Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

A Few Stout Individuals

by John Guare

“Vivacious. Individuals is . . . so unmistakably the product of Mr. Guare’s exotic yet very American imagination.” –Ben Brantley, The New York Times

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 144
  • Publication Date May 22, 2003
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4002-9
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $13.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date December 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9966-9
  • US List Price $13.00

About The Book

Arthur Schlesinger calls A Few Stout Individuals “a political extravaganza.” This latest work from award-winning playwright John Guare, author of House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation, addresses ideas of history and memory, fame and ignominy, reason and insanity with his trademark Guare imagination. In a Fifth Avenue brownstone in 1880s New York, Ulysses S. Grant is penniless, dying of throat cancer, and attempting to finish his memoirs while he’s cajoled and pestered by everyone from his wife and children to Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) and, via his drugged hallucinations, the Emperor of Japan. Although the memoirs are eventually completed, the audience is left questioning their accuracy, and, ultimately, the authenticity of history itself.

Praise

“Vivacious. Individuals is . . . so unmistakably the product of Mr. Guare’s exotic yet very American imagination.” –Ben Brantley, The New York Times

“Every minute of it is fresh and newly alive . . . makes theatre an exciting and vivid place to be, a place of delight.” –Michael Feingold, The Village Voice

“Ah, the blessing . . . of an overactive imagination, not merely teeming but positively unbridled.” –John Simon, New York

Excerpt

ACT ONE

An extraordinary masked apparition appears: THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: I am THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN
I am the throne of chrysanthemum
I am the center of the disk that is the sun
I am the horizon behind which the golden sun rises
I give the sun to you each morning
I take the sun back each night
I am the moon who casts a cool light on the ocean
which I also am
I am shadow
I am light
I am memory I am memory I am memory I am memory

A dark room, lit by a few hurricane lamps. USG, sixty-three, but looking ancient, sits wrapped in blankets in a wheelchair, in pain, toothless, wasted, his voice a harsh fierce whisper.

USG:: But who am I?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: I am THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN
I am the throne of chrysanthemum

USG:: I know who you are.

Who am I?

CLEMENS’S voice: Who am I? What is he saying?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Why did the South last so long?

USG:: The south of what?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN:: Why did the South fight? Were they all fighting for slavery?

USG: I don’t know what you’re talking about–

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: They weren’t all slaveholders. It’s not why the South lost. How did they hold on so long? Why did it take you so long?

USG: I didn’t ask you here for this. I asked you–

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Why did you summon me?

USG: I can’t remember.

Other people are dimly visible in the room: SAMUEL CLEMENS, a blustery man, fifty, red hair turning white. MRS. G, fifty-nine, terrified. ADAM BADEAU, fifties, very lame, pale, red hair.

CLEMENS: Give him something.

MRS. G: Not time.

USG: Hard.

CLEMENS: Of course it’s hard. The terror of the blank page–I understand that–

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: How hard can it be? When in doubt, tell the truth.

USG: You sound like my publisher–

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Who’s your publisher?

USG: I don’t know.

CLEMENS: Do you know? Do you know who I am?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Do you know who I am?

USG: THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN.

CLEMENS: Oh my God.

USG: Why would you come visit me?

CLEMENS: Because we have a contract.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Because you summoned me.

CLEMENS: For a book.

USG: Why would you obey me?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Because of who you are.

CLEMENS: Because of who you are.

USG: I know who you are. But me–me–me . . .

THE EMPRESS OF JAPAN: appears. Like her husband, she is in her early twenties.

THE EMPRESS OF JAPAN: He does not know who he is?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: He calls me here–

CLEMENS: He doesn’t know who he is. Help him.

THE EMPRESS OF JAPAN: Help him–

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: How? Give him some medicine.

CLEMENS: Give him some medicine.

MRS. G: He is a little bit under the weather.

CLEMENS: Under the weather? This man is under a cyclone, a tornado.

MRS. G: Sit up, Lyss, let me help you. Show what you can do.

THE EMPRESS OF JAPAN: Let me help you–

CLEMENS: Let me help you.

MRS. G: No! I help him. He’s just having a day today. Some days he dictates ten thousand words. My pencil snaps, I can’t keep up with him.

CLEMENS: That’s what I want to hear. Pages. I’ve come to see pages.

MRS. G: Your cannabis pill–swallow–quickly–time for the cannabis.

CLEMENS: Take it–ease your pain.

USG: Who are you?

MRS. G: It’s Mr. CLEMENS–

USG: swallows with difficulty. He breathes.

USG: CLEMENS? CLEMENS?

The light turns golden on him. His voice is normal. He sits up. This transformation is only seen by the Emperor and Empress.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: (Impressed) Samuel–is he also Mark Twain?

USG: Samuel CLEMENS:? That’s who he is!

CLEMENS: That’s right, sir–Who did he think I was?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: You know him!

USG: It appears I do.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: He’s publishing you? Why didn’t you tell me! And he’s promised you a fortune!

USG: Seventy percent of the profits. No author ever got seventy percent of the profits. I remember that.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: –if there are any profits.

USG: Don’t give me reality. I also remember I owe a man named Vanderbilt one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Could it be we’re losing this house?

MRS. G: I can’t believe they’d ever foreclose on this house–not after what you’ve done for them.

USG: My children have moved back in. It appears we all need money. CLEMENS said he could sell a copy to every person who was in the war.

CLEMENS: –to every man who was in the war–

USG: –and I say, what war?

CLEMENS: Is he serious?

BADEAU: I’m afraid that–

MRS. G: He’s just having a bad day–

USG: I must be somebody if he wants me to write my life and I must be somebody if I owe the richest man in America a fortune and I must be somebody if an emperor and his wife come to visit me. Should I kneel to you?

CLEMENS: No, I should kneel to you.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: No no. You’re my only equal. You’re a great man.

USG: That’s what CLEMENS said three months ago when we started. A great man.

CLEMENS: A great man.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Did he give you advice on how to write?

USG: ‘stretch things all you want but just tell the truth.”

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Very funny!

CLEMENS: Exactly, sir–you remember. I’m very encouraged.

MRS. G: He’s fine. He remembers.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: “All you need in life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.”

USG: “Familiarity breeds contempt–and children.”

CLEMENS: You remember that? He’s very charming–

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: “Reports of my death are vastly overrated.”

USG: “Always do right. You will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN & USG: “Repartee is something you remember twenty-four hours after you should have said it” –

CLEMENS: My only sorrow is that the world might not see what you can give. I don’t want the world to forget you.

USG: You read Mark Twain?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: I don’t read. My readers read him to me.

USG: I don’t think I ever read him. I like Victor Hugo. Les Misérables. That’s my idea of a book.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: A man being chased through sewers? I didn’t identify with that.

CLEMENS: Does he want me to read Victor Hugo to him?

MRS. G: No, no, he read that on our way to Japan.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: So that’s Mark Twain–good advance?

USG: Biggest advance any author’s ever got.

CLEMENS: Ten thousand dollars out of my own pocket.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Poor Japan. We have no one like him. Just as well. Wouldn’t be easy for him to live there. I allow no books to be published.

USG: Why?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: The people need no memories. I am enough.

USG: Mark Twain says if I write down my memories, besides being very rich I will also be immortal.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Wise Mark Twain.

USG: Happy Mark Twain.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: But poor Mark Twain.

USG: Why poor?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: He is not like you or me. He is only a writer. He is not an immortal.

USG: Not like you. THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN:. Immortal.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Not like you. President. General. Immortal.

USG: I was those things?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Why do you think I see you?

USG: Can you be a former immortal?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: No. Immortal is immortal.

USG: Maybe in your country.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Make them remember you.

USG: One of these people wants to kill me.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Wants to kill you?

USG: I’m not sure which one. What do they want from me?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: A great book.

USG: But I have to write the damn thing.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: What’s the problem?

USG: I’m floating. They tell me to go into my memory . . . but I don’t even remember having a memory.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Aside from that.

USG: Oh, I’m dying.

The golden light fades on USG.

CLEMENS: Oh God–

MRS. G: No no no, he’s just having a bad day.

USG: (To the Emperor) I know why I called you. To save me! To rescue me–you are memory.

CLEMENS: Memory?

MRS. G: He’s famous for his memory. He looks at a map for ten seconds, he knows the terrain better than any native!

CLEMENS: How long has he been this way?

BADEAU: What you see today began as one day a week. Then two days a week. Then, like an ink blot, spread out over the entire week. Like a fisherman, you sit through the storm and wait it out. Like a teacup–

CLEMENS: The pages, Mr. BADEAU? Where are the new pages?

BADEAU: All this takes its toll.

CLEMENS: I left you with responsibility. You’re my delegate–why didn’t you let me know?

BADEAU: You’re lollygagging around the country, promoting yourself giving readings of your new book, leaving explicit instructions not to disturb you.

CLEMENS: There are exceptions. I thought everything was swimming along, and now we’re drowning.

BADEAU: If you’re drowning in New York, you don’t call a plumber who’s somewhere between Canada and Texas.

USG: Who are you?

CLEMENS: Who am I?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: You do know who I am.

USG: I know who you are. We are men with beautiful wives.

CLEMENS: Thank you.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Thank you.

THE EMPRESS OF JAPAN: Thank you.

MRS. G: Thank you.

CLEMENS: When did you meet my wife? She’ll be so pleased. This is his charm–

MRS. G: All the wives are beautiful! Did you hear that? It’s going to be all right. No problems–no problems at all–

MRS. G: kisses USG:.

CLEMENS: But I came to see work–

BADEAU: The pages are right here. See–Vicksburg. The Wilderness.

CLEMENS: I saw those pages months ago. That began as the magazine article–

BADEAU: This big pile is West Point–this is Mexico–all new.

CLEMENS looks at the pages.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: What is he reading?

USG: My new pages.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: You haven’t written anything.

USG: Oh, they do it for me.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Who wrote these pages?

CLEMENS: Who wrote these pages?

BADEAU: He did.

CLEMENS: This is not his voice–and this–’my roommate at West Point brought me home to Galena, Illinois, for the holidays. When I stepped off the train, Cupid must have had his arrow poised, for the first sight I saw was the girl of my dreams, wearing a red burgundy dress and attractive blue paisley shawl that complemented her eyes.” The general did not write this.

MRS. G: It’s exactly what he said. Didn’t he?

BADEAU: I wasn’t here that day.

CLEMENS: This is not his voice.

MRS. G: Are you calling the general a liar?! Or me?! He wrote this!

CLEMENS: Even you can’t admit that he wrote this or this–I’m saying he didn’t write this–or this–or this. But he did write this: ‘my family is American, and has been for generations, in all its branches, direct and collateral.” That’s the way it begins and that’s the tone in which it must continue. But this, “I never forgave the Bonapartes for their actions in Mexico. When I was in England and a guest at the tastefully decorated house of my great and heroic friend, Adam BADEAU, I received an invitation to a party to meet the Prince Imperial, the son of Napoleon the Third. I declined the invitation. I said to my great friend, Adam BADEAU, who had been injured in the war but never complained for one moment of his agony, that I was unwilling to show any courtesy to the son of . . .” He did not write this.

BADEAU: You impugn him, not I.

CLEMENS: It doesn’t sound like him.

BADEAU: This is what he sounds like now. All I do is take the dictation. If he compliments me, I accept it.

CLEMENS: Then you must control his memory, guide his memory. When I was a pilot on the river, I learned to read its surface, to steer clear of the rocks, the eddies, the undercurrents. I hired you as my deputy because you’ve been with him so long–I thought you knew him.

BADEAU: Alas. You’re disappointed.

CLEMENS: These new pages are unacceptable.

MRS. G: We have the war. The war the war. This is the war. Well, most of the war.

CLEMENS: Where is the presidency? I’m selling a two-volume book. We barely have enough usable material for one volume–no, not even for a long pamphlet. Sir? Can you talk? I have so many things to ask you.

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: I have so many things to ask you.

USG: Why?

THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN: Because of who you are.

CLEMENS: Because of who you are.

USG: Who am I?

©2003 by John Guare. First published in the Spanish Language by Tusquets Editores. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.