The Tragedy of Orpheus: A Comedy

The steward of the castle is not happy in this madrigal dinner. For years, he has been trying to get the Chamberlain’s Men, headed by that rising playwright Shakespeare, to perform for the King. Instead, the King was persuaded by the Jester to hire another troupe: Johnnie Lumley and his Learned Players. The steward warns the Jester that the last time someone recommended a substandard play for the King, he and his actors ended up in the dungeon. Jester, now unsure, looks in on rehearsals and finds, to his horror, that the actors are members of his aunt’s sewing circle—and they can’t act at all. The Jester has a long night ahead of him—and, perhaps, a longer time in prison.

Cast size: 4 M, 6 F, 2-4 Extras M/F

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***Jester meets the actors of the troupe.

JOHNNIE:  Quite.  And this is Agnes.

JESTER:  I know her.  She’s –

JOHNNIE:  Of course you know her.  She is famous for her role in “Balaam and the Angel.”

JESTER:  Oh.  You were Balaam?

AGNES:  No, that would be a lead role.  (Glances at JESSICA.)  I had more of a supporting role.

JESTER: The angel?

JESSICA:  (Smiling.)  Agnes was the ass.

AGNES:  I prefer donkey.

JOHNNIE:  But it was a speaking role.  When Agnes rolled her eyes and brayed in dismay –

JESTER:  Brayed?

AGNES:  I prefer cried.

JOHNNIE:  Well, I couldn’t help sobbing myself.  The Haltwhistle Herald called her performance “moving” and “asinine.”

AGNES:  I prefer “donkey-like.”

JESTER:  Yes, but –

JOHNNIE:  And this is Jessica.

JESSICA:  Jessica Feminique.

JESTER:  Feminique?  Aren’t you Jessica Fogbottom?

JESSICA:  Feminique is my stage name, dear boy.  But please, no autographs just now.

JESTER:  But I wasn’t –

JESSICA:  Ever since my performance in Joan of Arc, I’ve been hounded by autograph seekers.

JESTER:  But –

JESSICA:  The last fan asked me to sign his belly.  I guess he didn’t count on a dipped quill pen.


JESSICA:  It became a permanent tattoo.  If he marries, an unlikely event, I’m sure his wife will ask him what, “Thank you for cheering as I burned,” means.  He sure jumped when I dotted those “I’s”.

JOHNNIE:  Jessica is our star attraction.

AGNES:  (Mutters.)  More like “sideshow attraction.”

JESSICA:  (Ignoring AGNES.)  I was the lead in Joan of Arc, Helen of Troy, and Waiting for Godot, Part II.

JESTER:  Waiting for Godot, Part II?

JOHNNIE:  Godot finally shows up.  We do avant-garde.

JESTER:  Avant-garde?

JOHNNIE:  It’s French.

JESTER:  I see.

JOHNNIE:  And this is Bert.  (Looks but does not see BERT.)  Bert?

BERT:  (Stands up in back.)  Yo.

JOHNNIE:  Bert is new to the troupe.

JESTER:  Jessica, Agnes, and Nellie.  (Nervously.)  Auntie, except for Bert, this is your . . . sewing circle.

BERT:  Uh, I joined the sewing circle last month.  (JESTER stares at him.)  I find a little embroidery helps me relax after a hard day of hewing wood.

JESTER:  (Looks confused.)  Riiight.  (Back to JOHNNIE.)  Look, Auntie, I went out on a limb for you to get this job.  A high, thin, apparently rotten limb.

JOHNNIE:  You have no worries, nephew.  Why, the Biggleswade Bugle called our performance of The Unicorn Cannibals

JESTER:  Unicorn Cannibals?  You had unicorns on stage eating people?  (STEWARD enters and listens in.)

JOHNNIE:  No, other unicorns, of course.  Very avant-garde.

JESTER:  Well, you can’t perform any of that avant-garde stuff for the King.  He’s got very traditional tastes.

JOHNNIE:  You mean something more along the lines of Carnivorous Camels?

JESTER:  No!  Nothing that involves quadrupeds eating flesh.


JESTER:  Do something light.  Do a romantic comedy.  Yes, the Queen will like that!

STEWARD:  That’s rather bourgeois, don’t you think? (ALL notice the STEWARD.  STEWARD smiles knowingly at JESTER.)

JOHNNIE:  (To STEWARD.)  And you are?

STEWARD:  I beg your pardon.  I’m the Steward of the castle.

JOHNNIE:  Pleased to make your acquaintance.  I am the director of this troupe.

STEWARD:  How unusual. I thought that Johnnie was—

JOHNNIE:  A man.  Yes, I know.  I get that a lot.  (Slaps STEWARD on the back and laughs.)  But if they thought a woman were in charge, who would hire us?

STEWARD:  (Glances at JESTER.)  Indeed.  And you specialize in romantic comedies?

JOHNNIE:  Oh, no.  As you’ve said, they are rather bourgeois.

JESSICA:  And the roles are so limiting.

JESTER:  (A bit panicky.)  That is what the Queen likes!  Look, you perform this evening, so you’d better start rehearsing.  Steward, uh, could I have a word with you?  (They start to exit.) 

JOHNNIE:  Where are you going?

JESTER:  I, uh, have to … prepare the King for your performance.

STEWARD:  (To JESTER.)  Otherwise known as alcohol therapy.

JOHNNIE:  As you wish.  Prepare your King for a dramatic romantic comedy.

JESTER:  NO!  Just romantic comedy.  You’ll perform at the royal table.  Romantic for the Queen and comedy for the King.

JOHNNIE:  How wonderful!  Our big break.  Does this include an opportunity for a repeat performance?

STEWARD:  Well, the last acting troop has been on a sixteen-year run, thanks to the King.

JESTER:  But I hope it doesn’t come to that.

JOHNNIE:  Quite right.  Sixteen years would be most stifling to my creativity.

JESTER:  You have no idea.  I’ll see you tonight.  Good luck.

JOHNNIE:  Oh, don’t say that.  One says, “Break a leg.”

STEWARD:  Yes, that may be more appropriate.

JOHNNIE:  (Waves her hand.)  Until tonight, nephew.

STEWARD:  (To JESTER.)  Nephew?  Do you mean to tell me—


JESTER:  (Panicky.)  They’re eating already?  (Quickly escorting STEWARD off-stage.)  Uh, Steward old pal?  I need your help.  Puh-lease!