You may recall, gentle readers, previous missives, published here by S.P. Wildeman. The same author has been in touch and asked to submit another story. I have so obliged.
Richard Bryant, Proprietor, Richard’s Food for Thought
Note to the reader: Everything in this short story bears a resemblance to someone living and something dead. Whether man or machine, theater critic or person, we’ve all met for coffee and coordinated our versions of the truth.
I’m never sure where I am these days. So many of the places I inhabit tend to blend together in the darkness. Lit only by second-hand lamps, I am led among frayed extension cords, by one-eyed adult orphans, and through hastily arranged curtains. The villagers, I am told, have taken me to the theater. The play we are about to see is something I created over a decade ago. There were no actors, plot, or scenes. Borrowing mainly from the work of Samuel Beckett, I wrote a play where nothing happened. The curtain remained closed for two hours. Behind the curtain, the audience could hear the occasional sound or see an intermittent light. There might be a clashing cymbal.
Here is my point. Nothing happened. One person (in the early days, it was me) sat behind the curtain, making the noise. After a few of the trendier theater journals reviewed my descent into nothingness, I was able to bring on a few stagehands to bang wooden spoons against my kitchen pots. Eventually, they wanted to be called actors, so I fired them and hired the one-eyed orphans. This was a play without a plot, actors, or any of the conventions of modern drama. I was going to ask my audience to stare at a closed curtain and listen to random sounds for two hours, all in the name of culture.
While the New York critics were harsh, we were huge in France. The French ate this up. The best negative review I’ve ever received came from Le Figaro. “Could less have occurred on stage?” It was a good question. Could I do nothing at all and still call it a drama? Would people pay to stare at a closed curtain with no sound or any physical interaction at all? Yes, I thought they would. I would go for all and nothing.
Why a remote village in northern Togo cobbled together enough Central African francs to buy the rights to produce a 10-year-old American play about nothing was beyond me. I had a theory. I once wrote a book on Dom Deluise as a recurring Christ figure in the Burt Reynolds’ Cannonball Run Story Saga. (I sold 12 copies, 4 of which were to Reynolds himself). Deluise’s comedy was widely revered throughout French-speaking West Africa, with his work featured in film festivals in Guinea, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Burkina Faso in alternating years.
Let me clear things up. I didn’t know where I was beyond a dank basement and hastily assembled theater somewhere on the northeast side of Togo’s capital, Lome. And even when I’m in Lome and watching a play I wrote, I couldn’t find myself on a map with a GPS if I had to.
One question still vexed me. Had the Togolaise seen any of my work? Did they know what they were getting into? How would they respond to spending their hard-earned money to get nothing in return? Plays about nothing are fine and dandy for first world theatergoers with disposable incomes. I can hear it now, “où est le dialogue?”
Were they expecting DeLuise to be a character?
Finally, someone asked, “When does the funny fat man arrive?”
He’s here, sitting in the corner, a piece of paper in his hand, furiously writing a part for a man named Santa Claus in a Christmas play about nothing.