MADMEN OF THE WORLD, UNITE! by Anahit Aghasaryan, translated by S. Peter Cowe and Nishan Parlakian
CAST OF CHARACTERS
ARAMYAN, a fixer who acts as an agent for several
HASRATYAN, a senior official of one of the political parties
AMATUNI, a member of parliament and president of the Committee on Women’s Rights
SHAKE, a n alias employed by amatuni in act 3 when she disguises herself as a waitress in a bar
SHAMANYAN, a member of the current presidential cabinet; he disguises himself as a doctor in act 3
BRTUJYAN, a representative of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Party
STATUE, a representative of the Communist Party who disguises himself as one of a set of three life-size model statues of mher that are being
prepared to adorn his grave
MHER ASTVATSATRYAN, an actor who has had himself committed to a psychiatric facility
PROFESSOR, an astronomer who has been committed to the same facility
GENERAL, an inmate of the facility who became unstable after losing his savings; he has a large collection of medals that he always wears on his chest
GHOST, an inmate who sees apparitions of ghosts
GIRL, an inmate who is constantly seen with a doll in her arms; she wants to have a child
MRS. ARMENIA, a variant on Mother Armenia, the personification of the Armenian homeland, watching over its people
SECOND DOCTOR (DAVTYAN), a physician at the facility; in league with aramyan and hasratyan
MEN IN BLACK, a rather nondescript security guards associated with the various parties
PHOTOGRAPHER GLOUCESTER, a brief role in imitation of the character in King Lear, taken by one of the inmates
MASTER OF CEREMONIES, oversees the presidential election press conference and inauguration ceremony
Presidential Election Press Conference
The scene is set in a medium-sized conference room. Men in black suits check the
wings, under the podium, bring in a new carafe of water, remove the old water, and
test the new. A photographer stands at the ready with his camera. The room is full
of journalists and government officials. The atmosphere is solemn and strained.
Everyone waits in silence. aramyan rushes in late and takes his place next to presidential
contender hasratyan. Stony silence. aramyan wipes the sweat off his brow
with a handkerchief, and then observes the proceedings attentively.
master of ceremonies: Moving right along now, I’d like to call on our next
speaker, Mrs. Amatuni, member of parliament and president of the Committee
for Women’s Rights, to outline her party’s platform.
(amatuni goes to the podium. The photographers immediately set to work. On her
way, amatuni strikes a few poses for them like a mannequin. Applause.)
ARAMYAN (aside to hasratyan)
I’ve come up with someone for our scheme. (He
joins in the general applause for amatuni.)
HASRATYAN (also applauding)
Who is it?
Someone expendable. He’s made three suicide attempts already. (Tapping
his briefcase) I have his dossier right here.
What guarantee is there that he’ll go through with a fourth attempt?
ARAMYAN (applauding again)
That’s no guarantee.
I should add, he’s an actor.
That’s a different story. (Pause)
AMATUNI (speaking from the podium with great animation)
Fellow Armenians, the
presidential elections will soon be upon us. The women of Armenia have proposed
my candidacy. Their longing, hopeful eyes say it all. When I see them, I
simply cannot refuse to run. (She sips some water.)
That’s a new one. Before, it was men she couldn’t refuse!
amatuni (continuing her speech) Fellow Armenians, our party opposes the election
of any man to the presidency. We mustn’t make the same mistake again.
A man should not be elected president for three simple reasons:
First, compare a woman’s body with that of a man. Which of them is
specifically attuned to intellectual activity? One glance at the male physique is
enough to show it’s only intended for physical labor.
Second, a man is naturally subservient to a woman. As a child, he is under
his mother’s control. When he marries, his wife assumes the direction of
his life. When the husband finds a mistress, she immediately takes over. Finally,
when he loses her, too, in old age, for obvious reasons, he simply drops
Third, a woman’s body is delicate and vulnerable. That’s why she must resort
to wiles, pretense, and deceit. Her self-defense instinct makes her a born
diplomat, and diplomacy is essential to statesmanship. Women are never
straightforward: For them, directness is a sign of inexperience, almost as unsophisticated
as a man. And so only a woman should be elected president. (Applause)
It’s time to admit once and for all that the equality of men and women
before the law is a myth, a legal fiction. The lesson to be drawn from nature is
loud and clear. Men have always been children, and will stay children. Is it
right to trust a child with running the country?
Nice work. I want to see that actor of yours tomorrow.
That’s not possible.
(HASRATYAN looks at him with a puzzled expression.)
He’s in a psychiatric facility.
ARAMYAN (justifying himself)
He’s healthy, perfectly healthy.
master of ceremonies: I now call on our final presidential candidate, Mr. Hasratyan,
member of parliament, whose candidacy is supported by a three-party
HASRATYAN (from the podium)
Friends, Ladies, and Gentlemen, anyone can advance
his candidacy for president and participate in the upcoming elections at
this time of great historic importance. But the winner can only be someone
whose very being and temperament are in step with the times. He will
automatically have truth and justice on his side, since his victory will have
been dictated by the demands of the time. We, that is I, am, of course,
not exempt from certain alleged flaws that have been continually ridiculed in
the opposition press. (He smiles.) We, that is, I, have been called, by turns,
harsh, heartless, wily, deceptive, and so on. I urge you not to take that as selfincrimination.
(He smiles.) That’s pure self-slander. But we’re advancing our
candidacy because our cause is the most in tune with our times.
Caesar was a crook, to quote the English writer Chapman.(1) But Caesar won.
Cato was the embodiment of probity, but the people did not elect him, so he
lost. Caesar won because Rome needed a dictator. Cato lost because he wanted
to defend the republic. Was Cato wrong to be just? No. Was Caesar wrong
to be a crook? No way. Individuals in history are not responsible for their characters
and actions. Society gives birth to them in order to understand itself.
That’s why, right or wrong, I’m calling on you to give me your vote, so you can
know and understand yourselves better.
[HASRATYAN descends from the podium, shaking hands with supporters as he goes,
amid shouts of congratulation.]
BRTUJYAN (to aramyan)
Just look at that double chin Shamamyan has developed.
You’ll get one just as big if your man becomes president.
(amatuni approaches brtujyan.)
Hearty congratulations, Mrs. Amatuni. Your speech
struck a real blow. To the foundations of legal equality, the foundations of the
state, and your election hopes as well.
How many minors have you registered to vote, you monster?
master of ceremonies: Ladies and Gentlemen, your attention please. The presidential
debate will begin in five minutes.
HASRATYAN (to shamamyan)
Congratulations on your appointment to the cabinet,
Keep the seat warm till I take over.
You don’t think you can win the elections, do you? (With a loud guffaw,
then ironically) We’re up a creak without a paddle, I suppose?
(Some waitresses come in with drinks to serve on trays. Light music is playing in the
You haven’t a chance. We hold all the trump cards: the people, the military,
the church, and, after all, the supreme patriarch’s our man. (He picks up a
glass.) Incumbents in office are always the favorites, Hasratyan.
But then there are democratic, socialist, and communist
forces working against you. (He takes his glass.)
Aren’t you embarrassed to wrap yourself in those smelly old cliches?
Don’t you see they’re piled high with dust. (Loud guffaw.)
Here’s to your success! Since you hold all the cards.
(They clink glasses.)
And yours, Hasratyan. (He drinks.)
(One of the waitresses whispers something in shamamyan’s ear.)
Excuse me. (He leaves.)
(amatuni approaches hasratyan.)
What was that greasy swine talking about?
What’s a card shark going to talk about if not poker? Congratulations,
Mrs. Amatuni, on your excellent speech.
Can you imagine? That pig’s proposing I withdraw from the race to help
the president’s chances of reelection. The presumptuous ass, asking me to pull
out. [Confidentially] Was he really talking about poker? I find it hard to believe.
HASRATYAN (sipping his drink)
Yes. Political poker, that is. But that fool doesn’t
know I’ve got an ace up my sleeve.
I’m dying to see you play your hand. I’d love his head on a silver platter.
Silver? Where’s your class? Gold! On a golden platter, with fireworks
and all the trimmings.
(Both laugh aloud, clink glasses, and drink.)
master of ceremonies: Ladies and Gentlemen, the presidential debate is about
to begin. Will all those present please move into the auditorium and take their seats.
(HASRATYAN gestures to ARAMYAN, who is wiping the sweat off his brow in heated
conversation with someone. All the people onstage exit gradually. ARAMYAN approaches HASRATYAN.)
Okay, what’s up?
Give me the nut’s folder. (He takes it from aramyan and flips through
Does the guy really have to commit suicide?
Don’t you get it, you idiot? He’s going to be our tool to get the president
to resign. When he commits suicide in the name of the nation, the people
will rally behind us and shame the president into resigning. The trick is to
keep it under wraps that we knew the nut would kill himself. I can’t get to be
president if it comes out we were implicated.
I’m surprised it took us so long to track down this actor when he was under
our plant’s nose the whole time. After all, we were paying Dr. Davtyan
good money to keep his eyes open for a suicidal maniac. Strange he never
showed up in any of Davtyan’s reports from the facility.
HASRATYAN (examining the papers)
Is this clown an alcoholic?
Twice he attempted to choke his wife in a blind rage. That’s
why he checked himself into the loony bin. Davtyan says he’s perfectly sane.
Now he regrets going in and wants out, but they won’t let him leave.
Why not, if he’s healthy?
He keeps the patients occupied, so they’re less trouble for the doctors.
The inmates feel so good, they don’t bother to take their medication.
What does he do to amuse them?
He’s turned the madhouse into a theater. He puts on plays with the inmates as actors.
(HASRATYAN gives ARAMYAN a long quizzical look.)
If this scheme falls through . . . I’ll string you up by the short hairs.
(ARAMYAN laughs nervously.)
HASRATYAN (continuing to read)
This actor fellow has a child. Good. A mental
clinic’s a terrific cover. Surely our plan’s foolproof.
If it falls through, we’ll say he’s wacky.
There’s no such thing as failure, Aramyan. Understood? (He thinks.)
Are you glued to the spot?
Well, what am I supposed to do?
Look sharp. There’s no time to lose. The elections are just around the
corner. Go and get acquainted with him. See what makes him tick, engage
him in small talk . . . put on a hospital gown to gain his trust. Tell Davtyan to
give you one. Prepare the groundwork so I can take over. When everything’s
set up, give me a call. Take care how you handle him. Play it cool. Bullshit
with him first to break down his defenses, then go for the kill.
I’ll be at my place. (Going out) Wait a minute. Take a bottle of vodka
with you. Not for yourself, you understand. You’re on the job, mind. Not a
drop, Aramyan, not one drop, got it?
I hear you. (He exits.)
The scene changes to a large ward in a psychiatric facility.
(As the curtain opens, we see people dressed in hospital gowns. One is kneeling beside
the wall. A hangman’s noose dangles from a beam in the ceiling. One of the patients
brings in a chair, and puts it under the noose. He wipes the chair with his cuff
and quickly takes his place. Everyone is waiting. From backstage MHER enters,
shrouded in a sheet, with bare feet and a crown of thorns on his head. One of the patients
says “oof” and claps his hands. Another holds a cello.)
MHER (placing his hand on a patient’s shoulder)
Pray, innocent one, and beware of
the evil demon. The Lord calls me and says Nero’s hunting frogs in the Stygian
lake of hell. Is that right?
(The patient nods.)
Tell me, Uncle, is a madman an aristocrat or a plebeian?
He’s a king.
No, he’s a plebeian with an aristocratic son. Any plebeian’s mad to give his
son a hand up before ensuring his own advancement. (To another patient) Is
that evil demon biting your stomach?
You’re mad, my son.
A madman is somebody who believes in a wolf’s naïvety, a horse’s hooves, an
adolescent’s love, or a slut’s oaths. Come, sit here, prudent judge. You, wise
man, sit there. Now it’s your turn, foxy ladies. (He assigns them all different
places.) How are you, my lord, don’t stand in such amazed confusion. Lie
down here . . . (To another) Don’t chirp, black angel, I don’t have any food
for you. (To another) You, sir, draped in robes of justice, be seated. (To another)
You, his colleague on the bench, take your seat beside him. (To others) And
you members of the jury, you sit down, too. (To another)
Merry shepherd, do you sleep or wake?
Your flock has been at pasture since daybreak.
If you but whistle with your soft lip’s charm,
You’ll keep your flock from every harm.
Pr-rr, the black cat’s gray.
So it’s singed. Let the trial commence. [To the judge] First call her, she’s
Goneril. [To mrs. armenia] Come forward, lady.
[She steps forward.]
Is your name Goneril?
Pardon me, I thought you were a chair. Here’s the second accused. (He
brings forward the girl carrying a doll.) And now the third, whose evil eyes reveal
the fabric of her heart. Stand there.
(The girl runs away.)
(He is shocked.) Bribery holds sway even here! You false judge. Why did you
permit her to get away? (In someone else’s voice) Oh, this is most regrettable.
Lord king, where’s your much vaunted patience? (In someone else’s voice) The
puppies and the whole pack, Blacky, Blanche, and Beauty, are barking at me.
(In someone else’s voice) Get lost, you flea-ridden curs, don’t bother the old
man . . . (He pats the judge on the shoulder.) Sir, I accept you into my inner
circle. Only I don’t like your style of clothes. I suppose you’ll tell me it’s an
Iranian costume, but couldn’t you wear something else?
The dogs are barking at me.
Oh, those hounds again. Listen up, guys,
Should your muzzle be white or black,
Should your teeth form poisoned plaque,
Pit bull, greyhound, and mongrel with fleas,
Retriever and spaniel, whelp eager to please,
Whether you’re docked or still have a tail,
Short or long, you’ll all weep and wail.
If I should only show my face,
They’ll bolt the fence without a trace.
Du-Di, Du-di, Off . . .
the pack: Du-di, Du-di, Off . . . Du-di, Du-di, Off . . .
Don’t make a noise, don’t make a noise. Pull back the curtains like this, like
this, like this . . .
(He climbs on the chair. Silence. Everyone waits. He sings an aria from
the opera I Pagliacci. He suddenly stops and pauses; then, serious and sad):
But if King Lear should happen to come by, tell him he’s late . . . the
jester’s hanged himself with pain in his heart. (He puts the rope around his
(The cellist begins to play. All look at him expectantly. He kicks the chair away. The
others watch spellbound as he hangs. The hospital alarm goes off. Doctors rush in.
They take down mher.)
What are you doing? The show’s not over yet—
Enough. You’ve had enough fun for one day. (To the second doctor)
Remove the noose from his neck. Pull down the rope. (To the patients) Back to
Let go. Keep your hands off the rope. Why have you got mixed up in this,
What would be up? Do you want us to get a citation and lose our
foreign humanitarian aid because of you?
Tuh! Oh what a crock! I’m wearing a vest, not a straightjacket. You guys
should be wearing the straightjacket, not me. Look, distinguished doctors, I
won’t do it again. Put that out of your head. Mher Astvatsatryan will never
again undertake a suicide attempt as long as this puky world rotates on its axis.
Leave the rope, doctor. It’s a stage prop. We need it for the play.
I’ll go off the deep end one of these days, from all the crap I have to take.
This is a vest, I tell you, not a straightjacket. I’ve learned some sense by now.
(Emphasizing the words) I’m not going to hang myself again. It’s over. I’m already
dead. I don’t exist. Can the dead hang themselves, Uncle?
It’s impossible to tell when he’s joking and when he’s serious.
You’re mad, my son.
You’re mad if you believe in a wolf’s naïvety, a horse’s hooves, an adolescent’s
love, and a slut’s oath. (To the second doctor) Let’s go.
Well done, doctor. I’ll give you a part in my next production. You’ll play
Yeah, that’s all I need. We’ve played all your games. Now the fat lady’s
about to sing. Two days ago my wife said, “Why are you home so late? You’re
not on the graveyard shift. You think I don’t know what hanky panky’s going
on.” I said, “We were putting on a play by Shakespeare.” She looked at me in
disbelief, picked up the pillow, and marched to the other bedroom. Yesterday
she called the psychic hot line to find out what her husband’s up to. (To the
GIRL with the doll crouched beside the wall) What are you doing here . . . are
you still laying eggs?
Doctor, let me push a little harder. It’s about to come out.
Come here, come on. The beer I put in the fridge has frozen solid.
Off with you.
Get up now. You’ve finished laying. Upsy daisy!
You can’t fool me, Doctor. An inner voice tells me I haven’t laid.
Tuh! I didn’t get a chance to recite my last monologue. These doctors have
Get up a moment. (He picks up the imaginary egg.) Isn’t this an egg?
(The girl’s eyes sparkle.)Take hold of it gently. (He gives the imaginary egg to the girl.) Off you go.
Easy does it. Careful you don’t break it.
(The second doctor watches his colleague in amazement.)
doctor (to the second doctor): What are you gaping at? Let’s go.
(The Doctors exit.)
MHER (left alone)
Devil take them. (He calls.) Mrs. Armenia! Goneril! These
quacks have messed up everything. Goneril!
MRS. ARMENIA (coming in)
Why the devil are you shouting at the top of your
Another rat’s fallen into the trap. Take it away, I bristle at the very sight of
them. (He gradually takes off his theatrical costume.)
Where is it?
Under the bed. Use this piece of paper to pick it up. Here you are. (He
hands her the paper.)
MRS. ARMENIA (bending under the bed)
How big these rats are. [To the rats] That’s
the end of you.
Take them away. Leave the trap here. (He puts on his hospital gown.)
MRS. ARMENIA (going out)
Oh, don’t squirm again. Take it easy.
Make me a cup of coffee. Those doctors have put me in a foul mood.
No way. You haven’t paid your rent for four months. How long am
I going to keep you in my house for free? I’m not making you any coffee. (She
(ARAMYAN comes in, carrying a large bag. With swift, precise movements he takes
various things out of the bag: a cup, a plate, a fork, some packets, and arranges them
on the small table. mher scrutinizes his every move.)
What’s the state of the nation?
I don’t understand. Are you one of us or one of them?
What’s the difference? It’s one world, one universe. I’ve come from outer
space. Just now. God says hello.
Mystery solved. When were you admitted?
I wasn’t admitted exactly. I was sent. They said, “There’s a tough assignment,
Get yourself over there on the double.” That German fox of a
boss . . . “Psyche him up first,” he said. “How should I go about it?” I said.
“Work in from the side,” he said. “Where’s the side? Do you know how to find
the side?” I said. “ Aramyan, take this, Aramyan, bring that.” Is Aramyan supposed
to grow blind looking on all day while they fry trout. It’s twelve thousand
Armenian dram a fillet, you know? No Lake Sevan ersatz, a real trout. Who
cares what Aramyan thinks?
Who’s this Aramyan guy?
Oof! be quiet. I can’t take that German fox of a boss. [Mimicking
HASRATYAN] “I’ll be at my place,” he said. Liar. He’s never at his place. [Addressing
the absent hasratyan] Aramyan knows well enough whose place
you’re at. [Turning to mher] I’ll tell you where! He’s with that Cleopatra with
the dyed hair. Jet black. And her feet start way down here. Oho! They’re using
her like a football. [Feigning a soccer pass] First Shamamyan had her, then
passed her to that German fox. But what do you care? All we want’s a piece of
bread. But even that’s too much to ask. “Dangling sky high,” to quote our poet
MHER (clapping with joy)
Good that you’ve come, Uncle. I didn’t have a Polonius
for my new production. Have you played Shakespeare’s Hamlet?
You mean that nut who runs around bumping people off? Jumping on
everyone, accusing them all, abusing his mother, driving his girlfriend crazy
and throwing her into a stream. He kills five, six people in one day.
But have you considered why he kills them?
Because there was no psychiatric facility. They were forced to keep
loonies at home. If there’d been an asylum, they’d have committed him there
and those innocent people wouldn’t have died. He took it into his head that
his uncle had poured poison in his father’s ear. [Engaging Hamlet in debate]
Hamlet, baby, kiddo, how did you come to the conclusion you were told this
by “My father’s spirit.”(3) What father’s spirit? Come on, snap out of it. [Acting
Hamlet] “Yes, my father’s ghost came and told me.” Hey, Son, could it be you
were dreaming? What’s this about a ghost? What are you getting at? [Hamlet]
“No, no, I saw it.” Where, Son? You’re sick. You’re running a fever. Where did
you see the ghost? [Hamlet] “In my soul’s eye.”
MHER (He gradually approaches aramyan and grabs him by the collar.)
tell me who you are and why you’ve come. You’re no lunatic.
What? I really am sick. As schizoid as they come.
Only a normal guy would talk like that. Tell me who you are.
I’m your uncle. Didn’t you call me uncle?
MHER (pinning aramyan against the wall)
Are you making fun of me, Buster? Has
my wife sent you? Speak up! You think I’m crazy, right? . . . Has she sent you
to check up on me, eh? Son of a bitch!
Let go, you psychopath. Help!
I’ll fix you up now so no word’ll ever come out of your foul mouth again.
Sure, I’m psychopathic. Go and tell her she can sweat in someone else’s bed.
She’s spent her whole life dreaming about it. Tell her she’s free.
Let go, you fool, you’re choking me. Help!
Don’t waste your breath. Prepare to meet your Maker. Say your prayers,
Help! Get him off me! (He deftly takes a container of mace from his pocket
and directs it at mher, who tumbles to the floor.)
(The doctor comes in.)
ARAMYAN (straightening his clothes and tie)
You said he was harmless. He just attacked
me. If it weren’t for this mace, he’d have choked me.
Don’t be afraid. He was kidding around. It’s hard to tell when he’s joking
and when he’s serious. We’ve gotten used to it. He’s really a wonderful guy.
Some joke. He was about to kill me.
doctor: I can’t imagine what things would be like for us here if he were to go.
Didn’t you assure us he’s not dangerous?
doctor: Calm down, he wouldn’t hurt a fly. [Pointing] In case of emergency, press
this button. (He presses the button on the wall, which emits the sound Pee-Paah!
Pee-Paah! He presses it again. Pee-Paah! Pee-Paah! He cannot tear himself away
from the button. Mesmerized, he presses it again. Pee-Paah! Pee-Paah!) . . .
Neat, isn’t it?
(aramyan looks at him timidly. The patients and doctors pile in noisily.)
doctor: What’s going on? Why are you all milling around in here?
What’s the big deal?
second doctor: The alarm went off. What’s happened to Mher?
doctor: He fell asleep. He’ll wake up any minute. Go, go, go. Nothing’s the matter.
Go on . . . break it up.
(They all start to leave.)
GENERAL (to aramyan)
Got any connections at the Swiss Bank? (He heads off.)
doctor: Do you play chess?
No. (Leaning over mher) Seems to be coming ‘round.
doctor: Too bad. (He goes out.)
Go to hell.
Give me your hand.
Go to hell. (He gets up.) What was that all about?
Self-defense. What was I supposed to do? Let you choke me?
Ooh! My head’s spinning. Today’s not my lucky day. Did my wife send you?
Does she want a divorce? Get a note from Davtyan and take it back to her. The
court’ll immediately grant a divorce. Go on. Get lost.
Don’t you want something to eat? Just look what I’ve brought. (He opens
up the packets he had laid on the table earlier.)
Take your chow and beat it. I’ve had a tough day. And I’ve been in a pretty
lousy mood this last decade.
I’ve no contact with your wife. I don’t even know her. I’ve come to see
you on some other business. I know you’re at loggerheads with yourself and
the world. You were a heavy drinker and ended up on the street completely
destitute. One day you showed up here among the crazies and felt at home.
You’ve found your niche. You help people, you’ve got a roof over your head,
they feed you, they like you. At last you’ve found a place where you feel useful,
after being useless for so many years. But the most important thing is that here
you can perform roles you never could as an actor. (Pause. aramyan digs into
some of the food with a hearty appetite.) I haven’t had a bite to eat since morning.
I’ve been rushing around all over the place. What a life!
Who are you?
Difficult question. To explain who I am, I have to say why I’ve come. To
say why I’ve come, I have to tell you what I want from you. But if I tell you
what I want from you now, you’ll kill me. Or my boss Hasratyan, that German
fox, will do the job for you, if I mess up. I have to psyche you up for what
you’re gonna hear.
Shoot. You’re whetting my interest. Is it a detective story?
It’s a dreadful story. And they’ve stuck Aramyan in the middle of it
Who’s this Aramyan guy anyway?
Okay. It goes like this. (Pause) Where shall I start?
At the end.
Sure, why not? (Having memorized this by heart) You have no money,
no work, no family, no home, you’re stuck in a madhouse, nobody visits you.
They’ve all forgotten you, no one needs you. You’re superfluous, you’re
through. I mean, you basically don’t exist. Nothing in life’s worked out for you.
Not even suicide. But one decision can change all that. You’ve dreamed of
fame but never achieved anything. Now’s your chance for greatness. Everyone
will know your name. You’ll redeem yourself in your wife’s eyes, though she’s
always regarded you as a jobless, lazy freeloader. Your child will be proud of
you. Your mother will sing her son’s praises, and your name will be on her lips
till her dying day.
That was a superb ending. Now double back to the start so I get an idea of
what you’re talking about. (Suddenly he is jolted.) Wait a minute. Are you a director?
Are you offering me a part? (He slaps his head.) I should have cottoned
up to you right away. Out with it, out with it. Hurry up. What’s my part? I’ll be
damned. I always felt that one day I’d make it in a film or in theater.
You must be mad to think
I’m only mad when the wind blows from the northwest. But when
it’s from the south, I can tell a hawk from a jay. Let me introduce myself. I’m
I’ve played . . . actually I haven’t played that many roles.
Let me see. I’ve played Nazar the Brave. I used to dream of playing the part of
the actor in Gorky’s The Lower Depths.(4) You remember? He hangs himself at
the end. Tell me what part you’re offering me?
Does he hang himself at the end?
(A man with tousled hair comes in screaming. In the hospital he goes by the name of)
(The others follow him in.)
Mher! Mher! He’s come back. Over there. Go talk to him. Tell him to
leave me alone. I’m afraid, Mher!
Tuh! Oh, just my luck.
He’s at the palace next door. The door’s bolted on the inside. He’s putting
his hand through the wall and wants to catch me. Chase him away, Mher.
Drive him from the palace.
Okay, okay. I’ll go this instant. Don’t budge from here. (He rushes out.)
(Everyone moves about the room uneasily.)
Who bolted the door on the inside?
Hey, Dude, I’m just sitting there minding my own business. I look down at
my writing pad and suddenly this ghost appears.
It’s not a ghost. It’s a space alien.
That’s it. I’m not saying another word.
There, there. Don’t be upset. So what did the ghost do?
Why did that egghead interrupt me? I refuse to go on.
Forgive me, dear friend. Forgive me.
Okay. So I was sitting there minding my own business. I looked at my pad
for quite a while.
What do you mean, “how come”?
How come you were looking at your pad for such a long time?
ARAMYAN (as if comprehending)
Aha . . .
Suddenly he starts moving toward me slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, snatches
my pad in a flash and throws it at me. Now tell me, what was that all about?
What have you got to say to that?
It’s that menace from the Ophiuchus constellation. [Aside to ghost]
That’s snake charmer to you. That’s who attacked you.
GHOST (annoyed at the interruption)
Who does he think he is? I’m not saying another word.
My fault again. Forgive me.
A while back I was counting money at work. Suddenly this hand appears
out of the wall, coming closer and closer. It suddenly tosses the bills into the
air and disappears. That evening my wife pulls the notes out of the rice
she’s straining for dinner. So tell me, what’s going on? [Snubbing the professor
and posing the question to aramyan instead] No, you tell me what’s going on?
I spoke to your ghost. He unlocked the door and left. He’s gone. So you can go, too.
Did you tell him to stop bugging me?
Sure, sure. Off with you. Off you go. (He shoos the patients out.)
PROFESSOR (to aramyan)
Look here. (He has laid out a stellar chart.) Look carefully.
This is the constellation of Scorpio.
Later, Professor. Not now, later. This fellow’s come to see me on business.
One second, just one second, Mher.
Tush! . . . Professor.
Look here. (Pointing to the map) This is Scorpio. This is the constellation
Libra, above is the constellation Hercules. Before, the Ophiuchus constellation
was here . . . Look. But now it’s not here. It’s moved. You understand?
It’s moved. It’s entered the zodiac.
One moment. He should know the Ophiuchus has entered the zodiac.
The question arises, why?
Because he has a plan. He has something in mind.
To destroy the world. Look—
That’s enough, Professor.
ARAMYAN (to mher)
If you find this boring, don’t listen. (To the professor) Go
Look. Here in the Ophiuchus constellation a star of exceptional brilliance
was observed in the year 1604. Previously there’d been no trace of such
a thing. However, in March of 1605 that star burned out. The question arises,
why? After all, its light was a billion times brighter than the sun.
What the hell . . . Professor.
PROFESSOR (with emphasis)
Because Satan set foot on it. That’s why the star
burned out. Satan’s the lord of darkness. Now he’s ruling us from there and
has gone into the zodiac. Do you understand? He’s using it to realize his ageold
So how does he go about it?
professor. (To aramyan) He can go on forever.
Don’t interrupt. (To the professor) So then . . .
The star I referred to was a neutron star, you understand. They’re fascinating
objects. Their diameter’s smaller than the earth’s radius, but their
density’s enormous. One cubic centimeter of these stars weighs millions, billions
Sheer madness . . . (to mher) Can you imagine? (Gesticulating) A
cube this size. . . a million tons.
Those stars, you see, rotate at an extremely high velocity.
They possess vertical radiation and an awesome magnetic field. Now
perhaps you understand the sort of radiation we’re up against. What powerful
rays Satan’s sending our way from the constellation I mentioned. Consider its
name more closely. Ophiuchus, the snake charmer. It’s him, him. The lord of
the snake in the Bible. Satan. It’s him, I tell you.
Wow, what are our scientists thinking, sitting back with their arms folded?
We have to blow up that constellation. Blow it up and destroy it forever.
Can you think of something?
MHER (exploiting the opportunity)
Good idea, Professor, good idea. Think it
through. Only you can find a solution. Off you go.
Me? What can I do? I’m just a poor scholar.
Think it over carefully.
I’m powerless against Satan’s tricks. With a snap of his fingers he can
conjure up all sorts of things.
Like what? Like the parliament of Armenia, the first Christian nation,
seriously debating polygamy. The people are all opposed, but, diabolically,
their representatives seem to be in favor. One after another, poets are lining up
to join the police force.(5) Can you imagine a more astounding trick? I want to
scream. My heart’s bursting. I want to jump right out of my skin. I’m going
mad. My brain’s turning to pulp. I’m powerless against Satan, powerless. Do
you understand, Mher? Don’t abandon me. You swore you’d help me.
I won’t leave you, Professor, no way. Go and take a sedative and lie down.
ARAMYAN [to the professor]
I’m with you on this. Together we’ll beat Satan.
Really? Promise? Swear! I can’t do anything on my own, you understand.
Atheism’s my undoing.
What’s atheism got to do with it?
Phoo! He’s off again.
Investigating the stars and their movements gives rise to a thousand
unanswered questions. You know what I mean? These strain human reason to
the breaking point and the mind goes into overdrive. It begins to warp with the
effort. The only reason there are scientists out there who haven’t been committed
to a place like this is that they’re shielded against these unanswered
questions. They’ve taken up arms.
PROFESSOR (in a whisper)
God. But I’m an atheist, you understand. There’s no
salvation for me! None at all! Wars, plagues, gaps in the ozone layer, the neutron
bomb . . . (He grasps his temples firmly with his hands and gradually falls
into a trance.) . . . blood, flood, earthquakes. Our ship’s foundering in space.
Save us, we’re sinking. Oh God. (He prays, his head twisting and his body writhing.)
(aramyan watches him in terror.)
Professor, Professor . . . (He presses the alarm button.)
(The blare of the siren fills the hall, drowning out the professor’s shriek. The doctors
and patients pile in.)
doctor: Back . . . back . . . keep away.
(They take the professor away.)
Who got him talking? (To mher) Why did you let him talk?
(guilty) I had no idea—
SECOND DOCTOR (to the patients)
Out with you. It’s dinner time. Get a move on.
What’s on the menu? Surely not milky gruel again?
No. Beluga caviar and roast lamb. Out with you. (He takes the PATIENTs out.)
GENERAL (As he leaves, he whispers in aramyan’s ear)
Haven’t you any connections
with the Swiss Bank to help me get my money out?
Out you go. Out, out. (He pushes the general out.)
ARAMYAN (to mher)
Who is this guy?
He was a prominent local government official. When Armenia left the ruble
zone and everything had to be converted to Armenian dram, he lost all his savings
in the exchange. He thinks I’m his grandson. We’ve had a rough day today.
Everything’s going wrong. Nothing’s worked out.
(They are silent and sad.)
Are the medals his? Is he a real general?
Yeah, they’re real. He collects insignia. After losing his money he’s afraid
he’ll lose them as well. He doesn’t take off his jacket when he goes to sleep.
But that’s neither here nor there. You came on business, didn’t you, Sir? What
is it you’re proposing?
Why are you suddenly so polite to me?
Oh, I don’t know. Can you tell me what part I’m auditioning for. Is it in a play?
In the movies?
You’ve got me there.
You’ve really got me.
Okay. Let’s have a drink . . . if I don’t have one, I won’t be able to say
what I have to. (He removes the bottle of vodka from the bag and opens it.) To
think that a cube this size weighs a million tons. (He pours.)
MHER (becoming irritated)
Just what do you think you’re doing?
I’m pouring you a drink. Don’t you want one? It’s dinner time.
Is it vodka?
No, rabbit piss.
Put it away. You keep the bottle to yourself.
I won’t be drinking.
Do you think this is my idea? I was forced into it. “Take the bottle along,
but mind, not a drop for you, Aramyan, do you hear?” The boss was very insistent
on the point. “Get him to have a drink, but don’t you touch a drop.” Is
supposed to open the bottle and not have a drink? Is he to swallow
down his saliva as he watches other people having a good time, eh? Can you
imagine? We’re on a mission of great political sensitivity. So here’s to you, German
fox. (He drinks.) How can someone who’s seen so much not drink?
What’s to stop me? What? (He bites into a gherkin.) What a punch this has. My
mouth’s still stinging . . . What are you staring at? Go on, pick up your glass.
I’d like to know who’s crazy, you or me?
We’re all crazy. Me, you, all of us. Haven’t you seen people walking
along the street talking to themselves?
I don’t understand a thing. (Undoing the zipper on his pants, he goes backstage.
Soon after, the sound of urine dribbling is heard.)
Oof, the country’s swarming with nuts and moochers. And who’s to
blame? The government, of course. The nation’s hanging itself in shifts: one
batch today, the next tomorrow. Then there are others like me who want to
hang myself, but . . . never quite get around to it.
MHER (from offstage)
I don’t know. I don’t understand politics. Even during the
turmoil of the late eighties under glasnost I didn’t attend the demonstrations
and shout. I had more serious things to do.
MHER (He comes in, straightening his pants.)
I was into drinking, hanging myself,
and vomiting in the streets.
Exactly what I was getting at. So much for the intelligentsia. History’s
being made on the square and they’re vomiting in the streets. But who has the
nation’s interests at heart? Me? . . . Aramyan again?
[mher starts to leave.]
Hold on, where are you off to?
To see Davtyan. I want to clear up who you are and why you’ve come. “I like
not that,” says Iago.(6) Vodka, then mace. It’s suspicious. Decidedly odd, I’d say.
(Suddenly he attacks aramyan.) Enough of your hemming and hawing. Are
you going to tell me or not? Stop stalling, you bloody Sadist!
You’re off your rocker, Mher. Let me go.
I don’t care about the spray you’ve got. I’ll just plaster you to the wall.
They’ll have to scrape you off. Speak up, and none of your crap.
Where were we when the Ghost came in? How far had I got to? (He tries
My mother’s lips.
I need another drink to keep up my spirits. (He pours.) Care to join me?
Just as well. I’m going to tell you something now that’ll make your eyes
flip up to your forehead. (He drinks.) Ooh! . . . (He bites into a cucumber.)
Are you psyched up for it?
Sure. Out with it.
Basically we’re asking you to . . . How can you say this to someone?
MHER (He seizes aramyan by the collar and yells.)
Are you making fun of me, you
son of a bitch? Either tell me or get lost. (He grabs hold of aramyan’s tie and
yanks him toward himself.) You good-for-nothing bastard. Get lost before I
smash your face in.
Hold on now, my boy.
You stink, you lap dog.
I want to help you, stupid. I’ve come to do you a favor. I want to help
you become rich and famous.
MHER (He lets him go.)
What’s that? Me, rich and famous? How are you going to
do that? Tell me!
For that I need to get to know you better. First, I have to sort out whether
you’re the man we’re looking for. Got it, stupid? I have to gain your confidence,
then offer you the part. But you keep throttling me. Sit down . . . sit
down across from me. Come on. First let’s get to know each other better.
Pick up your glass. Let’s drink to your sweet memory.
Oh yeah? You’re hard to figure out. Davtyan will have a lot of explaining to
do if it turns out you’re mad. (He picks up the glass rather slowly and warily.)
Davtyan’s one of our boys. He’s in on everything. Down the hatch!
Here’s to you, German fox. (They drink.) Do you know who this German fox
is? He used to translate German authors: he was down and out. Just look at
him now, a party leader. You don’t know him. He’s a spider and he’s caught
me in his web. I’m buzzing like a fly. Mher, what’s up? You’re not upset, are
you? Stick a piece of this in your mouth.
(mher tears off a piece of bread with his hand.)
Don’t pass out now. The committee’s got to decide when you’re going to die.
(He fills a glass and hands it to mher.) Have a drink and snap out of it. (He
pushes the glass to mher’s lips.) Take this, too. Eat up. (He forces mher to eat.)
Feeling better? Vodka’s good after gas. Right?
Take it from Aramyan. Aramyan knows what he’s talking about.
So you’re Aramyan.
Yes. Azat Aramyan. As my name indicates, I’m free and independent.
And you’re Mher Astvatsatryan, shackled like your mythological namesake.
Let’s drink to friendship. Cheers.
How good of you to come.
Let’s get down to business. When you look around you, what do you see?
A hospital ward, a madhouse, a watchman’s hut, a woodcutter’s cottage, a
drunkard’s hideout, an actor’s last resort . . . What exactly are you getting at?
You can’t even talk to this guy. Are you stoned? (Irritated)
What is it you see? (He draws a circle with his hands.) Death warmed over.
That’s all there is. Gloomy people, gloomy streets, plagues, catastrophes . . .
Is life worth living?
No, it’s not.
A spinning ball. They call it a planet. And us on it. Round and round.
Just tell me why you’re turning. Who are you trying to impress? Our heads are
giddy already. Isn’t yours spinning?
It sure is.
I’ve got palpitations. I can’t take it any more. I’m going to throw up. (He
retches violently and mher apes him.) That’s why I’ve taken such a shine to
him. (They drink.)
How good of you to come, Comrade.
Say that word again and the deal’s off. Do you think Aramyan’s come
here to mess around? Watch your mouth when you talk to me.
I’m all ears. (Half-drunk) I’m in your hands, Azat you optimist? If I had a
thousand and one lives I’d gladly sign a thousand over to you.
That’s why I like you so much. Fill it up. (He holds up his glass.)
MHER (gesturing toward the bottle)
It’s empty . . .
ARAMYAN (taking out a second bottle)
They sent me off with only one bottle. What
good’s that to Aramyan? (He hands it to mher.) Twist it open and fill up. (They
drink. aramyan suddenly bursts into tears.)
What’s the matter, brother optimist?
To think a nice guy like yourself will have to give up—
ARAMYAN (in tears)
I’m ready to give up my life for you, old buddy.
I don’t want it. They do. I’m just small fry. What is it we want? A piece
of bread, and even that’s beyond our reach, as Tumanian put it.(7) He was no
drinker, you know. But his words really touched Aramyan.
GENERAL (entering, carrying a tray)
Here are my rations, Mher. I ate half and
brought you the rest. (To aramyan) There are your rations. Eat up. So you’ll
grow big and strong. (He puts the food in front of him.)
Pops, you shouldn’t have. I’m full already.
Pull up a chair and listen. (To mher) They want you to do a bit of dirty
business for them. (Disgusted) That’s why they assigned me to the case. (He
takes out the hospital gown and starts putting it on.) I’ll explain.
Have you any connections in Swiss banks to help me get my money out?
I’ll give you ten percent.
Not so loud. Fifteen percent.
I’m supposed to run off to Switzerland for you. Hello—good-bye. While
you sit here comfy? So Aramyan’s going to get hitched again. (Adjusting his
gown) What’s this then?
An Iranian costume.
No. I was given this to blend in as a patient. Why? So I could win your
confidence. It’s all conspiracy. Do I look like a madman, or what?
Hell, no. I’d sooner believe in a judge’s justice.
Well, it’s on now, as instructed. But then whom do I look like?
GENERAL (to mher)
Isn’t he your chemistry teacher?
ARAMYAN (answering for mher)
No, I’m the spitting image of Aramyan in a gown.
GENERAL (to mher)
Who is this Aramyan fellow?
I was. Once.
We got that. (He stuffs money into aramyan’s pocket.) Take it, take it.
Leave my grandson here alone, Comrade Chemistry Teacher. My grandson
shouldn’t go blind poring over books. Do you catch my drift? Patvakan Smbatovich
won’t let you turn his grandson into a nerd.
Who’s Patvakan Smbatovich?
I was. Once. As you were once Aramyan.
I’m really warming to you. Come, Friend, let’s down a glass or two.
No. Davtyan’ll beat me. I’m very afraid of being beaten. I shake when
they beat me on the head. They used to beat us all, but since my grandson
came along, they’ve stopped. No. I’m off. I don’t want—
They used to beat the inmates? (He is moved.) What kind of life is that?
I don’t want to live. I’m weary. I can’t go on.
Forget it, Stranger. Come, Friend, let’s have another. To hell with it all. (He
hands aramyan a glass.)
ARAMYAN (pushing it away)
No. I don’t want any. I’ve had it up to here. What kind
of life is this? (He is about to fall. mher catches hold of him.) Let me go. I’m
I’m going to hang myself. (He goes up to the rope.)
Excuse me, but that’s my rope. I’m going to hang myself with it.
What, you got your name on it?
MHER (pushing aramyan)
Keep your hands off. It’s my rope. I convinced them to
leave it up. Go find your own rope to hang yourself with.
What an egoist you are. Let’s both hang ourselves.
MHER (without interrogation)
Ah! You’re so cute. (He sings.) Oh, to have a good, handsome, faithful
friend . . . (They both stagger, getting up on a chair, scarcely finding room
to stand. Side by side they take hold of the rope and start singing. In walks HASRATYAN.)
What the hell’s going on, Aramyan?
You jerk, you’ve ruined our song.
What did I send you for? We’ve lost four hours already.
Your face looks familiar to me, Uncle. Where have I seen you?
This is Hasratyan.
Oh, Mr. Big. If you pass me some dough, I’ll make you two crowns.
ARAMYAN (assuring him, drunk)
He’ll do it.
Get down immediately, Aramyan. What’s going on here?
Nothing, Mr. Hasratyan. All the action’s in the snake
What’s gotten into you, Aramyan. You’re drunk. I hope you’re not going
You bet I am. How could I not be. This much cubed and a million tons.
Get your ass over here on the double. You can go.
(ARAMYAN leaves immediately. HASRATYAN scrutinizes mher long and hard.)
MHER (dangling from the rope with one hand)
Please press the alarm button. I need
somebody to come take me down. I’m not feeling well. Do it. I’m not well.
(HASRATYAN goes out without saying anything. Darkness. A crash. The chair falls over.)
I’m not well.
(2. The reference is to the Armenian poet Hovhannes Tumanian (1869–1923).)
(3. See Hamlet, act 1, scene 2, l. 254.)
(4. Maxim Gorki’s play The Lower Depths, published in 1902.)
(5. An oblique reference to the poet Vano Siradeghyan, who became Minister of the Interior
for a time in the Ter Petrosuan administration.)
(6. The reference is to Iago’s comment in Othello, act 3, scene 3, l. 35.)
(7. See note 1.)