Or The Secret Journey
of K. H. Mácha and V. Hanka
(A forest, a lake in the distance, a stag stands very close, giant mussels, corals, and pine cones lay scattered on the ground. Dawn. He enters the stage in the middle of a creative monologue…) K. H. MÁCHA: …the voice of a turtle-dove invited to love …no … to love the voice of turtle-dove’s invited – yes those are the words! This is some willful act—this Czech language… to love the voice of turtle-dove’s—and you can just bet that I’ll leave it that way…five e’s in a row …such bestiality. (He seats himself on a mussel.) Oh how disgusted I am by everything in this valley made by meteorite, where for so long a sea bed had spread wide, or so it seems, judging by the filth that’s laying around everywhere! (He gets up and kicks a coral.) …
That’s how the puppet play, Astral Conspiracy—Outlines of the National Apocalypse, begins; a second great vision of Czech cultural future. Written in 2002, and introduced the same year in Nová Živhošť and modified to print in 2007. The heroes are personalities from the cultural history of the beginning of romanticism and the Czech National Revival. The author here juxtaposes two character antipodes: The only Czech poet with a truly artistic language and fate, Karel Hynek Mácha, and a breakneck philologist and the author of a made up Czech literaterary prehistory, Václav Hanka.
With them we gradually meet many other faces from Czech textbooks. The guides and keepers of the astral: The Devil, Merry Andrew that came from the kingdom of humor, Death and a Tea Bag. In the vision of the future we’ll meet Karel Gott, a singer of evergreens, Josef Švejk, the hero of Hašek’s humor literature for adults, that had formed the Czech personality, and a retadred couple of Spejbl the father, and Hurvínek, his son – the famous puppets from dumb children’s satires based on imbecile dialogues. Even Božena Němcová, the first Czech feminist and children’s story writer, best known for idealizing feudalism, stumbles upon the stage from time to time.
In the first act of the play, both our main heroes go to attend a spiritualistic séance announced by the Blue Abbot. The séance is promised to be a show of the greatest and most important cultural personalities from the Czech nation’s future. On their way they are kidnapped by the devil. He takes them to hell where he demonstrates the harsh ends of these past great Czechs. This allegory takes up the whole second act and we shall move into the third, under the Vyšehrad cliff just before the séance’s beginning. Our travelers are asleep, resting after the long journey, and hell’s hardships.
ABBOT: I am the Blue Abbot, everyone thinks I’m a revivalist.... but actually I’m a great white wizard!... (He looks around and notices the sleepers.) Oh, and who’s that over there? (He bends over them) Oh, it’s Hanka – the philologist alongside the bard. Mhm! (He raises his head) Anybody else?! … Alright, as you wish. Just ignore my invitations and effort—the more spirits from the kingdom of national astral future I shall summon! … (To the sleepers) Hey, wake up (MÁCHA and HANKA wake up simultaneously).
K.H.MÁCHA (drowsy): Oh, the revivalist’s here.
V. HANKA: My regards, Blue Abbot!
ABBÉ: I salute you too! (MACHA takes advantage of the situation and suddenly jumps in)
K.H. MÁCHA (to Hanka): And now, Hanka, confess!
V. HANKA (replies surprisingly swift): The Abbot is not the face of the nation! … At least not a whole one!
K.H. MÁCHA: Coward! From now on only Karel Sabina shall be a friend of mine!
ABBOT: Ehm, ehm… In the astral fields I saw that this place shall be the Tatra Smíchov factory in the future… And that is why I chose it as the setting for my great séance … The Vyšehrad séance! … Are you prepared to witness great things?
V. HANKA: Yes!
K. H. MÁCHA: Only great things I see, since such a great poet I am!
(BOŽENA NĚMCOVÁ a bit unexpectedly, but in good spirit, enters)
ABBOT: Boženka, what are you doing here? This is man’s business.
NĚMCOVÁ: Aha, but what about the female question?
ABBOT: That is not magic, Boženka, we shall deal with this later.
NĚMCOVÁ: Oh, ok. (Turns and leaves calmly)
K. H MÁCHA: Wasn’t that the woman of Czech literature?
ABBOT: Yes, Němcová. You know her grandmother?
V. HANKA: I’ve never seen the lady.
(A tea bag sails there and back.)
ABBOT: It is afternoon tea time. Just the right time to begin our séance. Take your operational positions, you Hanka on my left and Mácha to my right!
ABBOT: Great astral spirits I exorcise …For you …You! Open the preserve curtains of things to come and defile – in front of our eyes – the leading figures of our future national life, show us the fruit of today’s effort in the Czech matter!
V. HANKA (after a while): The leading figures aren’t coming …
K. H. MÁCHA: The foreboding of mine keeps escalating …
ABBOT: Again … I call upon you powerful spirits. Reveal what I ask for; here, on the holy grounds of Tatra Smíchov.
K. H. MÁCHA: my negligent foreboding has escalated to its peak!
ABBOT (keeps on going, his emotions will from now on only escalate): For the third time I warn you, that this is a magic number, rulers of the astral world, I call upon you! In the name of the Czech nation – reveal the future!
(For a moment nothing happens, until the DEVIL dins in.)
DEVIL: Gobble, gobble! (Towards the Abbot) Abbot, hell warns you – abandon your séance!
ABBOT: You devil, I’m not afraid of! I’m a white wizard and nothing can harm me!
DEVIL: As you wish. – Let’s begin!
(A demented dialogue of father and son closes in, protected by OS, based on preliminary synonym, homonym, and antonym puns. The dialogue followed by its originators – SPEJBL and HURVINEK, who keep to the back of the stage until the end, bitterly cracking jokes.)
ABBOT (has a good question): Who are these fools? What is this obscure materialization?
K. H. MÁCHA: I knew it…
DEVIL: I warned you. Disperse while there’s still time!
ABBOT: Don’t call alarm, Billy-goat! Spirits, fulfill my will!
(For a moment nothing happens and then DEATH appears, speaking in her typical tin voice.)
DEATH: Abbot the underworld warns you! —Abandon the séance!
ABBOT: I fear not even you Death! I have thee on my tongue anyhow! I’m a white wizard and nothing can harm me!
DEATH: As you wish. —Let’s continue!
(A very drunk ŠVEJK stumbles upon the stage, drinking from a pint that had grown together with his hand.)
ŠVEJK: Just be cool.
ABBOT: Who is this idiot? An alcoholic of some kind?
K. H. MÁCHA: A feeble-minded creature of public treasury. His stupidity burns me far more than flames!
DEATH: I warned you – it’s Good Soldier Švejk! … Beware! A great tail of massive vision mostly drags behind him. And in it his image of afterlife felicity in full.
(The space fills up with a fascinating spectacle – a vision. A countryside pub with only one table, and at that table two identical Švejk’s, raising their full pints, this all underlined by a red caption – Just be cool. DEATH continues.) See, that’s it! A pub heaven where he himself raises his glass too… (The vision slowly dissolves.)
K.H. MÁCHA: Hell!
DEVIL: Hell? It doesn’t get this good there!
DEATH: Abandon the séance Abbot!
ABBOT: Never! …Spirits, set your dumb puns aside and fulfill my directives!
DEATH (accommodatingly): But that’s what they’re doing right now…
ABOTT: Impossible, I don’t believe it (his magical stance now resembles agony) I shall continue!
(Nothing happens until a funny looking Merry Andrew jumps in.)
MERRY ANDREW (To the ringing of his jingle bells): Abbot, the kingdom of humor warns you. Stop the séance!
ABBOT: I do not posses a sense of humor!
MERRY ANDREW: As you wish! —Next!
(Whole singing his hit single I shall put sugar in my coffee, the popular singer KAREL GOTT appears with a very big head.)
DEVIL: Justly said!
V. HANKA: We know him from hell—a monster forever young!
DEATH (based on some previous truth): He seems somewhat bigheaded today.
K. H. MÁCHA: Imbecile—even Death knows him!
MERRY ANDREW: Oh stop it, he’s just brilliant. Expressive.
ABBOT (Clearly already possessed): Spirits I command you, send in an intellectual —even if he should be a German!)
(NĚMCOVÁ walks in.)
NEMCOVA: Did somebody call me?
ABBOT: No Boženka, what are you doing here again?
NĚMCOVÁ: I came because of the female question!
ABBOT (loses control): Well you can just… (Author of The Grandmother cuts him off.)
NĚMCOVÁ: … come back later. Well, all right. Goodbye then. (Leaves.)
K. H. MÁCHA: Wasn’t that her?
ABBOT (snaps back): But of course! (Just as if it would have sprouted out of the ground, a child dressed like a sailor appears, as inconspicuous as lonely children seem in a group of adults.) It is TINY K., ABOTT knocks into him.) Whose kid is this?
DEVIL: It’s Tiny K.
DEATH: No. Kafka. A German and an intellectual … as you wished for.
ABBOT: I didn’t want a German!
DEATH: Sure you did.
MERRY ANDREW: Kafka’s Jewish, Death.
DEVIL: He’s a German Jew.
V. HANKA (suddenly joins in): Isn’t he Prague’s German Jew?
DEVIL (smokes him): You keep quiet, counterfeiter!
V. HANKA: I beg to differ! (The argument’s embryo is aborted by the child’s cry.)
TINY K. (in German): Mich dürstet …
DEATH: The poor bugger is thirsty. (ŠVEJK comes in with his possibly surgically removable beer in hand.)
ŠVEJK: Hey fellow. Why don’t we have a drink then! You’ll be thick as a brick! (Gives him a drink.)
TINY K. (pulls his nose out of the pint): Danke, Herr Soldat!
ŠVEJK: See, little fellow! …I used to know this shop assistant, Hovňousek was his name, from Hodkovičky, and once he got so… (His story is interrupted by the author of May.)
K. H. MÁCHA: Silence the retard. I’m in dog’s suffering!
ABBOT (with the eyes of a madman): Had the whole astral turned against me?! Is this an astral conspiracy?! … Spirits, I swear by you! Send the highest one! – Send in the national giant!! (A TEA BAG appears in the deafening silence.)
MR. TEA (in flight): Tea warns you Abbot! —Your wish is the darkest of coffees!
ABBOT (shaking his fist at the tea bag): Vanish, tea bag! (But the tea bag just keeps hanging in midair.) And you, cursed rulers of the astral, obey my wish at any cost!!
(After a lengthier moment a macabre figure of GREAT HURVÍN robotically walks in. This hypertrophied Hurvinek is filled with dark oscillation effulging through his movements, features, gestures, even the stitches of his costume. He marches silently to center stage. HURVÍNEK’s eyes are falling out of their sockets, looking there and back between SPEJBL and his own double.)
ABBOT (in amok): No! What is this monster?! (Falls to his knees)
DEATH (somewhat confused): Isn’t that the giant of the National Theatre?
MERRY ANDREW: It’s Great Hurvín! Welcome Hurvín! (HURVÍN stands solid like a sculpture.)
DEVIL (knowledgably): He is the deadly cocktail of Švejk’s and Gott’s soul’s dispositions!
ABBOT (With death on his lips): I am a great white wizard, but this should have never happened! I’m dying! (He falls to the ground – a moment of embarrassing silence, everybody is looking at DEATH, who keeps looking back at them, confused.)
ABBOT (Repeats from the ground): I’m dying! (DEATH finally realizes what’s going on and cuts the poor man with her scythe, ABBOT dies.)
V. HANKA: The Abbot is dead! – That shall be the end of him.
HURVÍNEK (Thinking he had finally met his real father yelps with happiness at the worst of moments): Daddy! (He throws himself at GREAT HURVÍN, who ruthlessly, mechanically insults him; HURVÍNEK falls to the ground, onto the Abbot’s body.)
K.H. MÁCHA (accountant-like): Well, there we have it … (NĚMCOVÁ enters also at the wrong time.) Mrs. Němcová, you’ll have to leave the female question unresolved— your consultant has passed away. (Point to the motionless bodies and realizes he should have been more exact.) I mean the Abbot—on top of him, that’s just an insulter.
NĚMCOVÁ: Oh … well, I might just come back later. (Leaves.)
K.H. MÁCHA (To himself): Well ok, though I don’t think much will have changed.
ŠVEJK (Clicking his tongue lewdly): Wasn’t that a peach! I used to know this flutter girl, she used to come to Bucek’s… (Doesn’t finish the sentence because MÁCHA takes him in a stranglehold – hysterical.)
K.H. MÁCHA: Possible to strangle a vision?! (A question probably rhetorical, he chokes the solider for a while, lets go of him, and states prophetically.) The dread and terror! – Nor a swan nor the moon! – this séance is actually the only horrible kitsch!
DEATH: It is an apotheosis of kitsch, poet!
K. H. MÁCHA (turns towards death, full of hope): Oh Death, only you, aside from NĚMCOVÁ, who just keeps leaving, are a woman. A woman sounds like truth to me – is all of this true? Tell me! Is this ugly mummery our nation’s fate? We were – and shall not be?!
DEATH: It is only its slight reflection, Hynek!
K. H. MÁCHA: Then I wish to rest in your kind arms!
DEATH (Suddenly starts backing off): Wait your time, Karel! This is not the time for haste. For after I swing my scythe you’ll become Švejk’s alter ego forever, his double from the countryside pub vision… You’re the one on the right.
K. H. MÁCHA: Then I shall rather become immortal.
DEATH: Then you shall share a grave with Hanka! Up there on the cliff! (He points to Vyšehrad.)
… (a passage about Mácha’s two resting places is left out here by the editor) …
ŠVEJK: So how 'bout it brother, should we share a pint? (The poet bursts headlong.)
K.H. MÁCHA: Stay back, Satan!
DEVIL: Bravo, poet! —You have brought my real face to light! In reality the solider with the pint is my true essence!
K. H. MÁCHA (in desperate pathos): Here surface the OUTLINES OF THE NATIONAL APOCALYPSE! As a punishment for its future, I here by definitely bestow the word turtle-dove’s upon the Czech nation in my greatest opus, and since I am a German, an Ignatz, I leave for Italy. (Turns to leave.)
V. HANKA: Do not leave, bard!
K. H. MÁCHA: I’m leaving but don’t you frown—we shall rot together I heard. I leave this Vyšehrad séance taking place at Smíchov! I give it up for lost! I do not understand you, I do not understand myself, I don’t understand anything … I don’t understand the nothing inside myself. But one thing I know – The road ahead of me is long – a delusive calling! (Starts leaving.)
DEVIL (at him): Well, thrice goodbye! … (derisively) poetic volcano … And I’ll come to pick you up too! (Yells after Hanka, who’s escaping past approaching NĚMCOVÁ.) Even if Merry Andrew rode a goat!
NĚMCOVÁ (to the devil): Was that meant for me?
DEVIL: Oh no, you have your personal hell here already.
NĚMCOVÁ: Oh. And the female question has been definitively swept under the carpet?
DEVIL (momentarily gifted): No we didn’t. Karel, solve it! That’s why you are … a monster.
(Zlatý Slavík (The Golden Nightingale) carries the author of V zámku a podzámčí (In the Château and its Court) off-stage, interpreting his skit, Come and I’ll show you the way through paradise. That is commented by an obscure statement of the floating tea bag.)
MR. TEA: Careful not to spit out your coffee!
DEVIL (knows what’s going on): But colleague, he wasn’t singing I shall put sugar in my coffee, but… (the resigned levitating colleague just sullenly doesn’t let him finish the sentence.)
MR. TEA : Yeah, yeah… I know… but what if I achieve only as an antipode to that brownish swill?
ŠVEJK (mad): Did he mean beer? (Points his pint at the tea bag.)
DEVIL (calming him down): Coffee, Josef, coffee… (to Death) Let’s call it a day sister, they’re going silly. (To confirm the hell hound’s words the passive SPEJBL, TINY K., and suddenly awoken HURVÍNEK start ordering as if they were in a restaurant.)
SPEJBL: Coffee please!
TINY K.: Mich Tee, Herr Ober!
HURVÍNEK (from the Abbot’s body): Mánička! (ŠVEJK can’t hold back)
ŠVEJK: And another pint for me! (Points with his empty hand.)
DEATH (evaluates the situations according to the devils offer and gets ready to precede the looming excesses by ending the séance, because there is no one, if we omit the dead body of the White Mage, who would still be taking part. Death takes center stage, opens her arms and starts taking in all the materialized entities with the exception of the dark Hurvín): It’s over children. Come to me, my loves, you astral larvae, sad reflections of a disdained nation’s image, that created you in a valley made by meteorite thinking that in the middle of banality and kitsch there is no suffering or death. What a fateful mistake! I rule across everything human! Thus I rule even emptiness… Only me, I am the only – ontological anchor! – And so long live the one to finally get it in their heads! Long live Great Hurvín! The soulful death of Vyšehrad’s nation! (And like a mother leads her children or a choirmaster her choir, Death nods to her hugged spiritual nurse-children and they all start chanting.)
EVERYONE: Long live Great Hurvín! Long live Great Hurvín! (HURVÍN breaks through his apathy and with a robotic gesture of his hand stops the chanting ... An arrogant, ugly nasal voice breaks the silence. It speaks in cut mutilated words, torsos of raped relicts, and caricatures of language, that give birth to four terrible quasi-meanings.
GREAT HURVIN: Für mich Schwejk. Just get tea. I shall sugar your cool. The beer of Vyšehrad. (The kettle-drums of Bedřich Smetana’s famous Vyšehrad thunder, while the beast begins impersonating the movements of a bird in flight – ta ta – ta ta – ta ta – ta ta – the music rumbles and dives – ta ta – ta ta – ta ta – ta ta – and look, together with the music – the Great Hurvín, as if he was being pulled up by invisible strings soars through the air, higher … higher, and higher … towards Vyšehrad!
END OF PLAY