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a scene from

by Leonid Andreyev

adapted by Walter Wykes

[A circus. Backstage. A GENTLEMAN in formal attire faces HE, a clown. Silence as the two men stare at one another.]

GENTLEMAN: Is it really you under all that makeup?

HE: There’s no use pretending.  You’ve already figured it out.

GENTLEMAN: I almost don’t believe my eyes.

HE: What do you want?

GENTLEMAN: You haven’t forgiven me, I see.

HE: Is she here?  My wife?

GENTLEMAN: Oh, no!  No.  I’m all alone.

HE: Have you left her already?

GENTLEMAN: No. [Pause.] We have a son. [Pause.] After your disappearance … when you left that insulting letter—

HE: Insulting?  Are you still able to feel insults? [Losing his patience.] Why are you here?!  What do you want?!

GENTLEMAN: There are things we need to talk over—

HE: Talk over?!  Do you really believe we have anything to talk about?!

GENTLEMAN: Perhaps we should go somewhere a little more discreet.  Your home?

HE: This is my home.

GENTLEMAN: Someone might interrupt us.

HE: Talk fast.

GENTLEMAN: May I sit down?

HE: No.


GENTLEMAN: I’ve been looking for you for almost a year.  But tonight … it was a complete accident.  I was in town for business.  I have no friends here, so I went to the circus of all places.  And here you are! [Pause.] Everybody thinks you’re dead.  I’m the only one who didn’t believe it.  I knew somehow.  It just didn’t seem possible—

HE: Your son—does he look like me?

GENTLEMAN: Why would he look like you?

HE: Widows often have children by the new husband who resemble the old one.  Or did you manage to avoid that misfortune?

GENTLEMAN: He’s the spitting image of his father.

HE: And your book is a big success, I hear.

GENTLEMAN: Are you trying to insult me?

HE: [Laughs.] Touchy, touchy!  Why were you trying to find me?

GENTLEMAN: My conscience—

HE: You don’t have a conscience. [Pause.] You want to know what I think?  I think you were afraid you hadn’t robbed me of everything, so you came back for one more pass—just to make sure.

GENTLEMAN: That’s ridiculous.

HE: Would you like my fool’s cap with its bells?!  Or is it too big for your bald head?!

GENTLEMAN: It isn’t my fault if your wife—

HE: The devil take my wife!


GENTLEMAN: I know you’re angry.  It’s understandable, of course.  And I’m sure my success hasn’t helped matters. [HE laughs.] It wasn’t entirely deserved.  I admit that.

HE: Not entirely!

GENTLEMAN: But you were always so indifferent to fame and glory.  What does it really matter if a rival finally came along who—

HE: [Another burst of laughter.] Rival!  You—a rival!

GENTLEMAN: [Growing pale.] But my book—

HE: You dare call it that?!  Your book?!  In front of me?!


GENTLEMAN: I’m a very unhappy man.

HE: You’re a fake—that’s what you are.  An impostor.  You talk about your book—your great success.  And it’s true, there isn’t a newspaper or journal to be found in which you and your book aren’t favorably mentioned.  Everyone loves you.  You’re the man of the hour!  Who remembers me?  No one.  I’ve been banished to obscurity.  And the critics were glad to see me go, too.  It was too much effort to extract thought from my heavy abstractions.  It overworked their poor little brains.  But you—the great vulgarizer!  You made my thoughts comprehensible even to pigs and horses!  They don’t have to think anymore.  They don’t have to reason.  You’ve absolved them of that.  They simply read your words and spout them back like some sort of silly mantra.  You dressed my Apollo in a second-hand suit, my Venus in a cheap dress, and gave my principled hero the ears of an ass!  But what do you care—your career is made.  No one is conscious of the theft.  They applaud you wherever you go.  Other writers imitate you.  You’ll be known as the father of an important movement.  Meanwhile, I can’t pick up the paper without being confronted by faces in which I recognize the traits of my own children.  My literary children.  The fruit of long years of devotion to my craft.  Countless hours, locked away in my study, struggling to unlock the secrets of a new language, a new vernacular, stripping away conventions.  And I succeeded.  I finally did it!  Yet, none of my children recognize me.  I’m a stranger.  They know only you.  It isn’t enough that you’ve stolen my wife—you’ve stolen my children as well!  My legacy!  And now you come to me because … why?  You feel guilty?  You want my blessing?  You want me to pat you on the back and tell you it’s okay?!  Fine.  It’s yours.  It’s all yours.  Take it!  My wife!  My children!  My ideas!  Assume all rights!  You are my lawful heir! [Pause.] It’s funny.  There was a time when I loved you … even thought you a little gifted.  You—my empty shadow.


GENTLEMAN: I am your shadow.  And I hate you for it.

HE: What a comedy!

GENTLEMAN: I’m respected.  Famous.  I have your wife, yes … but she still loves you.  Our favorite discussion is about your genius.  She’s aware of it, you see.  We are aware of it.  My son—she’ll raise him to be like you.  She’ll mold him into your image.  She’ll feed him your thoughts.  Even in bed, when I hold her in my arms, when I look into her eyes, we’re never alone—you are always there, hovering over us like a ghost.  And if I try to bury myself in my work, in my books—there you are again!  Everywhere!  It’s always you!  I’m never alone!  Never myself!  Even in my dreams, I find myself staring at your hateful image, looming, as if in some carnival mirror!

HE: It’s beautiful—isn’t it?  The way things turn out.  The victim proves to be the thief, and the thief complains of theft! [Laughs.] Listen, I was wrong.  You aren’t my shadow.  You’re only the crowd.  The audience.

GENTLEMAN: I wish you really had died.

HE: Maybe I did.


HE: You have nothing to fear from me.  I’m never going back.  That’s why you’re here—yes?  To make sure?

GENTLEMAN: I … I suppose so.  Yes.

HE: Then you have your answer.


GENTLEMAN: You won’t change your mind?

HE: No.  Your secret is safe.


GENTLEMAN: All right. [Pause.] Do you mind if … if I visit the circus every now and then?  Just to watch you—from the crowd.  I won’t bother you.  I’ll keep my distance.  I only want to understand your transformation.  Knowing you as I do, I can’t believe you’re here without some sort of idea—some plan.  But what plan?  That is what intrigues me.

HE: The circus turns no one away.

GENTLEMAN: All right, then.  Thank you.

[The GENTLEMAN offers his hand, but HE does not take it.]

GENTLEMAN: You won’t take my hand?  We’re parting forever.

HE: Not forever.  We’ll meet again in the next life—in the Kingdom of Heaven .  I trust you’ll be there as well?

GENTLEMAN: [Hesitates.] I hope so.

[The GENTLEMAN goes, leaving HE alone.]

* * *

Download the full text of He Who Gets Slapped

Copyright © 2007 by Walter Wykes

CAUTION: Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that He Who Gets Slapped is subject to a royalty. It is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America, and of all countries covered by the International Copyright Union (including the Dominion of Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth), and of all countries covered by the Pan-American Copyright convention and the Universal Copyright Convention, and of all countries with which the United States has reciprocal copyright relations. All rights, including professional and amateur stage performing, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio broadcasting, television, video or sound taping, all other forms of mechanical or electronic reproduction, such as information storage and retrieval systems and photocopying, and the rights of translation into foreign languages, are strictly reserved.

Inquiries concerning all rights should be addressed to the author at sandmaster@aol.com



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