The Corporation

Photo: Mario Dance Atelier

By Flavius Lucăcel

Translated by Mihaela Mudure

Volume 9, Issue 2 (Fall 2022)

The first production of the play The Corporation by Flavius Lucăcel took place on the stage of the National Theater of Cluj-Napoca, in 2019. The performers belonged to the private company “Mario Dance Atelier” and the director was Chris Nedeea.

This play shows an important evolution in Lucăcel’s evolution as a playwright. From lyrical plays with lots of symbolism, Lucăcel has evolved towards a sort of Brechtian epic theater. In The Corporation, melodrama is avoided and the emphasis is on the social and political drama of ordinary people who experienced the fall of communism but realize that the post-communist world is not as good as they had dreamt. The plot takes place somewhere in a First World country and the characters are inventoried as in an insectary. There is not too much evolution or change in characters. The play has a strong allegorical quality and characters are rather types than individuals with striking peculiarities.

The plot focuses on the fall of a corporation. As it has often happened in reality, the highest price is to be paid by the common workers, whereas the managers of the corporation prepare a very profitable exit for them. Tonald, the head of the corporation, is the kind of leader for whom people are only puppets to be manipulated for his own selfish good. Tonald is slavishly followed by a group of employees who hope they will be able to climb another step on the social ladder if they are obedient and treacherous to the general good.

This whole gallery of spineless, selfish, duplicitous corporatists is opposed by a trio of pure souls, outsiders to the world of the corporation. On the one hand, there is Omar and Svetlana, a couple of immigrants. Omar is an immigrant from Syria, Svetlana is a cleaner at the corporation and she has immigrated to the West looking for a better life. She is also an Easterner but from Eastern Europe. The collapse of the corporation helps them understand the real values in life: love, friendship, sincerity, honesty. There is also an emergent friendship that unites two female characters: Svetlana and Sophia, the wife of Philip, one of the corporation’s managers. These two women are able to surpass class limits and disenfranchise themselves of a stifling materialistic philosophy of life. The crude humor and the somehow crude satire of the play are counterbalanced by love, companionship, friendship. The marginals, the outsiders are not energetic fighters, for the moment they only want to survive and this uses all their energy.  

There is also some optimism in this play. Pointing to the evils, uncovering the cowardice and the falsehood of a life style that is money and profit oriented, all these justify the optimism that hovers somewhere beyond the horizon. The Corporation is a political play, but its lesson transgresses the borders of our age, it is a moral lesson for all times.

Lucăcel’s play reinforces the idea of the Renaissance theater that nothing can show more truthfully what we are or what we should be than the comedy. And let us not forget: the Renaissance was the age when corporate capitalism was born.

Flavius Lucăcel (a.k.a. Gheorghe Traian Lucăcel, born in Aluniş, Sălaj County, Romania, in 1968) grew up in a working class family, his father Alexandru Lucăcel was a stone carver and his mother Rozalia Lucăcel (née Cormoş) was a housewife. In 1986 he graduated from the High School of Zalău, Sălaj County, Romania and began university studies in sociology, in 1993 and fine arts, in 2008, but he finished neither.  Flavius Lucăcel made his debut with poetry in Tribuna, a renowned literary journal from Cluj-Napoca, Romania, in 1992. His first play, Paşii (The Steps),was published in Thalia, another literary journal from Cluj-Napoca, in 1993. Lucăcel’s plays have been published by Limes, Eikon, or Caiete Silvane Publishing Houses and put on stage in Bucharest, at Un Theater and at Godot Café Theater, as well as the National Theater of Cluj-Napoca.  Several plays by Lucăcel have been translated into Hungarian and English.

Flavius Lucăcel has been awarded several prizes and distinctions for his literary activity:The Play of the Year” at “Clubul Dramaturgilor” in Bucharest (2008); the “Radu Stanca” Prize awarded by the Cluj Branch of the Writers’ Union of Romania (2009); the Prize for Fiction and Dramaturgy awarded by the “Octavian Goga” Library (2012); the Second Prize at the “Mihail Sorbul” National Theater Contest in Botoşani, Romania (2014); the  “Negoiţă Irimie” Prize  awarded by the Cluj Branch of the Writers’ Union of Romania (2016). Lucăcel is also interested in valorizing Romanian traditional arts and he curated very successful exhibitions of knots and windows of old countryside houses.

Mihaela Mudure (born in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, in 1954) is Professor Emerita of the English Department of “Babes-Bolyai” University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. She has been guest professor in Turkey and the Czech Republic and a member of the Beatrice Bain Research Group at the University of California at Berkeley (2015-2016). Dr. Mudure is interested in ethnic studies, the intersection of gender and ethnicity, and the British Enlightenment. Her publications include monographs as well as numerous articles in Romanian and international journals. Dr. Mudure has edited several issues of the journal Studia Philologia and eight collections of articles. She is also a versed translator from English and French into Romanian and from Romanian into English.

The Corporation

By Flavius Lucăcel

Translated by Mihaela Mudure

Motto:

“It is just an everyday message, nothing more …”

Gellu  Naum[1]

CHARACTERS:

TONALD

SOPHIA

SVETLANA

PAMELA

PAUL

BOB

PHILIP

OMAR

Other characters

ACT I

Scene I

            Bob and Paul in Bob’s office.

PAUL: A worm.

BOB: The invertebrate …

PAUL: And not just any invertebrate. It’s gooey.

BOB: And here is how thousands of years of evolution go straight to hell.

PAUL: It’s what it looks like when someone trashes all you’ve ever done!

BOB: It takes a person like Philip to do that to Tonald.

PAUL: It’s all people like that do. They’re the worst …

BOB: The absolute worst.

PAUL: How long have we known him?

BOB: Philip was the first. It’s been ten years!

PAUL: Did you know him before me?

BOB: I did.

PAUL: He can run his mouth! Philip is the worst.

BOB: A sicko!

PAUL: Worse than a sicko.

BOB: An astronomical hypocrite!

PAUL: I was just going to say cosmic!

BOB: People like Philip just live in the shit.

PAUL: They consume and they produce it.

BOB: Unbelievable quantities of shit.

PAUL: And Tonald! You can’t get anything past him.

BOB: Well, Philip could. Duped our good friend …

PAUL: We’ll see how he manages.

BOB: He was my buddy, partner in whores and booze, my closest ally … we’d been on vacation together. The man stabbed me in the back. The bastard! Just turned on me. Unbelievable …

PAUL: The bastard …

            Knock at the door.

BOB: Come in.

            PHILIP enters. Silence.

PHILIP: Hi, guys!

BOB: I’m just finishing some work. Looking good!

PHILIP: Thank you! Finish it another time. Take the day off. See you guys tonight at the club. We’re celebrating.

BOB: Will do. See you tonight! Congratulations on the nomination! Seriously, though, that new hair cut…

PHILIP: Thanks, man. Hey, I mean it. You deserved it. Bye! (Bob exeunt.) Ass kisser …

PAUL: Did you smell that? He stinks. What scum!

PHILIP: What the hell was he wearing?

PAUL: Stinking invertebrate! What a brown nose! I can’t believe Tonald hasn’t noticed.

PHILIP: He’s finally wizening up. I need an assistant. A loyal one, dependable, someone with vision. Like you. (He grooms his hair in the mirror, he seems to be talking to himself.)

PAUL: Have I told you that you’ve got the best head of hair in the whole company?

PHILIP: You think so? Tonald’s hair is …

PAUL: He spends a developed nation’s budget on that thing …

PHILIP: Yeah, there’s no comparison.

PAUL: But look at how yours sits like that. It’s natural. (Behind a lock of hair the man’s hairline is visibly receding)

PHILIP: It’s getting thinner in places …

PAUL: Don’t be ridiculous. It’s as thick as a lion’s mane.

PHILIP: Bob’s hair isn’t bad.

PAUL: He’s disgusting. You’re neat, fresh.

PHILIP: You really need to stop. Tonald has the thickest hair in the company, and everyone knows it.

Scene II

            Paul, Philip and Bob in a night club.

PHILIP: Those legs  …

BOB: Too long.

PAUL: Too short.

PHILIP: Nimble for days, and her butt …

BOB: Big.

PAUL: Small.

PHILIP: Thick and firm. For you, what matters in a woman?

BOB: Long legs and small butt.

PAUL: Big butt and short legs.

PHILIP: The butt should be pear-shaped … It’s rare … (to Bob) but you got to have it.

BOB: Maybe you do.

PHILIP: I am talking about what’s in right now. The trend. What people are looking for.

PAUL: Philip is right. If you looked around the gym and saw what workouts people were doing these days you’d get it.

PHILIP: Girls know where to push it. And so do we.                                                                                                           

PAUL: You are wasting your time over there.

BOB: And you can’t help kissing up …  all over!

PHILIP: Paul, get that girl to come to our table. I’ll show you how it’s done. (To Bob) Watch and learn!

PAMELA: Pamela.

PHILIP: Sit in my lap! On the right side. Suck my finger. No, this one.

PAMELA: You must be in charge.

PAUL: He is, and he knows how to get his way.

PHILIP:  And now, guys … the moment of truth. Pamela, get on the table! Spread your legs! Lift your skirt! Butt up! Pear, I told you. There’s even a little stem.

PAMELA: Philip, you’re a tough one. A tiger! … I bet you’re tearing it up in your field. What line of work are you in?

BOB: Negotiations … he is the best. (Aside) He sucks.

PAMELA (to Philip): Married?

PHILIP: No.

BOB: He is. And he is tough at home as well.

PHILIP: Asshole!

PAMELA: This is how a strong man should be, bulging in all the right places.

PAUL: He is a ruthless tiger.

PAMELA: After I graduate, I hope to catch my own tiger.

BOB: This club is full of morons. You may manage tonight …

PHILIP: Hahaha! Off to bed, boys! No bad jokes in front of the lady.

Scene III

            Philip and Sophia in the kitchen of their home.

SOPHIA: Just getting home?

PHILIP: Just got off.

SOPHIA: You stink. Go to the bathroom and wash up.

PHILIP: Sorry, I had to take the boys out.

SOPHIA: You’re sleeping downstairs. You reek like hell!

PHILIP: Sorry.

SOPHIA: You’re all sorry. The corporation, your coworkers.

PHILIP: What is this?

SOPHIA: You left half a slice of bread on your plate this morning!

PHILIP: And now you have to wave it in my face? I was in a hurry.

SOPHIA: You can see your teeth marks in the butter. You’re disgusting.

PHILIP: It was a big day for me. I was in a hurry.

SOPHIA: A hurry for what?

PHILIP: To get to the office. I was getting promoted.

SOPHIA: I was busy, too. What? Does it look like you married your mother?

PHILIP: What does this have to do with my mom?

SOPHIA: It has to do with her raising you to be a piece of shit, and now you even smell like one.

PHILIP: You’re out of line.

SOPHIA: Me? Out of line? Where’s the line? Is it here …

PHILIP: What the … ?

SOPHIA: You left your coffee in the bathroom.

PHILIP: So you pour it on my head?

SOPHIA: I don’t know how else to make you understand.

PHILIP: What don’t I understand?

SOPHIA: You don’t understand that the corporation is one thing, and home is another. Here, at home, in the family, you haven’t shown us a goddamn thing. You are nothing. OK? You’re nothing.

Scene IV

            Zoom meeting. Philip at his desk, Tonald on the screen.

TONALD: Philip. Can you write this down? You’re Philip, right?

PHILIP: Yes, sir, Philip.

TONALD: Are you tired, Philip? In my company, nobody sleeps.

PHILIP: I am fresh, sir.

TONALD: I am joking. But, really, it’s going to take sacrifice. Lots of it. It won’t be easy.

PHILIP: Of course. sir.

TONALD: When you join us here, we’ll go to lunch. You seem like a solid young man.

PHILIP: Thank you, sir!

TONALD: We need solid people in difficult times. I think we made the right choice this time.

PHILIP: I am honored.

TONALD: I think we’ll get along well. I have big plans for you. This place is swarming with beautiful girls. Do you like girls? Do you have a wife?

PHILIP: Girls… oh … Yes, sir. I have a wife.

TONALD: Don’t get me wrong. Your sexual orientation plays no role in being promoted here. That’s not to say I don’t have my reservations.

PHILIP (long pause): I understand, sir.

TONALD: Good, good … I am not a conservative. Some people just rub me the wrong way. That’s all.

PHILIP: Of course, sir. 

TONALD: There’s nothing more important to us than the employee security. Are you writing this down?

PHILIP: Oh, should I have been writing this down?

TONALD: I’m on to you. That’s some of your grandpa’s English humor.

PHILIP: You have style, sir. You have a peaceful aura. I’m truly inspired.

TONALD: OK, OK, I appreciate it, but stop quoting that motivational garbage.

PHILIP: Sorry, sir.

TONALD: Write this down. All over the market, things are drying up the same. The effects could be devastating, decisive.

 PHILIP: The effects already are decisive.

TONALD: What do you mean?

PHILIP: The effects can devastate only one area if …

TONALD:  Take this down: “If we take the correct steps in order to protect the center.” You got it?!

PHILIP: That’s what I’m here for.

TONALD: You have a soldier’s mindset. That’s good. I like you. Young, but wise.

PHILIP: According to my calculations, the losses are terminable and will be decisive for all investors.

TONALD: I feel you’ll be firm. I can see it now: you at regional manager. You understand my policy very well.

PHILIP: I’ll do my best.

TONALD: We’ll talk about it another time. Send your wife my regards. Thank you for the leather case. The leather engraving with the bear on the stake. Do you still have bears? By the way, I have sent such a leather case to one of our African branches. Can’t be seen with something like that here! And you can forget about guns. Hunting guns, in this case.

PHILIP: I see. It makes sense.

TONALD: It doesn’t make any fucking sense! This politically correct horse shit.

PHILIP: Sorry! Those snowflakes! They won’t have their way for long.

TONALD: That’s right, they won’t. But for now, watch what you do on social media. I just posted a picture of me wearing a rhino horn around my neck, and these activist swine jumped me.

PHILIP: That’s sound advice. I’ll be careful.

TONALD: They’re having a ball now, but we’re taking names. I sent you a tie with my face on a yellow background.

PHILIP: Of course, yellow is one of my favorite colors. My wife’s, too. Our bedsheets are … it’s a very pleasant color …

TONALD: I couldn’t agree more. I sent them out to our regional department managers. Natural silk, made in Shanghai.

 PHILIP: Good choice, sir.

TONALD: What do you mean? That isn’t what I wanted.

PHILIP: I mean the color. Your hands are tied with the material … They’re the only ones who still make it.

TONALD: They are, for sure, but I’m aiming to fix that.

PHILIP: I’m with you on that.

TONALD: Is the yellow hair too much?

PHILIP: Not at all. It’s the tanning salon look. It’s the perfect look for you.

TONALD: It’s just the yellow nose, yellow cheeks, and forehead, all yellow, you know?

PHILIP: I haven’t seen the ties yet, but I am sure you look great.

TONALD: I was thinking of the gold rush, the pioneering spirit, that power. My face against a yellow background. It just made sense.

PHILIP: It’s powerful.

TONALD: You should wear it to the negotiations. It makes a difference. 

PHILIP: I can feel the strength. Just the last in a proud line of pioneers.

 TONALD: Pound them! Do a double windsor.

PHILIP: Tactical! Complexity and efficiency. The knot that made history.

TONALD: What’s that supposed to mean?

PHILIP: I mean, history is made by the strong.

TONALD: There you go! Alright, bye, then!

PHILIP: Goodbye, Mr. Tonald.

            The screen dims.

Scene V

            Zoom conference with the employees from the branch.

PHILIP: “Overcome, be ruthless. On the market, as in life, there’s no such thing as compassion.” Starting from this quotation from Mr. Tonald, I want to share a vision with you. What did it mean to be a worker fifty years ago? Twenty years ago? What about last year? Or a few hours ago, before he was with us? Frustration, lockouts, sabotage, activism, a low standard. Small and medium-sized businesses – a barrier to the consolidation of individual will. This is the corporation’s new path into the future we are building. The first corporation represent the Big-Bang of innovation, and it may sound quaint to some, but Mr. Tonald has the experience, the will, and the proof: “there’s no room for those at the back of the pack.” Resources follow determination, vision, focus. Success follows discipline. This is our path forward. Mr. Tonald is our ride. As he puts it, “you better hang on if you want to ride with me. We stop for nothing and no one.” I would add, “buckle up.”

Scene VI

            In Bob’s office. Bob and Svetlana. Svetlana vacuums and cleans the furniture. Bob eats some fast-food.

SVETLANA (holding the vacuum cleaner in her hand): Do you mind?

BOB: Go ahead. He’s done rambling.

SVETLANA: Seems like things are bad, but he can make it sound good.

BOB: I just came back from my psychologist’s. Don’t ruin the doctor’s good work.

SVETLANA: Back home, one bad thing happened after another. Nobody went to therapy.

BOB: Because you were just getting by over there.

SVETLANA: And all this stress. What’s the point? You people here aren’t thinking straight.

BOB: Healthy food …  it’s reason enough. All this overtime. Worry about yourself!

SVETLANA: As you say, Mr. Bob.

BOB: I grow these tomatoes in a planter, on my balcony. 

SVETLANA: They must be tasty.

BOB: Try one. Take a bite. Chicken is the most toxic. You got beef, right?

SVETLANA: Beef, of course. But if you cook the chicken right …

BOB: I’m not talking about cooking. 

SVETLANA: Whatever you say. Ukrainian tomatoes are different though. Their smell …

BOB: Bullshit! What kind of milk do you drink?

SVETLANA: My dad used to get a liter of cow milk from my grandma’s village near Kyiv. For the holidays. Cows were hard to come by. It was amazing.

BOB: I meant here. What kind of milk do you drink here?

SVETLANA: Whatever I find. Same as everyone else.

BOB: Toxic! Only drink organic milk. It’s more expensive, but it’s good for you. And fruits …

SVETLANA: What do you have against fruits, Mr. Bob?

BOB: Fight to be healthy! Your body deserves it. Put in the extra hours. Stick your neck out for your health. So what if they humiliate you. All that cheap stuff is toxic. All of it! (Begins panicking.)

SVETLANA: Sir, easy does it! I know, you’re going through a rough patch.

BOB: Oh, I just love being pushed aside, humiliated, stepped over. Their little games don’t mean shit to me.

SVETLANA: You’re getting bogged down. The company needs people like you. The society …

BOB: I’ll survive. I grow cherry tomatoes on my balcony. But people like you … Sorry, I’ve been here too long.

SVETLANA: No one can live in a dirty place.

BOB: Yes, they can, Svetlana. You’ll see. I need to pee again. My therapist says it’s a sign of a panic attack. But it could be the mayonnaise. What do you think? You did get organic mayo, right?

SVETLANA: The engineer in me says it’s a panic attack. But the cleaning lady in me says it’s the mayo.

Scene VII

            Svetlana and Omar in their one-bedroom apartment.

SVETLANA: Bob’s obsession with organic food is driving me crazy.

OMAR: I’m starting to like drinking healthy.

SVETLANA: Don’t play dumb. I hope that doesn’t run in the family.

OMAR: It doesn’t, nor does writing. My dad, my grandpa, and great grandpa all made and sold hummus.

SVETLANA: I think you’re losing it, staying at home and staring at the ceiling.

OMAR: What would you have me do?

SVETLANA: Plant some seeds, put them on the balcony, and water them every day. It can be a hobby.

OMAR: How would that help?

SVETLANA: Do you want me to say YES?

OMAR: If you say YES … if you want to be my wife, I need to plant seeds in those dirty yogurt containers on the balcony?

SVETLANA: It would be a start.

OMAR: I’ll plant whatever you want on your grandma’s land outside Kyiv. I’ll make you happy. But there’s no room here.

SVETLANA: You idiot. It doesn’t take an entire field to prove you’re committed to me.

OMAR: I’m a blank slate. I’ll be whatever you want me to be. Just don’t make me torture innocent plants.

SVETLANA: That’s a new one.

OMAR: It’s true. Just look around. Outside, in offices, schools, malls … Everywhere you look, what do you see?

SVETLANA: Busy people, anxious, in a hurry somewhere …

OMAR: They take things too far. They’ve overrun the place.

SVETLANA: What does that have to do with planting seeds?

OMAR: You’re OK with what we’re doing here?

SVETLANA: I’m talking about planting seeds in yogurt containers!

OMAR: That’s how that insanity begins. Extract just a little oil to get around faster, just a lobster per week for the potassium. Next thing you know, we’re killing for it.

SVETLANA: I don’t get it. Are you upset with me?

OMAR: I love you! I just don’t want to go overboard, like everyone else. We have a nice little world here.

SVETLANA: Are you sure your mom is not from the east? You have a way of imagining the worst …

OMAR: I got worked up.

SVETLANA: After all the time we spent in hell, what could scare us here?

OMAR: Starting a farm on the balcony. Terrifying.

SVETLANA: It’s just a little step up.

OMAR: We’re fine the way we are.

SVETLANA: Compared to whom?

Scene VIII

            Paul, Bob and Philip in the night club.

PHILIP: I told him, “Tonald, people are getting work done here as well.”

PAUL: People at our branch really busting their asses.

PHILIP: He said, “follow our Asian colleagues’ lead.”

BOB: The Japanese keep a healthy diet. Steady blood sugar.

PHILIP: Tonald says that they do overtime every day, they’re strict, and they have an edge. (To Bob) Knock it off.

PAUL (to Bob):You drink too much and spout off.

BOB: I told Tonald about them. They eat healthy. They get all they need from the ocean. Potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron …

PHILIP: Our team doesn’t have the mindset. They mouth off. (To Bob)Dude … Enough with the phosphorus. Are you trying to start a fire?

PAUL (to Bob): Give me the matches. No more smoking. You’ve never even met Tonald.

BOB: Schlump! Like hell I haven’t. We met at a company party. He even smiled at me from the distance.

PHILIP: Whoa, whoa! You’ll get us fired. Tonald says everything here is tapping out. His research shows that if we don’t transition, we’ll have to start from scratch.

PAUL: That’s what others are saying, too.

PHILIP: It could be a disaster. He suggested we go on holidays when the boom comes.

BOB: Tonald says this, Tonald does that … Morons!

PAUL: If that’s what he said, we should pack.

BOB: We’ll take them down with us. I told him, we go down together …

PAUL: You didn’t tell him shit!

BOB: It’s the law of communicating vessels.

PHILIP: Nice … did you come up with that on your own?

BOB: No. It’s physics.

PAUL: Are you drunk? He was talking about that blond. 

PHILIP: You need to dial back the drinking and smoking.

            Bob falls asleep with his head on the table.

BOB: In order to eat well … you need good expensive, high-quality pots, pans, knives … And a big fire …

PHILIP (to Paul): This filthy animal is snoring.  

PAUL: Disgusting little earthworm.

BOB (He speaks while sleeping.): From the ocean to the plate, lickety-split… And a seasoned thigh …

PHILIP: If this falls through, I hope I can rely on you.

PAUL: I’m with you, one hundred per cent.

PHILIP: I trust you, but I need to make sure.

PAUL: You’re my guy. You and me.

PHILIP: If Tonald burns me, I’m going to need you.

BOB (in his sleep): One hundred per cent … until he fucks you … Just a big fire. That’ll take care of all of you …

Scene IX

            PHILIP and SOPHIA in bed.

SOPHIA: Roll over. 

PHILIP (sleepy):What?

SOPHIA: This is getting old. When did you get home?

PHILIP: Ouch! What’s your problem? A few hours ago. You were already asleep.

SOPHIA: You snore and growl like an animal …

PHILIP: I’ve always slept like this

SOPHIA: You can’t even sleep right. 

PHILIP: I lie on the bed and close my eyes. Where am I going wrong?

SOPHIA: And what is your deal with healthy eating? You only talk about it in your sleep. Who is Pamela?

PHILIP: Bob’s the one who talks about healthy eating. And Pamela? What are you talking about?

SOPHIA: Bob, Paul, Tonald, Pamela … You are the same. Little genetically modified copies of one another. They did a number on you.

PHILIP: Not all of us are as lucky as you.

SOPHIA: Oh, I’m the lucky one?

PHILIP: You do what you feel like doing. Read when you feel like it, sleep, go for a walk.

SOPHIA: That’s what you think I do?

PHILIP: Pretty much. 

SOPHIA: And you’re in the rat race.

PHILIP: I didn’t say that.

SOPHIA: No?

PHILIP: I like what I do.

SOPHIA: You’re coming up big.

PHILIP: I am, and you couldn’t care less. It doesn’t register.

SOPHIA: It doesn’t?

PHILIP: You wouldn’t understand.

SOPHIA: Try me.

PHILIP: At 2 am?

SOPHIA: It is never too late to learn. That’s what your self-help stuff says.

PHILIP: You’re being cruel.

SOPHIA: What you offer me is cruel. Every day, every night. You go out with the boys. You’re always late, busy, stressed, focused on your job!

PHILIP: That’s what it takes for all of this.

SOPHIA: All of what?

PHILIP: You have everything you want.

SOPHIA: It’s all meaningless. This is your measure of success? All of this?

PHILIP: It’s late. You have everything a normal person could want.

SOPHIA: I have nothing. I feel like there is nothing here. That’s where we’re at.

Scene X

            Tonald has dinner with Philip in a very posh restaurant.

TONALD: Others have fought to survive so you wouldn’t have to.

PHILIP: Nicely said, sir.

TONALD: Hold them over for a few days. Show them we’re straightening things out.

PHILIP: I have. Some of them are going to lose everything.

TONALD: How’s the lobster? They’re used to losing. Don’t worry about them.

PHILIP: Amazing. 

TONALD: Be glad you’re not on the plate. Try the chicken!

PHILIP: Don’t mind if I do! How did you manage? How did you get started?

TONALD: What do you see here?

PHILIP: Calm, satisfied people. Self-assured.

TONALD: That’s the environment. With the big fish.

PHILIP: That’s what I’m …

TONALD: Patience, kiddo, you’ll get there. Did you say there were big losses?

PHILIP: Devastating. But we managed to isolate the center. You’re in the clear.

TONALD: When you say the center, you mean my work can go on without any hang-ups … And you pulled it off! You had the game plan.

PHILIP: We pulled it off!

TONALD: You’re modest. Your wife must be proud.

PHILIP: She is.                           

TONALD: Your parents?

PHILIP: They’re good. Proud of me.

TONALD: Mine are gone. The body’s clock … I kept it ticking as long as I could. Did you know how to keep the body’s clock ticking?

PHILIP: I haven’t the faintest idea.

TONALD: Lots of cash (he laughs). My father used to make the best shoes in town. That meant something.

PHILIP: My father is still active duty. A good soldier. His missions are rare, but efficient. He is one of the heads of the alliance.

TONALD: You take after him.

PHILIP: So I’m told. 

TONALD: There’s great shopping on this street. Great gifts for women. Bring your wife down …

PHILIP: She doesn’t like flying. 

TONALD: Real men need rest. There are two gifts waiting for you at the hotel.

PHILIP: Thank you, sir.

TONALD: Well? Fly if you like it.

ACT II

Scene I

            Omar and Svetlana eat at the mall.

OMAR: In Ukraine, I would be able to relax. We could build a farm, a new life.

SVETLANA: I don’t know what I can say. Not even your characters will tell the truth. Not all of it.

OMAR: I want to stage my plays in Damascus. I’m not writing for an audience here.

SVETLANA: Why not? You’re brilliant …

OMAR: My characters are real over there. Here, their speech and actions ring false.

SVETLANA: What’s real is real.

OMAR: Depends.

SVETLANA: What do you mean?

OMAR: Pour me another glass! You’re being crass.

SVETLANA: Why? So you can stumble around and cry about Syria again? When do I cry about Ukraine? You’re too sensitive, Omar. It’s not a good look for an Arab playwright.

OMAR: Tragedy anywhere is tragedy everywhere. Comedy’s different. Here it’s richer, more complex. I’ll write one about a guy called Tonald.

SVETLANA: Write, Omar, write. It’s the surest way to starve.

OMAR: Don’t worry. This isn’t Iran. They cherish freedom of expression and truth, right? Tonald is a common name.

SVETLANA: Omar, Omar. You’re killing me. You want to live like an artist on my salary from Tonald. You lose control. You go out on the street and scream about social injustice in the middle of the night. You argue with anyone you can find on the internet about the environment. All the while you’re eating lobster like you’re some shark in the Atlantic.

OMAR: Why the Atlantic?

SVETLANA: Why not?

OMAR: Just be careful, Tonald might guess. Anyway, sharks go where the food is.

SVETLANA: They’re laying people off.

OMAR: That doesn’t sound good.

SVETLANA: They can’t get rid of people like me.

OMAR: They get rid of people like you first.

SVETLANA: At the university in Kyiv, I thought I’d be building bridges. Look at me now! In the middle of the continent, cleaning up the dust.

OMAR: When should we start trying for kids?

SVETLANA: I was the first in my class. My dad did engineering, too. In Leningrad.

OMAR: You’ve told me. My dad used to make the best hummus. Everyone in the region knew his hummus. Our town had people from all over, and they all stopped to shake his hand.

SVETLANA: I wish I could have met him. I wonder what gets us to the point of senselessly killing one another.

OMAR: He was a good man. He was religious, loved life. Everyone on the street was religious. But each in their own way. It was like that back then. People were different, but they got along. They all loved my dad’s hummus.

SVETLANA: Get some hummus, too. You’re making me hungry. Religion … religion …

OMAR: Forget religion …. You can’t compare it. It’s senseless. Get another beer, too. They could use the business.

SVETLANA: I don’t build bridges, but in one month I can make as much as my dad in a year. It pays.

OMAR: You don’t like what you do, but you can afford the things you like. It works. You look happy to me.

SVETLANA: We both do. We’re sitting in front of a window at the mall, and I’m paying.

OMAR: This again? Your money. I can’t get used to things here. It’s hard.

SVETLANA: Our dads were happy with much less money.

OMAR: We’re the children of people who could be happy with little money. A dying breed. We’re meant to be together.

SVETLANA: They’re already dead.

OMAR: And far away.

SVETLANA: Maybe they’re together. There, out the window.

OMAR: Two ugly wars, sprung on us for no reason.

SVETLANA: Two lost worlds. I miss Ukraine.

OMAR: I miss Syria.

SVETLANA: How is the chicken?

OMAR: Good. What about your roast pork?

SVETLANA: Good.

OMAR: What a meal!…

SVETLANA: Want more homards[2]?

OMAR: Homards for you, just a beer for me (he laughs). I could go for another.

SVETLANA: Help yourself.

OMAR: Last one. For our dads.

SVETLANA: Cheers.

OMAR: You’re an angel.

SVETLANA: Of course, I’m Slavic.

Scene II

              Philip, Bob and Paul jog in the park.

PHILIP: Don’t forget the stomach … it matters.

PAUL: Doesn’t matter to me

PHILIP: Look at her! See between her tights? 

BOB: I can see my fried eggs, steaming on the table.

PAUL: Even when we talk about … it, you’re think of food.

PHILIP:  She’s out of your league. Layoffs are coming.

BOB: You got us out of bed at 6am on a Sunday to talk about layoffs?

PHILIP: Calm down, our branch is fine for now. (Another young woman passes by them running.) Have you seen her?

PAUL: What a babe!

BOB: What do I have to do for a woman like that?

PHILIP: Eat healthy!

PAUL: Nice.

PHILIP: I’m off, guys!

BOB (to Paul): That sleazeball just used us as cover for his wife.

PAUL: And to tell us about layoffs.

BOB: Hey, you’re a kiss ass anyway. You laugh at all his bad jokes.

PAUL: I’m the kiss ass? Look at you! You are eating out of his palm.

            Philip is on a bench in front of them.

PHILIP: What are you two whispering about over there?

BOB: What great shape you’re in!

PHILIP: What are they feeding these girls, man? She left me in her dust. 

BOB: What more do you hear from Tonald?

PHILIP: Well, I told you about dinner, right?

BOB: Bullshit! … Sorry. Are you serious?

PHILIP: We had dinner together and got things back on track.

PAUL: He’s going to make you regional manager! Come on, don’t be modest.

PHILIP: He told me he’s going for it. It’s going to be big. Huge!

PAUL: Wow! How big?

PHILIP: I can’t say. He told me that it would cause a tsunami.

BOB: Symbolically! But we’re good. We are too reliable. Maybe on the margins, in the east.

PHILIP: If that’s what you want to believe.

BOB: What should I believe?

PAUL: This is history. You are the first local manager to get close to him. Usually, it’s only regional managers.

BOB: Well, not the first. I was maybe 150 feet away at a meeting once.

PAUL: Have you dreamt about it?

BOB: Fuck you! Is it a wig? …

PAUL: You clown… The skin! What does he do to it?…

BOB (to Paul):Just tell me! Does he spit?…

PAUL: What does he drink? How much does he drink? … Does he have hot women?…

BOB: Big spender?…

PAUL: Is he as tall as he looks? Or is it the shoes?

BOB: What present did he give you?…

PHILIP: Stop it! You guys are ridiculous. A tie.

BOB: A tie?

PAUL: A tie, tie?!

PHILIP: A tie with his face on it.

BOB: What does this mean?

PAUL: Must be special.

PHILIP: It’s his new strategy in negotiations.

BOB: Strategy? You must be kidding!

PHILIP: It’s about the color.

BOB: What color?

PHILIP: Yellow.

PAUL: So, is yellow the new color in the company’s strategy of negotiations?

BOB: That’s it. 

PHILIP: What are you guys so worked up about?

BOB: Let me see if I got it right. You did drugs, then he took off his tie and put it around your neck.

PAUL: You got high? What did you take?

PHILIP: He sent a tie to all the department managers. But he wanted to give it to me in person.

BOB: You’ve been anointed.

PAUL: Lucky you! His Holiness Philip …

PHILIP: Fuck you! (He runs off.)

            Bob and Paul sit on a bench. They take out their sandwiches and a cola. They eat.

BOB: He’s lost it. And that guy …  what a show off! Fuck them.

PAUL: Yellow is a solar color. It could be a good sign. How lucky is that mother fucker!

BOB: You’ve lost your mind, too! A tie with Tonald’s face on it? Saint Tonald! Why? …

PAUL: It may be a kind of club. A secret society.

BOB: The bozo club.

PAUL: Well …

BOB: The old man is acting like a kind of clown. For now. He could be dangerous.

PAUL: The old man? How old could he be?

BOB: What do you think? How old?

            Another young woman jogs by them.

PAUL: Did you see that?

            Bob and Philip jog again.

BOB:  She looks like an athlete.

PAUL: Seventy, a bit over seventy …  No way, she is corporate, like us, she must be coming from the gym.

BOB: How do you know?

PAUL: Designer gear, confident, a spring in her step, her head is always slightly titled up.

BOB: A speculation day, like on Facebook. You say seventy?

PAUL: It’s impossible to say how old she is.

BOB: Could be one of those people who live past one hundred.

PAUL: The Chinese army had a two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old instructor. He taught self-defense to new recruits.

BOB: Not this again. I read that garbage. You shared it yesterday.

PAUL: One morning he woke up, got bored, and he died.

BOB: And you believe that?

            Another young woman jogs by them.

PAUL: I’ve seen that butt somewhere. I know it! She works in our building, on the top floor.

BOB: You haven’t answered to me. And do you believe that?

PAUL: Yeah. What’s so hard to believe? There are people who have lived over eight hundred years on this planet.

BOB: I don’t mean people from the Old Testament.

PAUL: They’re everywhere. They may be even in your apartment building. Tonald may be one. Who knows? They are the only ones who know. 

BOB: And I lost it. Thanks a lot. They’re all so fit … OK, see you tomorrow!

Scene III

            Omar and Svetlana in their home. Svetlana is having a bath. Omar is on the phone.

OMAR: In Ukraine … yeah, could be. (To Svetlana) I can’t hear you, I’m on the phone. 

SVETLANA’S VOICE:  Will you wash my back?

OMAR (to Svetlana): It’s from back home. (On the phone) I know it’s far from Germany, but I’m in love for the first time in my life.

SVETLANA’S VOICE:  I’ll manage.

OMAR: Yeah … Wait, I’m coming… Uh, no…  I was talking to Svetlana … She is an angel … I’ll do what I can …  I know there are problems there, too … Of course, we’ll wait for it to get sorted out … She says she would come back with me … Why is that stupid? … It’s not for me. It’s overwhelming … OK, I love you, too.

            Svetlana gets out wrapped in a towel.

SVETLANA: Don’t stay locked up all day. Get out for a show, a walk …

OMAR: What about the play?

SVETLANA: You’ll finish it. Theaters will survive without it for now. Take my gym membership and go workout.

OMAR: To meet your colleagues?

SVETLANA: Hahaha, you’re funny …

OMAR: Want to watch a movie? I’m in the mood for something really bad.

SVETLANA: Let’s see what’s on TV.

OMAR: Here we go.

SVETLANA: I’ve already seen it.

OMAR: What about this one? It’s terrible.

SVETLANA: Check the news.

OMAR: CNN or Al Jazeera?

SVETLANA: Better yet, music.

OMAR: Your music, of course.

SVETLANA: Mine has rhythm.

OMAR: I don’t deny that.

SVETLANA: It’s about time you admit it.

OMAR: It’s not easy.

SVETLANA: You’re upset. Let’s listen to one of yours, then one of mine. From YouTube.

OMAR: Play what you like.

            They hug.

SVETLANA: I’m ok with anything.

OMAR: Should we go back to bed?

SVETLANA: Now? It is eleven in the morning..

OMAR: Why not?

Scene IV

            The office gym. Paul, Bob, and Philip. Omar, aside.

PHILIP: Go ahead.

BOB: Why me? Paul, you ask him.

PAUL (to Omar):You wouldn’t be Svetlana’s boyfriend by any chance, would you?

OMAR: Yes. She said I could use her subscription. Any problem?

BOB: Not at all.

PHILIP: The thing is, you can’t really give the subscription out. To anyone.

BOB: She probably just didn’t know.

PHILIP: Are you Syrian? … Muslim? … Arab?

OMAR: Yes, I am.

PAUL: And you left because …

OMAR: What’s happening over there is a disaster.

PHILIP: Life is not that easy here either.        

PAUL: No, no … Nice phone.

OMAR: Birthday present. From Svetlana.

PAUL: You’re not really dressed like a person …

PHILIP: … Who ran off in the night. No offense. What did you do in Syria?

OMAR: I used to write.

BOB: Not bad. You used to write …

PAUL: What did you write about?

PHILIP: Let me guess, people and life.

OMAR: I’m working on a comedy at the moment.

PAUL: That’ll do. None of our business, is it, boys?

PHILIP: No, but still. How do you write a comedy after you left a ‘disaster’, as you put it.

PAUL: Yeah, that sounds fucked up.

OMAR: Don’t take my word for it. There are plenty of photos, evidence. People are saying it’s the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history.

 PAUL: People get carried away.

PHILIP: You didn’t answer. How does somebody write a comedy after an experience like that?

OMAR: I keep good and evil out of it.

PAUL: You like what you do?

BOB: Of course he does.

PAUL: You think you’ll stay here, or do you want to move somewhere else?

PHILIP: I’d rather leave. It is not very safe here.

PAUL: And it’s expensive here. Competitive.

OMAR: I’d love to go to Ukraine, but is complicated there as well. Svetlana tells me the area around her grandma’s village is nice.

PAUL: Not a bad idea.

PHILIP: Can you bench one hundred and fifty?

OMAR: That’s my warm-up. Then, I add another 30 pounds every half an hour. I’ve been working out since I was a teenager. Dad used to make me haul sacks of chickpeas.

PAUL: Hauling chickpeas? And you’re a great writer?

OMAR: I’m a playwright. But I’m not famous or anything.

PHILIP: This is exactly what a real playwright ought to look like.

OMAR: What do you mean?

PAUL: Natural and sure of himself.

BOB: Easy does it, boys. The chickpeas were for hummus, am I right?

PHILIP: I’m good. Let’s go. (To Bob) You, too.

              The three of them in the street.

PAUL: Do you believe him?

PHILIP: Not a word. Tonald said we need to be on the lookout for guys like him.

PAUL: He doesn’t look like any playwright I’ve ever seen.

PHILIP: Hang on a second. I’m telling security. The guy’s suspicious.

PAUL: Suspicious? That’s putting it mildly. If Tonald said to be on the lookout, we should take it one step further.

BOB: Too much speculation.

PHILIP: I’m going to have a word with Svetlana.

PAUL: What is there to say? She brought that idiot inside the corporation. Let her go!

BOB: She is just in love.

PHILIP: This is how the problems start. Believe me. She’s gone. (To Bob) You’re next.

Scene V

              Sophia and Svetlana in the metro. They talk. They do not know each other.

SVETLANA (on the phone): Whatever you say, love. I know, we’ll manage. I’ll let you go now.

SOPHIA: Their sweet talk all sounds the same.

SVETLANA: He means it.

SOPHIA: You’re lucky. How long?

SVETLANA: Almost two years.

SOPHIA: I don’t usually do this …

SVETLANA: It’s OK. It’s nice to talk to someone.

SOPHIA: Two years and you still love each other?

SVETLANA: Is that a long time? I’ve been here three years, and no one’s spoken to me on the metro before.

SOPHIA: I usually just stare straight ahead in silence, like everyone else. Sometimes I read. To not attract trouble. That’s how I was raised. You know?

SVETLANA: I do.

SOPHIA: You have a funny accent. Where are you coming from?

SVETLANA: I’m Ukrainian.

SOPHIA: Gogol?… Klitschko?[3]… Kidding …

SVETLANA: You’re good. Most people say Chernobyl.

SOPHIA: What about him, the man on the phone?

SVETLANA: Syrian. His name is Omar.

SOPHIA: Nice. And you’re getting along? I don’t mean to intrude … love is just fascinating. Is there a cultural barrier?

SVETLANA: Yeah, but we talk a lot. He’s funny. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nice, day-to-day things. We live together.

SOPHIA: I can’t talk to my husband at all anymore.

SVETLANA: I’m sorry.

SOPHIA: It’s the same for everyone I know. Hard to find happy people.

SVETLANA: That’s hard!

SOPHIA: You were talking about work on the phone?

SVETLANA: I got fired.

SOPHIA: You’ll be fine.

SVETLANA: I don’t get it. Everyone used to smile at me. When I left today, nobody even said ‘hi’.

SOPHIA: I’m sorry.

SVETLANA: I took care of everything. I worked all day, as long as it took to get my work done. No one every complained.

SOPHIA: We need people like you. I could talk to my husband.

SVETLANA: Thanks! You know, my dad used to say that there’s no place for good people anymore. They get crucified, or at least ignored. They’re treated as useless. The stupidity.

SOPHIA: That’s not true here. Educated people have values. Does your dad still live there?

SVETLANA: He died.

SOPHIA:  A disease?

SVETLANA: He was killed by people close to him. The people he worked and drank with.

SOPHIA: That’s terrible. That would never happen here.

SVETLANA: What can I do? This is my stop. (She gets off.) I am Svetlana, by the way. (The door closes.)

SOPHIA: Svetlana?!…

Scene VI

               Philip and Sophia.

PHILIP: I fired her right away.

SOPHIA: Because you thought her boyfriend was some spy? This dangerous guy?

PHILIP: But he is! Tonald doesn’t tolerate weak points. Nor do I.

SOPHIA: And you’re sure?

PHILIP: I am.

SOPHIA: Then just get rid of him.

PHILIP: I’m sure somebody will, when it comes down to it.

SOPHIA: Aren’t you a tough guy …

PHILIP: I am. That’s why Tonald chose me. He sees what needs to be done.

SOPHIA: You want to be the fighter? With your pampered face, your white, stained undies.

PHILIP: That’s right. In my designer underwear.

SOPHIA: You really can’t see that men like you and your guru are leading this world straight to hell?

PHILIP: Don’t worry. You and your Amazons will balance things out.

SOPHIA: Do you think we’re talking about feminism here?

PHILIP: We’re talking about nothing.

SOPHIA: Sit down and shut up. You’re so full of shit.

PHILIP: I’ll sit if I want, do what I want. I’ve had enough of your attitude.

SOPHIA: Maybe, maybe I’ve got a better grip on things than you do. Sit down and listen to me!

PHILIP: I’m listening. But I don’t want to sit. Go ahead!

SOPHIA: This corporation has turned you into an animal. You don’t care about people anymore. It’s all data to you. You think all of life is in your data forecasts?

PHILIP: You can’t talk to me like that! This is my kingdom. It’s in my hands.

SOPHIA: What you have is suspicion and hatred. You’re in over your head.

PHILIP: And what do we have together?

SOPHIA: Nothing.

PHILIP: Nothing? I couldn’t agree more. I despise you.

SOPHIA: Go on.

PHILIP: I have to stop myself from breaking your porcelain sets.

SOPHIA: I think you should pack up and leave.

PHILIP: I will if I want to.                                                                                            

SOPHIA: And what do you want to do?

PHILIP: I want to leave. We’re breaking up.

SOPHIA: Great. Thanks!

PHILIP: And all this over a Ukrainian housekeeper? A cheap immigrant. You’ve lost your mind.

SOPHIA: That’s right. And it’s truly sad that you can’t understand.

Scene VII

             Paul and Bob.

PAUL: Are you busy?

BOB: It’s over. Everybody’s getting packed. We’re in free fall.

PAUL: I’ve noticed. Did they tell you to do anything?

BOB: Philip is nowhere to be found. So, no.

PAUL: That’s what I’m saying. Nobody told us it was over. So, it stands to reason that we go on.

BOB: Let’s wait for Philip.

PAUL: Fuck Philip and his grand scheme! He’s a slimy worm!

BOB: That’s not what you said yesterday. You were such a helpful assistant.

PAUL: I can say whatever I want. He’s a loser. His wife kicked him out.

BOB: What a bastard. Serves him right. Why’d she kick him out? What else happened to him?

PAUL: She kicked him out over Svetlana. Long story. My phone wouldn’t stop ringing last night. I woke up, answered. Philip was wasted. I could hear Pamela in the background, trying to get him to pay. He must have been at the club all night. He droned on for like two hours. I don’t remember about what. I’d already got a WhatsApp message from the other side of the ocean.

BOB: Ugly stuff! What message?

PAUL: I set the phone down, went to bed, and when I woke up, he was still whining. (Paul’s phone rings.) Hello, Mr. Tonald. Paul. Paul. Yes, I got your message. I’m honored to have your trust. Yes, they’re packing their things … Everyone? OK, sir. (Paul turns to Bob.) Pack your things. (Paul turns and walks away.) Only good things, sir. They adore you. They’ve calmed down. We’re all waiting for you to right the ship. Of course. They blame Philip. I’ve got it under control. Yes, sir. Everyone out. Losses, sir? Oh, they should be thanking you. Yes, reorganization. I’ve got the plans here. I fine-tuned things last night. Completely legitimate. What’s that? I’ll take care of it myself. (On his way out.) Hold on just a second. (To Bob.) Hey, clean up a bit around here, OK? No more cleaning lady, right?(Exeunt)

BOB: I’ll clean up before I go. Keep things tidy. The dirt and dust.

He scatters all the things from his study on the floor, including his things, he stomps on them and then sets fire to them.

Scene VIII

OMAR: Where to?

SVETLANA: You choose.

OMAR: Let’s just hurry. Don’t want to be driving after dark.

SVETLANA: What do you mean? The sun just came up …

OMAR: That’s the moon. It just looks like the sun because people are starting fires.

(END)


[1] Contemporary Romanian poet (1915-2001).

[2] Pun with Omar’s name. Homard is lobster in French.

[3] Famous Ukrainian boxer.

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