The Vulgar Boatman, or: One Potato, Two Potato

By: Kurt Luchs

The following play marks the first appearance in English by the brilliant young dramatist Basil Dung. Mr. Dung is English, but by a court order (People of the United States vs. Dung) all of his works to date have been translated into ancient Egyptian to keep them out of the hands of children. Since the ban was lifted, Mr. Dung has graciously consented to translate his most famous play into English again. After seeing it, the editors are taking up a collection to have it translated back into ancient Egyptian, where they hope it will remain.


ALFREDO The human gyroscope

TARTINI A man trapped in another man’s body

SACCO AND VANZETTI Two innocent bystanders


MAXWELL An usher

MICHAEL An archangel

WARING A blender

OTHELLO A bellhop


The time is 8 p.m. on a murky stage in New York. Two starving actors are silhouetted in the moonlight streaming through an unrepaired roof. They are lying stage right, moaning and holding their stomachs. Every few minutes they stop to cut out pictures of food from a women’s magazine. As if by accident the first one speaks.

TARTINI: Anyone here have change for a twenty? Just asking, of course.

In the meantime, Alfredo has died and been given a full military funeral. The curtain falls on Tartini, killing him instantly. A voice announces that there will be refreshments served in the lobby, and then we hear a blood-curdling laugh. End of Act One.


The same stage a few minutes later. Most of the audience has been poisoned, but not so you’d notice. A light spring rain wafts through the hole in the roof. As if through a cheesecloth, an old song-and-dance man barks these words:

OLD SONG-AND-DANCE MAN: Program! Get your red-hot program here! Can’t tell the action without a program!

No one answers. He exits stage left, a disillusioned and embittered man. Enter the Emerson Quartet, playing crab soccer and Haydn’s Opus Number Two in E Major. They are drunk. After falling into the orchestra pit, they lie down and go to sleep. Eventually, some attendants dump them into shopping carts and roll them backstage, where we hear a sudden burst of gunfire. All this time Sacco and Vanzetti have been in the second balcony stuffing detonator caps into potatoes. Sacco leans over to Vanzetti to whisper something in his ear and Vanzetti breaks out laughing. Then he whispers to Sacco and Sacco does the same. Apparently it is some private joke between the two of them.


A flourish of trumpets. Enter two heralds.


SECOND HERALD: (as if hit from behind with a pipe wrench) King? What King?!?

The curtain is lowered for several months while repairs are begun on the roof, but it is no use, the Revolution can never succeed now.


An usher named Maxwell limps onstage to announce that the play is about to begin, and suddenly there is a rush for the lobby. Time passes. The continents continue to drift. Soon the Christmas holidays are at hand. Maxwell crawls back onstage and says that curtain time will be any minute now. There is a note of urgency, perhaps even of warning, in his voice. Somehow we know he will not live to see Paris. The gods become angry. We hear the rumble of distant thunderclouds — or perhaps not so distant. Through the still-open hole in the roof, lightning suddenly strikes a man in the first row, but amazingly, his watch still works. From the wings, a clothing dummy delivers Hamlet’s soliloquy in pig Latin, while an aging custodian pushes a dry mop across the stage. There is not a dry eye left in the house.


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