ROMEO AND JUILLIARD
a tragedy in 5 acts
Romeo, an entering freshman cellist of aspect fair and true;
The Juilliard School, the redoubted music institution;
Mercutio, Romeo’s friend, an Italian violinist, also a freshman;
The Ghost of Dorothy DeLay;
Candy, a ballerina of slender build and slenderer intellect;
Mary, Queen of PreCollege;
Igor and Amy, severely jaded seniors at Juilliard;
Daria, a beautiful drama student;
Harold, eccentric sage of the violoncello;
a Nameless, Faceless Pianist;
Stanislavich, a Russian virtuoso of some kind;
Cedric, an extremely campy ballet dancer;
assorted officials, administrators, security guards, and bag ladies.
[A marble court in front of revolving doors; inside a sinister lobby can vaguely be seen. Orientation meeting. A group of incoming freshmen gathers on the court, mingling in groups.]
ROM. A freshened wind with soot and grime doth blow
o’er me, this once provincial Romeo.
Now perched amid this din of cab and truck
I thank persistence, and my ripened luck.
Ho, Mercutio! Well met, my fellow music geek!
Have you received your room assignment?
MER. I have, and never a more threadbare cubicle
hath fate imposed upon my Roman visage.
ROM. I too did find it cold; but we young men
must take fire from art, or from our bedmates,
if art doth not warm us sufficiently.
And we have passed through such ordeals,
such strains of practice and tedium of scales,
such etudes of octaves and thirds and travails,
auditions and juries, and financial worries,
to find ourselves here atop the blossom
of the flower of musical prestige, bees aflood
in honey, drowning in the hive of virtuosity.
MER. Agreed; We shouldst not complain of that
which we have pursued so assiduously.
ROM. Yes, Mercutio, we played and fiddled at Fate
and she hath dealt us her fairest card,
that horizon I have ever gazed toward,
to sign upon my resume the golden name: Juilliard.
[IGOR and AMY, passing through the crowd, come nearer]
IGOR: [singsong] Just hope these studies do not leave you scarred.
AMY: [singsong] Or tunefully beaten, harmonically charred,
Marred and hoisted by your own petard.
ROM. Why, what do you mean?
AMY: We mean to say
that what’s in a golden name is not always gold.
Beware this bill of sale, thy soul is sold.
ROM. Sour seniors!
Wouldst thou spoil our pleasure and delight?
I think the circles ‘neath your eyes have ranged you round
so that you must only roam your jaded ground.
President of Juilliard enters, with assorted faculty and retinue of bagladies.]
PRESIDENT OF JUILLIARD: And now we must with gilded pleasure welcome
our incoming class, the best and brightest stars in our remodell’d
marble skies. We accept but such a tiny fraction
of our applicants, thus all may bask in satisfaction
till we shall dine at the feast of your blossomed talents.
IGOR [aside, to Romeo]: … my own talents have been truly din’d upon
and but their shrivell’d carcass sits unloved upon the table.
AMY [aside]: Yes, ‘tis such a leftover that even Tupperware
will steadfastly refuse.
ROM. Thy cynicism is spoiling our welcome, away!
IGOR: Thy welcome is not fresh; ‘tis the same as three years past,
and ‘twill be same three hence; a curious newness, indeed.
MER. Romeo, let us wander from these sordid tunesters.
Let them rot and mold in their experience.
IGOR: We will go, we will go. Lads, orient yourselves.
And when you are aligned with Juilliard’s stars,
We shall watch how you plummet to earth.
AMY: Thou art duly warned. We do not lie, you’ll see.
IGOR: Tis nothing but our recent history.
We’ll off to Starbucks now, and caffeinate our misery.
[Exeunt IGOR and AMY]
ROM. Mercutio, dost thou spy, not far from here, a girl of smallish aspect, in tights and stripèd top?
MER. I do, Romeo, but she doth speak with strange intensity to that rather flamboyant lad.
ROM. I suspect I need not fear this lad as rival;
but she hath lit my heart aflame with unknown clefs,
upon which marv’llous notes of fear and hope do play;
Tis like a masterclass where praise is but the gateway
unto insults one had never dreamed of.
I know not what to do, Mercutio!
MER. You must approach her, if you must.
The glowing city lights and all sooty wind of opportunity
do lay grimy stage for your precipitate action.
[They move towards her; she is talking with Cedric.]
ROM. Excuse me, lady, but I think thou hast stolen
the moon’s light for thine eyes, which I must repossess.
CANDY. [Miffed, confused] I have stolen no such thing;
Tell the Moon he is mistaken.
ROM. No, no, milady, ‘tis but a play of speech,
a metaphor with which I aim to count your beauty.
MER. [Aside] Methinks she hath not met before a metaphor.
CANDY. Even so, I care not what you’ve counted.
I’ve stolen nothing and you must be in error.
ROM. No, you fail to grasp my meaning…
CANDY. Do you think Brad and Angelina will remain together,
or will he cheat upon her forthwith?
MER. [Aside] She shifts from thought to thought alarmingly;
Her hungering body hath devoured her brain.
ROM. [To Mercutio, swooning] She is entrancing, but difficult; I am amazed, and confounded…
MER. [To Romeo] Thou shouldst beware the vacuum in her head,
‘twill suck you in and leave you imprisoned in its void,
but a figment of her strange imagination.
ROM. May I ask thy name, without giving offense?
CANDY. I am Candy, and I sweetly dance; Cedric here’s my colleague.
ROM. Dancing Candy, I must sweetly say that I believe
That Brad and Angelina’s love could never be as fierce
as the tiger you have unleash’d in my breast,
prowling after the key to your beautiful heart.
MER. [To Romeo] Hold your heart still, friend, and think a moment;
Her brain’s like a wrench made of cheese.
ROM. [To Mercutio] I do not need a wrench just now,
as my heart is bolted tightly round her sight.
CANDY. Canst thou find me a Diet Coke? I am parched.
ROM. With eager tread I seek the needed Nutrasweet,
and then return to drink thy carbonated beauty.
MER. Who is that woman smoking there, with eyes of steel?
Her disdainful glance sears my heart.
CED. Avoid her glance, Mercutio.
Betwixt the drama and the music school
Lies incalculable abyss of cool.
MER. She is a nicotined marvel.
CED. Her name is Daria, and her wit hath fangs;
she hath reduced many happy men
to sorry tears and pale spectacle.
Drama students play at parts, and play with hearts;
they are no prey for amateurs.
MER. I must speak to her.
CED. I warn you, stay away.
CANDY. [Interrupting, petulant] I am bored. Whither Romeo?
MER. He went to fetch you Diet Coke.
CANDY. How did he know I was thirsty?
MER. You yourself told him so.
CANDY. He is most memorable.
I had forgotten I was thirsty, until I thirsted.
MER. [Aside] The perfect woman! She forgets her own desires.
The ballet of her mind whirls in stupefying circles.
[To Candy] Dost thou like Romeo?
CANDY. He seems fair enough. Cedric?
CED. I wouldst not turn him out of my bed.
MER. But dost thou, in truth, “like like” Romeo?
CED. Redoubled like is but a dream for us who dance;
We live but for our steps, and love is but a stance
which helps us climb upon the stage, and prance.
CANDY. What he said.
[Enter Romeo, with Diet Coke]
ROM. Your beverage I proffer, lithe lady.
Before this moment I was a slave to notes and scales,
but now the scales have fallen from my eyes,
and I note only your beauty, which I will play
over and over in mind until my dying day.
You’re like a Popper etude, tossed off with ease;
difficult to master, but certain then to please.
MER. Oh Romeo, my friend, I too am aflame
with sudden love for this supercilious theatre chick.
I must be stopped from following my …
MARY, QUEEN OF PRECOLLEGE [interrupting]. Thick
are the walls separating drama from music,
but I may help you find a secret door.
MER. How do you mean?
MARY. [Whispering] If thou wish to meet this Daria,
I wilt find thee opportunity. And opportunity is all.
MER. But how?
MARY. I cannot tell you yet.
You must show your face this Saturday
at eight in the morning. I have an army of children,
which wants a gentle general.
MER. Love is worth at least a Saturday morning.
MARY. Tis done, then? Thy Saturdays wilt be lazy no more.
MER. I accept this sacrifice, in love’s name.
Romeo, I leave you to your devices. [Exits]
ROM. [To Candy, google-eyed] Come, let us off to Ollie’s for some Kung Pao chicken
and let our love in cornstarch thicken
until it binds us fast in sweet and spicy embrace.
CAN. I do so love Italian food.
[Exeunt Romeo and Candy, arm in arm. The orientation meeting is breaking up.]
MARY. [Alone] Love is the trap for all young hearts,
and music is the code of love. The new year starts,
and now I have another minion for my use,
to battle prideful parents and their children on the loose.
Scene I. A dark and mystifying labyrinth, i.e. The fifth floor of Juilliard.
ROM. I can make no sense of this.
MER. No sense of what?
ROM. I am to attend a class entitled Literature and Materials.
Literature is immaterial to materials; it lives
in sacred mental groves, scorning particle for participle.
MER. ‘Tis a euphemism, Romeo.
ROM. A what?
MER. A tired phrase replacing tired thought.
And since when do you not know the meanings of words?
Take care; this ballerina dizzies your vocabulary.
ROM. Yes, but she is most lithe and vigorous,
and exhausts me happily with her enthusiasm.
I teach her music all night long, and she sings,
Of which my roommates sorely complain.
Now, where is room 528? I am most confused,
I see a disordered riot of numbers, wandering
up and down like addled arpeggios.
[But Mercutio suddenly stands, frozen; the Ghost of Dorothy DeLay appears before him, luminescent in the darkness.]
GHOST OF DOROTHY DELAY [singing to the strains of the opening of the Mendelssohn violin concerto]:
Mercutio, my sweetie, you have a lesson date;
But it will have to wait;
An hour, or maybe three,
since I am so hungry, I want to call Shun Lee [etc.]
ROM. [Whispered] Spirits haunt this place, strange spirits!
GHOST OF DOROTHY DELAY: [switching to the second theme of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto]
Wait here, for a little while;
In this lounge, a little while;
I will be eating some takeout
and then there’ll be various phone calls …
And I must hear a few prodigies
I will finally teach you. [Etc.]
[Mercutio remains still; he sits, glassy-eyed in a nearby chair.]
[Igor and Amy pass through the lounge]
ROM. Mercutio! We must to class!
Why do you not stir?
MER. [Spellbound] I have the strangest, most beautiful urge to audition for conductors.
IGOR. Be not surprised that he has fallen ‘neath a spell;
this lounge is Her most sacred realm, where the fell
Enchantress spread vibrato far and wide,
leaving violinists wobble-eyed.
Great fiddlers of all ages waited in this room,
a backwards Purgatory, where expiation led to doom.
AMY. Tis said, that if the violinists had but practiced
all the hours that they’d been made to wait,
the devil himself would not have played so well,
and Paganini rise from grave to cede the laurel.
MER. [Still dazed] My debut, my debut… I need a gown!
Oh find me a gown which will not sag
but which will lift my bosoms to the sky
and send all glances leering nigh
Oh, I will play such passages and doublestops
that all the rushing world’s trouble stops.
ROM. I shall have to leave poor Mercutio in visaged drag.
Please forgive my haste. I must not be late for class.
AMY. Too funny! His devotion will not linger.
IGOR. [Laughing] The fifth floor is no place for academic vigor.
[Mercutio bows deeply to no one at all.]
Scene 2. A smoky darkened room with a piano and a couch. Harold sits within, holding a bottle of scotch. Romeo and a pianist are playing the slow movement of Schumann’s Violin Sonata in A minor.
HAR. No, no, no, no, no!
[The music ceases.]
HAR. Drink, my boy, is all a man can do
when in your sorry playing he must stew;
the phrase is cut, to smithereens;
the end is foul and so the means. [Guzzles from the bottle]
ROM. But, sir, what cuts the phrase? What must I do?
HAR. Find a wench, lad; and come back to me
when thou hast figured out what to do with her.
Schumann will not tolerate a virgin’s touch.
ROM. No virgin am I, master. There must be some other problem.
HAR. I believe you not. You play as if a condom
were wrapped around your bow. Extra small.
Drink, boy, drink.
[Offers Romeo a taste from his bottle; Romeo refuses]
ROM. It’s hardly midday, sir.
HAR. You are making a mistake, you idiot;
this liquidity may help you
transcend the rigidity of your stupidity.
Rhythm’s not a chain of durations, but a chain of cause;
each pause and hurry deducing the next;
but your rhythms never deduce anything,
and idle as if each were death of thought.
ROM. Some instance would aid me, master.
HAR. To count the specificities of your doltishness
would take me several bottles more,
and I have better plans for my retirement.
ROM. Please, sir!
HAR. [Guzzling again] All right, boy.
Hmmm, hrrrrrr, snnnnnnnnn….
Play again, play again.
[They start to play.]
HAR. No, that note is too late;
it waits senselessly.
ROM. Which note?
HAR. I have forgotten already. Start again.
ROM. [Aside] This may take a while.
[They play again.]
HAR. Hmmmm, hrrrrrrrrr.
I know it now! You, pianist! Halting wretch!
Frictioning our phrase, making us stretch
where we cannot. You thus with time corrupt us,
committing tuneful coitus interruptus.
PIANIST. I’d love to note what note it is
that makes me the villain of the phrase.
HAR. What? You don’t hear it?
Your brain requires Viagra even more
than your flaccid, clumping fingers. Har, har!
I seek the restroom; I cannot harmonize a duet of virginal dolts.
PIANIST. Poor pianists, much demanded, little loved:
we bang upon our keys, sometimes too loud,
sometimes too soft, but never touch the happy mean.
Not a joy, but merely a tolerated necessity.
[Romeo is shaking his head in astonishment]
ROM. I had no idea that mentors could be so coarse,
and the path to enlightenment so dirty.
PIANIST. And this Is nothing; he is in fine humour.
ROM. O Gods, why are musicians so f***ed up?
Neurotic and hopeless, or hopelessly stuck up,
you slumber in the green rooms of Mount Olympus,
with flowers decorating the hotel room of your heart.
Receptions thick with empty compliments,
their blandish brews of talk with unclean elements
breed addicts for applause, parasites of nothingness,
with wine in one hand and insecurity in the other.
But music’s substance weighs the hidden scale,
and holds us down with endless hard attainment,
so that ballooning fame has needed ballast
and the airy rush of praise containment.
Scene 3. An even more mystifying labyrinth, i.e. The 4th floor of Juilliard. The ceiling hangs low and oppressive and the stage is lit with an eerie, headache-inducing glow. Green curtains are everywhere, and strange cubes.
MER. Alack! These souls must have sinned grievously
to be condemned in this fluorescent dungeon.
ROM. Fool, we ourselves are the condemnèd men,
since there is no other cubicle for us to mend
our wayward playing.
MER. The carpet is of sickly hue,
but the curtains make the carpet seem like Persian splendor;
these colors hanging from the wall remind of fluids
that should best be kept within the body, but which emit
when man hast had too much to drink.
ROM. What need we with windows? Bach brings us light,
and Mozart air, and in their company it is as if
the mountains and the streams themselves
were in our veins.
MER. What a load of crap.
[A strange wandering figure comes down the hall towards them]
PIANIST. Ho, there.
ROM. His eyes glint strangely, he is not human, Mercutio.
MER. Hush, he wants something from us. We must feign no fear.
[The pianist beckons them into his practice room. Begins to play Rachmaninoff 3rd concerto cadenza, in dotted repetitive rhythms, and sings along]
PIANIST. Tra la, tra la, tra lee la la la la
A million notes I seek to play
tra la tra la tra lera
and absolutely evenly I say
tra la tra la tra lee
My fingers are like perfect hammers
my motor never stutters, stammers
but moves machine-like through the notes
and mows all nuance out the way
until I can but smile and gloat
that I will blow the world away.
ROM. [to Mercutio] I abhor this creature and his habitat;
‘tis like a dragon in his lair, breathing fire
from the blackish confines of his lyre:
single-minded, hoarding, perpetual.
MER. [to Romeo] Agreed, let us flee this inequal monotony.
These dottings limp my mind injuriously.
[exit Romeo and Mercutio]
Thus ends Act II, rather abruptly. The rest of the drama we will summarize, I am sure to the reader’s great relief.
Act III. PreCollege, Saturday morning. Mercutio, already regretting his Faustian bargain, is hounded and tormented by packs of acned music students, and their parents, who argue over their children’s merits. Mercutio attempts to talk to Angelina, who insults him. He is consoled by Romeo, whose brain seems to have further softened. Mary gloats that all seem to be falling into her well-laid trap, hints darkly that Romeo’s falling IQ is all part of Juilliard’s master plan.
In Act IV, The action moves to the mystical forests of Aspen. Mercutio, nervous about an approaching master class, and partly to forget about Angelina, is practicing obsessively. Nonetheless, at the master class, Mercutio is humiliated by Stanislavich, who basks in applause while Mercutio is reduced to tears. Luckily for Mercutio, Angelina appears (a sort of dramatic “bitchus ex machina”), and trash-talks the virtuoso to his face; she then professes a deep love for Mercutio. Romeo and Candy also arrive, serendipitously, and all proceed to the tent for an extremely undeserved standing ovation. All seems to be well?
Act V. Back to New York. Though happily in love, Mercutio convinces Romeo he can no longer date Candy. Romeo attempts to break up with her, but Candy is unable to follow his argument; the conversation is so maddening that Romeo attempts to kill himself by dining at the Juilliard cafeteria. Candy, not clear on the mechanics of CPR, attempts to resuscitate him by massaging his feet. Romeo awakens and dies of humiliation. Candy goes shopping at Capezio. Angelina dumps Mercutio for no particular reason. Mercutio, devastated, eats cafeteria spaghetti and delivers a dying soliloquy on al dente. Someone from the financial aid office arrives to offer Mercutio and Romeo belated scholarships. Angelina smokes calmly over the bodies, while a chorus of bag ladies express mournful sentiments at the free senior recitals that will never now be interrupted by the sound of wrinkling plastic.
If we our alma mater have offended
Think but this, and all is mended
That I, at tender twenty-five
in Juilliard halls did strive
to find my voice and thrive,
and found the flame of inspiration
when Mann assessed my respiration
and from th’unlikely antihero
that coarse insightful man Shapiro,
and most of all from endless lessons
with the patient Herbert Stessin
who smiled oft at notes mislaid
but smiled too at beauties made,
and when my phrases soared
that made amends for notes untoward,
and also from dear Michael Griffel
who read all my doctoral piffle
So as I am an honest Denk
I must “the yard” sincerely thank,
‘tis but a blogging dream above,
‘tis but sarcastic mask of love,
Polisi, do not reprehend,
if you pardon, we will mend!
But one plain fact I cannot duck:
the practice rooms do truly suck.