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THE ROMAN FORUM SCRIPT


adapted by Antoinette LaFarge
from online performances by the Plaintext Players



©2000 Antoinette LaFarge



A NOTE ON THE TEXT

The text of The Roman Forum (with the exception of Scene 2.7, The Empire Never Ended) was adapted from transcripts of a series of online improvisations by six members of the Plaintext Players, an internet performance group. From March to August 2000, they met regularly to develop and play their characters under the direction of Antoinette LaFarge. Each Player had primary responsibility for one role but also contributed in various ways to the other characters. The final script of The Roman Forum was distilled from this work for presentation on the stage and includes perhaps a tenth of the original material. It premiered in August 2000 at Side Street Live in Los Angeles.

The Roman Forum's six authors are listed below, with the character each Player developed noted in parentheses.

Marlena Corcoran (Poppaea Sabina)
Joe Ferrari (Quintus Roscius)
Richard Foerstl (Marcus Tullius Cicero)
Antoinette LaFarge (various)
Lise Patt (Germania Servius)
Richard Smoley (Petronius Arbiter)






CAST OF CHARACTERS
(in order of appearance)

Quintus Roscius
Roman comic actor of the first century A.D.

Petronius Arbiter
(d. 66 A.D.), Roman author of the Satyricon

Poppaea Sabina
(d. 65 A.D.), mistress and later second wife of the Roman emperor Nero

Marcus Tullius Cicero
(106 B.C.-43 B.C.), Roman philosopher and Senator

Germania Servius
first century Roman slave from the border region of Germania






A NOTE ON THE COSTUMES

All characters wear whiteface makeup covering their heads, necks, and upper chests, as if that part of them were marble Roman portrait busts. They wear white wigs as well. Their costumes should be reminiscent of modern business attire; they may also resemble togas.


SCENE 1.0 TABLEAU
(The stage is very simply furnished with white plaster items whose lineage can be traced to classical times but whose provenance is more likely a garden ornaments store than a museum. These can include such items as column fragments of various sizes, a bench that seats at least two persons, and statuary. A large map of the Roman world in the first century A.D. covers a good part of the floor, painted to resemble mosaic tiles.

Music plays offstage. The stage is very dimly lit. The costumed performers wander in one by one and circle the stage in silence, stopping to pose occasionally as if slowly working their way into character. Some even walk up and down the aisles. At a certain point, they collect along the back wall of the stage; the dim lighting changes suddenly to backlighting. The costume designer enters, arranges them in positions resembling a classical frieze, and walks offstage. A moment later the stage goes black; when the lights come back up it is on the first scene.)




SCENE 1.1 INTRODUCTIONS: QUINTUS AND PETRONIUS
(Characters not in any scene are placed variously around the perimeter of the stage, visible to the audience. In the three Introduction scenes, characters who have not yet played a scene are understood to be actors dressed for their roles but not yet fully in character.

Quintus is seated on a broken fragment of marble; Petronius kneels by him finishing his makeup)

PETRONIUS
Quintus, you know anything much about your profession?

QUINTUS
Can't say I do. I have heard that actors were not very well respected.

PETRONIUS
Well, not surprising since you started out a slave profession. From the first century on pantomimes became popular—much more popular than plays. Became popular, as in new art form.

QUINTUS
And it does seem like much of it was comedic in the lowest meaning of that word. Actors wore fabulous masks. Fart jokes were BIG.
(he mimes a tiny fart...poof)
Evidently it degenerated into vulgar and tasteless spectacles.

PETRONIUS
Clearly a rising profession.

QUINTUS
I like the vulgar and tasteless spectacle part.

PETRONIUS
(he stands up)
Weren't you one of Nero's favorite actors?

QUINTUS
(he stands up)
Quintus Roscius, first century Roman comic actor of such celebrity that his name became an honorary epithet for any particularly successful actor. Born into slavery, Quintus' incredible beauty and wit made him a popular male companion for rich and famous Roman patricians during his youth. He even gave elocution lessons to the great orator Cicero
(he waves at Cicero)
However, his premature balding caused him to give up this career, and replace it with acting. Quintus soon became an apprentice to the great actor Mnester. He was very well paid and gained success through his dangerous talent for mocking the emperor and his court.

PETRONIUS
If I were Nero, I'd have your tongue cut out right now.

QUINTUS
(mimes a very loud fart...poof)

PETRONIUS
Caius Petronius, known as Petronius Arbiter, gave up a promising career as proconsul of Bithynia to spend his days in sleep and in the diversions of life. Indolence brought fame to him as industry did for others, and he was regarded not as a debauchee and spendthrift but as erudite in luxury. And the more casual his words and deeds were, the more they were welcomed as indications of simplicity. Eventually he became the arbiter of elegance in Nero's court. Nero regarded nothing as elegant or pleasant unless he approved.

QUINTUS
Whatever Nero thinks is true.

PETRONIUS
I disdained such low-grade partisanship. I was, however, a good friend of Nero. Not a bad chap in some ways. Shockingly bad poet, though.

QUINTUS
Lies.

PETRONIUS
Why? It's much more pernicious to spread the truth.
(pause)
My end came when I was falsely accused of taking part in the Pisonian conspiracy against Nero. I must read up on what my young friend Tacitus wrote on this matter.

QUINTUS
Sure it was a false accusation?

PETRONIUS
Well, I cannot exactly remember. I may have let slip a dry remark or two that may have indicated complicity to those without a sufficient ear for irony. Frankly, I feel I was too good for this world.

QUINTUS
So what became of Petronius Conspirator?

PETRONIUS
I died in 66 A.D., was it? So hard to recall the date of one's death.

QUINTUS
Know these things to be thine own thought-forms and all that stuff?

PETRONIUS
Like all the other conspirators, Petronius was ordered to commit suicide. He went to a dinner party and opened his veins. When the party amused him, he would bind up his wrists again to chat with friends, although he would listen to nothing about the immortality of the soul or anything else that would please the philosophers, but insisted on hearing light songs and amusing verses. When the party bored him, he opened his veins up again.

QUINTUS
He's gonna have trouble staying alive through the election if he's bored by parties.

PETRONIUS
Also Petronius is the first known novelist in the history of the world. Author of the Satyricon.

QUINTUS
Wasn't that a movie?

PETRONIUS
One imagines that had he seen the Fellini rendition, he would have opened his veins up right fast. That is to say, I would have.




SCENE 1.2 INTRODUCTIONS: POPPAEA AND CICERO
(Poppaea marches on stage and pushes her way between Quintus and Petronius. They move to the perimeter to join Germania.)

POPPAEA
Poppaea Sabina, named for her grandfather, C. Poppaeus Sabinus, a governor of Moesia.
(goes to Cicero, who is reading a book, grabs him by the arm and brings him unwillingly on stage)
She was married several times; during her second marriage—to the future emperor Otho, please note--she became the emperor Nero's mistress.

CICERO
Didn't Nero have a wife?

POPPAEA
Yes, Octavia--who was extremely popular and a true storybook princess, tasteful, spoke good Latin, best girls' schools, etc. But Poppaea persuaded Nero to divorce and banish Octavia so he could make Poppaea his empress instead.

CICERO
Ballsy.

POPPAEA
It is alleged that Nero later had Octavia executed at my instigation.

CICERO
Where's the proof, eh?

POPPAEA
Oh, now we need proof? Nero then married this conniving slut and ...

CICERO
May I just get it right here? Poppaea is a servant who oozles her way into Nero's affections, is put up for coronation, but the public are not happy with Nero's kicking out his first wife and taking this slave/whore as empress right? So why didn't they kick Nero out if they didn't like him having sex in the oval office?

POPPAEA
Everybody knew this was a farc--even the first time around. Only a couple of years after he married Poppaea, Nero kicked her to death while she was pregnant!

CICERO
A real man, I'd say.

POPPAEA
At Poppaea's funeral she was accorded divine honors, thus fulfilling her vow, "I was born a servant, and will die Empress of Rome!" Now that was a truly spectacular funeral.

CICERO
I'll bet no one went.

POPPAEA
The slaves went because they had to.

CICERO
Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106 to 43 BC, was ancient Rome's pre-eminent advocate of commitment to public affairs. An accomplished artist, poet, philosopher, rhetorician, and humorist, Cicero was also the greatest forensic orator Rome ever produced.

GERMANIA
(moving on stage behind Cicero)
Someone has their book open!

CICERO
But to Cicero, service to the res publica--the “public affair”--was a Roman citizen's highest duty. Love this guy.

GERMANIA
Of course you did well--you came from a wealthy family.

CICERO
I was not from a wealthy family. It was possible to rise to political office then based on merit.

GERMANIA
You were from new money--an equestrian family.

CICERO
It's a lie. The background I read said I did not come from money.


GERMANIA
(snatching away Cicero's book)
Well, you were notoriously fond of money and made a lot of it during your life.

CICERO
At age 26 I defended a man prosecuted by a crony of the bloodthirsty dictator Sulla. Lost that case. But ten years later I successfully went after the corrupt Sicilian governor Verres. Next I put down the Catilinian conspiracy. Then my daughter died in childbirth. Tullia. I retired from public life, stayed at home, wrote. Reflected on the importance of personal and family life. My friends were concerned, I was consumed by grief. Mourned her for a long time. A friend finally convinced me to come back to the world... and I pissed off Mark Antony pretty damn bad. Led the Senate's gallant but unsuccessful battle against him. For that I was executed. They cut off my head and my hands and displayed them in the Forum as a gentle reminder to others who might question the government. And Mark Antony said, “Now let there be an end to our proscriptions.”
(he pauses)
I've been a talking head in life and after.

POPPAEA
Cicero and Poppaea--one became Senator, the other Empress.

GERMANIA
Cicero here represents the American dream: public virtue or the appearance thereof plus lots of lovely lolly. Poppaea represents the back side of the American dream: undeserved success and/or riches.

POPPAEA
Bullshit undeserved!

GERMANIA
Deserved how? You won the lottery.

CICERO
When was Nero's reign, exactly?

POPPAEA
54 to 68 AD.

CICERO
Wait... I can't do this... Cicero is dead by then.

PETRONIUS
(from the perimeter)
It's ok to draw from several periods... our audience won't know the difference.
(Quintus waves at the audience)

GERMANIA
And on the Internet everyone is a dog and any time is now.

POPPAEA
Very balanced.

GERMANIA
Allows for human error.

CICERO
Mathematically sound.

GERMANIA
All done by carbon dating.




SCENE 1.3 INTRODUCTIONS: GERMANIA

GERMANIA
Germania Servius. Roman slave. Birthplace uncertain... you know, I don't have to tell you anything.

CICERO
Most female slaves were foundlings. Or born to other female slaves. Or female children sold into slavery. Or captured in war.

GERMANIA
You mean kidnapped?

POPPAEA
Would there be any legal distinction? I mean, what is the difference between kidnapped and captured?

PETRONIUS
Nuance.

POPPAEA
Maybe I'll take this slave to be my personal servant.

PETRONIUS
I think this slave should come from the ends of empire. All those Getae and Pannonians and Sarmatians.

GERMANIA
(consulting floor map)
I would prefer Germany or Egypt. Regensburg, maybe—Castra Regina to you.

CICERO
The Germans sold their women to the Romans in exchange for things they really needed.

QUINTUS
(consulting floor map)
Purple dye... gold armbands... Egyptian henna...

PETRONIUS
Decent wine.

GERMANIA
I wasn't sold, I was kidnapped during one of the campaigns in Bavaria!

QUINTUS
Marble hot tubs.

CICERO
It's true, only the Bavarians were conquered. The big blondes in the north held out, up in Germania Libra.

PETRONIUS
You know, the myth of German racial purity goes back to Tacitus...

POPPAEA
Bavarian, barbarian...

PETRONIUS
...chiefly because he thought that nobody would live in Germany unless they were already from there. Nisi patria sit, in the words of my young historian friend.

GERMANIA
There's no place like home!

QUINTUS
So this slave is female and German? Short and dark?

POPPAEA
It's a slave in Lederhosen.

GERMANIA
I'll be dark but not short.

QUINTUS
Why can't you be short?

GERMANIA
I'll only be short if I can be a dwarf.

POPPAEA
Are there any German dwarfs?


QUINTUS
(momentarily out of character)
Did the Romans hold dwarf-throwing contests?

PETRONIUS
(momentarily out of character)
No, they haven't been invented yet. Apparently they had snail competitions instead--you know, competitions to see who had the biggest and snazziest snail.

GERMANIA
OK, I'll be short but must have webbed toes and I should also have some physical trait that is less than appealing.

POPPAEA
Well, you could certainly be ugly.

PETRONIUS
Thick-accented? scarred?

CICERO
You have the right, though a slave, to pick your own repellent trait.

PETRONIUS
Club-footed?

POPPAEA
And she could smell bad. Smelling bad is versatile.

QUINTUS
Slaves would always smell bad to masters, no?

POPPAEA
You'd think I would be sympathetic, having been born into the ironing class, myself.

GERMANIA
OK, so I'm ugly, scarred, thick-accented, club-footed, web-toed, anything else?

CICERO
I think being German is bad enough. Social deviance is more arty than being physically scarred.

PETRONIUS
True ugliness lies deep within.

GERMANIA
Thank god I'm a slave.




SCENE 2.1 SLAVES HAVE IT MADE

QUINTUS
(to Germania)
You have it made. Slaves are exempt from the army. Don't pay taxes. No junk mail.

PETRONIUS
No phone solicitations.

CICERO
No credit card debt.

PETRONIUS
No college education debt.

POPPAEA
No guilt about sex.

PETRONIUS
No sucking up to senators so they will grant you some promising stretch of land in the port.

QUINTUS
Well, slaves actually could own property.

PETRONIUS
But who would give them any?

GERMANIA
What other perks do slaves have?

QUINTUS
You get to see what your masters look like naked.

CICERO
Health care for life.

PETRONIUS
Even if the life is very, very short.


QUINTUS
All the leftovers you can scrounge.

CICERO
You get to spit in your mistress's food. And pee in her soup.

QUINTUS
And wipe your ass on the tunics you're supposed to be laundering.

POPPAEA
(momentarily out of character)
I had a friend who worked in MacDonald's in high school--and he said they used to have spitting contests. They would spit across the room into the deep fat fryer.

PETRONIUS
Thank you, Poppaea. We all needed to know that.

POPPAEA
(momentarily out of character)
What a sizzle!

QUINTUS
You're exempt from the army.

CICERO
You get to take the day off when the volcano erupts.

GERMANIA
No days off.

PETRONIUS
But you do get to run away.

POPPAEA
And get caught and sent to the mines for life.

CICERO
Travel!
POPPAEA
(to Germania)
And what is your personal favorite part of being a slave?

GERMANIA
Well, I'm innately lazy...

POPPAEA
I'd call that a disability.

GERMANIA
...and I often become temporarily deaf...

POPPAEA
Another disability.

QUINTUS
Another perk of bein' a slave.

GERMANIA
...and I don't have to be nice to anyone for career advancement sake.

POPPAEA
Hey, Slave, make me some coffee!

GERMANIA
I don't do coffee. It hasn't been invented yet.




SCENE 2.2 THIS JUST IN / YESTERDAY'S NEWS: PLOT
(In the original production, this scene changed from day to day during the play's run. It was adapted from live online improvisations done by the Plaintext Players in response to the unfolding events of the Democratic National Convention 2000. The following one of these scenes, "Plot," was performed in the original production on Aug. 15, 2000.

During this scene, the characters are all collected in the Roman Coliseum watching some exciting and brutal spectacle. Their conversation is periodically interrupted by such events as: doing the wave; buying fast foods; standing and saluting the emperor; waving to the plebs; craning to see a particularly gory death; cheering on their favorites; and deciding a contestant's fate with thumbs up or down.)

QUINTUS
Did we find the plot?

GERMANIA
Cicero absconded with it.

PETRONIUS
There are only 36 basic plots in all world literature. Surely another can be dug up.

QUINTUS
I was told there were 16. Or possibly 49.

POPPAEA
Let's have something about two young lovers... a journey... a pirate ship... 3 dragons... and a really long scene in a whorehouse.

PETRONIUS
Well, the basic plots include Go on a Journey. Search for a Treasure. Love Gone Wrong. Any of those sound good?

QUINTUS
I'm not picky. I'll take anything I can hang myself on.

PETRONIUS
How about this: Man bites God. Man loses God. Man finds God.


QUINTUS
Man IS God.

GERMANIA
Woman is nowhere to be found.

POPPAEA
My feeling is that the Democratic convention itself needs a plot, yes? So let's supply it with one.

PETRONIUS
Gore Bites God. Gore Loses God.

QUINTUS
Big Daddy Bill just won't leave the stage.

POPPAEA
(to Petronius)
Why are you so determined to drag God into this? The god in the machine is a crude plot device.

QUINTUS
Bill has a speech that won't stop. 24 hours and counting. The Dems just can't get him out of the spotlight. That's their plot: how to get rid of Bill.

PETRONIUS
While the plot of the Republicans is: how to get rid of Buchanan.

QUINTUS
How do you get rid of someone you love, when their time is up? How does daddy make room for baby?

POPPAEA
So our plot is: how does Al get rid of Bill when everyone loves Bill? This is not very exciting, folks.

PETRONIUS
Especially in August.

POPPAEA
Let's do characters first, then find a plot for them.

PETRONIUS
Who do we keep, who do we get rid of?

POPPAEA
Keep Gore for the young--well, youngish--lead.

PETRONIUS
Keep Lieberman for the old doctor role... the elderly Jewish doctor down the hall who implores Gore to be a mensch for once.

QUINTUS
We can keep Gore as the lead, but he needs a character flaw to overcome. What's his flaw?

PETRONIUS
Being a bore--the hardest of all flaws to eradicate.

QUINTUS
He wants to be interesting, and loved.

PETRONIUS
And I think we can skip the ingenue role, don't you? Emperor Clinton used up all the ingenues in his own tawdry plot.

QUINTUS
Can we use Hillary in a Lady Macbeth role?

PETRONIUS
And Poppy Bush as the lovable doddering old fool no one takes seriously. A role immortalized by Ronald Reagan. Evidently one for which Republicans have a natural aptitude.

POPPAEA
Doesn't this make young Bush the monster whom Gore has to overcome? Not much of a dragon, I'd say. More a smallish lizard.

GERMANIA
You guys demanded a plot, and that's the best you can come up with?

POPPAEA
We demanded it--we didn't say we would come up with it.

PETRONIUS
The author of Satyricon is above such banalities as plot.

GERMANIA
Why don't you work on your own plot? Instead of worrying about the Democrats and the Republicans.

QUINTUS
Yes, what is our big plot dilemma?

POPPAEA
That we don't have one.

PETRONIUS
Didn't Pirandello write some play about this dilemma?

POPPAEA
They were in search of an author, not a plot.

PETRONIUS
But nothing actually happened at the convention yesterday! How the hell are we supposed to respond to nothing happening? I feel gypped!

QUINTUS
Maybe we can say what we want to have happen?

POPPAEA
I would like to be Empress of Brooklyn.

QUINTUS
I want to get laid...but what else is new.

PETRONIUS
I want Bush to lose very, very badly in November.

CICERO
I want Bush to go back to Texas where he belongs. And take Cheney with him...

PETRONIUS
I want the Republicans to prove once and for all that you can't win an election solely by flushing huge amounts of money down the advertising toilet.

CICERO
...and live under a rock and eat scorpions and have heat-induced hallucinations of death-row convicts wondering why he is frying their possibly innocent asses...

GERMANIA
I want some more coffee.

CICERO
...and find God and realize that in his heart he actually is a serious fundamentalist right-wing Posse Comitatus type...

POPPAEA
I would like to take the D train all the way out to Sheepshead Bay and be voted for.

CICERO
...and the stress of living under the rock and eating scorpions and dried sand will make his face scrunch up permanently so he won't be able to talk and he'll have to scratch all his messages in the sand...

GERMANIA
I want Bush to say something very foolish by the end of the week.

CICERO
...only he'll discover he can't write very well because he didn't pay attention at Yale, and now that he is a desert outcast he doesn't have anyone to write for him...

PETRONIUS
I would like to see a long New Yorker piece on Bush's fraternity drug connection.

CICERO
...so he will become mute and curl up under that rock and contemplate the large pores on his fingers and America will be a much, much happier place.

GERMANIA
I believe that Cicero has found a workable plot and we should all go home now.

CICERO
Thank you. I feel better now.




SCENE 2.3 SLAPPING THE SLAVE
(Poppaea hauls Germania on stage by the ear.)

POPPAEA
You're gonna have to do all the work, you know.

GERMANIA
I don't do windows or lunch.

POPPAEA
(slaps Germania)

GERMANIA
This will cost you.

POPPAEA
It's for your empress therefore it is free.

GERMANIA
I knew it!--we're doing this for nothing again!

QUINTUS
(entering)
It might be fun if all the characters took out their frustrations on the slave. When mad at Cicero, slap the slave.

GERMANIA
A slave's work is never done.

QUINTUS
And of course, when mad at the slave, slap the slave.
(slaps Germania)

GERMANIA
You like me, you really do.

QUINTUS
I do for sure, but don't tell anyone.
(slaps Germania)

GERMANIA
(to Quintus)
I don't feel any of these slaps because I stole your dope.

POPPAEA
(slaps Germania)

GERMANIA
I love it.

QUINTUS
(slaps Germania)

POPPAEA
(to Germania)
You could get sent to salt mines for this behavior.

GERMANIA
I'll make some popcorn for the road.

POPPAEA
(slaps Germania)
I had an uncle who worked in the salt mines.

QUINTUS
(slaps Germania)

POPPAEA
In upper New York State.

QUINTUS
(slaps Germania)

POPPAEA
(slaps Germania)
I'm not making this up. It made Brooklyn look really good in comparison.

GERMANIA
I won't go until Quintus slaps me one more time.

QUINTUS
(slaps Germania)

POPPAEA
(slaps Germania)

GERMANIA
(slaps herself)





SCENE 2.4 FORMS OF REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT (1)
(The characters may be playing dice during this scene, except for Germania who plays a background role, perhaps reading a newspaper or her "Romans for Dummies" book, perhaps serving drinks to the others.)

PETRONIUS
(to Cicero)
You get to lambaste the Empire and remind everybody that you told them 50 years ago that if they gave up the Republic, things would come to a preposterous pass--and now look what we've got on the throne.

CICERO
But they didn't give up the Republic. Did they?

PETRONIUS
What do you mean, they didn't?

CICERO
Where are we then? Isn't Nero a republican?

POPPAEA
Nero--a mere bit player in my fabulous life--is emperor of Rome.

PETRONIUS
Hate to break the bad news to you, Tully old boy, but the Republic is as dead as you are.

CICERO
I'm sorry, I'm a solitary man, living alone, reading my books--and I don't watch the news.

PETRONIUS
Welcome to the Roman Empire. Eyes sunk in fat.

CICERO
What happened to the Republic?

PETRONIUS
Augustus “restored” the Republic in 27 B.C., but at the same time made himself emperor for life. We've had emperors ever since. And Nero is as anti-republican an emperor as they come. (pause) That killed that conversation.

POPPAEA
Me, I'm confused as hell about what republicans were then vs. now and is that going to be an issue? But maybe I should be confused?

PETRONIUS
That's because there hasn't been a republic in your lifetime.

CICERO
I'm confused too. Especially as we will have the then and now confusion--Roman republicans, American Republicans. Cause I see Cicero as a moralist and humanist and pointing the finger at Republic and democracy alike.

QUINTUS
There was never anything approaching a democracy in Rome, was there?

PETRONIUS
No, it was always a republic. The chief power lay in the Senate, and the Senate was elected by the people. However, Athens in the time of Pericles was a democracy. Sort of. The people got together and voted on things like waging war.

CICERO
But it still had a titular leader in Pericles, right?

PETRONIUS
Thucydides said that by his time democracy in Athens was in reality a dictatorship by its leading citizen.

CICERO
In other words, an emperor in all but name.

PETRONIUS
Yeah, and when Pericles died, it all started to fall apart.

QUINTUS
Forget Athens, can we discuss the philosophy of democracy vs. republicanism?

PETRONIUS
A republic--where the rich coax the poor into electing them to high office.

CICERO
Be serious.

PETRONIUS
Democracy is the form of government least good when it is good and least bad when it is bad. I read that in Plato when a wee lad.

POPPAEA
You want to explain that a bit more?

PETRONIUS
Sigh. It all has to do with Polybius and the mixed constitution.

QUINTUS
Keep it simple, please

CICERO
Yeah.

PETRONIUS
I'm constitutionally and, I might add, on principle unable to keep it simple.

POPPAEA
For which we'll really try not to hate you.

PETRONIUS
What do you think I am--an American?

CICERO
Well, just sputter, and we'll pick out the good parts. Pretend you are speaking to third graders .

QUINTUS
Or Americans.

PETRONIUS
Three forms of government. Government by the one. Government by the few. Government by the many. Bored yet? Polybius thought the Roman Republic was the best combination of these three.





SCENE 2.5 THE PITBULL PARTY
(Germania suddenly interrupts Petronius's discussion of governmental forms. The others ignore her but appear increasingly bored as she goes on; they start to resemble actors in the middle of a rehearsal who are hoping for a cigarette break. They get move around; Cicero even wanders into the audience and sits down.)

GERMANIA
...and the Times listed Bush's chief business supporters as: oil, tobacco, guns, real estate, and software. The top five things Americans both love and hate. And it covers the whole country. I mean, they could have added serial killers and lawyers to the list, and it wouldn't have been any better. Look at what they left out, Starbucks, the auto industry, the Israelis, major holidays, pitbulls. That's what this country needs: the Pitbull Party. Like Congress but feistier and more effective. And they won't shit in the House. And they only bite strangers. And all those drug traffickers would vote for us, all Mexican Americans--we could motivate a whole new voting wave--immigrants, paramilitaries, employees of animal shelters. We'd lose the Post Office vote, but who cares. We could attract people who don't have social security numbers, and everyone who loves gambling would vote for us. Which is like 95% of this country anyhow. And the running mate symbol should be a fighting cock. A pitbull and a cock. So American. Although the problem with the cock is it's the symbol of France. Which Americans pretty much disdain. We'd have to alter it a bit, give it red-white-and-blue feathers. Some implants. A genetically engineered cock, with tobacco genes and it glows in the dark and crows the "Star Spangled Banner," high notes and all. A little Uncle Sam beard would be nice. Or should the pitbull have that? The beard on the dog for sure and while we're at it, bushy eyebrows, sideburns to appeal to the redneck vote, big teeth and lots of drool. Probably have it wear a red bandanna around its neck to get the cowboy vote and the gay vote. Now that would wake people up. "We Bite, You Beg" "Bite First... Something Later?" "Bite First, Bleed Later". "Bite First, Lick Later". Maybe ‘maul' is a better word. "We Only Maul Strangers". Miniaturize it--the 8-pound pitbull, cute and dangerous. With a little swagger in his walk. Pull in the nervous housewife vote. "More Fun than Mace." Yeah, gotta have a slogan, play up the sweet-but-dangerous element. All the miniaturization freaks would vote for us. And after the election, we set the pitbull and the cock to fight each other to the death. Televise it, get that crocodile-wrestler guy to be the referee--that'll grab Florida--god I loved that show. Trademark the mini pitbull breed and sell it to celebs--get rid of all those stupid ferrets they had last year--a line of designer clothes in that kind of splotchy white--purses to carry your mini pitbull around to sporting events. Actually, we could just make purses that look like mini pitbulls. And we have to think of something that references those pitbull eyes. Light green and very human-like. Or is it beady black and unblinking? I only see them on tv. Set wide apart like sharks. Well, are we done here?




SCENE 2.6 FORMS OF REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT (2)
(Germania returns to where she was before her monologue began. The other characters scramble to return to their places as well and try to continue the scene as if it had never been interrupted.)

POPPAEA
(to Germania)
Slave, take notes.

PETRONIUS
The Romans saw it much as the American Founding Fathers did.

GERMANIA
(hums for "Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies" in the background)

PETRONIUS
Democracy equals legislation by direct vote of the people. Republic equals legislation by elected officials.

CICERO
What is the difference? Both are by vote...

PETRONIUS
In a republic the people don't vote DIRECTLY on the legislation.

CICERO
Ah.

PETRONIUS
Geez, I'm explaining this to Cicero?? Savior of the Republic for about 20 years!

QUINTUS
Give him a break, he's dead.

CICERO
Senile, too.

PETRONIUS
I'm dead too!!!!

POPPAEA
I wonder if it's the word republic that is causing the confusion?

PETRONIUS
(to Cicero)
You were famous for denouncing the Empire--the Empire that broke the Roman Republic. Which doesn't really square with the modern American republic, but we can discuss that later.

CICERO
What I denounced was the lie of pretended leadership, pretended virtue?

POPPAEA
You stood for virtue, the old Roman republican virtue, and against the sort of farce--moral and political--represented by my coronation.

CICERO
Yes, against farce, the faking of representative government through puppet senates, bribery, et cetera.

POPPAEA
I'm sorry to admit I am a farce, but there you have it.

CICERO
I stood for the rule of law with the senate really functioning. And against absolute power as vested in kings-- and empresses. That is my beef with this election: the Republicans want King George and the Democrats want King Cigar Junior.

PETRONIUS
Yeah! America isn't really a democracy, that's what's so misleading about the way people talk about it. It's a republic.

QUINTUS
... "and to the republic, for which it stands"...

PETRONIUS
America was deliberately designed to be a republic. In imitation of the Roman Republic. As interpreted by Polybius and Montesquieu.

QUINTUS
They just have a few democratic bells and whistles, like referendums.


PETRONIUS
(to Cicero)
You would love it in the US of today.

CICERO
Why?

PETRONIUS
Referendum-crazed Callieforn' is a democracy. In a nutty sort of way. Especially given its vestigial and perfunctory legislature.

QUINTUS
Except that their referendums have a habit of being overturned before implementation. The people pass the legislation, the legislature vetoes it, and voila... business as usual

PETRONIUS
I thought it was the courts that vetoed it.

QUINTUS
You're right--the people pass the legislation, the courts veto it, the legislature sits back and cashes its paycheck for a hard day's sloth.

CICERO
But democracy can't even get you good leadership--how could it get you good laws?

PETRONIUS
Don't ask me, podna. I'm a cynical degenerate of the Silver Age, remember?

POPPAEA
So why does everyone call America a democracy then? pure propaganda?

PETRONIUS
Propaganda. And stupidity.

QUINTUS
Clearly the big problem with democracy is that no one trusts the mob, including the mob.

PETRONIUS
No one should trust the mob.

QUINTUS
So the theory of a Republic is, what--we don't trust small groups either, but they're a lot easier to catch and throw in jail?

CICERO
But the idea of the Roman Republic is that the privileged consider the whole and the needs of the many.

PETRONIUS
In theory they did... or don't you remember what a bunch of self-serving scallywags most of your fellow senators were?

CICERO
I do... which is why I made such a fuss.

QUINTUS
How about this: A republic is money and power working for those with money and power--and democracy is the illusion that numbers mean something.

CICERO
Well here is what I believe: that those with money and power should work for those without--that's the Republic. I want both--an election process by the people AND the powerful showing their right to rule by high moral standards.

PETRONIUS
Ideally.

POPPAEA
I'm beginning to understand why these two old men are dead.

QUINTUS
And why politicians sleep around.

POPPAEA
And why no one votes.

QUINTUS
I heard someone refer to American government as a kleptocracy.

POPPAEA
Which is? everyone steals?

PETRONIUS
Yeah, the few stealing from the many.

QUINTUS
I hear I can get a watch if I vote Republican.

PETRONIUS
I hope it's a Spiro Agnew watch. Them sonsabitches is worth money, I hear.

QUINTUS
No... just a Timex. Cheap watch.

CICERO
I refuse to be cynical. There is such a thing as good leadership, and I refuse to pretend I see it in any form of government. Good people trying to do good things for the whole is the goal.

PETRONIUS
(guffaws)

GERMANIA
(to Petronius as she comes forward to help Cicero in some way)
Shove it buddy.

PETRONIUS
You are being very uppity for a slave.

GERMANIA
I have a headache from hearing you pontificate for half an hour.

PETRONIUS
What the hell do you want? They kept asking me!

CICERO
I am an idealist.

QUINTUS
Three cheers for the last idealist in Roman history.

CICERO
And I am stubborn.

PETRONIUS
Good intentions are their own reward.

CICERO
Yes.

PETRONIUS
No good deed goes unpunished.

QUINTUS
Mr. Cicero Goes to Washington.




SCENE 2.7 THE EMPIRE NEVER ENDED
(In the original production, this section was improvised by the actors and evolved from one performance to the next. Each day during the run, the actors created short monologues for themselves from newspaper clippings of the previous few days, focusing on events related to the Democratic National Convention 2000. Different characters worked with different rhetorical structures: Petronius created a “Dear Diary” account of the week’s Hollywood fundraising parties merged with excerpts from the Satyricon; Quintus used banal tourist advice to convention goers as a springboard to talk about the lost history of Los Angeles; Poppaea created a dream sequence in which she tried to make sense of such very un-Roman newspaper topics as plastic surgery and Tipper Gore; Cicero collaged bits of the candidates’ speeches and declaimed them as though they were classical oratory; and Germania wrote a song about a protester who dressed up as a pig and dumped manure on the streets of Los Angeles. Only the song is given here to encourage new improvisations in the same spirit.)

GERMANIA
So I was looking through the L.A. Times and on the front page I saw a picture of this guy, his name is Sean Diner, and he’s an animal rights advocate. He dressed up in a pig suit—he really looked like a pig—and he got a dump truck full of manure and he dumped it in front of a hotel during the convention, but then he got caught by the cops. So I saw this on the front page and then I turned the page and I saw a police story and I thought, hmm, pigs...pigs. And then I turned the page again and I saw this full-page ad that the NRA put in the paper during the convention and it said, “Do Democrats want to destroy the Second Amendment?”, and the answer was very emphatically yes, in fact the Democrats do want to destroy the Second Amendment, and it was signed by the great Charlton Heston. So these three things together inspired me to write a protest ballad. I call it “The Ballad of Sean Diner,” and I would like to sing it to you.
(sung a capella to any balladlike tune)
Well, Seanie Diner was a lad with hair of shining gold,
A simple country lad but he’d ideas bright and bold—
To save the pigs from barbecues and tasty breakfast foods
He made himself a rebel, and his rebellion smelled quite rude.

His plan was this, it just required he don a piggy suit
And then the police stable of its horse manure to loot.
Young Seanie was a sight to see in all his piggy finery;
“Meat is murder,” cried our Sean, “Let’s save the pigs from dinery,
Come on, let’s save the swinery!

There’s pigs and pigs and pigs and pigs,
Which ones are right, which ones are wrong?
And I’m a pig, and you’re a pig,
Why can’t we all just get along?”

And with that wail and a shake of his tail our Sean he dumped his load,
Four tons of crap fell with a slap upon the city road.
But oh poor Sean with pig’s head on the law he did not see,
And those policemen lunged and Sean was taken into custody.

And now my friends the story takes a turn to the bizarre
For at that moment Charlton Heston jumped out of his car:
“To exercise my Second Amendment rights I’ll shoot to kill
This filthy pig, and while I do I’ll think on President Bill!”

Sean heard the shout but a shot fired out of Charlton’s loaded gun;
Sean let out a squeal and fell to the ground; the evil deed was done.
The cops they gathered round our poor boy Sean, so nearly dead,
And with his last strength Seanie he pulled off his piggy head.

(softly) He lay upon a pillow of the reeking fresh manure,
Looked those policemen in the eye, his final words were pure:
“There’s pigs and pigs and pigs and pigs,
Which ones are right, which ones are wrong?
And I’m a pig, and you’re a pig,
Why can’t we all just get along?”





2.8 ORGY
(This scene acts as a transition to The Writing on the Wall.)

QUINTUS
Oh... let's not forget the Roman orgy!

PETRONIUS
Yes, there will be an orgy afterwards, for the help.

GERMANIA
With the help, more like.

QUINTUS
Another case of the rich helping the poor.

PETRONIUS
Let's see, amyl nitrate... hasn't been invented yet... nitrous oxide, ditto... hmmm...

QUINTUS
Well, for the slaves... there can be whipping cream...

PETRONIUS
...no Cheez Whiz, no streaking, no 70s music...

GERMANIA
We slaves regard the orgy as a chore rather than a reward.

QUINTUS
Then you aren't doing it right.

PETRONIUS
...no balloons, no cigars...

QUINTUS
Well, what CAN we have?

PETRONIUS
I can give you swallow's tongue pie. ... tiny roast dormice... hallucinogenic Falernian wine...


QUINTUS
Broccoli?

PETRONIUS
I've never heard of broccoli being fed to humans. Rather a novel idea.

QUINTUS
Broccoli was a major delicacy at Roman banquets. They'd eat it till they threw up.

PETRONIUS
Many of us feel that way.

QUINTUS
I think roast gonads would be nice too, since sex is the undercurrent of everything political.

PETRONIUS
...and, of course, strippers.

QUINTUS
Hell, we set fire to everything and stuff it in our mouths.




SCENE 2.9 THE WRITING ON THE WALL
(In the original production, this scene changed from day to day during the play's run. Like This Just In/Yesterday's News, it was adapted from live online improvisations done by the Plaintext Players in response to the unfolding events of the Democratic National Convention 2000. The Writing on the Wall excerpts are longer than those of This Just In/Yesterday's News and more lightly edited, reflecting more clearly the fluctuating nature of virtual identity.

In this scene, the text is projected on the back wall of the theater, behind the audience, and scrolled like a teleprompter as the actors read it aloud. The actors do not try to perform the scene in any way; the effect is something like that of a staged reading.





2.10 POWER
(Poppaea and Germania are seated side by side, as though waiting for a bus.)

POPPAEA
I'm the only one in Rome who has figured out how to get any power.

GERMANIA
What kind of power can a wife have?

POPPAEA
I'm the Empress of fucking Rome!

GERMANIA
So you wear nice clothes, so what.

POPPAEA
'Course, I still have trouble getting a slave to pin up my dress!

GERMANIA
It's still a chickenshit job.

POPPAEA
Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time. I mean, you would think the empress would be, you know...

GERMANIA
Like being vice-president of America--who cares?

POPPAEA
If Gore loses, it will be because he has vice-president written all over him in letters a mile high.

GERMANIA
Of course, Bush reeks of student council leader, hardly a better prospect...

POPPAEA
You picking up any tips here? You maybe wanna go home and rule?

GERMANIA
Why go home to rule?


POPPAEA
I just want to point out that it is not necessarily the case that Poppaea was a slut, I mean, even though I'm the one who started that. Among us girls--the girl wanted to be empress, and there was just one route.

GERMANIA
All queens, empresses, president's wives are sluts.

POPPAEA
This was before it was common for girls to get elected to the Senate!

GERMANIA
Anyone seeking power is a slut.

POPPAEA
I am not corrupt! I rule!

GERMANIA
(gets up and stalks off)




2.11 EMPRESS OF BROOKLYN

POPPAEA
All hail Poppaea, Empress of Rome! It's so...me. Who cares how I get there? You think it was easy? I was born a servant, and will die Empress of Rome! My road to power is lined with broken hearts, my coronation route lined with Nero's wives before me. Hah! Empress! I, Poppaea, will be wife of Nero! I've got him by the balls now, that sniveling idiot. Wait a minute! Wife of Nero? Married to a depraved moron? And--for how long? The man has the attention span of a large pizza! Empress Poppaea! That'll be fast. What was I thinking? There has to be another way. What if I--what if I--got elected empress? That's it! The hell with Nero; I'd be empress forever! This is the year 2000! Women can do anything; that's what they say. Any minute now, women will be taken seriously. Why, even a girl from Brooklyn--a smart girl like myself--could grow up to be elected Ruler of the World! President of the United States. I'll be fabulous! I mean, what does it take? Qualifications? Please. Look at Abraham Lincoln. He wasn't much to look at, and my God--a lawyer. Hell, I went to Law School. I went to Yale! I could be--what about that girl in our class; the one with the awful haircut. She was magnificent! She had--qualifications! But come on, you think people are ready to vote for a babe? Hey, if you're smart enough to go to Yale, you're smart enough to figure out that one. Face it, she made a smart move: she married that bozo with the Neapolitan accent and moved him into the White House! I could go her one better: I'll marry the guy who's already IN the White House! No, wait a minute, Poppy: that would be Nero. You want to go down in history as--Mrs. Nero? Vote for Poppaea! Empress of Brooklyn!




2.12 BATHHOUSE: TITLES
(This and the next two scenes take place in a Roman bathhouse. Germania stands by holding towels for the men.)

PETRONIUS
The Emperor has a request for us. It's really a command of course. As you know the empress is shortly to be crowned, and the emperor requires that she have a multitude of worthy titles. Such as... Empress of Brooklyn.

CICERO
What kind of moron would want to be Empress of Brooklyn?

PETRONIUS
She is a moron, but she's our moron.

QUINTUS
Sucking up to the empress eh?

PETRONIUS
Of course... a courtier cannot be a fool.

CICERO
They can't very well boo his mistress at the coronation.

PETRONIUS
Not loudly.

CICERO
So we have to be subtle in our criticisms or we lose our heads. We don't come flat out and call her a harlot.

PETRONIUS
Exactly.

CICERO
First Lady? Second Lady?

PETRONIUS
(to Cicero)
You are the one we are counting on for rhetorical circumlocution.


CICERO
She Whose Future Is Assured?

QUINTUS
She Whose Assets Are Highly Visible?

PETRONIUS
Love Connection of the Julio-Claudian House.

QUINTUS
Patron Goddess of Stomachaches.

PETRONIUS
She Whose Menses Bring Fertility to Our Land.

CICERO
That's hitting below the belt.

PETRONIUS
She Whose Countenance Is Worthy to Be Illumined Only by Human Torches.

QUINTUS
Hard-Stompin' Truckin' Momma from 65 A.D.!

PETRONIUS
She Whose Vengeance Is to Be Wreaked on the Evil Laundry That Lost My Shirts.

CICERO
I like the personal touch.

PETRONIUS
A curse on that laundry!

CICERO
What about a sniper taking Poppaea out at the crucial moment?

QUINTUS
She Who Is Too Late to Execute That Upstart Cicero.

CICERO
Have snipers been invented yet?




2.13 BATHHOUSE: LATIN

CICERO
Do we get to speak Latin? Or would that be elitist in a democracy?

PETRONIUS
Fuck democracy.

QUINTUS
Sure, further alienate our audience.

PETRONIUS
Isn't alienating the audience what postmodernism is all about?

QUINTUS
Let them eat cake?

CICERO
We can make up the Latin so it soundus likeus.

QUINTUS
O ackem gackem.

PETRONIUS
A mediocritatem non auream.

QUINTUS
Choose gold over mediocrities?

CICERO
I see no gold.





2.14 BATHHOUSE: VOTING

CICERO
The last elections would have been... when, Petronius?

PETRONIUS
Well, realistically, around 48 B.C. Before Julius Caesar made himself dictator.

QUINTUS
When elections are pointless, other means are necessary to advance power; i.e., coup attempts and slander.

PETRONIUS
When are elections not pointless?

QUINTUS
Exactly the larger point.

PETRONIUS
(to Cicero)
You're the only Republican here, did you ever have fantasies of being emperor yourself?

CICERO
Not enough money in it. There isn't enough money in the world to get me to be emperor. No, I would rather influence rulers quietly from the side lines. And keep them in line with laws.

PETRONIUS
Have you noticed that rulers don't listen?

CICERO
The circumnavigation of overt politics for hidden politics.

QUINTUS
We create drama to cover the empty pointlessness of voting.

PETRONIUS
Americans will vote for anything.

QUINTUS
Poppaea's climb to power is part of the story.

PETRONIUS
Nobody voted for Poppaea.

QUINTUS
The power of nasty actions.

PETRONIUS
In fact, they would have voted for Octavia.

CICERO
But only Nero got to vote.




2.15 ONLY ONE ZEUS
(Cicero stands motionless, with one arm towards the audience.)

CICERO
The Gods weep for us, O people of a once great nation! They weep because we used to know them and admire them and be inspired by their strength, beauty, wisdom, and grace. We invented the Gods. And they in turn gave us myth, story, good and evil, honor and nobility. They reminded us of our mortality. It is by these things that men know us. Know who we are! There is only one Zeus, one Helena. We trusted in them not to destroy us or abuse us but to lead us by example. But woe to the Gods whom we have destroyed, and woe to ourselves, for we have sawed the branch on which we sit. One sense of justice does not match another. One sense of compassion does not match another. One sense of honor does not match another. What hope of community have we then? Republicans. Where is your compassion? Democrats. Who do you represent? What if we can't find a God? What if there will be no one to lead us? There is only one Zeus, one Helena. I'm old and dead. My time is past. But I have something in common with you. Without Gods you are old and dead too. There is no vitality, no life where there is no ideal. Children of a once great nation! So much was promised you! And you are so alone. There is only one Zeus. Only one Helena.




2.16 EPILOGUE
(This scene could take place as part of the bows.)

PETRONIUS
Time to clean up all the fallen words.

QUINTUS
All the good stuff happens after the curtain is rung down anyway.

CICERO
Shouldn't we be lamenting something?

POPPAEA
Is this scene just going to piddle out?

GERMANIA
Nothing fast exists.


END