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• The Symbolism of Being Earnest •

by Nathaniel Jones and Cail Musick-Slater

Algernon (plays the piano): Upon the keys of the piano I dance. They keys - light and dark, sharps and flats. The notes rise and fall. Is it music? It is life.

Lane: It is life. Is it music? I must not listen, but how can I ignore? He is my example.

Algernon: Eight notes, like eight bottles of champagne. Eight bottles of champagne, empty. Why, Lane? Why?

Lane: Eight bottles of champagne are youth – they must be consumed during youth, and will be shattered at the end. Eight bottles of champagne shattered upon the bow of the mighty ship called Marriage.

Algernon: Eight bottles of champagne smashed by marriage – marriage. Marriage floats on the sea of champagne, yet there is not a drop to drink.

Lane: I once sailed on the ship of marriage.

Algernon: The words he says, like the notes I play… I will not listen. Is it music?

Lane: He will not listen. I do not even listen myself. Is it life?

Algernon: Or is it marriage?

Lane: Marriage: Heaven and haven of youth. Like eight bottles of champagne, youth will be drained, and as youth goes, so must I.

Algernon: You’ll go, I’ll go... I’ll… Marriage aisle. Marriage lane. Marriage, Lane. I’ll - I will not listen. But how can I ignore? He is my example.

[Jack enters]

Algernon: I greet you earnestly, Ernest.

Jack: [Removing his gloves to reveal another pair of gloves] Oh, pleasure, pleasure. I speak truth to sneak the lie.

Algernon: Ernest, what muse convinced you to such a long cruise? My muse lies to
neighbors, I speak lies to amuse.

Jack: A muse that amused the bemused. In the country, the neighbors must always be amused, and so I must schmooze and be much abused – but in town, I am your neighbor, so instead of abused, I am amused.

Algernon: With eight bottles of champagne. Your muse takes my booze.

Jack: And cucumber sandwiches.

Algernon: No, that I refuse, even for a muse. They must not be eaten. They were made for the neighbors. A muse to amuse ensues! I speak lies to abuse, my muse lies to seek truth.

Jack:  My muse to excuse meant to eschew amusement. Amuse them another time. Another time will arrive shortly – time does have a way of always coming around at the least convenient moments. It is always marching onward. We march through time; Time marches on us. Why such reckless extravagance in one so young? Time comes to tea. Tea? Sure. Tea sure is a treasure, a pleasure. Who comes to tea?  Pleasure, pleasure.

Algernon: Pleasure mixed with pain – the two are always married, and this case it is the same. My aunt, her daughter. Pleasure, and pain.

Jack: With eight bottles of champagne.

Algernon: And cucumber sandwiches.

Jack: And Marriage.

Algernon (eats a sandwich): Marriage? No. The word, like the cucumber sandwiches, should not touch your lips.

Jack: I traveled the road from country to town to propose Marriage.

Algernon: My aunt is nothing if not a brick wall, and this wall will no doubt stand between you and her daughter just as firmly as between you and her Cucumber sandwiches.
(eats sandwich)

Jack: I hunger for marriage like you hunger for cucumber sandwiches – yet you would deny me marriage while you eat?

Algernon: While you hunger, you long for marriage. But once it fills your stomach, you will wish you had taken a smaller helping.

Jack: No – like you, even after a full stomach, I will hunger for more.

Algernon: I don’t doubt this is true, but can you still hunger for cucumber sandwiches
when you already have bread and butter? And having seconds? How many seconds could you stomache?

Jack:  [Cannot help himself.]  Seconds with my muse!

Algernon:  Marriage: Seconds with your muse. You will never have them.

Jack: What do you mean?

Algernon: Do not ask me – To amuse, answer me your two muses. I will answer and question the marriage of muses in time, which has its uses.

Jack: There is no Time for my muse. I have no muse--this is not amusing!

Algernon: All too amusing!  Bring me the cigarette case.

The cigarette case enters (either carried by Lane, or it dances in itself)

Jack: (aside) As the cigarette burns away, so does the visage I've worn these many years. How much does he know? How much can I hide? I must not give away too much! (to Algernon) Ah, my lost cigarette case – without it I hardly felt complete! And you had it this whole time.

Algernon holds out cigarette case, Jack takes a small, thin cigarette. He tries to take the case, too, but Algernon whips it away.

Algernon: I did, and I still do. (takes very large thick cigar out of his pants pocket.) And you will have neither the case, nor the marriage, until you can explain about this muse.

Throughout this dialogue, Algernon and Jack dance {duel? Algernon with cigar and Jack forced to defend himself with his cigarette}  around the cigarette case.

Jack: Muse: Thinking thoughts unthought of?

Algernon:  Yes; but this isn't your cigarette case.  This cigarette case is a present from a muse, and you said you weren't amused.

Jack:  Amuse... my aunt.

Algernon:  Your aunt!

Jack:  My Aunt: charming old lady.  Lives in the country.

Algernon: Your aunt! Your muse!  [Reading.]  'Cecily.'

Jack: Cecily! My dear Aunt Cecily! My dear, dear Aunt Cecily, who lives at Tunbridge Wells.

Algernon: Your dear, dear Aunt Cecily would call herself "Little Cecily?"

Jack: You would object to an aunt of unusually short stature? There is nothing wrong with being little, and if one is little, one should be free to admit it.

Jack holds his little cigarette, Algernon holds his giant cigar.

Algernon (after a pause): Well, in your case, that is evident. But why does your aunt cry uncle?  'Cecily. Jack.' Even given this, I see no reason why any aunt, big or small, would call her nephew Ernest her Dear Uncle Jack.

Jack: My name is Jack.

Algernon pulls out Jack's Business card.

Algernon: Your name is Ernest.

Jack: Jack!

Algernon: Ernest!

Algernon and Jack circle each other shouting Ernest and Jack. The dance ends. Jack has an interlude:

Jack: [Taking off his mask to reveal another mask:] Too long I've led this double life – from country to town and back again, a different name for each location, all in attempts to hide myself from Them, and now I find myself trapped – I look at the cigarette case and see my reflected face. [Looks at the mask in his hand] The face of Ernest. The face of Jack. Neither can escape the surface. Oh Cecily – I do so want a cucumber sandwich.

Algernon: Jack: earnestly not earnest nor Ernest. Double lives. Double lives. Oh Ernest, oh Jack. Oh, Algernon. Leading double lives. Living lives. Living Lies. The two phrases – so similar! Oh Ernest, Oh Jack, Oh Algernon. Oh, Bunbury.

Jack: The way I live deceives you – I sound like an Ernest. The way you speak deceives me – you sound like a Dentist. We both create a false impression. Speech of the dentist: vulgar bite of false impression.

Algernon: And that is exactly what Dentists always do. Oh, dentists. Oh Bunbury.

Jack: Oh, Marriage.

Algernon: Eight bottles of champagne.

Jack: And cucumber sandwiches.

Algernon: Why must we put on these masks?

Jack: When I was a boy, I was adopted by a man, a guardian. I am guardian to a muse, to amuse the Guardian. This is Cecily. She calls me her Dear Uncle Jack. Both of us adopted. Adopted. Adopted.

Algernon:  Where do you guard her garter?

Jack:  Nowhere you can reach... I will not amuse you there.

Algernon:  I suspected that; I have Bunburyed--been buried all over. Now, go on.  Where do heaven and earth meet, earnest jack?

Jack:  The guardian of the garter locks the morals lest the Guardian of the gutter mocks him, takes his laurels. To take to his laurels then, the guardian of the garter looks for morals, as his duty, finding none, he locks his identity and takes up another one. Ernest. Adopted. The name Ernest - adopted.

Algernon: Adopted.

Jack: Adopted.

Algernon: Cucumber sandwiches.

Jack: Adopted. Adopted to escape the duties as guardian. Adopted to feel free. Placed myself in a cage to be free. Freedom in a cage felt better than to be trapped in the open.

Algernon: I too was trapped. I too yearned to feel free.

Jack: I adopted a brother.

Algernon: I adopted a brother.

Jack: His name was Ernest.

Algernon: His name was Bunbury. He lived in the country.

Jack: He lived in the town.

Both: And I visited him to escape.

Jack: I am a fraud.

Algernon: I am a Bunburyist.

Jack: I must shatter this illusion of life.

Algernon: You must shatter eight bottles of champagne.

Jack: Marriage.

Algernon: Marriage.

Jack: I shall drown my lies in eight bottles of champagne.

Algernon: And I shall continue to be saved by Bunbury.

Jack: In marriage, my muse of pleasure will bury my Bunbury for his usual usury of time for her amusement lest my other muse use him for her perusement. Bunbury very un-buried.

Algernon: Be wary, nothing will induce me to part with Bunbury, and if you ever get married, your un-buried Bunbury may very well bury you. A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it.

Jack:  That is nonsense. I marry the muse of pleasure and will leave nary a Bunbury interred.

Algernon: Then your wife will. Champagne, Bunbury, and cucumber sandwiches. In married life three is company and two is none.

The door bell rings.

Algernon: Aunt Augusta

Jack: And Gwendolen.

Algernon: I will haunt my aunt, and you--

Jack: Smash eight bottles of champagne. [Recalls his 'Ernest' mask and rushes to put it on]

Algernon: And cucumber sandwiches.

Lane: Lady Bracknell and Miss Fairfax.

Bracknell hits Algernon with a brick.

Algernon: Good afternoon, Aunt Augusta.

Bracknell hits Algernon with a brick again.

Algernon: Smart!

Gwendolen (slides into Jack's arms): I am smart.

Jack: You are perfect.

Gwendolen: The only perfection lies in imperfection--perfection lies. Imperfection allows one to grow in so many ways. Don't you want to… grow? (Jack collapses onto a couch, with Gwendolen on top of him).

Bracknell hits Algernon with a brick.

Algernon: Cucumber sandwiches!

Lane: There are no cucumber sandwiches, and there never were.

Algernon and Lane hum. Bracknell hits Algernon with a brick.

Algernon: I feel great pain – that there are no cucumber sandwiches.

Bracknell smiles and pats Algernon on the head.

Algernon: And it also pains me to say that I will not be able to dine with you tonight – my dear brother Bunbury is ill.

Bracknell raises brick to hit him with it.

Algernon: Do not brandish ill will! He is in very, very bad health, and it is unclear if he will live or die!

Bracknell doesn't hit him with a brick.

Bracknell: He should get on with it. He will live or he will die. We will all live, or we will die. There are no cucumber sandwiches, and there never were.

Algernon: Upon the keys of the piano I dance. They keys - light and dark, sharps and flats. The notes rise and fall. Is it life? It is the music of the reception on Saturday. Music--even the percussive--is never without repercussion, and I hope the repercussion of the percussion of my aunt upon my skull does not leave me with a concussion. Without the
music there is no reception; without perception there is no life. There is no champagne. (aside) There is no Bunbury, and there never was.

Jack (aside): There is no Ernest, and there never was.

Algernon takes (drags?) Bracknell out of the room. Gwendolen sits up on Jack.

Jack: The sands of time quickly fall, each moment drawing nearer to the moment of Lady Bracknell's return. Time runs fast, and so must I, to take advantage of this brief moment to take -

Gwendolen: If you're going to take advantage of it, I do wish you'd get on with it. So many times have moments like this slipped away too fast to be noticed, but not too fast to be noticed by Lady Bracknell.

Jack: I once met you for a first time. Since then, I have met others. But none have I met since I met you that I've admired more than when I met you, since I met you for a first time, once.

Gwendolen: I know, you love me, and it is not hard to understand why. And I have loved you ever since I learned that your name was Ernest.

Jack: Ernest?

Gwen: My own Ernest.

Jack: Her own Ernest. My own Ernest. (aside) I adopted the name to feel free. I destroyed the cage to feel free. Do I rebuild the cage? Is it better to be free and Jack, or in a cage, with her? (to Gwendolen, touching his mask) A name is only a label. A symbol. Would
you not love me if I were free from the confines of a name? Free from the tyranny of the name "Ernest?"

Gwendolen.  [Glibly.]  Ah! that is clearly a metaphysical speculation, and like most metaphysical speculations has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them. Besides, the name Ernest is not tyrannical – it is Divinity. It is Music. The name Ernest produces vibrations – it is Correspondence itself!

Jack: Does not the name Jack produce vibrations?

Gwen: Jack? No, Ernest, Jack does not produce vibrations in the least – and this I can state for certain, as I am a woman who knows a little something about vibrations! It does not dance, nor strike the keys of life. Jack is jarring, and what is 'Jack' but another name for 'John,' and I pity the woman who is stuck on a John. The only safe name is
Ernest.

Jack: Is it better to be free and Jack or in a cage with her? I'd better get in the cage with her now, and throw away the key before she realizes what she's gotten into. Gwendolen, we must be married at once!

Gwen: Marriage. The ship upon which all long to sail, but which causes so many to become seasick. Which causes so many to disembark once they see another shore. How I long for that opportunity! But how can one marry when it has not even been proposed?

Jack: Proposal. So much uncertainty. So much possibility for disappointment. What to say? What to do? Shall I propose now?

Gwen: Now is the moment to propose – I am here. You are here. Bracknell is not here. I tell you quite frankly, Ernest, my word yes is just waiting for its cue.

Jack: Gwendolen!

Gwen: Do you have anything to say to me?

Jack: You know what I've got to say to you.

Gwen: I propose you say it.

Jack (on knees): Will you marry me?

Gwen: Yes.

Jack raises a bottle of champagne to smash, but before he can, Bracknell re-enters and hits him with a brick.


2009 - Nathaniel Jones