The curtain goes up. Menachem-Josef sits at the table with his secretary Jackie Bluffer, a healthy, loud-mouthed boy with more balls than brains. Menahem wears large, black-framed glasses.
Menachem-Josef: (Has a large handsome greying head, a sick, restless, feverish, energetic face. He spits continuously as if he had something stuck to his lip.) It’s gotta be new! It should make a racket! We haven’t done anything new in a long time.
Jackie: I had new business cards printed up for you Mr. Menachem-Josef. You’re really gonna like them. Here. (Holds up a calling card. and reads) Menachem-Josef, Theatrical Producer, Number 32 Broadway, New York. Now, read the motto.
Both: (Almost a duet) “You can curse my mother, just remember my name.”
Jackie: So, do you like it?
Menachem-Josef: It’s good. It’s good. Bravo! (Slaps Jackie on the back.) The main thing, y’unerstan me, it’s gotta make a racket. It’s gotta go beyond. You get it? You think I need the money? I don’t have enough money? (Sad.) I have so little money. If that Scoundrel Johnnie has eighty-five thousand dollars, I’ve gotta have at least ninety thousand. Just to spite him, y’unerstan?
Jackie: Of course I understand. My brains haven’t shriveled. (Flatteringly.) Otherwise, how could I be your secretary? (Kissing ass.) A fellow needs his head screwed on to be your secretary.
Menachem-Josef: My wife always nags me. I work too much. I don’t watch my health. What do you think? You don’t think she’s right, my wife? But it’s not about living, it’s about out-living the other guy. Y’unerstan? If Scoundrel Johnnie lives to be sixty, I’ve gotta live to sixty-one. And if he lives to 102, I’ve gotta live to 103. (Remembers.) Listen, what happened with that Swedish ballet, Jackie?
Jackie: Nothing happened. They wanted too much money.
Menachem-Josef: There’s no such thing as too much money in show business. The more money an artist gets, the greater he is. That’s what the (Rolls his eyes.) discerning audience thinks. Ha ha! The great, aristocratic audience—They like to be swindled. Remember when I put on The Golden Peacock? At first, nobody came. Remember, Jack? Tickets were cheap. And nobody came. And the musicians and the choir cost us a pile of money. So what did I do? I got rid of half the musicians, fired half the choir, doubled the price, and they started coming. (Differently.) The Swedish Ballet—how much did they want?
Jackie: Thirty-two hundred a week and a guaranteed sixteen weeks.
Menachem-Josef: That’s too much. Not worth it. Anyway, they’re probably too good. American audiences won’t like it. Whaddaya say? Maybe a woman that killed a few people? Or maybe a pretty girl who jumped from the twenty-first floor and didn’t die.
Jackie: There was a woman like that.
Menachem-Josef: (Perks up.) What did she do?
Jackie: She swallowed her own teeth. Three times already. The papers were full of it.
Menachem-Josef: Good. Bring her here. We’ll put her name up in lights. Can she sing?
Menachem-Josef: Can she dance?
Menachem-Josef: Can she play an instrument?
Jackie: Not that either.
Menachem-Josef: Can she walk a tightrope? Can she crochet a sock with her feet?
Menachem-Josef: Is she pretty?
Jack: No. (Unhappy) She can’t do anything except swallow her teeth.
Menachem-Josef: In that case she’ll be good for later in the season. Right now, early winter, we need something better. It’s gotta grab ’em. It’s gotta make a racket. Y’unerstan?
Jackie: (Thinking.) I’ve got it!
Jackie: A spitter!
Menachem-Josef: A spitter! What do you mean, a spitter?
Jackie: It’s something new. It’s a guy who can spit further than anyone. His record is six meters.
Menachem-Josef: Six meters is no big deal. I think somebody’s already spit further. He’s been out-spit.
Jackie: (Hurt.) What are you saying Mr. Menachem-Josef? Nobody’s spit six meters. Except the Philadelphia Spitter. And that guy’s dead.
Menachem-Josef: (Earnest, philosophical.) That’s how it is. The best in the land are all dying out. (Pause.) How much does he want?
Jackie: The spitter? He charges 450 dollars a show. I think it’s an honest living.
Menachem-Josef: If that’s what he makes, that’s what he earns, of course. There’s no question. But for me, it’s too much. I’m not in it for some cause here. It’s not like I’m trying to bring the Messiah.
Jackie: (Brought up sharp by the last word. Something’s just occurred to him.) What did you say? Messiah? And why not bring the Messiah? If you can make a dollar, why not? How is the Messiah any worse than a spitter?
Menachem-Josef: Is that just talk or do you mean business!
Jackie: I mean business. (Draws closer. Becomes fervent, eloquent.) You see, it’s like this: In America, we have a lot of Jews. In New York alone, we have God knows how many Jews. Am I right or not?
Jackie: So. Good. Figure like this. Every Jew is waiting for the Messiah. And every Jew that’s waiting for the Messiah can afford, let’s say, a dollar seventy-five for a ticket. Am I right or not?
Jackie: Figure like this. Two thousand people a night at a dollar seventy-five, we gross 3,500 dollars a night. Am I right or not?
Jackie: Figure like this: Seven shows a week, plus two matinees, Shabbos and Sunday, we have nine shows a week. At 3,500 dollars a show. That makes. . .
Menachem-Josef: (Cool and cautious.) Wait. Let’s shut the door. (Does it, looking around to see if anyone’s listening.) All in all, I like it. Let’s do it. But where are we going to get a Messiah?
Jackie: Hang on. We’ll get to that. Meanwhile, figure like this. (Picks up a piece of paper. Computes, writes, erases, crumples up the used paper, throws it away.) Besides the 3,500 dollars a show we can also have private redemptions, too. Every Jew who wants to be redeemed has to pay thirty-five dollars. Even better: We’ll start a Joint Share Redemption Society in the Messiah’s name. What’s his name anyway, this Jewish Messiah?
Menachem-Josef: God only knows!
Jackie: Well, it doesn’t matter. We’ll call the society simply “The First Messiah Redemption Society.” Five dollars a share, and when you have fifteen shares, you’re redeemed.
Menachem-Josef: (Forgets himself for a moment.) From what?
Jackie: The hell should I know. What difference does it make? Jews want someone to redeem them. Good. We’ll redeem them. The main thing is, it’ll make a buck. Ha! What do you say, Mr. Menachem-Josef? A good idea or what?
Menachem-Josef: Yes. An excellent idea. Most of all, I like it because it’s democratic. With us, there’s no aristocrats, no fat cats. Pay your five dollars and you’re redeemed. No second-class redemption for the poor. They can be redeemed bit by bit.
Jackie: You can be redeemed on the installment plan, as a special for the poor. Sort of a third-class redemption. How does this sound: you pay in fifty cents a day, in ten days you get a coupon, and in around 150 days, you’re a redeemed man.
Menachem-Josef: (Thinks and thinks.) On the whole, the more I think about it, the more I like it. I like it better than the spitter. I mean, the spitter isn’t bad either. Don’t get me wrong. But he wants too much. If we make money on the Messiah, then later we can get the spitter, too. But the thing is: where are we gonna get a Messiah?
Jackie: I’ve been thinking about that. Where exactly can you get a Messiah? Hmmm… I have it! I have an uncle. He’s a greenhorn — fresh off the boat. Been here for two weeks. From Galicia. Still wears a big velvet hat and peyes. It’s like this: If we can persuade him. Hang on I’ll just call him up. (Into the telephone.) Hello, Jackson 4031. Yes. Hello. Uncle! Uncle Simcha! This is Jack. Yankel. Yes, Yaahnkel. Listen, Uncle. I have some business for you. Come over here. Take the train to 43rd Street. It’s close by. But come right away. We’ll wait. Ha! What? Well of course. You think it’s free? Ok, fine. But don’t delay; we’re waiting. Goodbye. Goodbye. (Hangs up the telephone.) He’ll be here soon. You’ll get a look at this bird. If this guy isn’t the Messiah, I don’t know who is. The main thing is, we can get him cheap because he’s out of work. He’s also sickly, so he can’t do heavy work. And he can’t spend too long on his feet. Also, he has a . . . you know, a . . . (whispers in his ear) hernia.
Menachem-Josef: It doesn’t matter. On the contrary, it’s even better. A Jewish Messiah should have a hernia. We should start thinking about a poster. Something like … It should just scream! With a portrait of the Messiah and endorsements by rabbis and priests and all that stuff. The main thing, it should make a racket. (The black phone rings.) Who’s speaking? Hah? The man from the furniture company? (Angry. Disguises his voice.) No. Menachem-Josef isn’t in. Ha? What? Yes. He’s out of town. Ha? How long? For a year. (Curt.) Goodbye! (Before he’s hung up the little phone rings. He holds it and cradles it lovingly while saying goodbye into the other phone. Now he speaks gently and lyrically.) Ha? Anna? How are you, my love? Yes. All’s well. Jack and I are just setting up a great deal. Scoundrel Johnnie is going to look like a seven month runt next to us. Ha? No, I can’t talk about it on the phone. Yes, my dearest. Thank you. What would I like to say to you? What? Yes, of course I do… Good. Goodbye, sweetheart, goodbye. Goodbye. (The big phone rings again. Gives the phone a dirty look. The transformation from nice to nasty should be agile.) Ha? What? Who’s speaking? The man from the electric company? (Suddenly very mild to Jack while covering the mouthpiece.) Do you know who that was? That was Anna, the Daytshke from the circus. (To the telephone.) Ha? Mr. Menachem-Josef isn’t here. (Again to Jackie, gestures for him to take the phone.)
Jackie: (To the phone, like Menachem-Josef.) Ha? What? No. Not here. Mr. Menachem-Josef is away. Where? Argentina. Yes. Goodbye!
Menachem-Josef: (Irritated) Money. Give them money. Anything like money, but give them money. (Different. Practical. Takes a pencil in hand.) So. That makes: 3,500 dollars a show, nine shows a week. We gross. . . take away rent . . . and, uh . . . and uh . . . eighty-five . . . 644 . . . takeaway nineteen . . . leaves 18,000. Six eighths minus thirty-one and a sixth, we have 921 times 811. . . carry seven, take away sixteen. . . leaves a total of. . .
(Entrance of Messiah. We hear a knock on the door.)
Jackie: That must be him, my uncle. We’ve gotta put on our hats. (To Menachem-Josef.) Put on your hat. He’s a greenie, my uncle, fresh off the boat, and a fanatic. If he sees us sitting around bare-headed he might not deal with us at all. (They put on hats.)
(Enter the Messiah.)
(The Messiah is an old, simple-minded Jew with a beard like a broom, big curly peyes, wearing a big velvet hat. A fanatical, disapproving, laconic Jew who “suddenly finds himself in the American wasteland.” His Galitsianer accent should be clear, not overdone. He substitutes “P” for “B”.)
Jackie: Sholem aleykhem, uncle. (Offers his hand.) Sit down.
Messiah: (Sits.) You needed me? (Puffs on a pipe.)
Jackie: This is my boss, Mr. Menachem-Josef.
Menachem-Josef: Sholem aleykhem. (Offers his hand, sizes him up. Winks to Jack, “This is good.”)
Messiah: And. . . Well. . . ? What can I do for you?
Jackie: (Pokes Menachem-Josef, he should take things in hand.)
Menachem-Josef: (Getting excited.) It’s like this Reb Uncle. What was your name again?
Messiah: My name? They call me Simcha. Why?
Jackie: (In uncle’s ear.) Mr. Menachem-Josef is a great man. He has a heart of gold.
Messiah: (Slow, reticent.) Mmh . . . Heart? Fine, but what do you want from me?
Menachem-Josef: (Almost bursts out, but quickly stops himself.) All we want from you is just. . . (different) Have you ever been in a theatre, Reb, uh, Reb Simcha?
Messiah: I was in a theatre, once. In Lemberg. And so?
Jackie: It doesn’t matter. Mr. Menachem-Josef is just asking.
Messiah: Just asking?
Menachem-Josef: (Trying to draw him out.) And how did you like it, the theatre?
Messiah: How did I like? My daughter left me in the lobby. I looked in and saw it was dark. I didn’t want to go in. Why should I sit in the dark? When the lights came on, I went in. What it’s all about, I couldn’t see. Ten cents for an apple. Fifteen cents for a bottle of soda water. The lights went out again, so I went back to the lobby and waited around. What would I do in the dark? Then I went in again. Still ten cents an apple, fifteen cents for soda water. So then I know. This is nothing with more nothing.
Menachem-Josef: (All the while exploding in little bursts of suppressed laughter. Holds himself back. Scratches his head. Is lost in thought.)
Jackie: (Slaps him on the back.) Don’t worry, Uncle. With us, you’ll learn a thing or two. And make a buck. And we’ll give you an easy job, too.
Messiah: But heaven forbid, I won’t have to work on Shabbos, will I?
Jackie: What are you saying? That—Heaven forbid—we’re not Jews?
Messiah: How would I know? In America, they say even the stones are treyf.
Jackie: Don’t believe it, Uncle. In America there are a lot of pious Jews that pray and say the blessings and wash before eating and go to the bath house and even believe in the Messiah.
Messiah: (Hears the word “Messiah” and lets out a long high-pitched sigh.)
Menachem-Josef: It’s like this. We’ll give you thirty-five dollars a week to start.
Messiah: (Hesitant) You’ll give me thirty-five dollars a week? For what?
Menachem-Josef: For nothing. Just because I like your beard. (Admires his beard.) You have a very beautiful beard.
Messiah: (A little bit proud.) I have—praises be—a beautiful beard. Why not?
Jackie: I’ll say. A Jew with such a beard—keyneynore—in America!
Menachem-Josef: (Proceeding as if on ice.) It’s. . .uh. . .why shouldn’t you, let’s say. . . so to speak, that is. . . Is there a Messiah on Earth, do you believe?
Messiah: (Plainly.) What else? God forbid I shouldn’t believe.
Jackie: (Picks up the thread.) That’s what I say. As soon as we all believe (winks to Menachem-Josef), then he must come. But why shouldn’t he come a little sooner?
Menachem-Josef: (Blurts out.) And if he should come, why not directly to our firm? We’ve brought the greatest. Last year, we had Jack Dempsey and Kid McCoy. Two years ago we had the guy who ate nails.
Jackie: Nails, dear Uncle, this big! (Shows the length with his finger.) He ate them.
Menachem-Josef: And the woman with three legs? Who brought her?
Jackie: We did. We did.
Menachem-Josef: So. It’s like this. Just sign this piece of paper. . . (Writes something quickly on a piece of paper and hands it to him to sign.)
Jackie: Sign, Uncle. Luck like this, you meet once in a hundred years. Just think, thirty-five dollars a week. For a greenie.
Menachem-Josef: It’s a lot of money, but I’m doing it because of your nephew Jack. And because. . . I like your beard. You have a beautiful beard.
Messiah: (Proud.) We all have beautiful beards in our family. A livelihood, maybe not. . . .
Jackie: You’ll make a living, too. As long as you’re healthy. Sign.
Messiah: In Yiddish?
Menachem-Josef: In Yiddish. Of course in Yiddish. Do you think in America everything’s goyish?
Messiah: I don’t know. But I’ve already made a splotch. Should I blot it?
Menachem-Josef: No. It’ll dry soon.
Jackie: Leave it. It’s good luck. (Shakes his hand.)
Menachem-Josef: Carry yourself like a man. You’ll eat bread and butter with us.
Jackie: Of course my uncle will do as he’s told. What is he? Some kid who doesn’t know about work?
Menachem-Josef: Later, when business is good, we’ll give you, not thirty-five dollars a week, but forty-five dollars a week.
Jackie: And maybe even fifty. (To his uncle, softly.) Do you know what that means? In your money, that’s five-hundred Zlotys a week. You’ll be a big shot.
Messiah: Let me see. You gives me thirty-five dollars a week, forty dollars a week, fifty dollars a week. But what I should do, you don’t say.
Jackie: You don’t have to do anything, Uncle. What should you do?
Messiah: Well, what should I do?
Menachem-Josef: Do? How shall I put it. . . . Carry yourself like a man. Pious. Holy. Like a great rabbi. The main thing is the beard and the peyes. Don’t—God forbid—cut them off.
Messiah: What are you saying? (Grabs his beard and peyes as if to shield them from harm.) Heaven forbid! (Smiles graciously.) It’s for the beard and peyes you’re paying me thirty-five dollars a week?
Jackie: What do you think, uncle? In America, do we know how to value Yiddishkeit or what?
Messiah: Of course; it sounds wonderful. May God smile on you. Well then, I’ll go home.
Menachem-Josef: Wait. We need to photograph you.
Messiah: What for?
Jackie: Don’t worry, Uncle, we need this for. . . business.
Messiah: What business?
Menachem-Josef: We need to show the world that there are still real Jews in America.
Jackie: Do it, Uncle. What are worrying about? Moishe Montefiore had his picture taken, and you not?
Messiah: I dunno. Fine. (Gives himself over.)
Jackie: (Calls into the next room.) Hey Jim! Bring out the camera!
Jim: (Jim is an Irishman with a red face. Chews and spits continually. Sleeves rolled up, white cap with the logo of a flour company, “Hekersey Flour” that the company gives away free for advertising. He brings out the camera.) Who?
Jackie: That guy.
Jim: Full length or just the head? (Spits.)
Jackie: (To Menachem-Josef) What do you think? I think just the head is good.
Menachem-Josef: (Joking.) Just the head is already too much. If you could just take the beard.
Messiah: (Grabs his beard.) What are you saying?
Jackie: Don’t be scared, Uncle. Mr. Menachem-Josef just means take a picture of the beard.
Messiah: I see ! I thought you meant. . .
(Scene: The photographer, a bit of a joker, sets up the camera like a machine-gun. The Messiah keeps backing away. Jim goes after him with the camera. They keep circling in one direction. Finally goes under the black cloth and waves his hands.)
Jim: Stop moving.
Messiah: (To Jack.) I don’t like this. Why’s this goy hiding his face? Tell him not to hurt me.
Jackie: Don’t be afraid, Uncle. He won’t hurt you.
Messiah: If he’s not going to hurt me, why’s he hiding?
Jackie: He has to.
Messiah: (Gives in.) Well, so be it. If he must, he must. It won’t hurt, will it Yankel?
Jackie: It won’t hurt, Uncle. Why should it hurt?
Messiah: How should I know? This is America.
Jim: (Loads the camera, frightening the Messiah.) Smile a little, please.
Messiah: Why should I smile? (To Jack.) Do I have to smile, Yankel?
Jackie: You have to, Uncle.
Messiah: So be it. You gotta do what you gotta do. (Weak.) Wait a minute. Get me some water. I don’t feel good.
Jim: (Brings him water. He drinks like one about to faint.)
Jim: (Impatient.) So. Smile! (Angry.) Smile already, Goddammit!
Messiah: (Smiles like someone who’s had his throat cut. There’s a pop from the flash, which frightens him. He falls off his chair.)
Jim: (Leaves smiling. Looks at the Messiah like a wild man.)
Messiah: (Groans.) It’s not so easy to earn a little bread.
(Jack helps him.)
Messiah: Mhh. . . Thank God it’s over. Can I go now?
(All the while, Menachem-Josef has been talking with Jack.)
Menachem-Josef: (Smoking a cigar.) To tell you the truth, I’d rather have you start right away. (To Jack.) We have to work the press. We have to call the reporters, get them over here at once. (Remembers.) We’ve got to let the editors know before they go to press. Maybe we can break the story today. (To Jack.) Meanwhile, take this bird of yours to the next room.
Jackie: (To the Messiah.) Come, Uncle, we’ll go in here for a bit.
Messiah: What for?
Jackie: We have to, Uncle, we have to.
Messiah: Well. You gotta do what you gotta do. (Jack and Messiah off.)
(Before they’ve quite left the room, Menachem-Josef falls to dialing the telephone, hot and heavy.)
Menachem-Josef: Hello. Hello. The Yellow News? It’s me, Menachem-Josef. A tremendous sensation. The Messiah. Yes. The Messiah. Offering redemption in three classes. Yes. Redemption in three classes. Shabbos and Sunday matinees. Yes. For people of all walks of life. Ha? Yes, exclusive with our firm. Yes. With a big headline. Does he redeem Social Democrats? Of course! He’s a Social Democrat himself. You’ll get this out quick? In today’s paper? Good. Send your reporter right over. Thanks. Goodbye. (Hangs up the telephone and picks it back up immediately.) The Black News? Yes, me. A tremendous sensation. . . the Messiah. . . Yes, exclusively with us. Does he redeem Zionists, too? Of course! He’s a Zionist himself. Yes. Five dollars a share. Yes, instalment plan, too . . . But it’s better to buy all the shares at once,you see. It’ll come out today? And send your reporter. Yes, it’ll make a racket. Goodbye. (Puts down the phone, picks it up again.) Hello, hello? The Grey News? Yes. Menachem-Josef speaking. A tremendous sensation. The Messiah. Exclusively with our firm. Does he redeem Labor Zionists? Of course! He’s a Labor Zionist himself. See it goes into today’s paper. With a big headline, “Messiah In America”, yes? Good. Thanks. Yes. . . Send your reporter right away.
(He puts down the phone, exhausted, wipes away sweat. Remembers.)
Oh yeah, I’ve gotta dictate notices and announcements for the press. Completely forgot. (Calls into the door, left, that Jim came out of earlier.) Flossie!
Flossie: (A young girl with a pretty, stupid face, dressed in a very short skirt with silk stockings. Heavy makeup, red lipstick, paper cuffs on a neat green silk blouse; she has a pencil stuck in her bottle-blonde hair. Speaks very coolly and is constantly aware of being a member of the fairer sex, and that her boss isn’t indifferent to her. Holds a pencil and steno pad in her hand.) Yes!
Menachem-Josef: (Smitten like a kitten.) Sit by me Flossie, right here, I want to dictate to you. (He wants to give her a feel.)
Flossie: (Pretending she doesn’t want to.) Dictate! But with your mouth. I don’t like it.
Menachem-Josef: That’s what they all say.
Flossie: I’m not “all.” I’m me.
Menachem-Josef: (Suddenly loses romantic interest. Becomes all business.) It’s like this. Figure like so. (Takes a pencil and figures.) So. . . ten newspapers . . eight weeklies. . . not counting posters and handbills. All told. . . (To Flossie, who’s waiting with a sharp pencil. All the while, she’s been sharpening it in the little machine attached to the table.) Take dictation, dear, only don’t make any mistakes.
Flossie: (Annoyed.) So. Let’s hear already.
Menachem-Josef: (Dictates with his hand over his eyes like someone who is choosing his thoughts precisely.) The Messiah In America! Heading. Exclamation mark. The firm Menachem-Josef and company, comma, has brought the Messiah— dash— exclusively for the redemption of the Jewish people—comma, of the exile. For all classes and walks of life—colon. For five dollars a share. (Differently.) Did you write five dollars a share? Erase it, Flossie, dear. Write: For all classes and all walks of life, five dollars for the entire redemption—exclamation mark! The Messiah moment—hyphen—is the greatest—underlined—in our history—semicolon. Did you write “history” yet? Erase, Flossie, dear. Write of the tragic history of—write di-a-spora, di-a-spora, but without mistakes. You always write di-a-spora with mistakes.
Flossie: (Moves closer, flirts.) Is that all, Mr. Menachem-Josef?
Menachem-Josef: (Gets up. Puts on his glasses. Puts his arm around her, ostensibly to read the notice in her hand. She doesn’t struggle. He bends to kiss her. There’s a knock on the door.)
Menachem-Josef: (Sits back in his chair looking very much the boss.) Who’s there?
(Enter Grey, Black, Yellow. Grey is dressed in grey, which is a little like blue and a little like white. Black, like a religious functionary is dressed entirely in black, and wears a yarmulke. Yellow is fat and wears a yellow costume and a top hat which is painted to look like a ten-storey building, the symbol of the New York yellow press newpaper, Forverts.)
All Three: (In operatic chorus.)
We raise our hands to heaven (they do so) and pray
We believe in the Holy Yiddish Word.
Give us a dollar and there’ll be no hassle.
(From here on the shtick unfolds like an operetta with all sorts of precious gestures and bombast. Sung if possible or recitative.)
Please sit down, it must be wearing,
You must be tired from all that swearing.
All Three: (In chorus.)
One can never tire to do
The work of the eternal Jew.
Our will will not die
To raise the flag high
Of our past so glorious,
King David victorious.
David our eternal king!
David our eternal king!
Menachem-Josef: (With his hand on his heart, sings.)
It gives me joy, my fellow Jews
To know the joy this gives to you:
The great deed that we do today
All Three: (In chorus)
Long live Messiah! Hooray! Hooray!
Now, Messiah, boys, he ain’t no fool
To make a buck’s his golden rule.
And since business is holy, like the God of the Wise,
Messiah, himself, will be our merchandise.
Long live the Jew as he follows his ways
And chases a living the rest of his days.
And so, my friends, set.
I see you’re working up a sweat.
(Yellow, Grey, Black sit all in a row like clowns.)
Our daily press is a thing of great might,
Persuading all that day is night.
And so, I ask you, dear gentlemen,
By word and by deeds to further my ends.
We’ll be helpful, helpful, helpful.
Helpful are we,
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, so.
You may go.
But do not waiver
To write in your paper
That I am the saviour
Of all Israel
Who suffer under the Cross.
All Three in Chorus: (Again, raise their hands, Exit. On the way out)
You can count on us to take dictation
And tell it to the nation.
(All three exit with their hands in the air.)
(Enter the Messiah, after him, Jack.)
Messiah: (To Jack.) Well, fine. What you gotta do, you gotta do.
Jackie: (Slaps him on the shoulder.) Now you’re talking like a man, Uncle.
Messiah: (A foolish smile. Remembers.) What did you say I should say if people ask me something? Yankel?
Jackie: I said if they ask something just weasel out of it. Say, “I have spoken. . . .” You coulda spoke yes, you coulda spoke no, according to what you want. Understand?
Messiah: (As he’s been taught.) I think. . .
(We hear a cry from the street. “M—e—s—s—i—a—h!” “Extra!” “Messiah In America!” “Hey — Extra!” followed by the murmur of the crowd outside the door and a cry of Mess—i—ah!)
Menachem-Josef: (Looks out the window and listens.) The papers are already out with the story. The crowd is headed this way, fast and furious. (To Jack.) Hide him.
Jackie: (To the Messiah.) Come, Uncle, the crowd mustn’t see you. It’s still too early. The time is not yet come. Let ’em buy tickets first. . . . What do you say, Uncle?
Messiah: (As he’s been taught.) I have spoken. . . . (This could mean, I have spoken yes or I have spoken no. .)
(Enter the Crowd.)
First: Where’s the Messiah?
Second: We’ve come for the Messiah.
Third: We want to see him with our own eyes.
Menachem-Josef: (Like a prophet.) The time is not yet come, Jews.
First: Give us the Messiah.
Second: We can’t wait any longer.
Third: We’ve waited too long.
First: Don’t say “Redimmer”. Say “Redeemer”.
Second: What’s the difference? Redimmer. Redeemer. As long as he redims.
First: He doesn’t redim. He redeems.
Second: What’s the difference? Redims. Redeems. As long as he’s a Redimmer.
Third: Messiah! Messiah!
Menachem-Josef: The Messiah is over there. (Points.) But you may not see him, for the time is not yet come.
(A great noise from the crowd, which pushes forward. All gather around the door where the Messiah is secreted with Jack. Some carry lit candles, Others carry palm fronds. They sing as in the play “Sabbetai Zevi.” Among the crowd, women , cripples, blind men, beggars.)
Crowd: Hosanna! For Thy sake, our God! For Thy sake, our God. Hosanna!
(Singing is very eloquent. The door opens and all look in. The Messiah comes out, Jack with him.)
Shrieking: Messiah! Messiah!
(They gather around him; dance around him in great enthusiasm.)
Messiah: Jews. (It goes quiet.)
Voices: Shhhhhhhh! The Messiah wants to say something. (Grows very quiet.)
First: He’s opening his mouth!
Second: He’s going to speak!
Messiah: I want to tell the truth, Jews. I am a simple Jew. . . . A sick man. . . I need to make a living. (Apparently wants to confess that he’s been dragged into a sham.)
Jackie: All Messiahs are poor.
Menachem-Josef: As it is written: “He shall be a poor man.”
Crowd: Mess—i—ah! Mess—i—ah! Messiah of the poor and downtrodden!
Messiah: (Wants to say something, but Jack and Menachem-Josef stand on either side of him, keeping him in check.) Jews. . .
Menachem-Josef: Jews! The Messiah is poor and hungry. Why do you hold back?
Jackie: I’ll give the first fifty dollars. (Takes out a banknote and lays it on the table.) Who will give next?
Menachem-Josef: I’ll give my diamond pin. And my ring. (Takes it off and lays this treasure on the table.)
Messiah: (Almost moved to tears.) Jews. No. . . This. . . I have sp. . .
Jackie: (Pushes aside the last words.) It’s not enough, Jews. Give what you can. Give more. Why do you hold back? Jews. . . Stubborn mules!
(The crowd removes their watches, earrings, silk scarves, treasures of all sorts,— they pile them up on the table, a whole mountain of silver, gold, silk, diamonds, pearls, etc.)
Messiah: Jews!. . . I think. . .
Menachem-Josef: Jews! Give more. Don’t hold back. It’s not enough. (Jews — men and women — drag out wallets, purses, and give away their last dollars.)
Hunchback: (Draws near.) I am a poor cripple. I have no money, no treasure. I have only an amulet with a pearl that my mother, may she rest in peace, gave me to protect me from poverty. (He removes from his sunken chest a dirty wallet and unwraps from its cloth a single pearl on a filthy string and brings it to the Messiah himself.) Take this, Messiah, Holy One, and redeem us.
Voices: Deliver us! We can’t wait any longer.
— Messiah! — Messiah!
Ben David. . . Redeemer!
Hosanna! For Thy sake, our God! For Thy sake, our God! Hosanna!
Messiah: (Stands with the pearl in his hand.) Jews, I can not. . . I am not. . . (Grimaces several times as if about to fall. Falls.)
Crowd: He’s fallen! Our Messiah!
— Messiah! Messiah!
— The time is not yet come.
(A great silent sadness reigns. All gather round the fallen Messiah and hang their heads, lost and broken. A quiet lament from the crowd.)
Crowd: Our king. Our Messiah.
(All the while Menachem-Josef and Jackie Bluffer edge closer to the footlights. The latter holds a bag full of gold and silver that he’s swiped. He jingles the bag of loot.)
Jackie: A shame, my greenie uncle. Poor thing. But it’s not our fault. Business is business.
Menachem-Josef: Not for nothing is it written that the Messiah will come riding an ass. He came riding a whole bunch of asses.
Jackie: Without asses, there’s no Messiah. (Different.) Now I can buy a new automobile. A good one.
Menachem-Josef: And I can take my little Daytsh cutie to Florida. (Plays with the lone pearl on the dirty string.)
(The crowd’s wailing becomes stronger, louder. Especially Hunchback, who gave the last pearl.)
Michael Schapiro’s translation of Messiah in America is available from Amazon here.