VLADO (pronounced VLAH-doh)---historian/journalist, mid-30s
RHONDA---writer/playwright, “of a certain age”
MR. PRODUCER---his input is delivered by Rhonda
Various voices (taped)
On the phone and in the mind.
Specifically: 1994-‘95, the last year of the siege of Sarajevo. Universally: Today.
“All those I might
have helped. Helped! Saved. Saved!
The place was crawling with them!” --- Samuel Beckett, Endgame
“All moral engagement personalizes; if it doesn’t get personal,
it doesn’t last. But if it only
personalizes, it quickly dissipates.
Empathy untouched by analysis, by some deeper understanding of what is
at stake, quickly evaporates.” --- Michael Ignatieff
EXCERPT I: Scenes 1-3,
Scene 1, “You have almost no pulse”
D.C., and wartime Sarajevo.
At rise: SOUND of SNIPER FIRE. HALF LIGHTS UP on VLADO, who sits in his
FULL LIGHTS UP on RHONDA, who nervously goes over notes. Then: SOUND of DIALING international connection.
Sir: I think a great crime is happening against Sarajevo---a
great crime. World War Two was about
“Never again” and here it is---again.
This time we can’t say we don’t know, because: We know. People dying on CNN---three years now! I’m haunted: Sarajevo
was the Paris of the Balkans---the
Paris of the Balkans: theatre, music, cafes---and so open: mosques next to
cathedrals, churches, synagogues. And
now, snipers in the hills firing away, some specializing in children---God I
hate bullies!---“peacekeepers” on the ground, not-firing
back. All caught on film and---I
am so ashamed---no audience response. It’s a new marker, it---really is....
Nice speech but: Do you have some troops with you?
Well, military intervention is the big question for
us, the “sole superpower.” While you’re
being shot at, my husband and I have had---debates, many. He’s former military and doubts intervention
could work, short of saturating your country, while I advocate anything
to stop the killing. I can’t bear more----(cut off by)
With all due respect: Are (shivering) y-you a
Have you been getting many such calls....?
Vlado is silent.
You’re cold, aren’t you. I hear your teeth chattering.
They’re chattering because I’m talking. Please: What is the purpose of your call,
apart from winning an argument with your husband.
They’re debates. I am
Ah: and you want to get a play off us.
I have written a play, which I give you. Since you run a cultural radio station, I
thought a drama might interest you---apart from the drama outside.
How did you learn of Radio Zed? [pronounced Rahdio]
I heard you on National Public Radio yesterday. I so admire what you’re doing, under insane
conditions. Your story about stealing
fuel from U.N. vehicles to run your generators: wonderful.
Huh.... (Beat) So: What is your play about?
How people find reasons to let a crime go forward---as the
world is doing with Sarajevo. I give it to explain, not excuse our
inaction. I hope it’ll---comfort you,
it’s the only way I can intervene----
Good God, out here in TV Land we see the insanity as it’s happening,
it’s not coming by messenger or packet ship.
It’s---in the room with us.
We’re watching too.
Just love being the world’s sport!
I feel we, the watchers, have a relationship and thus a
responsibility to you, the watched. And
writers: Writers should take action, not save their humanity for their art----(stops and rolls her eyes). I’m sorry; maybe this wasn’t a good idea----
What is your relationship to me....?
I don’t know but....
Taking a leap here, this phone is a stethoscope and I have to say: You
have almost no pulse.
Why didn’t you say that in the first place?
I’ve never called into Hell before.
Since you are the only one who’s taken my pulse---- Where are you
Center of the
world.... Give me your phone number---if
I can find a pen.... It’s night
here---we’re six hours ahead of you---and I’m sitting in complete
darkness. If those “people in the hills”
hadn’t cut off our electricity---again---you could fax your play. Our postal service has been destroyed-----
has ours (laughs nervously). Sorry, I’m nervous.
(Beat) All right, go ahead, I’ve got a piece of paper on my leg.
(Beat) Sir: May I call you Vlado?
LIGHTS UP on VLADO:
The electricity comes on.
Yes.... Vlado would be nice. “Sir” was nice too. And may I call you Lucia?
you want. My name is Rhonda.
O.K., Rhonda: Start
faxing. I’ll call you with my decision
about your play. Oh, and thanks for not
asking, “Do you go through Sniper’s Alley?”
I assume you do.
wish you a “Merry Christmas.”
I’ll wish you peace
in the New Year instead. Vlado: Take
care. I read that’s what people in Sarajevo say when they part: “Take care.”
Scene 2, “I need to talk”
SOUND of REVOLVER SHOT. VLADO holds the paper with Rhonda’s phone
Hi. It’s Vlado. Uh, did you have a nice Christmas?
(Beat) Very. And, uh, you?
Pleasant. I spent it with my mother and my
girlfriend. I live with Mother. Father died this year. This was our first “holy-day” without him,
not that I’m religious anymore.
I question too....
So, what’re you doing?
Working on a play about Franz Kafka.
Kafka? Kafka would understand
Vlado: What is the purpose of your call....
An hour ago---on the station steps---a man---committed
suicide. Just blew his brains out. (“Laughs”) Guess he’d had enough.
RHONDA reacts silently.
Yup, I witnessed it. And cleaned up---what a mess. (Beat)
Maybe you’d better take my pulse again?
God in Heaven: This siege is an ob-SCENITY! How did all this happen?
I like your anger, I really do---though calling on God is
futile, as we, uh, discussed.... (Beat) Rhonda: I’d like to talk to you. Personally, I really need it.
Vlado, I am---not a psychiatrist.
They’ve abandoned us too.
Look, I don’t plan to commit suicide.
Too many people count on me. I
just like talking to you. My girlfriend
is---fragile. We’re having “debates”:
She wants to escape, I don’t. My
friends---they have their own problems.
And, you seem strong.
It’s manufactured. As
a kid I was so shy I had to ask Mom to ask the waiter for water.
Same with me. And, big thing: You seem normal.
Oh I have my quirks.
I am normal. Unfortunately.
I can tell you, especially today: Normal
is rare. Why apologize?
Because I’ve been made to. (Beat)
I need to talk to you too, Vlado.
I’m trying to live a worthy life, write about Life and Death, but: I’m
at sea here, I’m not nourished by this---helium. Weird exalted over normal, me-me-me, unearned
angst. I see the world now as a tale of
two tents: one a refugee tent, the other a circus. And since this world is wired, we must ask, What are we wired to?
When I ask my friends, many of whom have dialed out to cultivate their
own gardens, they say, “Here, have a peach.”
But I want to stay involved with the world. So does my husband. We still want to “Carpe diem,” seize the
day. I contribute to the helium, with my
wit. But: I yearn for the ultimate. To rise above.
“Rise above”: Sounds good to me.
warn you, my friends say I’m intense, that gardening would improve me---lots.
Please: Don’t go into the garden. Be intense with me.
And we’ll broadcast your play. I like a drama about a crime-stopper. I’ll be your translator.
Thank you! We like
art about crime-starters; snipers.
Vlado....: Do you have enough to eat?
Enough. Big problem is no water. Last night I got up to collect the
rainwater. Another problem: At night,
with no street lights, you collide with buildings. (Mimes) “Pardon.”
You must hate the snipers....?
Hate expired---along with all other feeling. Besides, it’s useless to hate if there’s
nothing you can do. (Beat) How is it an
I think it’s normal to care, I don’t know how one gets past
all that carnage on the news----
Boy, do you have a lot to learn!
(Beat) When I
was five, six years old, I came across photo books my parents happened to have:
of the death camps of World War Two---how could human beings do that to
other human beings?---and of Negro lynchings, with
crowds standing around, including children my age. How could they laugh? Those photos gave the “too sensitive” child a
hole in the heart. They force
perspective: “You think your problems are bad, tell it to Auschwitz
or the lynched man.” My husband and I
have been to Auschwitz.
We felt a sanctity there we don’t feel here,
and we fell silent....
Scene 3, The recovering
historian establishes the context---Chaos
SPOT on VLADO.
My new friend asks, with her beautiful anger: “How’d all
this happen?” “Why are you being shot at
by former neighbors?” “How can one human
being pull a knife across the throat of another human being?” How should I know? I’m a recovering historian. In an earlier life I had the answers, which
as Professor I declaimed at the University---until history exploded. It’s a historian’s trick, you know: making
sense of things. We can’t do that til after---if we don’t get buried. My friend says Americans don’t wake up
thinking about the American Civil War, and I shot back, “The losers do.” That was rude, so let me construct a response
to her many questions.
Please, pull up a rock, be seated. It’s not comfortable, but the lesson’s
short. Our University is closed, the
National Library’s destroyed, but learning still goes on. O.K.: Two things your TV image (pointing
to himself) has learned. First, apropos the Cold War, Winston
Churchill got it right: “When the war of the giants has ended, the war of the
pygmies will begin.” The Cold War ended,
let the Games being! Second, “How can
human beings slit throats?” Because:
Politicians tell them to.
These---pygmies get on their TV, radio, “Revenge your martyred prince,
your papa---kill, kill, KILL!” And since
their tribes consist of peasants---simple people---they obey: “If it’s on the
TV, it must be true, where’s my knife?” That’s
why an independent station is vital: At Zed we do not tell people
to kill. If I had any feeling left, I
could hate the manipulators more than the manipulated. But, I digress.... A statistic, and no lecture’s
complete without one of those: In former wars, when battle was confined to
battlefields, combatants accounted for 90% of the dead, versus 10% for
civilians. But now, because pygmies and
peasants don’t abide by rules of war, that score has flipped: Now it’s
Civilians 90, Combatants 10. Truly total
war---which explains all those refugees roaming around, using stairwells as
toilets, and why this civilian is so nostalgic for those beautiful rules
of war, and not because it was his PhD thesis.... Questions? Comments?
LIGHTS UP on RHONDA.
I still want to believe there is still a line.
It’s so thin, it’s meaningless. Lots of Americans have erased it, with their
Uh-huh.... Is this
the time to tell you my husband is involved in conflict prevention? He’s a national security strategist and
conducts games for policy types. It
sounds pretentious, but it’s an attempt to get the big picture, see ahead.
The “Answer Man.”
Well, you’re in the volcano, here an overview’s possible---- Vlado: Larry is not
an arms merchant. And I embrace his
philosophy: “Don’t worry a problem, work it.”
(Beat) Larry’s impressed
I’ve made an intervention.
What do your husband’s “games” reveal?
Escalation---radical. Quote: “Tell Vlado to get the hell out of
I won’t abandon Sarajevo,
I will not abandon Zed, my staff is young, I am
I also called our State Department.
You called for me....?
One calls the desk officer.
Who said: “Sarajevo’s moment
has passed.” Meaning, no military
intervention; in fact I heard lots about “the limits of.” And numbers: Is it 200,000 dead or “merely”
20,000? (Beat) Vlado, I hesitate to ask but: What’s your
Not you too! Jesus, I
just want to be seen as a human being!
I just want to know, are you minority or majority? Because that’s what this war is about.
Not for me or Zed!
EXCERPT II: from Scene 7 Act
One---showing Vlado empowered by their words.
Vlado....: May I write a play about us? I’ve been typing up our talks, our ultimate
dialogues. They might make people
see. Images haven’t done it, but maybe
theatre can. And unlike Vedran [the friend who just betrayed him], I won’t violate
A Russian poet visiting the snipers: He squeezed off a shot
at us, then wrote about “the real thing.” Write our real thing---it’ll be my
shot back! (Beat) Our words, Rhonda....: I think about what you
say, I think about what we talk about: It brings me---power. REAL power....
LIGHTS OUT on RHONDA. SOUND of SNIPER FIRE. VLADO faces in direction of the sniper fire
and points to his forehead.
SOUND of SNIPER SHOTS. VLADO dives out of range. LIGHTS UP on RHONDA.
Did you do what I think you did....?
Would you consider not doing it again....?
LIGHTS OUT on VLADO. VOICE of Rhonda’s FRIEND #2: “You two are
using each other.” OTHER VOICES: “Yeah.”
Yes---and I’ve never been put to such excellent use.
[END OF SCENE]
EXCERPT III: Scene 10, Act
[Previously: The play Rhonda is writing is readily snapped
up by “Mr. Producer,” who offers production.
But first, he has some questions....]
In this scene Mr. Producer’s input, which Rhonda presents
in his voice, is bolded.
We have a problem: Mr. Producer. “It’s all about development,”
he says, “discovering what’s really going on.” First thing he went after? “Vlado’s history speech? Lose it.”
“But Richard, it provides context. Beyond our circus. The context is chaos.” American audiences don’t care about
history. It slows the action.”
Which Sarajevo hasn’t
seen a lot of.
“Richard, we Americans have become so
self-absorbed. Sole Superpower, and its
theatre, has lost sight of the wider world”---at which point he snores---“a
wider world full of suffering, compared to which ours is not much. Come on, Rich, you like ‘dangerous places,’
let’s knock back the scenery and go there.”
(Laughs) Touché completely.
“Next,” he says, “character. We get Vlado, but your character. An American audience has to identify with
you. You need to be needier.”
Mr. Producer has a low opinion of Americans.
“Richard,” I say, “Vlado values me for my normalcy. I’m not a neurotic noodle----”
I wouldn’t talk to you if you were.
Exactly. “Vlado wouldn’t talk to me if I were.” “But you need to be more human. Come on: ‘no complaints’?” “Not compared to Vlado.” “Uh-uh; pick a concrete problem and
elevate it.” “That’s the
problem, Richard. We elevate the
hangnail to the Tragic. I could have
My God, do you?
NO. “Richard, I could
have cancer and it wouldn’t equate to Vlado’s---suffering.” “And another problem,” he says. “Motivation. Why’d you call Sarajevo? Is it because you don’t have kids and you
want to inject meaning into your life?” “Richard! Any more meaning in my life and I’d tip over,
I just have a problem plugging it in here----” “Then why the connection to
I am not a victim!
“Richard, it was those photos of the death camps---which, if
you’re a serious artist, do burn a hole in the heart.” “No-no, the connection’s
gotta be more personal.”
I’m on CNN, fella---in your face
and real personal.
“I heard Vlado’s voice on NPR: that’s personal.” “No; some lack in you, some damage----”
---No wonder there’s been no
“Did your parents abuse you, during their Cold War? Were you incested?”
“NO!” Well, it was your parents
who labeled you the ‘too-sensitive’ child, right?” “Richard, I mistakenly got the notion I
was the cause of their problems. But my
beloved parents and I worked it out. You
know, sooner or later you forgive your parents and vice-versa----” “God, you are such a goody! Even Vlado called you a goody----”
VLADO winces “Sorry.”
“---You make my teeth itch!” “Why is that, Richard? Huh?” “Because ‘decency’ is not dramatic!” “Well,
out here in front of my government, it sure feels dramatic. Richard, in a world gone crazy, the crazies
have it easy, it’s the ‘goodies’ who have the uphill,
thus dramatic fight.”
Besides, in chaos, what’s ‘dramatic’?
Right. “In chaos, what’s ‘dramatic’? Actually, what’s dramatic is the force it’s
taking me not to deck you, Dick!----”
VLADO reacts: “Oof.”
“---That fire is great!
Now, aim it at Vlado. Crank up
the conflict between you two. Drama is
conflict, conflict illuminates----”
Take it from me, it doesn’t always illuminate.
“Richard: I can’t pick a fight in Hell, I can’t. I made Vlado a vow of honor----” At which point he
scoffs. “Everyone, Richard, even ‘women
of distinction,’ yearns for honor----” He walks out of the room. (Calling) “You do too.
You bad boys always come around in the end---- Dammit, work
with me, please!”
He roars back into the room.
“O.K., ‘woman of distinction,’ let’s cut to the bone....’” (stops).
Actually Vlado, I can take care of it----
Oh no, I want to hear this.
you calling because you’re not young anymore and you’re afraid you’re losing
your looks and on the phone you’re invisible?”
“Thanks for buying into our culture’s lack of regard for the
aging woman,” I say. “Hey,” he
says, “it’s out there.”
Only in America.
“Vlado values me for my---vintage.” (Beat...) “Heck, in the looks department I thought I
was doing O.K. Then again, in the
context of chaos----”
I got a good report.
“---in the context of chaos, looks
are totally irrelev----” You did?
Voice of America
(laughs). [Vlado is a stringer
(Beat) Vice-versa yourself. End
of topic, Vlado, O.K.?
Next: He goes after Larry.
“Make Larry more military, more----” “Bullet-head?” I say. “But Larry’s more subtle than a cliché. “Then,” he says, “make Larry the jealous husband. Yes it’s cliché, but you and Vlado have a
nice little relationship going, Larry’s got to be ticked.” “Larry knows I wasn’t looking for action,
he feels I’ve found my proper subject: Sarajevo. Larry trusts me. Our marriage is based on trust.” “Take it from a producer, no audience will
buy it about trust.” “The
well-married will. There are more good
marriages than theatre shows us.” “O.K.
then...: If your marriage is so good....”
“...how come you’re susceptible, huh?” “Well, Richard, I’m not stone. Feelings---happen. Feelings happen, romantic---or lethal. The question becomes, How to handle these
That is the question.
Indeed it is. Observing the line.
Indeed. (Erupts in
laughter) And this siege used to be so
THEY laugh. Then
VLADO falls silent.
As we parted, I asked Richard, “Tell me: Why’d you pick this
project?” “Because,” he said, “it’s raw truth.” Then
he says, “That went well, I thought.
culture, Rhonda.... My
[END OF SCENE]