Messiah in America: Act III

[The complete play, published on Amazon, has full notes for obscure references, which could not practically included in this serialization.]

Scoundrel Johnnie’s office. Lots of telephones. Maps on the wall, lots and lots of ingenious machines. Electric signal lights in all sorts of colors blinking on and off.

Zip: (Near him Charlie, the Barker.) The main thing is—gadgets. It doesn’t matter if they save time or not. A gadget is a beautiful thing in itself, even if it doesn’t work. For example, Charlie, this gadget with the signal lights I invented to tell me who’s calling on the phone. If they owe money, it lights up green. But if it’s your own wife, yellow. A lover, blue, and so on . . . The lighting effects themselves work quite well. But it doesn’t actually do anything. (Telephone rings. Green light comes on.) Hello? Who? Huh? Genevieve? Madeleine? How are you? Comment vous portez-vous? (Pauses conversation. To Charlie.) See how reliable it is? They don’t owe anything. It’s a French dictionary. Heh heh. You know, one of those dictionaries you can take to bed with you. She’s taught me a lot of French pretty quick. (To her.) Yes. Je vous remercie, darling. Tomorrow night at the Hotel Wyndham? Alright. Bring your bag. Ooh-la-la! Je suis bien fâché. But you know, in New York they won’t let a man and a woman check in for the night without luggage. New York isn’t Paris. Ha ha. Eh? What? Ok. Goodbye. (Tips his hat in a gentlemanly way. Charlie, too. They forget the lady is on the telephone) Oh yes! I’m very busy. A lot of business, you know. Au revoir! (Hangs up, speaks to Charlie.) You see, Charlie, this Menachem-Josef of ours thinks he’s a big deal. He forgets there’s a Mister Zipkin in this world. Well, I’m not going to let him deal any longer, no sir. Oh no. It’s true, he’s got a good head, this Menachem-Josef, I’ll give him that, but he doesn’t scare me. We don’t scare.

Charlie: We don’t scare. Ever.

Zip: (To Charlie.) Are there a lot of people in the waiting room?

Charlie: Three. Two men and a woman. The men came first. Shall I show them in?

Zip: Let them in. Let’s get ready. Have you heard any news about Menachem’s Messiah? (Picks his nose.)

Charlie: That guy? They say he’s pulling in barrels of gold.

Zip: Really? Gold? Barrels? Pulling it in? Listen, now, listen. Let me think a minute. (Puts his hand on his forehead.) Don’t call them in, Charlie. (Thinks.) Let me think this through a bit. (Pause.) You know what, Charlie?

Charlie: What?

Zip: We’ll get our own Messiah—and a better one than Menachem’s. Charlie, brother, we’re going to deliver a modern Messiah. A Kovner Zionist with a monocle. He’ll speak English. A Messiah that can ride a motorcycle. A Messiah that can dance, a modern Messiah, in every sense of the word, as they say. I hear that our little Menachem’s got a Messiah for men, so I’ll get a Messiah for women.

Charlie: You think that’ll work, a Messiah for women?

Zip: You know the rule, Charlie, it’s always better to sell to women than to men. Take a simple thing like doctors, for example. Who does better business? The ones who specialize in men’s problems or the ones that specialize in women’s problems? (Enthusiastically.) Charlie, my man, you know what this means? A Messiah for women? It means a double Messiah—one for both men and women. Because a Messiah that’s going to be a hit with women—a young athletic good-looking Messiah— he’ll be a hit with the men too, because every woman will, so to speak, be a promoter for our Messiah. . . . And this Messiah of ours, he doesn’t come riding a horse or an ass. Like I’ve already told you, he comes riding a motorcycle—at seventy miles an hour. Oh yes! Not like that ruptured Jew, but a young he-man—a Douglas Fairbanks.

Charlie: Do you already have someone or are you going to get someone?

Zip: I’ve already got one.

Charlie: Already?

Zip: Yes, I’ve got one.

Charlie: Just like that?

Zip: Just like that.

Charlie: Where’d you find him? Who is he? What’s his name?

Zip: Dr. Shimen Kestleberg who’s just arrived in America a week ago from Kovno. He’s a Kovner. He actually came over to give speeches to the Zionist organization in America, but I don’t think he’ll object to having a little extra work on the side.

Charlie: What are you talking about? That guy’s an idealist, a martyr.

Zip: Well, yes. Since he’s an idealist and a martyr, I’ll have to pay him 150 dollars a week. If he weren’t an idealist and a martyr, I could get him cheap. Heh heh heh. Since he’s an idealist and a martyr, I’ll have to throw in an extra hundred dollars a week. But it’s worth it. Charlie, I think that a Zionist, a martyr, understands business better than a regular Jew. Besides, our Messiah already has a lot of friends in the press—that’s worth something, too, no? (Different.) Call the people in. Goodbye!

Charlie: Goodbye.

 (The Inventor enters. He speaks quickly, asking questions and answering them himself.)

Inventor: Well. Of course you’ll permit me. Why wouldn’t you permit? So I’ll sit. Why not? Why wouldn’t I sit? That is, just so, eh? A train goes, yes? Of course it goes. Why wouldn’t it go? And why does it go? Because it has steam. If it didn’t have steam, it wouldn’t go—true or not? True. And so it’s like this. If you’ve got steam, you go. If you don’t have steam, you don’t go. Am I right or not? If so, then here’s the question. Or not? So why doesn’t a samovar go? The truth of it is just this—and that’s what we’re after— samovars should go. And if you want to ride off, you should be able to sit yourself down on a samovar, and away you go. Do you get it? Of course you get it. And what do we gain from it? We gain eight things. First, you don’t have to buy train tickets. Second, they won’t have to print tickets. Third, you won’t have to look for hot water to make tea. Because when a samovar goes, it heats up and when it whistles, it boils and when it boils, you throw in some tea-leaves and you can drink. On the one hand, you drink and on the other, you drive. That is to say, it drives, it drinks. You drink, you drive. How many’s that so far?

Charlie: Three.

Inventor: Yes, that’s three so far. Fourthly—but why talk? The less talk, the better. True or not? True. Here are the diagrams. (Shows him the blueprints.) Why did I come to you Mr. Zipkin and not to someone else? The truth of it is, as everyone knows, Mr. Zipkin likes patents, efficiency, inventions. It’s no small thing, all of America will follow your lead. So should God help us. You’ll soon be as popular as President Lincoln or Captain Dreyfus or Mary Pickford. So. What do you say? Do you like it?

Zip: That is a serious question, my dear Jew. This deserves deep thought. (Thinks.) I’ll tell you what. Leave your diagrams with us. Leave all your material. We’ll think it over. Goodbye. I think it will be alright.

Inventor: (On the way out.) Adieu. And let’s hope that all America will soon be riding samovars. Or not? Why not? People will ride. And the more they ride, the more gold I’ll be sitting on. Long live America! Hooray for America!

Zip: Hooray.

Charlie: (Comes flying.) Hip Hip Hooray!

(Music—a little bit like Yankee Doodle.)

New Messiah: (Accompanied by two Reporters.)

First Reporter: (To the tune of Yankee Doodle, chorus first.)

Now, we’re bringing you a Big Shot,
Bringing joy to one and all.
Soon—hooray—we will be dancing
All around the Golden Bull.


Oh happy bull! Oh happy day.
Whoopee! Happy! Yippie!
Long live every Zionist!
Now that’s good for business!

Messiah: (To Charlie.) And with whom do I have the honor? S’il vous plait. Reden Sie?. . . Sprechen Sie?. . . Beloshen ivrim?. . . Yesh li

Charlie: I’m just Charlie. That guy’s the boss.

Messiah: The Gentlemen of the Press, if you please, have told me you’re looking for a Messiah. Is that true?

Zip: It’s true.

Messiah: True? Yes? (Motions to the Reporters.) These are my agents. Five percent commission if the deal goes through, bitte sehr, s’il vous plait. proszę panę. Bevakosha

Zip: Sit, gentlemen.

Both Reporters: We’re sitting already. Just so we sit. We’re already seated.

First Reporter: My name is Ab—ra—ham.

Both Reporters: Abe, Abe, Ham—Ham—Ham. Abraham.

Second Reporter: And I’m called Moyshe.

Moy, Moy, Moy,

Messiah: I think that all the same, for my part, I require no introductions. I am Dr. — (Shows his calling card.)

Zip: I know. I know.

Messiah: I am a great idealist.

Zip: (With a sigh.) We know that, too.

Messiah: (Also with a sigh.) We know.

Both Reporters:

He is a great idealist
But makes a buck—he can’t resist.

Messiah: I am, good sir, a martyr, just like Captain Dreyfus.

Both Reporters:

Drey, Drey, Drey,
Just like Dreyfus.
Messiah: Also like Mendel Beilis. Wissen Sie?

Both Reporters:

 Bei, Bei, Bei,
Li. Li. Li.
Es. Es. Es.
Mendel Beilis.

Messiah: (To them.) So, good sir. I have a wife and two children and the children, wissen Sie, need to eat well and drink well and sleep well and have good minders. My wife likes to wear the best Parisian clothes, travel to the hot springs, play preferans, roulette, pinochle. (Pause.) My daughter, proszę panę needs a good horse to go riding in the Bois-de-Bologne, wissen Sie! So be it. Nichts zu machen. It can’t be helped.

Both Reporters:

 Can’t, Can’t, Can’t,
Be. Be. Be.
Can’t be helped.

Messiah: (To them.) What’s more, widzi pan, I’ve got a girl suing me for thirty thousand dollars damages. I supposedly stole her honor. So she says. (Sarcastically) Her honor!

Both Reporters:

Aw, Aw, Aw,
Stole her honour.

Zip: So, in short?

Charlie: Altogether?

Messiah: It’s very simple, widzi pan. I want 260 a week for redemption, good sir. Don’t forget that I’m an idealist. Martyrs and idealists are in short supply in America.  Widzi pan, America is the land of materialism.

Both Reporters:

 Ma, Ma, Ma,

(From here on, it goes quicker, cartoonish: recited melodramatically or sung.)

Zip: I’ll give you 110. (He stands up and quickly sits back down.)

Messiah: (Likewise.) I won’t take 110.

Reporters: (Also likewise.) He won’t take 110.
110 he won’t take.

Zip: I’ll give 115.

Messiah: I won’t take 115.

Reporters:  He won’t take 115.
115 he just won’t take.

Zip: I’ll give 125.

Messiah: No.

Zip: 150. And not one cent more.

Messiah: Wie Sie wollen! That’s your business. N’est-ce pas? I will not redeem the People of Israel from exile for less than 200 dollars a week. Don’t forget what an ancient people they are. And what a stubborn one. It’s no joke, redeeming a people like that. And besides, there’s expenses—gas for my motorcycle. Surely you don’t expect a modern Messiah to come riding on an ass. (German.) Das wäre ja scheußlich, and what if the donkey did something? Well! What a mess!  N’est-ce pas? Of course!

Reporters: Here’s our compromise offer. 175 dollars a week and gasoline.

Zip: Fine. It’s a deal. But you supply the motorcycle. Bring your motorcycle here. Let’s see it works.

Messiah: Oh, that’s rich! My own motorcycle? What am I, a Rockefeller? I have my own oil well? I want two hundred dollars a week and a motorcycle.

Zip: A stubborn guy. (Whispers with Charlie.) Well, alright. It’s a deal. What can you do? I’ll give you my own motorcycle. It’s a little bit used, but perfectly good.

Messiah: (Hesitates.) There’s still the question of whether your motorcycle is in good working order.

Zip: What? You don’t believe me? You don’t believe Zipkin? That’s lovely. (To Charlie.) Get the motorcycle. Let him see for himself. (Near the doorstep. Tries the bike. It works. Makes a clamour)

Charlie: If we’re agreed, then let’s drink a toast. (Brings liquor. They drink.)

Zip: L’Chaim! With God’s help, good business.

Messiah: (Sung.) Mead is mead and schnapps is schnapps.

Reporters: So kick up your heels and give a hop.

Messiah: Give a kick with your feet, spin your head this-a-way

All: And let’s all shout: Hip Hip Hooray!

Messiah: Alright then I’ll try out the motorcycle myself. Watch out. Out of the way. (Exits.)


Ever onwards with the news
Telling tales about the Jews.
Helter-skelter we scurry about
Trying to get a newspaper out.
Hooray. Hooray. Hooray.

All: In the paper today.

Reporters: For we’re just cronies

All: At the bridegroom’s party.

Zip: Now we’ve got it! We’ll show him, our little Menachem, how to bring a Messiah. Call that a Messiah? We’ll show him a Messiah. And a modern Messiah, no less. And for women, no less. And on a motorcycle, no less, at seventy miles an hour.

(We hear noise from the motorcycle. Everyone rushes to the door.)

First Reporter: What is it?

Second: Flossie just slugged our Daytsher, Dr. Kestleberg, our Kovner Messiah.

First: What for?

Second: She says he seduced her.

Zip: So. He’s her seducer. The swine (Starts for the door, then stops.) Aahh,  there’s no point making a fuss about it. Business is business.


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