One act with music

Text and music by Alberto bruni Tedeschi

Characters and protagonists
Paolino: a cultivator of flowers (and drunkard)
The Just Cause
A Good Reason

A word about Paolino

Paolino is not a person, nor did I mean him to be one. He is an abstraction, a way of thinking, of seeing things in a certain light. His language is our own, denoting, if you will, a certain insight and a certain level of culture, a rather rare thing in a grower of flowers who is, moreover a drunkard.
However, his coarseness, if I had allowed it to come through in his language, would have compromised his true nature, transforming him into a real person, which is exactly the opposite of what I intended.
Paolino talks about himself and his fellow men. He refutes consumerism, the world of today as we all, including Paolino himself, know it. He is totally indifferent to the conquest of the Moon and to technical progress in general. He is melancholy, because it is part of his nature. He feels his loneliness, and he feels the melancholy welling up inside him while lacking the strength to rebel against it. On the contrary, isolated and stubborn, he wants to break off all contact with the human race.
In short, he is a misanthropist. He believes himself to have been born and to have lived differently from the rest of mankind and has his own rough-and-ready pantheistic theories to account for this fact. However, he has understood one thing: the more he stays alone, the more his drug will possess him (and his flowers are just as much a drug for him as is his wine), and the more he will feel the urge which he must inexorably obey until its most extreme consequences to abandon mankind and to draw nearer to the animals. He gets to the point where he wants to be an animal amongst animals and to live their life. In fact he wants to return ingenuously, to the origins of the world, to be the ‘only man living on this earth’, so that he can live naturally with his cats or with his sheep, as a cat among cats, or a sheep among other sheep. He wants to share their destiny and to understand their language. This tendency of his echoes some hippy culture ideas and certain Indian contemplative doctrines.
There are other characters in the work: The Just Cause and A Good Reason. They are with him during the last night of his life, but in reality The Just Cause has been with him always and has shared his long days of loneliness; A Good Reason appears only during the final night. They represent his two Fates: The Just Cause has spun the hempen thread of Paolino’s life until the distaff is completely unwound; A Good Reason appears merely to cut the thread.
I knew Paolino well, and I still know him, because he is still alive and working (he really is a flower gardener). I think his mother is also still alive. Paolino has always drunk too much, to tell the truth, but now I think that the doctors have re-dimensioned his vice, leaving him even more melancholy and taciturn than before.
Every now and again I go and see him up there in the greenhouse. I ask him something about the flowers he cultivates, but it ’s all he can do to reply. He touches his beret (worn always and at an angle) with two fingers, both as a sign of a certain respect and to greet me, and he looks at me, absently, through almond eyes buried deep in the wrinkles of his face. He gives the impression of being in a dream, of being far away. What does he think about, how does he live? I have often wondered about it without ever really being able to understand. Or rather I realize that his stubborn silence, his gloominess, hide a certain way of interpreting life, his life, which is completely different from our way to understanding it.
So that’ s how ‘Paolino’ was born. My imagination has worked upon him. He has travelled with me on the various stages of a long and exhausting plane journey. He has consoled my nights, frequently sleepless due to the disastrous effects of being out of phase with a particular time zone .
‘Paolino’ was born as a musical work, since I am essentially a musician, but maybe this music will never be written.
The text has taken such a firm hold on me that perhaps it is now too late to adapt it until it becomes a genuine musical work. It will very probably stay as it is. It will represent my own little ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, and the music which was born in me while I was writing the text probably will disappear into the air from whence it came.
And of Paolino, only a memory will remain.
(August 1975 - during the journey)

A grey interior. A rough wooden table, quite wide and solidly made. Three chairs around the table, one in the center and one at each end. On the right (as seen by the audience) is a pot of flowers, and on the left a large bottle of wine and a glass.
Behind the table, in shadow, can be seen a large window.
The scene is almost in darkness. Only a weak light illuminates the table, where Paolino, thoughtful and silent, is seated on the center chair.
He is dressed in faded, torn overalls. He is wearing a cap on the side of his head, but pushed back.
He is an old man, though perhaps not so old as he might first appear, worn out as he is by his daily work, his face wrinkled prematurely by the sun, his hands trembling from years of drinking. But the impression of age is reinforced above all by his general air of resignation and tiredness, reflected in actions, by now habitual and automatic, slow and precise as a robot’s, which express his whole way of being, of thinking, of meditating. From his appearance the audience should get an impression of unconsolable, hopeless solitude.
In other words, Paolino is a man alone among whole multidutes of his fellow-men whom he never sees or gets to know (nor does he want to), in a world which doesn’ t seem to care whether you get upset or stay calm, live in peace or in war, conquer the moon or achieve ge- neral well-being via progress or any other means. He is basically a misanthropist. The only thing which really interests him is to grow flowers and to spend the profits he earns from this activity on alcohol.
He seems to have no other interests outside of these, and yet he is still a man, a reasoning being; in other words his way of looking at things (whether they interest him or not), his reactions to facts which happen outside himself, his way of interpreting them, arouse certain sensations (nothing excessive, of course!) which in turn provoke in him a deep shudder that only a glass of wine or a glimpse of his beloved flowers can suppress, serving only to increase the profound resignation with which he examines external events.
We hear Paolino talking to himself... represented by A Just Cause to speak and A Good Reason to drink and to die (but has Paolino really lived?).

The curtain rises
Paolino methodically alternates watering flowers and drinking.
Enter The just cause: a woman, ageless rather than old. Almost expressionless, and dressed in a long grey tunic of the same shade as the backdrop. There is a certain gentleness in her resigned, suffering face. She enters silently and strokes Paolino’ s head.
His only response is a sidelong glance, although he shows no recognition and almost immediately sinks back into his gloom.

The Just Cause Well, Paolino?
Paolino What is it? What do you want?

The Just Cause It’ s I, Paolino. Your Just Cause ...

Paolino Oh, you again. I don’ t know what to say to you any more. I don’ t need causes, just or injust, in order to speak ....

The Just Cause Of course you do, Paolino. You think you’ ve never needed me, but, certain evenings, when a flower wasn’ t growing as you wanted it to, or hadn’ t fully bloomed and the wine wasn’ t going down very well, what would you have done without me?... One always needs someone ....

Paolino I’ ve always kept to myself without speaking to anyone, not worrying about other people. And it’ s been a long, long life ... I know only shadows, that ’s all, like blurred photographs.
I walk along the street, surrounded by people who push me, carry me along with them, bump into me; and all I can see around me are shadows. And if somebody passing by strikes you with his shadow, are you perhaps aware of it? The rest of humanity is like a great darkness for me ... a great darkness populated by shadows. And I ’m like a stone lying on the ground where people can sit, if they want, rest and then go away. And you needn’ t think people look back either, when they’ ve had what they want from you.

The Just Cause But you still see your mother when you go home at night ... and she isn’ t a shadow, in my opinion.

Paolino Oh, yes, I see her all right. She rants and raves and carries on about everything and everybody, including me, just because I don’ t answer ... but as soon as she cools off we drink together. She, furious about the world which she says is injust and I, resigned and silent ... and then we both fall asleep, our heads on the table, side by side. Sometimes she even takes hold of my hand, but just at that moment I feel her change into a shadow, and I revert to being a stone ...

The Just Cause But don’ t forget that one day she gave birth to you ...

Paolino Oh, why talk about that? She told me she had me by someone she didn’ t know, but she was always cursing him. I truly believe I was born without conception.
The Just Cause How many things we’ ve said to each other, Paolino, during all your long evenings. After sunset, when the light gradually faded in the greenhouse and you quietly drank away, I came close to you, to be with you when the night fell at last. The flowers had by then become invisible in the darkness, and you talked and talked, as you’ re talking now.
Since deep within all of us, there’ s always a just cause to confide our innermost thoughts to, to talk to ourselves, that’ s what I mean. What I’ ve done, in fact, is to take the place in your eyes and in your mind of the world you have always refused ...

Paolino Oh, I refused it because I well knew it.
Now I’ m not interested in it any more, and that’ s all. (Paolino continues to water his flowers and to drink) Listen. One day I met a woman (the only one, believe me!) when I was a soldier. Then I was declared an alcoholic and unfit for service, and before I came back home, I went to see her. Of course in those days I didn’ t even know what a woman was ... (and did I ever perhaps find out?) ... and she wasn’ t one of those, either, I can assure you, one of those who take money for it. She was an ordinary working girl, a factory worker or something ... Anyway, you know what happened? She hardly recognized me - or at least pretended she didn ’t -...’ Oh, is it you? ’ she said, as if she were talking to just anybody, or to her cat, or to some kind of animal. Anyway, it was at that precise moment that I realized, and for the first time, that those words were coming to me from far away, I’ d say from an infinite distance, from another world and from someone who belonged to that other world while I was from here, on this other side - trying to smile at her, because I was leaving.
And those words buzzed painfully in my ears: ‘ Oh, is it you? ... Oh is it you? ‘ - like a mono- tonous little song, dreadful in its indifference ... And finally I saw the cat: it was really there and it came and rubbed itself against me, purring, perhaps thinking I was its mistress ... And then I saw her again, and she noticed me at last, and began talking ... but talking meant no-
thing to me any longer: I had become the cat, and I watched the woman curiously ... and her image (maybe cats have differents eyes!) faded, went out of focus ... and she kept mo-ving farther away from me, all the time talking, talking ... But what can a cat understand? To my cat’ s ears it was nothing but a series of meaningless sounds: I could hear the tone of her voice, higher or lower, but I couldn’ t understand the sense of the words.
I escaped with the cat following, and I had the curious sensation that I was the she-cat and the tom-cat was chasing me, and I, strangely, was able to understand him. I understood his actions and I assure you that he was talking to me. He shouted something to me, and I unserstood.
Then we lost each other. But on the corner of the next street, dozens and dozens of cats came towards me, and I joined them - and I felt almost happy. But then they also disappeared into the night, and I was left alone ...

(Paolino alternately waters the flowers and drinks)

The Just Cause Paolino, you must be very tired now, and a bit melancholy, too ...

Paolino Have you ever wondered what melancholy really is?

The Just Cause I only know that your melancholy is something which goes extremely deep, it’ s hewn out of loneliness, resignation and hatred of your fellow men.

Paolino No! You don’ t truly know. It’ s more than a state of mind for me - it’ s a particular way of looking at things; it’ s seeing everything in a special light.
When I leave the village, early in the morning, and come up here to the greenhouse where I work, the sun often rises over the mountains behind me. Well, I pull my beret way down over my eyes, so that it almost covers my face. And it never occurs to me even to think: ‘Just look at that, ... how beautiful the rising sun is!’ The sunlight gets brighter, ever brighter - too intense for someone who wants not to see it. The beginning of a beautiful day always means hope for anyone who believes. But not for me! All I can do is put up with that damned light, resenting its carefree beams that flood my way. I keep my eyes firmly fixed on the ground as I go on, and never turn round. That, I think, is my melancholy.
And in the evening when I return home (admittedly a bit drunk), my village is there at the bottom of the hill, with the lights of the houses by now shining in the night; then I feel something grip my heart like a terrible vice - squeezing, squeezing, tighter as I get to the bottom of the hill and draw nearer to the village. At that point I wish the road would become darker and that I would never ever reach the houses.
This also I believe to be my melancholy.
Only the rain or the snow, the short winter days, the mountains disappearing into the distance, the village wrapped in fog from the plain, my feet sinking into the dampness of the dark path, my face stinging with cold, and then at last the warmth of the greenhouse, my flowers welcoming me, their colors opaque in the dim light, and lastly the wine, which warms my loneliness, this too, is my melancholy.
It always possesses you, in every moment of your life, dominates your whole being, I mean it crushes you with endless misery, intangible and unstoppable.
(turning to The Just Cause) Oh, yes, you’re right! Melancholy is always born of a sense of resigned loneliness. And then it can even kill.
The Just Cause Do you mean that your melancholy has penetrated so deep, has grown so much inside you, seeping into every fibre of your body, that little by little, like a sorrowful knife, it is cutting through your bonds with life?

Paolino I don’ t expect anything more from this life. And that knife you’ re talking about is not such a sad thing if it serves its purpose.
Tonight, I think ...

The Just Cause What is so different for you about tonight?
And if what you say is true, have you never thought that even for you a God can exist?

(Paolino gets up from the table slowly; he waters the flowers and then drinks. Then he turns to The Just Cause, a grave expression on his face)

Paolino I have always told you that I feel that I was ‘born without being conceived’. My mo-ther told me that as well, poor old woman, in her ignorance. And I think this could explain to you a lot of things about me. You see, I don’ t know where I came from. I simply arrived, from nowhere, and one day I’ ll just go away - like a different being, if you like, without anybody noticing, because I’ m not like ‘them’. I’ ve only grown flowers and drunk. Who has ever bothered about me? who has ever needed me? who ever has given me anything?

The Just Cause But have you ever given anything to ‘them’?

Paolino No, because for ‘them’ I don’ t exist. I don’ t even exist for God. He has never noticed me, because I’ ve passed over this land in silence, a mortal, terrifying silence which annihilated me as a man. I repeat; I believe, as man, to have never been born. And now I thing my hour has come, but death makes absolutely no difference to me - it’ s always the same silence which will envelop me and annihilate me once and for all.
God is my flowers, with their brief existence and their death. God is my wine, which has consoled my days. These are the things which have made my life; these things will kill me. And perhaps I too am God, since tonight I’ ve decided to leave and join the darkness I’ ve dreamed of. I alone decide with my flowers and my wine, and so this supreme act is an act of God.

The Just Cause But nevertheless it’ s not always up to you to decide - often ‘others’ decide for you: an illness, an accident, I don’ t know ...
Paolino Then in that case I would die like a common animal, like any poor beast, like a plant, as one of my flowers ...

The Just Cause And never as a human being?

Paolino I’ ve already told you: I am, perhaps, not truly a human being at all.
I would have liked to have been born millions of years ago, to have had a large flock of sheep, and to have been alone on the earth. I would have been able to live their life with them, rejoice at their birth, become sad at their death, drink their milk for nourishment and warm myself at night with their skins. One of them, you see, and since there would have been no other human being, I would have spoken their language, and one day, happy among them, I would have died. They’ re dreams, I know, but you see sometimes, at sunset, I look at the far-off mountains. They slowly sink into darkness, and almost disappear in an immense, mysterious silence. And I love to imagine myself there, in great green mea-dows, among my animals, to greet the taciturn night. I would have wrapped myself in white fleece, and I would have fallen asleep, close to them.
That’ s why tonight I have this overpowering sensation that I am to a certain extent my own God, and therefore, it’ s been easy for me to take this decision.

The Just Cause So you no longer need me really ...

Paolino I don’ t need anyone any more. Look at this flower. A whole week I’ ve watered it, and now it’ s born. While I waited for it to be born, I drank; I drank more and more, waiting for the night when I would fall asleep forever ...
Because all these flowers of mine are waiting for me now. This flower, born today, will be the last, and I am dying, peacefully, slowly. I am withering, like them, nothing more.

The Just Cause But why did you want this flower to be born before dying?

Paolino Oh, not this flower in particular. You see, I have lived all my life in this greenhouse, - since I was a child, just think of that! - and I’ ve seen the birth and death of countless thousands of flowers. They fade and wither. That’ s their death. When they were in full bloom I sold them, and I bought myself wine with the money I earned.
And I drank. God, what I’ ve drunk! I think I’ ve drunk as much wine as the water I’ ve given the flowers.
I used to be up here in the winter, in the warmth watching the snow falling outside, always alone. And my flowers seemed even bigger, more beautiful, more brightly colored, because I drank to them, and the snow would fall thicker and whiter ...

The Just Cause But your life has always been like this; since nothing has changed, why put an end to it?

Paolino All of a sudden all these flowers are coming against me ... they are suffocating me ... and now they have all faded, each has died its own unimportant little death ... but all of them together ... all of them together add up to an enormous volume!
They have absorbed all the air in here in an effort to save themselves, and I no longer breathe ... I cannot breathe ... I can only drink to try to sustain my life a little longer.

(Paolino drinks wearily and waters the flower. Enters A Good Reason, in silence as The Just Cause did. She is dressed, like the latter, in grey, and has the same gentle manner. She approaches Paolino slowly, she sits down next to him on the other side of the table and strokes his head, just as The Just Cause did when she entered. Then she speaks to him slowly)

A Good Reason Well, here I am, Paolino, to accompany you on your last journey. We are your two kind sisters.
The Just Cause has spun the thread of your life, without your being aware of it, and now perhaps she has reached the end of the distaff. And so I, A Good Reason, have come to cut the thread ... if that is your wish ...

(While A Good Reason is speaking, The Just Cause rises from her chair and moves left, away from the table, towards the grey back-drop, against which she becomes almost invisible to the audience, save for her face, illuminated by a ghostly light)

Paolino Yes, that is my wish. But first I want for my last flower to die, too.

(Very slowly, almost lovingly, he moves the flower pot to the edge of the table, until it falls off and breaks and the flower is broken away. But the flower is even more beautiful when no longer in contact with the earth which has given it life. A bright light shines on it)

Paolino (to A Good Reason) Look, a part of me has already gone ...

A Good Reason And what is left?
Paolino My wine. Now that the flowers are dead, I have no further use for it.

(With the same slow, almost sacred movement, he pushes the bottle to the other edge of the table, until it falls and breaks, and the wine spills across the stage: and the large blood-red spot is violently illuminated)

Paolino Now that they are dead I want to join in communion with them. (turning to The Just Cause) Do you remember? I was born but not conceived, and now I shall die like Him ... like Jesus - that was his name, wasn’ t it?...
But now don’ t talk any more, so that I can draw closer to them, speak with them, prepare myself for death together with them.

A Good Reason This is not yet death!

Paolino Don’ t speak: I want only silence around me. Now that I no longer have my flowers or my wine I want only silence here in the greenhouse.

(At this point A Good Reason gets up from the table and moves towards the right of the stage, where she stands motionless, facing the Just Cause. Her face too is illuminated by a ghostly light.
Paolino gets up very slowly from his chair and bends over the broken flower. With great tenderness he pulls off a petal, then, still moving extremely slowly, as if carrying out some rite, he moves to the other side of the table and collects some drops of the spilled wine on the petal. He is on his knees by now. He drinks the wine from the petal and then, in a trance, he eats the petal.
The two women approach him slowly, their movements almost synchronized, and help him to his feet. He sits down again at the table, gloomy and silent. The two women speak to him in low voices.)

The Just Cause Now, Paolino, you have partaken of the flower and drunk the last drops of your wine. Now you are free to sleep in peace, because you have performed your last rites with purity ...
Mortal solitude has left you, melancholy has crept silently away, and an old lady will wait in vain for her son to return to drink with her.
Your memories have all faded and the God you say you have within you is now silent. All the shadows you met in the morning as you came here and in the evening as you returned home have now gone away, lost in the depths of darkness. They have disappeared and will never return.
You are now the only man on earth, Paolino.

A Good Reason Now you can put your sheep to graze - your great flock of sheep - up there in the meadows, high in the mountains ...

The Just Cause ... at last you will know silence, calm and unending silence ...

A Good Reason You will live in peace, Paolino, because now, remember, you are the only ... the only man left on this poor earth.

The Just Cause At last you can be an animal among animals, a cat among cats, as you were when you met the woman.

A Good Reason And a sheep among sheep, just as you dreamt during the long winter nights.

The Just Cause The thread of your life is now spun out to its end and will soon be cut, but before you fall asleep, take one last look with your dreamy childlike eyes, your marvellous, innocent eyes, at this deserted nature, bared of all passion. Look at the stars, and the moon as it sets ...

(The two women go silently to the large central window and open it slowly to reveal a clear, star-studded sky. Paolino turns and runs to the window. The spectacle of the night sky, completely enjoyed for the first time, fills him with joyous wonder.
He runs back to the table, picks up his chair, takes it back and puts it down in front of the open window and, turning his back to the audience, he sits astride the chair with his elbows resting on the backrest.
He remains in that position until the curtain falls).

A Good Reason The moon is setting, and you will hear, when it disappears, the sad mewing of the cats, their shrieks, their mournful wailing ... they are calling you, Paolino!

The Just Cause And when the stars are gone too, and the sky becomes light, a great beam will arise over the horizon and the first sheep will start to bleat - a monotonous, tired blea- ting: they want you to go to them.
But now you have found the real just cause, the purpose of your life, and your life’ s thread has spun out to its end ...

A Good Reason ... and the good reason has finally arrived to cut it ...

Paolino Let me look: actually it’ s for the first time, and everything’ s so fantastic! Let me hear these voices, these wails. They are still far away, buried in the night! Let me wait for them to come nearer! Let me listen ! Do not speak!

The Just Cause Everything is in order

A Good Reason Perfectly in order.

Paolino Don’ t talk any more! Let me fall asleep listening. Ah ... now I can hear! Let me fall into this dreamless sleep.
I am at peace at last, I promise you ... definitely at peace!

(The curtain slowly falls on the sleeping Paolino)