Monday, May 10, 2010

From the Top Shelf - Who: Whom

No, this isn't a story about good grammar. It's a scene from Oh! Calcutta! - an avant-garde theatrical revue, created by British drama critic Kenneth Tynan. The show, consisting of sketches on sex-related topics, debuted Off-Broadway in 1969 and then in London in 1970.

The show sparked considerable controversy at the time, because it featured extended scenes of total nudity, both male and female. The title is taken from a painting by Clovis Trouille, itself a pun on "O quel cul t'as!" French for "What an arse you have!".

This scene, called "Who: Whom" was seldom performed.

MAN is discovered center stage in armchair, relaxed, legs crossed. To his right, a Victorian chaise longue, upholstered in leather. He lights a cigarette. As he does so
GIRL A enters right. She is dressed like a Victorian parlor maid--black dress, high button shoes, maid's cap. She carries a birch rod. MAN watches her as she crosses to the chaise longue and kneels on it, placing the birch rod near her feet. She bends forward, resting her head on her folded arms. She raises her skirt and tucks it above her waist. She is wearing Victorian drawers. Her rear faces the audience as she bends again. MAN exhales, still watching her. GIRL B is now lowered from the flies, slightly to the left of MAN. She is encased in a net of stout rope, which dangles five feet above stage level. She is wearing a bikini. Her wrists and ankles are tied, her mouth is gagged, and she is doubled up. MAN watches her descent with impassive interest. Rising, he taps the ash from his cigarette and addresses the audience.

MAN: (easy, slow, conversational tone) Like most civilized people, I believe in democracy. I thought I'd better make that clear right from the beginning. I don't believe that any one person is essentially more important than any other. Or less. On the other hand, there are obviously differences between people. Some are taller or thinner or more redheaded than others and some are what you might call more resonant.

He walks toward

For example, Susan here has resonance. I call her Susan because that's the name of the character she is playing. Susan is a pert English girl of good background who has been captured and trussed up by a tribe of savages from Sumatra. Indignities of many kinds--some nameless, some specific--are in store for her. Susan has resonance because many people respond to her. They love reading books about her or looking at pictures of her, or seeing films about her. From time to time she's trussed up by Martians or Vikings or Gauleiters. But she's always the same old Susan, always defenseless, always known to her admirers as a damsel in distress. And she strikes a chord. Can you hear it? (Pause.) It's a statistical fact that some of you can. That makes Susan a resounding person. Let's hope it comforts her in bondage--against which (
GIRL B wriggles desperately) she struggles in vain.

He walks over to

This is Jean. Jean also has resonance. She is a parlor maid employed in a Scottish mansion during the middle years of the nineteenth century. The master of the house is an attractive widower, brushed with gray at the temples, and his regime is stern but just, like the glint in his ice-blue eyes. Jean has been caught stealing bottled plums, and now awaits chastisement at the hands of her master. She will now formally present herself.

GIRL A pulls down her drawers to mid-thigh.

She will now arch and offer.

GIRL A arches her back.

Jean is now fully disclosed. From between her buttocks, the puckered rim of a virgin target tremulously peeps.

Like Susan, she is known in many disguises--as a wayward novice in an Irish cloister, or an indolent prefect at a strict finishing school. Many thousands of people respond to her plight, often quite vividly. Let us not blink at the facts. A high degree of resonance attaches to Jean. May it solace her in her humility, that lovely, well-built girl.

He takes up a position between the two girls.

Remember Lenin--the great Lenin--who said that the world was divided into the "who" and "whom"? He was talking about those who do, and those to whom it is done. Wouldn't you say that Susan and Jean, in their very different ways, were a classic pair of whom?

He turns and stubs out his cigarette. He then faces the audience again.

You'll have noticed I said they were different. But how do they differ? In my view very significantly.

He indicates

Have a good squint at Susan. This girl is where she is as a direct result of physical coercion. Brute force and nimble fingers have been at work. The principle of choice--the very heartland of liberty--has been rudely violated. It's an outrage to the human spirit.

He turns to

Now let's take another look at Jean. She kneels there--or squats there-- in a posture that must be profoundly embarrassing. You might even call it humiliating. However, if the spirit moves her, she is at liberty to get up and go. Jean, the submissive household servant in temporary disgrace, is a free agent.

He picks up the birch rod and fingers it.

And she is free not only as a parlor maid but as a human being. The girl you are watching--the docile squattee--is Eleanor Brown. (Or whatever her real name is.) Born 1941, trained at R.A.D.A., professional debut with Oldham Rep--you can see the details in the program. If Miss Brown, the employed female performer, decides now--tonight, this moment--to get up and leave the stage, there will be no reprisals. Neither I, nor the author, nor the director will hold it against her. She will return to the theater tomorrow night with her professional reputation untarnished. Whatever happens, she is the master of her fate.

He turns toward

Susan, for all her resonance, is dependent on the will of others. (He shouts at the wings.) Take Susan away! Whereas Eleanor--age 25, divorced with one daughter, favorite food lobster chop suey--remains her own mistress. She is free to stop blushing and go.

He moves closer to her.

Are you listening to me, Eleanor?

She does not move.

Eleanor--do you want to leave the stage?

She does not move.

For the last time, will you please make a sign if you wish to leave the stage?

She does not move. Pause.

As I was saying, I am a strict believer in democracy.


From Hermione's Heart


Karl Friedrich Gauss said...

Most charming. One can see why this scene was seldom performed. Still, I'm sure it would be great for, say, the next Shadowlane party!

Hot_Bottom said...

That was great and it makes a good point.

Hermione said...

karl - That's an excellent idea. I also have a longer cut scene that I will look into posting. it would be even better for a party. thanks for the inspiration!

HB - Welcome! Yes, it really does.


Uncle Nick said...

Kenneth Tynan, who wrote this work and who died sadly at the age of only 53, was a spanking man through and through. I thought that everyone knew that? I must be getting old...

Paul said...

Hermione, I took my mother and my girlfriend to see this, they both loved it.
Unfortunately the Lord Chamberlain cut that scene, shame.
I'll bet that Kenneth was p****d.
Warm hugs,

ronnie said...

Thanks Hermione,

That's was very interesting.

Reading comment from Uncle Nick - I didn't know Kenneth Tynan was a spanking man but I know he was often very controversial and I do believe he was the first person to say F... on our BBC.

I shall look forward to you posting another scene.


Karl Friedrich Gauss said...

@Uncle Nick -- Well it's interesting to see how open he was about his interest. Of course I'd heard about Kenneth Tynan's interest. I guess I overlooked that he was the author of this piece of theatre. I'll look forward to reading the other scene Hermione refers to.

Hermione said...

Uncle Nick - No, I didn't know that about Tynan, but then, I had never heard of him until I did research for this excerpt.

Paul - How lucky you were to have seen it! I haven't. My source did say that this scene was rarely performed, and no wonder.

Ronnie - Oh, my, that man was really naughty!

Karl - I will see what I can do.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Hermione, you got Chrossed for this!

Great scene, too. I saw only a theatrical film of the play which almost no spanking occurred. Would the other scene you have be the one where the audience decides by applause which schoolgirl gets caned? I read it in the full version of the play in paperback but as I said it wasn't in the film version. I have to wonder if it was even performed on stage since it's quite long.

Hermione said...

Devlin - Goodness, Chrossed again!

Yes, that's the scene, although the girl gets the hairbrush. It is a tad long, although not as long to perform, because when written down, it accounts for all the possible variations in which girl is chosen.

Stay tuned. I'm working on it.


Anonymous said...

The hairbrush? Didn't recall that. But I just remembered where I was when I read the book, which was at sea on a Coast Guard cutter, so yeah ... it has been a while.

Oh, and the scene you published here was in the film, although I'm not sure it was that graphic. I wonder if that's lurking around on You Tube somewhere. I'll check.

Hermione said...

Devlin - I hope you find it. I'd love to see it.