Good Night Uncle Joe by David Elendune - Two Act Version

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ACT ONE

Curtain Opens. Beria’s office. Messy. Two chairs surround a desk USR. Files, crumpled bits of paper & books such as the Bible, Kipling & Charles Darwin are strewn across it. A pair of chairs accompanies a drinks table DSL. Stalin’s portrait hangs above the Kremlin phone USC. Blue light bathes the stage.

BERIA (the ghost) enters from USL. He welcomes the audience. It is now.

BERIA: Zdravstvuite, good evening comrades. Let me to present myself: my name is, or should I say was: Lavrentii Pavlovich Beria. For I is, as you say: dead, ghost. Please you should not have fear. I will not hurt you. Promise I could not be trusted to keeps when alive. Well, now is different. Now I only tell truth; is rules.

Yets I can tell from blankness of faces, few of you has heard of me. Is understandable. For was in June 1953 I arrested, shot as counter revolutionary, traitor, spy… And so was through many years hence name of Lavrentii Pavlovich Beria is removed from official Soviet history. Lookings back is true I was guilty of many things (underestimating snake in grass Khrushchev for one) yets not this crimes of being traitor. For believes me, I always loves my country. Perhaps I loves too much. Niet, my crime, if I had crime, was beings powerful, yets not powerful enough to have no crime.

And yets there was time when everyone knew name of Lavrentii Pavlovich Beria. For mine was name even tallest man is wise to be fears of, name belongings to Comrade Stalin right hands man. Da, is hand who hold axe, what your peoples call KGB. Mine was name used by mothers to makes naughty children nice. “Eat your greens my little Babushka or Beria will comes take you in the night.” Perhaps was not something to be proud of. Never-less is truth. And truth is reason whys I here. They has say you must hears to my truth of what happens on this night of March 1st 1953, night great Georgian Bear, Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin will die. For who is I to argue… ”

Sound of a car approaching along a gravel driveway.

BERIA: And now it must begin, as all tragedies do, with arrivals of beautiful woman. Shush my little children, here she comes.

Ghost light cross fades to late night office. BERIA (the man) picks up the phone on his desk. He is now unaware of the audience. It is 1953.

BERIA: Da Karl, of course I hears car, I am not deaf. Well is she as they say? Remarkable. No, let her sweat a whiles. Look her down and up. Smell her hair. Cinnamon, she has done her research! Very good, now you may tell her I will see her. Oh and Karl, offer to take her coat. We wouldn’t want to be forgetting our manners.

ANNA, a pretty young American, enters USL. She hovers in the doorway. 

ANNA: Comrade Beria? I’m Anna… 

BERIA: Anna? Ah, you is the reporter from the Washington Tribune.

ANNA: Post… Firstly may I say what an honour it is…

BERIA: Da, da, of course. Yets I’m sorry… Anna… place is mess, my cleaner is away, holiday she says. Still is unforgivable, you must thinks me subhuman.

ANNA: Honestly it looks fine to me.

BERIA Then perhaps your standards are lower! I is joking with you, not so funny I’m certain. Humour so rarely translates, with exception of Marx Brothers, and Bob Hope, “You can call me Stinky”: very good. I arrange a private showing of ‘Road to Bali’ for you. Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, has not been released in your Americans cinema yets. You like?

ANNA: Yes I like very much.

BERIA: Then is date. Come, come, leave bag, has seat. We should make this comfortable as we can.

He escorts her to the drinks table.

BERIA: Da, da, I hopes my guard Karl did not frighten you. Sometimes he can be too brusque.

ANNA: He was the perfect gentleman.

BERIA: This I doubt.

ANNA: And what else do you doubt Comrade Beria?

BERIA: Oh everything and everyone. Please name then your poison, what do you wish to drink, bourbon?

ANNA: I don’t suppose you have any vodka?

BERIA: Does pope shit in woods?

ANNA: Is bear catholic?

BERIA: Da da, very good, and hows do you take it?

ANNA: “Neat, no ice, little by little. The first charka comes like a stick in your throat, the second flies in like a falcon, the others just dive like small birdies.”

BERIA: Likes good Russian woman should, if there is to be such a thing. “Too much work, ands no vacation, deserves at least small libation. So hail, friends, raise glasses; work’s curse of drinking classes.”

ANNA: Yates?

BERIA: Wilde.

ANNA: Sorry I have no Irish in me.

BERIA attempts an Irish accent

BERIA: “Ah to be sure, would you like some?” ’Guess I should not gives up day job.

ANNA: And just what is that these days?

BERIA: Go on.

ANNA: Umm… well, because up until recently didn’t you used to be the head of both state and internal security? Oh no don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting anything, merely asking questions. Oh dear I can see I’ve upset you. Maybe it would’ve been better if I’d cleared these questions with your people first. But you seemed in such a rush to get me here that I didn’t have time to follow what I understand to be the usual procedures. We could always rearrange. Unless of course I’ve misunderstood and we aren’t having an interview here in which case I must ask what are we doing here? 

BERIA: We is having a drink.

ANNA: Well in that case: ‘Na zdorovje’, Comrade Beria.

BERIA: Please, call me Lavrentii.

ANNA gets up to go to her bag.

ANNA: I hope you don’t mind I’ve brought a tape recorder. It takes a little while to set up but…

BERIA: Just paper and pencil.

ANNA: I really would prefer…

BERIA: You thinks I gives damn what you prefer!?

ANNA: No of course not, it’s just my shorthand’s a bit rusty and I wouldn’t want to misquote you.

BERIA: Yets surely to my people your people always lie.

ANNA: Then wouldn’t it be most rude of me to prove them wrong.

BERIA: Now you be careful Anna, I can always call Karl. Send you back to your editor with tail between legs. Then where will yours precious scoop be?

ANNA: “Unidentified woman found face down in gutter – probable victim of mugging gone horribly wrong. Page four, inside column, evening edition.” Or maybe I’d be a traffic accident, after all isn’t that much more your style?

BERIA: You has balls Mrs. Hewlance.

ANNA: We grow them big in Ohio. Apparently it’s got something to do with the climate. Oh and by the way I’ve reverted to Gresham, my maiden name.

BERIA: Da, da, is great shame when people part in such ways. This is why you requested posting to Moscow?

ANNA: Actually no, if we’re being picky I was headhunted.

BERIA: Picky?

ANNA: It means pedantic, particular.

BERIA: Is great qualities for leader yets not so in man. You disagree? My wife does not.

ANNA: You know, I was warned about you.

BERIA: I would hope so. And just what was you warned about?

ANNA: That you can be charming.

BERIA: And what else?

ANNA: That you have a predilection for pretty young women. It means…

BERIA: I know what means.

ANNA: I’m sure you do.

BERIA: Come now Anna, for you as press should not believes all you hears, or all you write. Besides I thinks you are not so young.

ANNA: Thanks.

BERIA: Is pleasure. So, you really think I would slip something in your drink?

ANNA: One hears rumours.

BERIA: Yets why would I go to such length when there is a hundred thousand Russian women who would each give eager right tit to sit on my lap?
ANNA: Because you don’t want your women to be willing participants: supposedly it’s a power thing.
BERIA reads from her KGB file.

BERIA: “Anna Louise Hewlance, nee Gresham, now Gresham once more, born October 31st 1918, Chicago. Mother, Mary, dies in childbirth. Father, Donald, loses all in collapse of Wall Street. Becomes alcoholic. Disappears one night. Body’s never found. Anna and her two older siblings Ralph and Sarah raised by Great Aunt Jennifer and Uncle Harold, move to Ohio. Spends the 30s scrabbling around in the dirt. Yets dirt cannot hide her splendour. Wins scholarship to Vassar where graduates early with double first in Politics and Late Romantic Literature.

Saturday December 6th 1941 marries local newspaper heir Jack Hewlance. Honeymoon curtailed when Japanese bomb Pearl Harbour very next day. February 1942 Anna is seconded to the American ministry of propaganda. There she makes name for herself. Departs July 1947 to have twins Katie and Jack Junior. Life is good. That is until Christmas 1950 when husband returning from family festivities crashes car, killing himself, the twins and putting Anna Louise Hewlance, nee Gresham, now Gresham once more into six month comma.” It goes on.

ANNA: Not by my choice.

BERIA: Don’t tells me after all this, you still believe in presence of divine!?

ANNA: Hell it’s always good to keep someone around to blame. Anyway surely the question should be: does he still believe in me?

BERIA: You know Anna, sometimes I think God is American. For like Americans, he always thinks he is right. And reason he give for being right, is because he is God.

ANNA: Oh then couldn’t God also be Russian?

BERIA: No, for if God is Russian there’s would be no God because God not believe in God no more.

ANNA: And therefore you don’t believe.

BERIA: I believe in Stalin.

ANNA: Because Stalin has replaced God?

BERIA: Because that which is perfect inspires us to also be.

ANNA: But surely nobody’s perfect?

BERIA: Yets is only when we fail do we know our limits.

ANNA: For to err is human but to screw up is divine!?

BERIA: God does not make mistakes.

ANNA: Of course not. And this makes you what: his avenging angel? Ah, so that’s how you justify your actions: none of these things are your fault, you’re simply following the orders of a higher being!?

BERIA: Is like how Gabriel slaughters all first born sons of Egypt. Oh Anna, don’t look so shocked: is only blasphemy if you believe. Da, for at least I is aware of what I am.

ANNA: And what’s that?

BERIA: You tell me.

ANNA: Oh but that would be too easy, because now you’ve got me thinking.

BERIA: Is very nasty habit. Wills only gets you in trouble.

ANNA: But then I guess if a tree’s to blame anyone it should be the woodsman, not the axe.

BERIA: Ax-actly: “For God made the Devil, and the Devil made sin, so God Alimghty made a hole to put the Devil in!” Yets a hole is only so when viewed from outside; for is not as easy to shrieve men of his sins… you keeps file, finish later, is present.

ANNA: But it’s not my birthday.

BERIA: Then has two birthdays. Be like bear or king.
ANNA: Or Stalin?

BERIA: Da.

ANNA: Oh I don’t think I could ever be like Stalin. However there are many in Washington who think you could.

BERIA: Then they is even more stupid than we thinks they is. Now please we has no mores of this silliness, you will take file, use in your piece, from unnamed source.

ANNA: Pravda will deny its validity.

BERIA: Where is use of story if they did not?

ANNA: I’m touched, honestly, but I really doubt if my readers are interested in me.

BERIA: Mrs. Gresham, everyone is interested in you.

ANNA takes the file.

ANNA: What’s the card for?

BERIA: Ah is code! For here in Russia we has four categories of peoples.

ANNA: And four suits?

BERIA: Da, category one: immediate execution, this is spades. Category two: gulag, clubs. Category three: free, see rhymes, this is diamonds.

ANNA: And category four, hearts?

BERIA: Means “undetermined at present.”

ANNA turns over the card on her file.

BERIA: “For the Queen of Hearts she make some tarts all on a summer’s day. The Knave of Hearts steal tarts and take clean away. The King of Hearts call for tarts and beats Knave full sore. The Knave of Hearts bring back tarts and vows he steal no more.”

ANNA: You certainly do like your poetry.

BERIA: One should cherish beauty in whatever form she comes.

ANNA Even if it’s underage?

BERIA: Do you enjoy playing dangerous game?

ANNA: Depends on whether I’m winning: am I?

BERIA: I don’t thinks you care whether you winnings or not. I think you dead woman walking. I think you wants to be unidentified woman found face down in gutter – probable victim of mugging gone horribly wrong. Page four, inside column, evening edition. For you is too afraid to go on living and wants to join family, yets hasn’t got guts. Da, da and I think you comes here hoping I provide answer.

ANNA: And I think you think too much.

BERIA: Is probable. You knows Anna, you would make very good politician, perhaps president even.

ANNA: Oh but we’ll never have a woman president.

BERIA: Why not, surely appearance of woman is better than reality of man?

ANNA: True, but unfortunately (how can I put this) we tend to trust our women even less than we trust… 

BERIA: God, Russians?

ANNA: I was going to say negroes, but then I guess either of those will do.

BERIA: Negroes. Very good. I must write down, will make Comrade Stalin laugh.

ANNA: And does Comrade Stalin have a sense of humour?

BERIA: In many ways he is still as child.

ANNA: Who’s never had to grow up and gets to play with the most expensive and dangerous toys in the world?

BERIA: Da, is like Peter Pan, niet, tick tock.

ANNA: Well, where I come from we would call such a child spoilt.

BERIA: Yets we is not from where you come. Perhaps you would like to return home, click heels three times.

ANNA: Now how my editor would love that, it’d save him a fortune in travel expenses. Oh shucks, they’re the wrong colour!

BERIA: Is pity, you would look good in red.

ANNA: Is that an invitation?

BERIA: Statement.

ANNA: I see.

BERIA: Do you?

They almost kiss – She pulls away.

[end of extract]


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