Bunk

Premiered in 2000 at the Pavilion Theatre Brighton UK , as part of Theatre and Beyond’s showcase of new writing, the play starred Peter Ellis from TV’s “The Bill” and Martin Sadler from the film “The Tall Guy”, this is a play that explores the relationship between art and industry. It is bookable for performance, just contact us via http://www.cats3000.net.

Bunk

a one act play

by Paul Levy

Characters

Ike Hardy

Barney Stoker

Albert O’Donelly

Mr O’Reilly

Foreman Stan Grayson

Scene 1

(Lights come up on production line, centre stage facing front.  Various pieces of production machinery are arranged about the stage.   Albert, Ike and Barney sit on their workbenches in a line facing a conveyor belt which moves from offstage right to offstage left.  Products pass along it.  Albert puts a screw into each product.  Ike tightens the screw, and Barney puts a top on the screw.  They do this expertly for several minutes until a horn sounds and they all stop what they are doing, get up, pick up thermos flasks and sandwiches, one each, from under their workbenches and move to front stage centre where they sit down.  Each in turn inspects their sandwiches)

Albert: (pleased):  Egg on rye!

Ike: (delighted): Salami and mayo!

Barney: (disappointed): Tuna salad!

Ike: (to audience): The day Mr Ford came to see our line was a day me an’ the boys’ll never forget.  It was during the Fall of ’26, and the River Rouge Works was pumpin’ ‘Ts outa that despatch door like they was water.  I can remember the sun shining and sparrows perched on the window ledges, their peepin’ calls minglin’ with the sounds of press machines workin’ at full steam. But Albert says…

Albert: … it was thick fog with rain in the afternoon.

Ike:  Barney says…

Barney: I don’t remember nothin ’bout the weather but I do recall everyone coughing and sneezin’ and Foreman Grayson off with a real bad ‘flu.

Ike:  Anyhow, everybody knew that Mr Ford was coming’, but that’s how he liked It – show up unannounced and then he could see what was really going’ on.

Albert: He weren’t no one for polished floors and dandy neckties. If Ford saw a spanner covered in oil outta place on one of his lines, even if he was dressed for a weddin’ he didn’t pay no mind to gettin’ muck all over his new-pressed shirt. He was an engineer in his heart and he preferred an oily spanner to some greasy-haired bank manager any day…

(Barney sniffs one of his sandwiches and winces)

Barney:  She knows I can’t take tuna.  She knows!

Ike: She knows you forgot her anniversary, Barn.  You betta’ get used to tuna, boy.

(Barney takes a bite of his sandwich and winces)

Barney: Yeuuch.

(Ike takes a bite of his sandwich, clearly enjoying it.  Barney looks on enviously)

Barney:  Ike. You wouldn’t possibly consider…

(Ike looks at him sympathetically)

Ike: Sure, Barn…

(they swap sandwiches and munch away happily)

Albert: Once upon a time rework was a place of chaos and disorganisation. A Custer’s last stand of the original craft workshop of old – a little like some family tool shed and garage rolled into one. We’d rework what we could and send the rest for scrapping or melting down. But that was all a long time ago – the final glory days of the Model ‘T’ you might say. And now things is different.

Ike: Different ? What’s different ?

Albert: (sighs) I suppose Ike got deaf cos’a River Rouge, and I guess cos’a Mr Ford indirectly, but the noise of them press machines was sweet music on some days and just plain hard to take on others. Boom-chikka-boom-pa-pa-cha-cha – in your ears, in your head, Jesus, right inside your brain – On most days it was sheer hell I suppose when you look back from the standpoint of today, with electronics and presses that purr like cats and work at ten times the speed for good measure. Ain’t that right, Ike?

Ike: What’s that?

Barney: (defeated) Geez!

Ike:  What?  What did he say?

(lights)

Scene 2

(lights up on Albert who takes out a banana from his pocket)

Albert:: Six minutes past eleven – banana time !

(lights up on the others who follow suit until they are all stake out a banana. They expertly – and in time with each – other peel the banana and look at it with pleasure)

Albert: Don’t need no fancy timepiece to know it’s banana time. Ten years and that’s one shit-load of bananas and enough of Barney’s wind to power a windmill for a week. Six minutes past eleven is banana time. I takes the first bite (he does so), and then it’s always Barn (who follows), and last is lke (who takes a bite)

(they all sigh in pleasure)

Ike: I’ll never grow tired of a mid-mornin’ banana…

Barney (let’s out a huge belch): Pardon me…

(they take two more similar bites together and then Ike and Barney eat at their own pace, but, when finished, both expertly toss the banana skin into a bin at exactly the same time…)

Ike: It’s a strike !

Barney: Touchdown !

Albert: Eleven’s banana time, and twelve’s apple time. Two past two is window time where Ike always stretches and goes and takes a peep outta the window. We call him the “professor” when he does that on account of him knowing all about birds and all. Three is twenny questions though sometimes Ike’s hearin’ ain’t too good and he has to bunk out. People don’t bother us too much here in rework – Foreman Grayson says our days are numbered what with Mr Ford’s new ideas about production flow – whatever that is – and those new fangled machines that can screw faster than a Kansas whore – but they been saying that for years and we’re still here, proppin’ up the banana growers and mindin’ our own goddam business for eight dollars fifty.

(pause)

Barney: You know, I reckon… if my Alice’s tits drop anymore  I reckon they’re gonna hit the ground.

Ike: What ? What’d  he say ?

Albert: He never said nothin’.

Barney:  I mean it ain’t right…it ain’t fair. Mrs Allison’s ten years older than my Alice, and she’s had six kids… and hers are right up where they should be. I reckon she has to stand on her tippy-toes just to see where she was going…

Albert: Barn, will you can it ?

Barney: Sorry, Albert, but you know what banana’s do to me.

Albert: Sweet Jesus, give the man an apple, give the man a pear…

Barney: Yeah, give me a pair, a nice ripe pair, and I’ll give em’ as an anniversary gift to my Alice in place o’ the old ones.

Ike: Who fell down the stairs ? Did you say someone fell down the stairs…?

Albert: Sweet Jesus, twenny-one years, twenny-one fucking years.

(Lights)

Scene 3

(Lights come up on Ike, Barney and Albert working the production line.  As they work they recite a poem, one line each)

Albert:  “She turns and looks a moment in the glass.”

(he passes his product to Ike who works on it)

Ike:  “Hardly aware of her departed lover…”

(passes his product to Barney)

Barney:  “Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass…”

Albert:  “Well now that’s done; and I’m glad it’s over.”  Don’t rhyme too well, that…

Ike (looking up from his work): “When lovely woman stoops to folly and…”

Barney:  “Paces about her room again alone…”

Albert:  “Smoothes her hair with automatic hand…”

All three:  “And puts a record on the gramophone.”

(Barney giggles)

Barney: Geez, I sure love T. S. Eliot…

Albert:  I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if all we spoke to each other was poetry all of the time…

Ike: Well that would be no goddam crime…(laughs)

Barney (joining in): And we could all be… all be taking’ … er takin… shit, can’t get a rhyme for crime!  Shit – rhyme!  Just kinda tripped over it!  “And we could all be makin’ rhyme!”

Ike: Shaddup, Barn…

(they work in silence)

Albert: Y’know we got a goddam poem here…

Ike: Where?

Albert:  Here!  Right in front of us on this here rework line…

Ike:  Don’t get ya’…

Albert:  Mr Ford’s Model A.

Ike:  Ah!

Albert:  Poetry in motion.  Poetry in manufacture.  Poetry in Engineering.  Rhythm that Mr Eliot’d be proud of.  A flowing along from start to finish.  And complexity.  And beauty.  And style…

Barney:  (bleakly) And black.  Goddam black all over.

(lights)

Scene 4

(Lights come up on office of Mr O’Reilly, Time and Motion Engineer.  He wears a stop-

watch.  Foreman Stan Grayson is also there.)

Stan:  Poetry, Mr O’Reilly?  Barney Stoker wouldn’t know no poem if it jumped up bit him on the derri-ere.

Mr O’Reilly: Mmmm…

Stan:  You sure it weren’t just gassin’ you heard?  Them three’s always gassin’ and they talk such a load o’ garbage most of the day…specially Barn .. er Mr Stoker… you probably mistook his garbage for…poetry…

Mr O’Reilly: Mmmmm…

Stan: If it’s their gassin’ which is pullin’ us down against the standard, I’ll bawl ’em out.  But there ain’t nothin’ in the book ’bout poetry…

Mr O’Reilly:  No, Foreman Grayson.  You don’t quite understand.  They’re UP on standard. Up by… (consults notes)… three point seven four.  That’s no insignificant amount…

Stan:  No sir!

Mr O’Reilly:  Now if it was singin’ they were doing.  We know a lot about singing.  One hell of a lot.  We know that Bucky Bronco’s wild west tunes put the average line speed up by 1.2%. We know that Jolson can pick em up by point eight on a good day.  And we know that Mario Lanza drops them down by 2.38 – some of them just stop and stare into space.

Stan: Jesus!

Mr O’Reilly:  But poetry.  That’s a whole new ball game!  Do you realise those guys have been reciting from Eliot’s Wasteland for the past 3 weeks and three days…

Stan:  Well, Mr O’Reilly, I sure as hell would have…

Mr O’Reilly: …and the line average is up by 3.74!  That’s 2.4 on bonus!  I think it must be a record.

Stan (aside): …and the Union sure as hell ain’t gonna like that…

(There is a knock at the door)

Mr O’Reilly: This one has gone right to the top.  Mr Eddie is interested.  Mr Gardener is interested.  Why, even Mr Gorbachenko in Divisional Metriculation is interested!

Stan:  Mr Gorbachenko!  Christ!

Mr O’Reilly:  I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr Ford himself takes an interest in this one.  Come in!

(Enter Barney)

Barney: Er, howdy Mr O’Reilly, er Stan.

Stan: Barn.

Mr O’Reilly: Why don’t you take a seat?

(Barney is nervous)

Barney:  Oh, Geez Mr O’Reilly, I’d just as soon stand, if you don’t mind.  I ain’t got no mind to sit in no bad news chair.  Look Mr O’Reilly sir, if it’s about me spendin’ all that time in the John this mornin’ I had the shits like nobody’s business on account o’ the two week old red cabbage my Alice put in my lunch can on Friday…

Mr O’Reilly:  Don’t worry Mr Stoker… er Barney.  You aren’t in any kinda trouble.  No.  In fact, I want to talk to you about our mutual friend, Mr Eliot.

Barney:  Mr Who?  Does he work in engineering?

Mr O’Reilly:  I’m talking poetry Mr Stoker.

Barney:  You are? (humouring him) Yeah sure you are!

Mr O’Reilly:  “At the violet hour, when the eyes and back

Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits

Like a taxi throbbing waiting…”

(they look at Barney who is lost in ecstasy)

“At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives

Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea…”

Barney (interrupting): “The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights

Her stove and lays out food in tins.

Out of the window perilously spread…”

Stan: Jesus Christ.

Mr O’Reilly:  “Her drying combinations touched by the sun’s last rays,

On the divan are piled (at night her bed)”

Barney:  “Stockings, slippers…”

Mr O’Reilly: Thank you Barney…

Barney: …”camisoles, and stays.”

Mr O’Reilly:  (more insistent) Thank you, Mr Stoker…Barney.  As I said, our mutual friend, Mr Eliot.

(Barney is confused for a minute, laughs an uncertain laugh, then looks enquiringly at the other two)

Mr O’Reilly: So, how long have you all been reciting poetry, Barney ?

Barney: Oh, Jesus, Mr, O’R. I dunno, a few days I guess, maybe a month.

Mr O’Reilly: I would hazard an educated guess that your first poem was recited on or around the thirteenth of October … the thirteen of last month…

Barney: You would ?

Mr O’Reilly (consulting his notes): I would even go as far as to venture a time. I would say at approximately eleven twenty three…

Barney: I can’t say as I can remember…

Mr O’Reilly: That will be all Barney, you can go…

Barney: So we ain’t gonna be bawled out over nothin’ then ?

Mr O’Reilly: On the contrary, Barney. On the contrary. There’s a not insignificant bonus heading you’re way. Tell Albert and Ike, there’ll be something for them as well. There’ll be no murders in this cathedral !

Barney: Murder ? eh ? Cathedral ? There will ? I mean, there won’t ? Well, gees, I don’t rightly know what to say… Thanks, Mr O.Reilly.

(he leaves, bemused and very quickly, relief on his face)

Stan: (confused): Mr O’Reilly ?

Mr O’Reilly: Oh, it’s quite simple, Foreman Grayson. Eleven twenty three is when their productivity went up. It just so happens we had time and motion in on that day. Even with those layabouts stuffing themselves with bananas, even with our dear overweight Barney Stoker farting his way to Shangri-la from eleven o’clock, their output per hour figures took an unexplainable hike. And, what you have just witnessed confirms beyond all reasonable doubt that our dear Mr T.S.Eliot is going to generate a dividend to Mr Ford and the family that will ensure that I..that we… are gonna be on our way up and outta this crappy old barn-for-a-building before Thanksgivin.

(he takes out two glasses and a bottle of beer from his desk drawer handing one glass to a bemused Stan – he pours beer for both of them)

A toast. Foreman Grayson..Stan…As Mr Gorbachenko says: “Let us put art to the service of science to do the gentle bidding of industrial power.” Now, isn’t that poetic ? Let us drink a toast to Mr T.S.Eliot… to poetry… to productivity .. to profitability !

(they drink)

Stan: (bemused): Cheers. (aside): Oh, fuck.

(lights)

Scene 5

(Lights come up on the production line. Albert, Ike and Barney are busily working on car wheel hub caps which move along the production line. They stare dreamily ahead as they work)

Albert “Here let us stand, close by the cathedral. Here let us wait.”

Ike: “Are we drawn by danger ? Is it the knowledge of safety  that draws our feet towards the cathedral?”

Albert: (breaking his mood): Your Mildred’s feet still giving her trouble?

Ike: (breaking his mood) My Mildred’s sweet as a what ?

Albert: (louder): Not “sweet” – feet !

Barney (still lost in the mood of poetry): “What danger ca be for us, the poor, poor, women of Canterbury ?”

Ike: Ah, feet ! What was that about my Mildred’s feet ?

Albert : I said…  ah, never mind…

Barney: “What tribulation with which we are not already familiar ? There is no danger for us, and there is no safety in the cathedral.”

(Ike gets up and walks to frontstage left. His face is lit as if he is standing before a huge arched window. He peer out)

Ike: That’s a goddam Nuthatch !

Barney (breaking his mood): A goddam…what ?

Ike: A Nuthatch. With a sheen like a black chassy. Ain’t never seen a Nuthatch here before… And you know what ?

Albert and Barney: What ?

Ike: She’s makin’ a nest. Right there beside storehouse seventy-one. She’s building a beautiful nest made from straw and packin’ material and copper and steel wire and paper, and all the other bits and bobs that no one around here has got any use for.

Barney (back in the mood): Geez.

(A backlog of wheel caps has built up on the production line)

Albert (tapping the workbench with a spanner): Ike!

(Ike still stares dreamily out of the window. Albert taps the workbench harder)

Albert (louder): Professor !

(Ike turns)

Albert: If you don’t mind…

(Albert indicates the pile of work and Ike sighs and reluctantly returns to his place and starts work. They all become dreamy again as they work mechanically. Sound of a hooter. They continue to work)

Albert: “King rules or barons rule;

We have suffered various oppression,

But mostly we are left to our own devices.”

Ike: (turning a wheel cap in his hands) “For good or ill, let the wheel turn,

The wheel has been still these even years, and no good.

For ill or good, let the wheel turn.

For who knows the end of good and evil ?

Until the grinders cease…”

Barney: “…and the door shall be shut in the street. And all of the daughters of music shall be brought low.

(Barney belches loudly, the gets up)

Barney: Sorry guys, Banana’s just come in for a crash landin’. I need the John.

(Barney exits. Lights)

Scene 6

(Lights come up on Foreman Grayson, stage right front)

Grayson: Grey as an elephant’s arse. Every goddam inch of that humungus factory was painted with the same standard grey, grey, grey. “You can have any colour you like as long as it’s grey”, Mr Ford himself might have said but it weren’t no senior management that decided on grey. Oh, no. Grey was our contribution to austerity measures durin’ the War. It was grey, grey, grey or army surplus green, green, green. Sure as hell we didn’t have enough food, not enough liquor, not enough milk,  butter or bananas. But Jesus did we have more than enough grey or green paint. We could have given Texas a double coatin’ of that godawful stuff. Then the War ends, and there’s more G.I.s than flies,  and things start to get back to normal and that means those crazy-headed psychologists from the university are makin’ out with the Time and Motion bigwigs and all of a sudden, one day, the whole goddam parts press area is pink, pinky, pink – pink as a pigs arse. And then there’s white coats and clip boards and stopwatches and everybody’s working ten percent on standard ‘cos jobs aint too easy to come by now the war’s over, and those shit-for-brains think that it’s their pink walls which have pushed everyone up on standard and not just plain old fear, fear, fear. And, within a week we’re all looking at them as if they’re crazy as the walls go a really awful shade of lilac – Jesus. LILAC! – and there’s roses and petunias in flower boxes on all the window ledges. That really puts the shits up the boys and productivity shoots up fifteen percent for two weeks. The place is reekin’ like a Kansas whorehouse and fifteen people bunk out sick with fits of sneezin’ and itchin and rashes the size of ‘T’ bone steaks. and all those overpaid losers can think to do is click their shiny new stopwatches and write in their little blue notebooks, then they all sneak off and write six inch reports than no one’s gonna read and we all get back to some kind of normality surrounded by dying plants and peeling lilac paint that was made for a bathroom somewhere on Fifteenth and Nine, not a machine shop. It takes just three months for that lilac to turn a really sickly shade of…yep, grey, grey, grey.

(lights)

Scene 7

(Lights up on O’Reilly and Foreman Grayson centre stage front)

Stan: An experiment ?

O’Reilly: Yes, Foreman Grayson, you heard correctly, an experiment,  a wager with truth. A flutter with the unknown. A bet with…

Stan: The union…

O’Reilly: (mimicking Stan): The union. The union. The union. “There ain’t nothing in the goddam book about no goddam wager on no goddam measurement of goddam poetry against no goddam productivity, right ?” And in this case (he produces a wad of money), Mr Gorbachenko is serious enough to make a significant contribution to the removal of your poor Mary-Lou’s gallstones.

(he offers the bills to Stan who accepts immediately)

Stan: So, what’s the deal ?

O’Reilly (enjoying himself): The ‘goddam’ deal is this…

(Change of lights as O’Reilly sits at a desk and begins to write leaving Stan to address audience)

Stan: O’Reilly starts saying “goddam” all of the time. “Goddam this, goddam that. Goddam tea break, goddam John break.  Then he starts calling me ‘Stanley’ – Stan-ley for Christ’s sake ! Goddam productivity. Goddam poetry !” Poetry. Yep, you ain’t deaf. Goddam, cotton-pickin’ poetry. (to O’Reilly):I tell, you, those three only speed up on that rework line ‘cos they know they got industrial engineers up their asses. It ain’t nothin to do with no poetry…

O’Reilly: Perhaps, you are right, Stanley, perhaps you are right. Yet science will determine the truth of this matter. I’ll wager five, no ten, no, I will wager twenty dollars that we will find a statistically significant causal link between their recitation of the great T.S.Eliot and the more than impressive rise in output of reworked parts per hour. Twenty dollars Foreman Grayson ? What do you say ?

Stan: If I had that kind of money, I might just take you up on that wager, Mr O’Reilly, Sir. On the other hand, I might just buy myself a one-way ticket to Honolulu.

O’Reilly: Very well, Stan, let us reduce the stakes down to a more mutually manageable level…

Stan; Eh ??

O’Reilly: I  hypothesise that a favourable positive correlation exists between poetic recitation and productive output.

Stan: You what ?

O’Reilly: Let me make it simple, Stanley – more poetry, more productivity. You got that ?

Stan: Look, Mr O’R. I think we ought to…

O’Reilly: (interrupting) A bottle of finest Kentucky Bourbon from Clancy’s on Seventh-and-Nine. Do we have a deal? A bet, Stanley ?

(he holds out his hand. They look each other in the eyes as in a gunfight)

O’Reilly: Well ?

(they shake hands)

Stan: (growling) Alright. It’s a bet…

O’Reilly: …a bet which, my poor friend, you are going to lose.

Stan: You think so, do you ?

O’Reilly: Foreman Grayson. Stanley. (he puts his arm around an embarrassed Foreman Grayson

Stan: (aside): Oh nuts!

O’Reilly : (continuing) A man is like a machine. I guess some folk believe that man was made in the image of God. In which case I conclude that our divine creator is, in fact, one almighty machine.

Stan; You do ? Jesus, you aint’ some kind of communist, are you ?

O’Reilly:  (laughs) Surely no! No, no, no, no, no! No communism here, Foreman Grayson. This is plain and simple science we are talking, not Marxism. If you put gasoline into a car, you can power that car. If you put food and drink into a man, you power the man. When a machine breaks down, it means somethin’ in the mechanism ain’t workin’ right and you fix it. A loose screw, a faulty piston or a rusty nut. If you can’t fix it you replace it. If you can’t replace it you might have to scrap it. You following me ?

Stan: (suspicious) Depends where you’re leading…

O’Reilly: Well, so it is with a man. With a man you try to fix him too. And I predict that it won’t be too long before we’ll be replacin’ the parts of a man as well. We’ll be able to take the heart from a man who just died and. if that heart was pumpin’ fine, we’ll be able to fix it in place of one which has bunked out on a man.

Stan (disgusted); Yeuchhh!

O’Reilly: (undeterred) And if that isn’t the solution, with the strides we’re takin’ in precision engineerin’, we’ll make him a goddam new one out of the same materials that once powered the engine of a Ford Model T.  And kidneys and livers and a goddam pancreas – why, they’ll be seen as no different to a carburettor, a gear box or a suspension. (he laughs) Sweet Jesus, the Henry Ford model T heart, look after it, keep it well-oiled and you can run on it for twenny years !

Stan: Jesus Christ !

(lights)

Scene 8

(Lights up on Albert, Ike and Barney. Production line set as before)

Albert: Alright. It’s your question. Question sixteen.

Ike: Fifteen ? What do you mean, Fifteen ?

Albert: Not fifteen ! Sixteen !

Ike: It ain’t fifteen. We just had fifteen.

Albert: I know, it’s sixteen ! SIX-teen!

Ike: Question fifteen was: is it something you can use in the kitchen ?

Albert: I know, for Christ’s sake, I asked that question. it is now question sixteen, Now can we please get on ?

Ike: Question sixteen, right ?

Albert and Barney: Right !

Ike: Question sixteen. (pauses to think) You sure it’s sixteen and not fifteen ?

Albert: Jesus!

(Enter Foreman Grayson)

Barney: Hiya, Stan.

Stan: Barn. Ike. Albert.

Albert: So what’s new, Stan ?

Stan: Nothin’ much. The extractor fan in the grinding shop’s blowin’ in more than it’s suckin’ out, so got stinkin’ leaves gettin’ in the machinery again. Callaghan’s dog went and got itself hit by a streetcar on ‘seventh and Callaghan’s cryin’ into his oilcan every five minutes.

Albert: How’s Van Leeman ?

Stan: You don’t wanna know. If that guy gets any thinner he’s gonna disappear. We can’t get a work overall small enough to fit him anymore. He’s as thin as a beanpole and, you know what gets me?

Albert: What ?

Stan: The broads in the typing pool are all crazy on him.

Albert: It’s a strange world, Stan.

Stan: Sure is. And talkin’ o’ strange. Mr O’Reilly wants to see you three in his office at two-fifteen.

Barney (worried): Oh, shit. They must a’ seen me chuckin’ up that chocolate brownie my Alice baked in cider vinegar last Tuesday – yeuchhh!

Stan: No, Barn, you ain’t got nothin’ to worry about on that score.

Ike: So, what’s the deal, Stan ?

Stan: Seems that O’Reilly has got you guys in mind for some kinda experiment.

Albert: What kinda experiment ?

Stan: I don’t rightly know. Somethin’ about poetry. That poetry-crap you guys have been spoutin’.

Albert: You sure ?

Stan: (making to leave): Yep. Two-fifteen, O’Reilly’s office. Gorabenko’s gonna be there, so smarten yourselves up. See you guys, Byseebyes!

(bursts into laughter) ha,ha ! “See you guys, byeseebyes!” Jesus, this poetry shit is easy !

(he exits laughing leaving the three to stare at each other bemused. The hooter sounds even louder. They return to work.  Blackout)

Scene 9

(Lights up on O’Reilly, sitting at a desk, stage right front,reading out loud what he has just written into a diary. Stage left front is Foreman Grayson. Books lie on the desk.  Light alternates between these two as they speak. In the background, Albert, Ike and Barney work mechanically on their production line)

O’Reilly: The design of the experiment is simplicity itself. Under the tightly controlled conditions of time and fixed resources, our three intrepid, frightened and slightly reluctant reworkers are to assemble the primary components of a Model A Ford Automobile whilst engaged in automatic verbal recitation of the work by Mr T.S.Eliot (picks up a copy of ‘ Murder in the Cathedral’, turning the pages in his hands) known as “Murder in the Cathedral” recently published in the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

(Exit O’Reilly.  Lights up on Albert frontstage right. He is sweeping up metal shavings. He whistles then pauses centrestage)

Albert: I know a man who’s name is Ford…

(he sweeps some more and whistles)

Who thinks he’s Jesus Christ the Lord

(he sweeps and whistles some more)

So next time he shows up  for  work

(he pauses whilst composing the next line)

Let’s crucify the little jerk.

(he laughs, then sighs, then pauses beside a car wheel lying at the side of the stage. He picks it up)

“For good or ill, let the wheel turn…”

(sighs as he rolls the wheel across the stage and waits for it to spin to final rest)

Yeah, let the good old wheel turn.

(he continues sweeping as lights fade on Albert. Enter Stan and O’Reilly)

Stan: But these guys have been working the line for over twenny years. Maybe they’ve just flipped.

(Stan still looks confused)

O’Reilly: (suddenly animated): Tell me Stanley, what is the essential difference between a line of poetry and a line of automobile production ?

Stan (confused): I don’t get ya.

O’Reilly: No, I can see that you do not, Stanley. I can see that you do not.

O’Reilly: (as if to a child): Why do they do it ? You wanna know why three middle aged production workers have taken to artistic recitation on company time, to accompany the day-in-day-out, week upon-week, month-on-month, year after year, decade by decade, dull, dreary, tedious, soul-destroying, boring oh-so-boring drudgery in this hellhole of a machine that calls itself a place of productive work ? It passes the time, Stanley. It passes the time! Time can pass slowly for a man on a rework line, Foreman Grayson. The poetry gives them… a kind of pick-me-up, an acceleration to the day ! It brings rhythm to repetition. I can understand that. Can’t you ? You really don’t see it, do you ?

(Stan shrugs and sighs a weary sigh)

O’Reilly: Now, is everything organised ?

Stan: Sure is…

O’Reilly: And Gorbachenko ?

Stan: Invited. Accepted.

(O’Reilly gets up to leave)

O’Reilly: Excellent. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have some stopwatches to set… See you later, Stanley…

(O’Reilly  leaves stage right)

Stan: Sure, sir.

(Stan wanders around O’Reilly’s office nosily. He notices a piece of paper on the floors by the desk and picks it up. He reads it as lights fade)

Stan:  “We do not know very much of the future except that from generation to generation the same things happen again and again. Men learn little from others’ experience. But in the life of one man, never the same time returns. Sever the cord, shed the scale. Only the fool, fixed in his folly, may think he can turn the wheel on which he turns.” T.S.Eliot.

(he frowns, pauses to think, then frowns again, screws up the paper and chucks in into a bin)

Stan: Jesus “H” Christ. AM I the only goddam person who hasn’t gone nuts around here?”

(lights fade on Stan)

Scene 10

(Lights up on Stan, sitting alone on the production line)

Stan: The Experiment begins at nineteen hundred hours and is shrouded in secrecy. If this endeavour fails and the hacks in town get to hear of it, we’d be the laughing stock of the state, even the country. “Industrial Engineers at River Rouge Automobile Factory finally work a screw loose.”

Three junior time-and-motion engineers with stop watches, O’Reilly and Foreman Grayson, and Gorbachenko of Divisional Metriculation. Barney Stoker, Albert O’Donnelly and Ike Hardy, all senior operators from metal parts rework are the experimental subjects. Union agreement is time and one half for the duration of the experiment and double time for every hour of overrun. Rumour has it that Mr Henry Ford Junior himself intends to show up. Christ help us.

(Albert steps to frontstage centre. Enter Ike and Barney who stand centre stage before a clear space lit by a spotlight. Lighting to left right and back of stage centre suggests a large building, like a cathedral, like a huge car warehouse or factory. Perhaps church choral music. O’Reilly enters picking up his clipboard. Enter Stan with a stopwatch, wearing a white coat. They are still, as if waiting for an order)

O’Reilly: Is everyone in position ? All is ready ? Good. (short pause) Then let us begin.

(Stan ostentatiously clicks the stopwatch. They begin to collect parts of a car, nervously, quickly)

O’Reilly (addressing audience): The experiment begins, as predicted, and all goes well. Delivery of verse appears to run paraellel to the delivery of automobiles.

(the following is recited very nervously, mechanically and quickly, the three workers are very nervous at being watched. They begin to assemble a car)

Albert; “Even with the hand to the broom…”

Ike: ” the back bent in laying the fire…”

Albert: …”the knee bent in cleaning the hearth…

Barney: “… we, the scrubbers and sweepers of Canterbury…”

(pause. Albert and Barney look at Ike)

Albert: Ike? Ike !

Ike: Is it me ? Sorry. (to O’Reilly): Sorry. (clears his throat) “The back bent under toil…”

Barney: “… the knee bent under sin…”

Ike: “… the hands to the face under fear…”

Albert: “… the head bent under grief…”

Ike: “Even in us the voices of seasons…”

Albert: “… the snuffle of winter…”

Barney (he is so carried away he loudly sings the next line)  :”… the song of spring…”

(Albert and Ike stare indignantly at Barney)

Barney: (giggles) Whoops.

Albert (continuing): “… the drone of summer…”

Ike: “the voices of beasts and of birds, praise Thee.”

O’Reilly: (to audience): “The rhythm of production matches the rhythm of the poetry, it’s beautiful. literally poetry in motion!”

Albert:  (becoming more involved in the poetry) “Here is no continuing city, here is no abiding stay. Ill the wind, ill the time, uncertain the profit, certain the danger”…hey Ike, pass me that monkey wrench…

Ike: (reciting) “O late late, late is the time”…  (breaks off) …what was that ?

(Albert sighs and fetches the monkey wrench himself, then looks at it and puts it onto the floor)

Albert; Never mind, Ike…, let’s finish this verse,  “late…”

Ike: “… too late…”

Albert: “…and rotten the year…”

(they stop work and continue delivery)

Barney: “Evil the wind, and bitter the sea, and grey the sky, grey, grey, grey…”

(Barney suddenly looks around and smiles)

Barney: Jesus, look guys, they painted those walls grey again !

(Ike and Albert both look at him impatiently, he quickly returns to work)

Whoops, sorry guys… (very loudly)…”O Thomas, return Archbishop; return, return to France. Return. Quickly…”

(they all resume work but more slowly)

Albert (to Barney, angrily): “Quietly !”

Barney: (in a whisper) Sorry, Albert!

Ike (suddenly losing his temper, to all): “Leave us to perish in quiet ! A doom on the house, a doom on yourself, a doom on the world.”

(Ike recovers from being carried away)

Ike: Er, excuse me, I was miles away.

(there is an embarrassing pause, then they resume working)

O’Reilly: Fifteen minutes into the trial and the boys seem to be in their stride, a little too much  horsin’ around perhaps, but soon they seem to pick up the rhythm…the bare bones of an engine is born from the womb of artistic endeavour…

(During the next piece, the three workers recite the poetry rhythmically whilst working on the assembly, but gradually their verse is delivered  more to each other and becomes almost a conversation, the rhythm begins to break up as does the rhythm and smoothness of their assembly work which grinds almost to  a halt as they increase their delivery)

Albert; “We do not wish anything to happen…”

Barney: “Seven years we have lived quietly…”

Albert: “Succeeded in avoiding notice…”

Ike: “Living and partly living…”

Albert; “There have been oppression and luxury…”

Barney: “There have been poverty and licence…”

Albert: “There have been minor injustice…”

Barney: “Yet we have gone on living…”

Ike: (more emphatic) “Living and partly living…”

Albert and Barney (to each other): Living and partly living!

(Ike drops a part on the floor)

Ike: Shit…

Albert: (reproachful) Clumsy!

(Ike retrieves the dropped part and they continue with their work, the rhythms recovered and then slowly lost again, this time more profoundly)

Ike: “Sometimes the corn has failed us…”

Barney: “Sometimes the harvest is good…”

Ike: “One year is a year of rain…”

Barney: “Another a year of dryness…”

Ike: “One year the apples are abundant…”

Barney: “Another the plums are lacking…”

Ike: “Yet we have gone on living…”

Albert, Barney and Ike: “Living and partly goddam livin…!”

Ike: “We have kept the feasts, heard the masses…”

Barney: “We have brewed beer and cyder” … gee, guys, I sure could do with a beer now, an ice cool beer…

Albert (interrupting, impatient): “Gathered wood against the winter…”

Ike: “Talked at the corner of the fire…”

Barney: “Talked at the corner of streets…”

Albert: Talked not always in whispers…”

All three: (loudly): “Living and partly living…!”

Ike: We have seen births, deaths and marriages….”

Albert: “We have had various scandals…”

(Albert looks at Ike who looks away guiltily)

Barney: “Wehave had laughter and gossip…”

Ike (angrily towards O’Reilly): “We have been afflicted with taxes…”

Albert (suddenly stops work): “We have all had our private terrors…”

Ike (stops work): “…our particular shadows…”

Barney (stops work): “…our secret fears…”

(they look at each other then at Stan and O’Reilly. Ike and Barney begin to work again but Albert is lost in reverie)

Albert: But now a great fear is upon us, a fear not of one but of many, a fear like birth and death alone in a void apart. We are afraid in a fear which we cannot know, which we cannot face, which none understands…”

(by now Ike and Albert have stopped and are listening intently to Albert)

Albert: (rising anger): “And our hearts are torn from us, our brains unskinned

Like the layers of an onion, ourselves are lost in a final fear which none understands…” (to Ike and Barney): “Which none understands !”

O’Reilly: Suddenly, production flow is erratic and the boys are behavin’ strangely, and  startin’ to mix up their lines. (to Stan): What time you got, Stan?

(Stan is holding the stopwatch which he raises, squinting at the time. )

Stan: We got fifteen and thirty on the clock, Mr O’Reilly.

Suddenly, Ike addresses his verse in Stan’s direction, causing him to put the watch down. The following speech by Ike builds up in intensity until it takes him over emotionally)

Ike:”Temporal power, to build a good world,

To keep order, as the world knows order.

Those who put their faith in worldly order

Not controlled by the order of God,

In confident ignorance, but arrest disorder,

Make it fast, breed fatal disease,

Degrade what they exalt…”

(Pause)

O’Reilly: (to audience) We begin to realise that somethin’ ain’t right. Gorbachenko isn’t a happy man. Productivity on the assembling process has come to a virtual standstill. One big zero. But the poetry… well if, that poetry was an automobile, if their delivery of that sweet verse was translated into delivery of production, these guys were beginning to produce, Jesus were they delivering !!!

(Albert turns to O’Reilly)

Albert: If you don’t mind. We are reciting, here. “You will agree with me that such interference by an archbishop offends the instincts of a people like ours.”

O’Reilly: I beg your pardon ?

(Albert picks up a bucket and a broom and puts the bucket on O’Reilly’s head and hands him the broom, brush side on the top. He then bows)

Albert; “Your grace…”

(O’Reilly, stunned, removes the bucket and straightens himself out, still shocked by the behaviour of Albert)

Stan: Hey, Albert ? Ike, what the hell is the matter with you guys ?

(Albert steps forward and addresses Stan)

Albert:”I am afraid I am not anything like such an experienced speaker as my old friend (indicates O’Reilly) Reginald Fitz Urse would lead you to believe. But there is one thing I should like to say, and I might as well say it at once. It is this:  in what we have done, and whatever you may think of it, we have been perfectly disinterested.”

Ike and Barney: “Hear ! hear !”

O’Reilly: (to audience) And then, Mr Henry Ford Junior himself shows his face at the door and he sure is lookin’ uneasy. He stands there, a huge Havana cigar in his mouth  and his brow all screwed up into a frown(To the three workers) Alright, guys, Albert, Ike, Barney, that’s enough… let’s take a break…(turns to Foreman Grayson): Stan…

(Foreman Grayson steps towards the three workers who suddenly turn to face him)

Albert: “What a way to talk at such a juncture !”

Barney: Yeah, you wan’ us to finish this Goddam car, or what ?

Ike: “You are foolish, immodest and babbling women…”

Stan: (rising anger) Wadd’ya mean, women ? Ike, come on, time to quit. You’ll still get your pay. You’re crossin’ the line now.

Albert: “You go on croaking like frogs in the treetops: But frogs at least can be cooked and eaten.”

Stan: Now wait a minute. Are you threatening me ?

Albert; “Whatever you are afraid of, in your craven apprehension, let me ask you at least to put on pleasant faces, (indicates Mr Ford, out of view offstage) and give a hearty welcome to our good Archbishop.

O:Reilly (talking to Ford, offstage): Ah, Mr Ford, sir, good evening, sir…we seem to be having a view er…technical problems with the boys…

Albert; “We are not getting anything out of this. We have much more to lose than to gain. We are four plain Englishmen…”

O’Reilly: Four ? Englishmen ? Okay, guys, take five, that’s an order.

Albert:  (ignoring him)” We are four plain Englishmen who put our country first…”

(they all three salute,  then they crowd Stan menacingly, spanners in hand)

Stan: (fearful) Ohhh, shit !

(he tries to make a break for it but Albert grabs him)

Albert: “I dare say that we didn’t make a very good impression when we came in just now. the fact is that we knew we had taken on a pretty stiff job; I’ll only speak for myself, but I had drunk a good deal – I am not a drinking man,ordinarily – to brace myself up for it. When you come to the point…”

(they all repeatedly three poke Stan with their spanners)

Albert: “…it does go against the grain to kill an Archbishop, especially when you have been brought up in good Church traditions…”

(they poke Stan again, he flees the stage in fear)

Stan: Hey, get your crazy paws off of me…aah…. I’m gettin’ the hell outta here. Somebody call the cops. They’ve gone nuts…!!!

(they turn to O’Reilly)

Ike: “No one regrets the necessity for violence more than we do. Unhappily, there are times when violence is the only way in which social justice can be secured.”

(Barney picks up a pane of car window glass, suddenly Barney trancelike walks towards O’Reilly, facing him, and drops the pane of glass he is holding, it smashes)

Barney: Gee guys, I sure am a butter fingers…

(Ike moves towards O’Reilly, facing him)

Ike: “The egotism grew upon him, until it became at last an undoubted mania…”

O’Reilly: Er, take it easy Barney. Ike…

(they begin to crown around him)

Ike: “O Thomas our Lord, leave us and leave us be, in our humble and tarnished frame of existence, leave us; do not ask us to stand to the doom on the house, the doom on the Archbishop, the doom on the world.”

Albert: “Archbishop, secure and assured of your fate, unaffrayed among the shades, do you realise what you ask, do you realise what it means to the small folk drawn into the pattern of fate, the small folk who live among small things…”

Barney: “The strain on the brain of the small folk who stand to the doom of the house, the doom of their lord, the doom of the world ?”

O’Reilly: And now the boys are gettin’ frightening, I mean, they got demon eyes, like the angry spirit of Mr T.S.Eliot himself is possessin’ them, body and soul. I decide, in the interests of self-preservation, to take a trip to the W.C. And still Mr Henry Ford Junior stands there, puffin’ away at his full corona… (to the three): Excuse me…

(a silhouette of Henry Ford appears stage right, a tall man in a top hat, puffing a cigar. O’Reilly turns and flees, Ike and Barney and Albert stand in a line centre stage, each picking up a spanner or tool of some kind, their delivery of verse is now clear and competent as a professional)

Ike: “Man’s life is a cheat and a disappointment;”

Barney: “All things are unreal…”

Ike: “Unreal or disappointing”

Barney: “The Catherine wheel, the pantomime cat,

The prizes given at the children’s party,

The prize awarded for the English essay,

The scholar’s degree, the statesman’s decoration.”

Albert: “All things become less real, man passes

From unreality to unreality.”

(they address the silhouette of Ford)

Ike: “This man is obstinate, blind, intent

On self-destruction,”

Barney: “Passing from deception to deception,”

Albert: “From grandeur to grandeur to final illusion,”

Ike: “Lost in the wonder of his own greatness,”

Albert: “The enemy of society, enemy of himself.”

(lights fade and Albert, Ike and Barney and then fade on the silhouette of Ford)

Scene 11

(Lights up on O’Reilly and Stan in O’Reilly’s office. They are standing facing each other)

O’Reilly: Well, Stan. I am man enough to know when it’s time to eat a large slice of humble pie. You win. (holds out banknotes), fair and square.

(O’Reilly hands Stan the banknotes. Stan takes them, eyeing them thoughtfully. Pause)

Stan: Mr O’Reilly. Do you mind if I ask you a question ?

O’Reilly: Sure, Stan. Go ahead. Ask away.

Stan: Well, sir. I’ve been working here a long time. More years than I care to remember. And, well, if you’ll pardon me for sayin’ so, but you ain’t exactly no spring chicken. Must be fifteen years.

O’Reilly: Seventeen, Stan. Seventeen years, three months, four days, eleven hours (checks stopwatch), ten minutes and twenty four seconds…approximately.

Stan: Seventeen years, Mr O’Reilly. Me – thirty years, you, seventeen. That’s a long time.

O’Reilly: I guess it is.

Stan: And during all of that time, sir, I never knew your first name. That’s my question, Mr O’Reilly. I’d really like to know your first name.

O’Reilly: Stan.

Stan: Sir ?

O’Reilly: No – Stan !

Stan: What ?

O’Reilly: My name. My name is also Stan. Stanley Neville Mansfield O’Reilly.

Stan: Well, I’ll be damned! Seventeen years and I had you for a George, or maybe a William. Stan, eh?

O’Reilly: Yep.

(Stan hands back the banknotes)

Stan: Keep your money, Mr O’Reilly. Stan. I’ll just take a beer if you don’t mind.

(O’Reilly takes two beers from a drawer and passes one to Stan. They open them, toast and drink)

Stan: To Art !

O’Reilly: Art ? After what we’ve just been through ? You know, Gorbachenko isn’t a happy man.

Stan: So, what’s new ? I’ve been here for thirty years and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that poor man smile.

O’Reilly: You’re right.

Stan: But in a way, you won your bet as well, Mr O’Reilly…

O’Reilly: I did ?

Stan: Albert, Ike and Barney. Now I’ve seem them smile a lot over the years. I’ve seen ’em cry a few times as well. Like the time when Barn lost his pop. (sighs). Yeah. I’ve seen ’em singin’ and makin’ jokes and stupid rhymes, watchin’ birds, watchin’ the seasons pass. Now, Albert, he’s got a lot to say about the V8. You should hear him at the Club. He knows his engines does Albert. Yeah, I’ve seen them boys smile. and that’s why I say you won your bet, Stan. I can’t say as I know much about art or poetry, but I’d sure as hell say that those boys, over thirty long years, are better artists of life than any goddam poet from England. You let them boys make their jokes, and sing their songs, and they’ll make a car that’s fit for a family to drive on any road, any day and anywhere. Cheers.

(they toast)

O’Reilly: You know Foreman Grayson, I guess you’ve got a point there. Cheers.

(lights)

Scene 12

(Lights up on production line as in Scene 1. Various pieces of production machinery are arranged about the stage.   Albert, Ike and Barney sit on their workbenches in a line facing a conveyor belt which moves from offstage right to offstage left.  Products pass along it.  Albert puts a screw into each product.  Ike tightens the screw, and Barney puts a top on the screw.  They do this expertly for several minutes until a horn sounds and they all stop what they are doing, get up, pick up thermos flasks and sandwiches, one each, from under their workbenches and move to frontstage centre where they sit down.  Each in turn inspects their sandwiches)

Albert: (pleased): Egg on rye!

Ike: (delighted): Salami and mayo!

Barney: (surprised and pleased): Ham and tomayto! Guys – she’s forgiven me. My Alice has finally forgiven me!

Albert: Well, wadd’ya know ! !

Ike: Who ? Who’s given what ?

Albert: (loudly to Ike): Barney’s got ham and tomayto ! HAM AND TOMAYTO.

Ike: Praise the lord ! Alice has forgiven you, Barn !

Barney: She sure has !

Ike: Now, perhaps we can get some peace around here.

(a very loud hooter sounds, different from previously. Both Barney and Albert wince at the loudness. Ike is unaffected)

Barney: Jesus, what the hell was that ?

Albert: They’re testin’ a new hooter. Accordin’ to Stan, some of the guys in the cutting shop claimed they was late back from breaks ‘cos they couldn’t hear the old one.

(the hooter goes off again this time for several seconds before trailing off as if it has failed. Then there s the sound of a loud bang. Albert and Barney jump. Ike is unaffected. Enter Foreman Grayson)

Albert (to Stan):What the hell was that ?

Stan: Hooter scared the shit outta Fat Bernie in the press shop. He just leaped three feet outta his chair and spilled his coffee, metal flask an’all into the main cogs and now the whole damn machine shop has stalled. Bernie’s in the sick room with his fingers all burned up and with Flanaghan off sick we got no easy replacement.

Barney: Boy, oh, boy. What a day.

(pause)

Stan: Listen guys. About the … “experiment” last night. Mr O’Reilly wants to draw a line in the sand. Gorbachenko wants to keep the lid on what happened. You guys’ll be paid for your time and there’s a bonus on top for.. the inconvenience. So, if it’s okay with you guys, the management want to say no more about it. Do we have a deal ?

(they all fidget awkwardly)

Albert: That’s fine by me.

Barney: Sure. I ain’t gonna say nothin’.

Albert: Ike ?

Ike: What ? Did I miss somethin’?

Albert: (to Stan): We’ll take care of Ike.

Stan: Thanks guys. And there’s somethin’ else.

(he takes out a letter)

Albert: There is ?

Stan: Mr Ford. He has ordered that operators should not engage in recitation of poetry on company time. Any delivery of T.S.Eliot or any other poet during production hours will be a first line disciplinary offence. You got that, Albert ? Barney ? No poetry. No poetry !

Albert: No poetry.

Barney: Aw,  gee! No poetry.

Albert (loudly to Ike): No more poetry. You got that, Ike ? Mr Ford says no more poetry on the line.

Ike: Suits me.

Stan: Thanks, guys. Okay, back to work.

Albert: Sure, Stan.

(Foreman Grayson leaves. The workers look at each other and sigh, the return to work. They work automatically on the production line for a short while, then Albert looks up)

Albert: “To be, or not to be, that is the question.”

(Barney stops work and looks at him mischievously. Ike continues to work as lights fade)

The End

1999

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One thought on “Bunk

  1. Hey Paul, great to have a look around your websites- so funny to revisit Alan Winner! What a man of his time…
    Arts Upper Hunter are going for some regional arts funding to create a play about shift work- not altogether surprisingly called “Shift”! We’re in the mineral rich Upper Hunter and there’s a lot of coal about… This is in the embryonic stage and I thought I’d show my mate and boss Bridget Nicholson this piece for inspiration/interest/ideas etc. Please be assured I will protect your intellectual property, and let you know if anything comes of it. Thanks Paulus Maximus, hope to see you in the Pavilion Gardens in October! XXX

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