Albacete, Spain. An apothecary shop.






An apothecary shop. There is a door in the center of the rear wall which leads to the street. On each side of the door is a pedestal table. Both tables are laden with the tools and paraphernalia of the druggist’s profession. On the left pedestal is a lamp. Next to it, a bowl of sugar. The sales counter is Down Stage Right. On it is a balance scale, some paper bags, a few tins, some glass bottles, and a box, among other things. There is a small table and a chair Down Stage Left of the counter. Upon the table is a mortar and pestle. A door on the left wall is far upstage. It leads to the laboratory. In the middle of the right wall is a door to the interior rooms. Next to the doors and the main entrance are jugs of chemicals, an armchair, and a stool.

AT RISE: CASIMIRO stands behind the counter. He makes a large cone/funnel out of a sheet of paper. He measures mustard into it.

CASIMIRO:   Oh! The life of a pharmacist! Nobody understands just how difficult it is to practice chemistry and manipulate drugs. It takes an ardent soul! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have an ardent soul. I have burning passions. And yet, I don’t have the position! That is what my passions lack: the right position! But, never mind that for now. Such thoughts! This is Doña Ruperta’s order. She wants one hundred grams. But what does she know if it there are ten or twelve grams missing?

(He puts his hand on his heart)

I can’t believe that my boss, Don Nicasio—that lowlife scum—is married to the most precious woman. And he thinks he can keep her all to himself!

(Comes from behind the counter)

No! I adore her! And if she feels the same, then I could find the right position for my passions! Ugh. Shall we return to weighing the mustard? After all, my life is such a gas.

CASIMIRO returns to his place behind the counter.



NICASIO enters carrying a cup and saucer filled with Café con Leche.

NICASIO:      Good morning, Casimiro. You’re already at work? You are a model employee.

CASIMIRO:   Yes, sir. You had a good night?

NICASIO:      I slept like a dormouse.

CASIMIRO:   You don’t know how happy I am! I wish you were always sleeping.

NICASIO:      (Aside) This boy! He loves me!

(To Casimiro)

This is my mother-in-law’s coffee. I see to its precise preparation myself. I roast it. I grind it. I boil it. She drinks it. Nevertheless, she is ferociously mean to me.

CASIMIRO:   That’s horrible! To treat you in such a manner! After all you do for her! And she never lifts a hand—

NICASIO:      If she did nothing more than lift it, that would be fine. It is far worse after she brings it back down.

(Makes a slapping gesture)

If only we had not agreed at the wedding that she could live with us!

CASIMIRO:   You were reckless accepting your mother-in-law as a burden. She’s a heavy bundle. Like a millstone around your neck!

NICASIO:      Yes, well, when it comes down to it, my mother-in-law lives under my roof.

CASIMIRO:   She’s a snooper. Always spying over her daughter’s shoulder.


Perhaps he can kick her out of the house!

NICASIO:      I’m going to take this coffee to her. Ah! I forgot the sugar! But, there must be some around here!

NICASIO sets the cup down on the counter. HE goes to a high shelf and stands on a chair to search for the sugar. As he does so, his back is to the counter.

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) Aha! A bolt of inspiration! I’m going to sweeten it with mustard.

(Puts quite a lot of mustard in the coffee)

That might get her to go away.

NICASIO:      Here it is.

(He gets down off the chair with sugar in his hand. He stirs it into the coffee with a spoon.)

There we go! If she’s not happy with this… Achoo! Wow, that’s strong. It makes me sneeze!



IRENE enters through the Stage Right door.

IRENE:         Come on, Nicasio! Where’s Mama’s breakfast?

CASIMIRO:   (Very excited) It’s her!

NICASIO:      Here it is.

IRENE:         She is losing her patience!

NICASIO:      Really? Can’t you see that I’m bringing it already?

IRENE:         And her sweet bun?

NICASIO:      Right. Casimiro— But, no! She always wants me to be the one who brings it. I’m going! Oh! The syrup is still heating on the stove, too! Oh!

NICASIO sneaks out the door.



IRENE:         I’m going to tell Mama you’ll be there soon.

CASIMIRO:   Señora! Señora!

IRENE:         What is it?

CASIMIRO:   Please, please stay! My goodness! I have no more than a moment to say it…

IRENE:         You’ve already said it a hundred times. And I can’t say it back. My place in this household forbids me.

CASIMIRO:   You would keep that from me? Monster! Tell me at least one word of comfort!

IRENE:         I… I… What do you want me to say?

CASIMIRO:   Tell me that you love me!

IRENE:         Such nerve! What gall!

CASIMIRO:   You wish me dead!

IRENE:         No, that’s not it! But there are some conditions…

CASIMIRO:   That’s your problem, for I am conceding nothing.

IRENE:         I have no concessions to give.

CASIMIRO:   Is that so? Go on. What if you had?

IRENE:         That’s not what I’m saying.

CASIMIRO:   Your hand! So small, so white, so soft. I must kiss it!

IRENE:         Never!

CASIMIRO:   You want me to die!

IRENE:         Come on! Have some sense!

CASIMIRO:   Sense! You make my life bitter as wormwood! I shall terminate my existence. Loving you has already obliterated it. You will regret this—but too late—when you see me here, laid out lengthwise.

IRENE:         Señor Casimiro, it is undignified how you’re always tormenting me!

CASIMIRO:   Nothing more than a kiss on the hand… One teeny-tiny—

IRENE:         Go! Leave me! My husband!

CASIMIRO grabs the pestle and starts pounding the mortar in a grotesque rage.



NICASIO enters carrying a baked roll.

NICASIO:      Here is her bun!

CASIMIRO:   (Sotto voce. Brandishing the pestle.) I’d like to knock you on your buns!

IRENE:         So get a move on. Get on with it. Mama still has her stomach cramps.

NICASIO:      Look, you take it. Your mother is scary when she has cramps.

IRENE:         Oh no, she is very nice.

NICASIO:      (Aside) Oh, to be single!

(To Irene)

I have not said otherwise. But my nerves… come on, take her breakfast and give it to her. Tell her that I prepared it myself.

IRENE:         I will tell her so.

IRENE exits off Right with the cup and pastry.

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) If this makes her leave… Ha! Nicasio doesn’t scare me, and with her gone… Perhaps this can set the stage for my lover’s tryst.



NICASIO:      I’m afraid that the coffee cooled off too much. It’s not hot anymore!

CASIMIRO:   (Working at the mortar) Taking it cold, it will agitate less.

NICASIO:      Horrible woman! When I hear her footsteps—the sound of her voice—my legs start to tremble… Casimiro! Can I give you some advice?

CASIMIRO:   (Moving downstage) Don’t hold back, boss.

NICASIO:      When you marry, choose a woman who never, ever had a mother.

CASIMIRO:   I was already thinking that. Although frankly, on the point of weddings, I’m not selfish: I prefer to let others do the marrying.

URSULA:       (Off) This is outrageous! Disgraceful! A horror!

CASIMIRO returns to his work.

NICASIO:      Listen. What is that?

CASIMIRO:   You’ve already guessed it.

NICASIO:      She’s furious!

CASIMIRO:   The coffee may be cold, but she’s feeling the burn!


The mustard had its effect!



IRENE and URSULA enter furiously with the cup of coffee.

URSULA:       Where is he? Where is that loathsome—? What did you put in here, monster?

NICASIO:      In the coffee?

URSULA:       I should throw it in your face!

NICASIO:      Could it be that it’s not hot?

URSULA:       You must be trying to kill me!

NICASIO:      It can be reheated.

URSULA:       You are a bandit!

NICASIO:      But, señora! Have you gone crazy?

URSULA:       Me crazy?

(She slaps him)

Take that!

NICASIO:      (Gently touching his face) And two hundred more!

CASIMIRO:   (Pounding away. Sotto voce.) This scene amuses me greatly!

URSULA:       Villain! I’ve already divined your plans!

NICASIO:      But, what have you been given? The coffee is exquisite! Where could you even get better coffee than this?

(Takes a gulp. Chokes. Sputters. Gestures wildly.)

Blech! Horror! This coffee—that tastes like—it scorches my esophagus!

CASIMIRO:   I know! I know what it is!

NICASIO:      You know?

CASIMIRO:   You put it down there by the mustard, and since coffee absorbs the flavor of everything—

NICASIO:      How foolish of me! That’s it!

URSULA:       Stop making excuses! Just say what you really want to do: to throw me from this house!

NICASIO:      Not at all. But if you are not content here, you need not feel duty-bound to us.

URSULA:       I won’t give you that pleasure.

(Preparing to leave)

It would make you so happy.

CASIMIRO:   (Sotto voce) This makes me even more happy!

IRENE:         Don’t go, Mother!

NICASIO:      You stop your mother, when you see how she treats me! I am her victim!

URSULA:       You have got some nerve! There is no bigger victim here than my daughter!

NICASIO:      Her? I am completely devoted to giving her pleasure in everything.

URSULA:       You do not deceive me. You make her unhappy!

NICASIO:      Irene! Say something… Are you unhappy?

URSULA:       I believe she is! Well, is she not always somber? Melancholic? Is it not true, my child, that you are unhappy?

IRENE:         Yes, mother. Much more than you’d believe.

(Shooting an admonishing look at Casimiro)

I am bothered. I am harassed. And, I haven’t a moment of peace.

URSULA:       Now you hear it, Hottentot!

NICASIO:      I made mummy powder.

URSULA:       Don’t play the saint! You don’t deceive me. Yesterday we were supposed to go to the theatre. Irene was done up beautifully. She wore a low-cut dress that showed off her graces. I went searching for her, expecting her to be fully dressed, perfectly becoming in a turban that was topped off with a bright red bird of paradise. And what did I find? My daughter was undressing!

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) I can see it now. It was going to display her whole back.

CASIMIRO leaves the mortar and crosses to the counter.

NICASIO:      Well, I didn’t object to the outing.

URSULA:       As if I didn’t know it: You say yes with your mouth, while sending signals that you want to say no.

NICASIO:      I didn’t send any signals.

URSULA:       I’m too clever not to understand the iniquities of tyrants like you. You are a tiger pretending to be a sheep to hide your claws.

NICASIO:      But—Dammit! If my wife does everything she wants to, and if I don’t contradict her at all, where are these claws?

URSULA:       You deny it? Fine. We’ll try this today: Let her go to the painter’s house. He wants to paint her portrait.

CASIMIRO:   (Anxiously) A painter!

URSULA:       Are we going? Will you allow it?

NICASIO:      Absolutely! I encourage it with all my heart and soul. I would go crazy if I could get my hands on a picture of my Irene!

URSULA:       But, do you speak truth?

NICASIO:      You will see. If necessary, I will swear it.

URSULA:       I am skeptical, for you are the Pedro the Cruel of the pharmacy.

NICASIO:      Señora! That is an abuse of the history of Spain!

URSULA:       Oh! If everyone knew you as I do!

NICASIO:      They would know me as the most affable and peaceful man in the world; as an apothecary, famous for his cold cream and his depurative syrup… Which reminds me! I put it on the fire and it is likely burning! I hope I can get there in time!

NICASIO exits.

URSULA:       Move along, charlatan! Judas of the pharmacists!



IRENE:         Mother, you are too hard on him.

URSULA:       Hush, poor lamb! What do you know? But now that he is busy, we shall take advantage of his momentary distraction to go to the painter’s gallery.

IRENE:         Of course you would like to…

URSULA:       And you, too! It isn’t every day that we have an artist of such caliber in Albecete!

CASIMIRO:   (Leaving the counter area) Is it Raphael?

URSULA:       I believe him to be far superior in his own genre.

CASIMIRO:   Oh! It’s some painter from the time of the Goths.

URSULA:       He is not old at all.

IRENE:         Right. He is a young man.

URSULA:       A young man that has studied in Madrid.

IRENE:         Heavens! A young man!

URSULA:       All the ladies are mad for him, and besiege him so that he might paint their portraits.

CASIMIRO:   (Angrily) How magnificent!

URSULA:       (Exiting) Quiet, jackal!

(To Irene)

I’m am going to go get dressed before you change your mind.

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) This painter makes me quite suspicious!



IRENE goes to follow her mother. CASIMIRO stops her, throwing himself at her feet.

CASIMIRO:   Señora! In heaven’s name, I beg you not to go! An artist, a young painter! He is a soldier of love’s fortune, armed with palette and brushes: do not trust the painter’s brush!

IRENE:         Don’t worry about me. You are mistaken.

CASIMIRO:   I am certain!

IRENE:         Besides, I would like to have my portrait in oils.

CASIMIRO:   When I think of you there with him giving you a thousand compliments, while I will be here pounding…

IRENE:         Good Lord! If until now I have not shattered your illusions, it is because I have pity for you. But, you’re asking too much. I tell you that I have made promises to my mother and my husband…

CASIMIRO:   And there you go!

IRENE:         I cannot stand another moment.

CASIMIRO:   And that’s your final word?

IRENE:         Yes, sir!

CASIMIRO:   Well then, señora, you are free to go! You have pronounced my sentence.

IRENE:         What did you say?

CASIMIRO:   When you return to this pharmacist’s home, it will be too late! Here you will find a different picture! Here will be my ashes!

IRENE:         Leave me in peace with your threats.

CASIMIRO:   Why must I love you? I am jealous as a Turk! Do you know who the Turks are?

IRENE:         Do I? No.

CASIMIRO:   Some men who smoke pipes.

IRENE:         Enough, sir! You should bear in mind that I am married.

CASIMIRO:   Don’t bother me with details!

IRENE:         It is funny that you are jealous and that my husband is not. He, at least, has the right to be.

CASIMIRO:   And you know why I despair!

IRENE:         And the poor thing receives rejection’s blast.

CASIMIRO:   As if from a cannon.

IRENE:         And my mother torments him!

CASIMIRO:   You pity him! You tell me that you love him more than me!

IRENE:         Now you see!

CASIMIRO:   I don’t want to see! What a shame! To love a husband! A Nicasio! A man who would not be able to kill himself for you!

IRENE:         For which I am glad.

CASIMIRO:   A man who calls himself Apothecary, but who doesn’t have the courage to carry poison in his pocket!

(Pulls out at bottle)

Here you have it. I am never separated from it—neither night nor day.

IRENE:         You’re just trying to scare me!

CASIMIRO:   Do you doubt my resolve?

IRENE:         Undoubtedly.

CASIMIRO:   You doubt! Well, for me it is already done! Goodbye, mother!

CASIMIRO goes to drink. Frightened, IRENE stops him.

IRENE:         Stop! You bastard!



NICASIO appears with a sizable bowl of cold cream and a large spoon. CASIMIRO goes to the mortar.

NICASIO:      My god! What was that I just heard?

IRENE:         (Aside) My husband!

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) Fatal cannon blast!

NICASIO:      What is that bottle that you’re hiding?

IRENE:         It is nothing.

NICASIO:      (Putting the cold cream on left-most small table) Come on! The bottle. I can see it. Give it to me.

IRENE:         What for?

NICASIO:      I command you!

IRENE:         (Giving it to him) Do not be angry. There you go.

NICASIO:      What does it contain?

CASIMIRO:   (Tragically. Ceasing work at mortar.) A potion.

NICASIO:      And for what use?

CASIMIRO:   For stomach pain.

NICASIO:      What nonsense! I want to know why my wife took it from your hands, exclaiming in a penetrating voice: “Stop! You bastard!”?

CASIMIRO:   Look, you have it already! That’s that…

NICASIO:      No. You seem distraught.

CASIMIRO:   Very well, boss. Since you want to know the truth, I will tell you. I wanted to go to a better place.

NICASIO:      And how do you know that it will be better there?

CASIMIRO:   Because, it cannot be worse.

NICASIO:      And for what reason do you want to destroy yourself?

CASIMIRO:   Do you really want to know?

IRENE:         (Aside) What is he going to say?

CASIMIRO:   Because life has wrecked me. Because it is full of thorns for a sensitive heart like mine.

NICASIO:      Perhaps you are in love?

CASIMIRO:   Yes, my beloved employer! Ardently in love! I feed a fatal passion, which knows no equal on Earth, or its heavenly neighbors.

IRENE:         (Sotto voce) He is going to confess it!

NICASIO:      And the object of this love, it is a woman!

CASIMIRO:   You have guessed it! What insight!

NICASIO:      Do I know her?

CASIMIRO:   Too well.

IRENE:         (To herself) My God!

NICASIO:      Say it! This moment! Her name!

CASIMIRO:   Do not ask that of me!

NICASIO:      Her name, Casimiro, her name!

CASIMIRO:   Since you insist, it’s…

(Seeing that IRENE is caught in a moment of terror)

Doña Ursula, your mother-in-law.

NICASIO:      (Attempting to hold back his laughter) Get out of here! You’re pulling my leg.

IRENE:         (Aside) Jesus! I feared that my honor would be compromised.

CASIMIRO:   I understand the beastliness, the absurdity. But, in disgrace, that is how it is. No more, no less.

NICASIO:      And for that you want to commit suicide?

CASIMIRO:   As you may well know, the heart does what it wants. It cannot be commanded or controlled.

NICASIO:      But, does she not reciprocate your love?

CASIMIRO:   I would have taken my secret with me to the tomb, had your wife not grabbed my arm.

NICASIO:      Then, my mother-in-law does not know?

CASIMIRO:   Oh! She does not know! And I beg you to not tell her. Please, do not reveal my guilty inclination.

NICASIO:      (Aside) Through my apprentice I could be rid of my mother-in-law! What a deal!



URSULA:       (Entering, overly made-up) Let’s go, I’m ready now.

NICASIO:      And very beautiful! Look, Casimiro, doesn’t she look good? Like Venus coming out of her sea shell.

URSULA:       How gallant you are today, my son-in-law!

NICASIO:      On my honor, you seem to be the sister of your daughter.

CASIMIRO:   (Moving to the counter) Younger sister.

URSULA:       Him, too!

NICASIO:      Oh, I should say so! He is especially game—

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) What I especially want is the end of this game.

URSULA:       Enough flattery. We must occupy ourselves with the portrait of Irene. But, what have you been doing? You’re not dressed yet!

IRENE:         Pardon me, but I’ve thought better of it—

URSULA:       What’s that?

IRENE:         I don’t want my portrait done without my blue dress, and the seamstress hasn’t finished it yet.

CASIMIRO:   She is an angel!

URSULA:       The blue dress! That is an excuse this rogue has suggested to you!

NICASIO:      Señora! I would not be mixed up in such a thing!

URSULA:       You would so! You have turned her into a sheep! I don’t trust you, you see. Because you are a jealous, fierce tiger!

NICASIO:      (Goes to the small table, picks up the cold cream and stirs with the spoon) Oh, I am all sorts of fierce! Especially when I’m preparing a thing so smooth as cold-cream!

URSULA:       Oh, how I pity you, my child! You are forced to lie to your mother!

(To Nicasio)

Hypocrite! You think that I have given you my daughter to martyr her? To crush her soul as you do your compounds?

IRENE:         (Aside to Casimiro) Another scandalous scene because of you!

NICASIO:      If there is a martyr here, it is me. You have turned my home into a Hell! You are the serpent in this paradise!

URSULA:       Ruffian! You dare call me a serpent!

CASIMIRO:   (Sotto voce) A rattlesnake!

URSULA:       You insult me!

NICASIO:      I defend myself! I will no longer keep my mouth closed.

URSULA takes the spoon from the bowl of cold cream. She loads it up, then shoves it in NICASIO’s mouth and smears the cold cream all over his face.

URSULA:       No? Take that!

NICASIO:      I must learn to keep my mouth closed.

IRENE:         Mother, I can assure you that you are wrong.

URSULA:       Don’t you defend him, because that just makes me even more angry with him! March yourself over to your hat and put it on. You have to accompany me on a visit.

CASIMIRO:   (Alarmed) A visit?

IRENE:         To the painter’s gallery?

URSULA:       No, señora. To the lawyer’s office: a separation is essential.

NICASIO:      What? Irene and I? Separate?!

CASIMIRO:   Not that.

NICASIO:      First of all, señora, you and I must have a very serious chat. Casimiro, march over to the house of Doña Ruperta, and give her this bill.

NICASIO gives CASIMIRO a folded piece of paper.

CASIMIRO:   I leave this moment.

(Whispering to Nicasio)

My God, Boss! Do not let this separation be carried out!


NICASIO:      (To Irene) You go get dressed.

IRENE:         Very well.

IRENE exits.



URSULA:       You’ll wear yourself out if you try to bend me with your words. I warn you, my resolution is fierce.

NICASIO:      It keeps you beautiful.

URSULA:       What?!

NICASIO:      You captivate unsuspecting hearts!

URSULA:       What farce is this?

NICASIO:      You inspire a vehement passion!

URSULA:       What is this? Monster!

NICASIO:      No, señora, not a monster. Casimiro.

URSULA:       Are you making fun of me?

NICASIO:      Certainly not. Casimiro feels a violent passion for you.

URSULA:       He has said nothing to me. Are your words more reliable than his own, Nicasio?

NICASIO:      He doesn’t dare declare it. And today, if not for Irene—

URSULA:       And that— that is what he told you?

NICASIO:      I arrived at the moment he was going to poison himself.

URSULA:       Suicide! Go on, tell me everything!

NICASIO:      I walked into the room with my bowl of cold cream, then suddenly I heard my wife screaming at him: “Stop, you bastard!”

URSULA:       So, she yelled “Stop, you bastard”?

NICASIO:      There’s more. She ripped this bottle of poison from his crazed grasp.

URSULA:       So, you’re saying that my daughter…

NICASIO:      The poor thing was so touched! You see, this young man attempted suicide! I skillfully interrogated him, and he confessed that he was in love.

URSULA:       You wanted to know with whom?

NICASIO:      Rightly so. But, he kept his secret as closed as a tightly corked bottle. Yet, the corkscrew of my questions revealed a name: Doña Ursula.

URSULA:       That’s all the evidence you got?

NICASIO:      Isn’t it enough? Tell me, how shall I answer that poor boy?

URSULA:       I will answer him myself.

NICASIO:      Will you marry him?

URSULA:       Who knows?

NICASIO:      (Aside) How happy I would be!

(To Ursula)

You will live so happily with your husband… in his house!

URSULA:       We shall see.



CASIMIRO enters, bill in hand.

CASIMIRO:   Señor, as I have gone, so I return.

URSULA:       (Aside) He’s not the sharpest tack, is he?

NICASIO:      And, Doña Ruperta’s account?

CASIMIRO:   Don’t you see? She hasn’t paid. She wants a discount.

NICASIO:      A discount? She owes a pittance, a mere ten duros!

CASIMIRO:   She says she won’t pay more than ten reales.

NICASIO:      And you didn’t take it? Don’t you know that’s still a profit of five!

URSULA:       You should really cease being an apothecary.

CASIMIRO:   If you want me to go back…

NICASIO:      No. You will go tomorrow. Stay.


I was talking to my mother-in-law. It is all set.

CASIMIRO:   (Whispers) You demon! I suffer your indiscretion!

NICASIO:      (Still whispering) It’s for your own good. You came off as very tender, very gallant. She will make you very happy.

NICASIO exits.



CASIMIRO:   (Aside) A fine mess that dimwit’s put me in!

URSULA:       (Aside) Let’s see if this rascal can get out of trouble!

(To Casimiro)

Casimiro, is it true what has been revealed to me by my son-in-law?

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) What a mess! I’ll encourage the mood. If I don’t, I’m found out.

URSULA:       (Coquettishly)      Is it true that you find my dubious charms—

CASIMIRO:   Dubious, señora! Your charms fascinate and captivate! I would have tried to bury my secret! Because, after all… I am no more than a simple apprentice… of an apothecary!

URSULA:       So it is true. I’d thought those day were gone when I could inspire such passion!


Casimiro! Casimiro!

CASIMIRO:   Oh my! Such tenderness!

URSULA:       You love me?

CASIMIRO:   Deliriously! Rabidly!

(Sotto Voce)

Damn Nicasio!

(To Ursula)

Like a volcano, my love is combustible, terrible, and irresistible!

URSULA:       Hush, hush! Your words fascinate me. Your eyes scorch me. I burn.

CASIMIRO:   I’m giving it my best shot.

URSULA:       What did you say?

CASIMIRO:   I’ll feel as if I’ve been shot, if confronted by your contempt.

URSULA:       Casimiro, what you have wished for, will come to be! My breast also holds a hidden fire. My son-in-law’s lips blew on the coals, and it has become a voracious inferno!

CASIMIRO:   It is true! My mentor was the bellows!

(Indicating his chest)

I burn.

URSULA:       Do you want us to marry?

CASIMIRO:   (Sotto voce) Geronimo!

(To Ursula)

Someday, when I am well—established.

URSULA:       I am not so needy, and I am ready to make you happy.

CASIMIRO:   Wait… You pity me… You give me your hand in compassion, and that—

URSULA:       No, it is not just compassion. Didn’t I just say that my breast-fire smoldered?

CASIMIRO:   It’s true. But, still the flames have not been fed in such a long time.

URSULA:       Must I just come out and say it this once? I love you!

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) The spark is ignited! The chase begins!

URSULA:       I can’t wait to send out the announcements! We’ll tell everyone at church this Sunday!

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) There is no escape!

URSULA:       But, as the interests of my daughter will suffer, if God were to grant us numerous offspring…

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) I can see a clearing!

URSULA:       We must have her consent.

CASIMIRO:   Irene will never consent.

URSULA:       Who knows? You should ask for my hand.

CASIMIRO:   Who? Me?



IRENE:         (Enters) Mother, I am dressed now.

URSULA:       My dearest daughter, before we go, Casimiro has something to ask you.

IRENE:         Him? What does he want?

CASIMIRO:   I don’t dare. Perhaps later…

URSULA:       No! It must be done now. And since he does not dare, I shall do the talking.

CASIMIRO:   (Sotto Voce) Oh! I wish you hadn’t started talking!

IRENE:         I’m listening.

URSULA:       Casimiro has declared that he is deliriously in love with me.

IRENE:         With you? Him?!

URSULA:       Him. With me. Furthermore, he is impatient for us to be married.

IRENE:         You’re going to marry him? Is it true, Casimiro?

CASIMIRO:   Yes… I mean, no… yes!  Damn! I’ll explain… in… forty or fifty years.

URSULA:       (Exploding) There is no need to explain anything, you Jezebel! Fool! You thought you’d deceived me!

IRENE:         What?

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) I’m screwed.

URSULA:       I know everything! I picked up the thread of the plot! I’m not blind!

IRENE:         I swear, mother, that I am innocent!

URSULA:       Do you hear that, rogue?

CASIMIRO:   Well then, yes. I love her. We adore each other.

URSULA:       You fraud!

IRENE:         Believe it or not, Mama! He is the one who hounds me, the one who pesters me.

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) She’s good at the cover up!

URSULA:       Señor Casimiro, you can pack up your chest and go elsewhere.

CASIMIRO:   I’ll leave when I am dismissed by the master of the house.

URSULA:       He has nothing to do with it.

CASIMIRO:   He is my boss, and I do not obey anyone other than my boss. You are a nonentity here. Nothing.

URSULA:       I’m nothing?

(Slaps Casimiro)

I’ll show you nothing!

CASIMIRO:   Well! Lady, that was something!

IRENE:         My mother is right. You can no longer live in this house.

CASIMIRO:   (Whispered to Irene) You want me dead!

IRENE:         I want you to leave.

CASIMIRO:   Fine! I am going to obey you.

(Pulls bottle from his pocket. Shows it to her.)

I still have another bottle.

IRENE:         Another!

URSULA:       So, drink it, and leave us in peace!

CASIMIRO:   When I get back, you’ll know! You’ll know.




URSULA:       Thank God! We are rid of him!

NICASIO:      (Entering) So? What’s the news? Are we having a wedding?

URSULA:       (Aside) Poor, blind fool! There are some obstacles in the way of that. I have always looked at you wrong, and today—

NICASIO:      Hello! What? Am I no longer a fierce tiger?

URSULA:       A tiger? You never were. You are an unfortunate man. Isn’t that true, daughter?

IRENE:         Oh, mother! He is the best of husbands.

URSULA:       Come, I want to give you a hug.

NICASIO:      (Aside) Is the monster on her death bed? Whatever Casimiro said, he must have said it well, for love has tamed the beast!

(To Ursula)

When is the wedding?

URSULA:       What wedding?

NICASIO:      Yours and Casimiro’s.



CASIMIRO enters carrying a chest.

NICASIO:      Where are you going with that?

CASIMIRO:   (Dropping the chest near the front door) I don’t know yet. I shall go where fortune takes me.

NICASIO:      Calm down, man! You are going to marry my mother-in-law!

CASIMIRO:   My innocent mentor! She dismissed me. She banished me. She threw me out into the street like a dog that tried to eat her chops.

NICASIO:      How can you be so cruel to a young man in love? One who has turned to poison!

URSULA:       He scares me. He horrifies me. And that’s precisely why he must get the hell out!

IRENE:         My mother is doing the right thing.

CASIMIRO:   (Whining) Oh, Señor! How sorry I am to leave you all!

NICASIO:      (Ridiculously touched) Then don’t leave us!

IRENE:         What?! You stop him?

URSULA:       When I have dismissed him?

NICASIO:      Dismiss my apprentice? A young man so good at his job that he could replace me?

CASIMIRO:   They have already seen that I can, señor.

NICASIO:      So, not only will you not go, but I will increase your salary.

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) The tables turn!

URSULA:       Nicasio, you are an…

NICASIO:      And you are an…

BOTH:           Animal!

NICASIO:      Señora! We’re back where we started, eh?

IRENE:         Casimiro! You are to blame for all of this! You should have gone already!

CASIMIRO:   I cannot. I love my boss so much.

IRENE:         Go! I beg you… I command it!

CASIMIRO:   Fine. So, I must abandon this place forever. Goodbye foils, cans, and bottles! Goodbye, my ever-constant mortar! The same to you, master pestle, witness to—and victim of—my furor! You will see me lying among you for all eternity.

CASIMIRO takes out the small bottle and drinks its entire contents. NICASIO rushes to his side and grabs the bottle.

NICASIO:      Such disgrace! You women have assassinated this unfortunate man!

NICASIO stumbles to a chair and sits down. CASIMIRO convulses about on the floor.

IRENE:         Oh, my lord!

URSULA:       He did it! Well, this got ugly fast.

IRENE:         Quickly… quickly, Nicasio! Do something!

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) It’s going to be okay. They want to save me.

(Aloud, while twisting and making gestures)

Oh!… Uff!… Ugh!… Ow!… Here!… Here!

IRENE:         (To Nicasio) Quickly! Before his spirit takes flight!

NICASIO:      The first thing to know is the kind of poison. I’m going to try it…

NICASIO takes a bit of the poison onto a small dish and observes it.

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) Uh-oh!

IRENE:         Do you know what it is?

URSULA:       This young man was crazy!

NICASIO:      This is licorice syrup.

URSULA:       How’s that?

CASIMIRO:   (Aside) I am caught.

CASIMIRO gets up off the floor.

URSULA:       You despicable—You were mocking us!

IRENE:         You had me so frightened!

URSULA:       Out you go, into the street!

IRENE:         Out you go!

NICASIO:      A desperate ploy to capture your heart! Poor fellow!

URSULA:       You are a poor fellow!

IRENE:         Once again it is clear that Casimiro cannot remain here any longer.

CASIMIRO:   Very well, I am leaving.

NICASIO:      Where will you go?

CASIMIRO:   To Almansa. Don Justo recently offered me a good job, but my love for you…

NICASIO:      Don Justo? My colleague in Almansa has much keeping him busy these days, for he just got married…

CASIMIRO:   What? That old man!

NICASIO:      To a gorgeous young lady!

CASIMIRO:   Hello! Life is beautiful!

NICASIO:      The gossips say that she’s quite the flirtatious coquette!

CASIMIRO:   I’m going there this instant.

IRENE:         Men!

NICASIO:      And are you really capable of abandoning us?

CASIMIRO:   To my regret! But, you must see: a new boss with a new wife, good prospects, and a chance to replace him someday…

NICASIO:      I cannot be selfish. It is good for you.

URSULA:       Thank God. He convinced you.

CASIMIRO:   I will come to visit you sometime.

URSULA:       No. Don’t ever return. Be gone.

IRENE:         I must ask the same.

NICASIO:      Well, I am counting on you to keep your word.

CASIMIRO:   (To the audience)

Through that terrible crone’s interfering,

I move on from this place empty-handed.

From your hands we’d like to be hearing

Applause as the room you are clearing,

If pleased you “A Fiery Young Man” did.


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