a theater trial of one act in five scenes

To the spirit of Aeschylus and the ever evolving heritage of Athenian democracy

Cast of Characters:
Crippled Dancer
Bound Woman
Extra Dancers

Special Note: Because the speaking parts are lengthy and the language is emotionally and intellectually rich, a director might decide to double the cast—a Hunchback and his Other, a Crippled Dancer and her Other, a Bound Woman and her Other—alternating opportunities in recognition of the substantial demands, if not as an act of mercy on individual skill and memory.

Dances: Dance of Fear (to Figlio Perdato, music by Beethoven—Allegretto, Symphony 7—performed by Sarah Brightman)
Dance of All Betrayals (to Lost Unto This World by Emmylou Harris)
Dance of the Damned in the Hour of Judgment (to Sinner Man performed by Nina Simone)

Incidental Music: Sound of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel

Physical Properties: Six banners on poles, three chairs and three demon masks

A different banner is help up, paraded and shown the audience at the beginning of each scene, as indicated in the text.. Players will regularly occupy the chairs when not speaking or physically performing. Players will occasionally don the masks of their respective demons. However, masks should not be worn during any of the speaking parts. But there is this similarity: each of the masks is topped with a crown of thorns. The demons thereby are represented as expressions of torment.


All players are on stage. Bound woman will speak, followed by the display of the first banner.

In the beginning… slavery and wars: …America. Wars against the indigenous populations, the Indians, the Indian Wars, in New England, the South East, out across the O-hi-o, down along the arterial Mississippi, over the sky towering Rockies and across the Great Plains to the Far West, -Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Chief Joseph headlong for Canada-, deep to the red stone sun and colored dry sands of Southwest-, Mengas Coloradas, Cochise, Geronimo,- the wars against First Nations, the People, the Indian Wars; two wars against Mother England and pre-industrial Father Time; a Civil War that took more American lives than all other American wars combined, except, of course, the Injun Wars, the genocide in the soil we feed from; a war or two with Imperial Spain and colonial Mexico, and two, big, total wars in Europe and wide across the blue yonder of the Pacific, meaning peace, against Nippon, Japan—internment camps here at home and looking backward, Andersonville, the world’s first concentration camp—then Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; wars in Central American, more Indian Wars, and the Caribbean, the West In-dies, wars against peoples of color, the poorest of the earth, Somalia, harvesting the legacy of slavery, then the war in Kuwait, between Sadaam and the Bush gang, oil war northwest of Bethlehem, with the flyover massacre on the Highway of Death-, you gardens of Babylon, the Hanged Man fell from your deck and now the invasion of Soviet ravaged Afghanistan, and now the invasion of sanctioned Iraq… nuclear tank shells and tactical nuclear campaigns: America. In 200 and 30 odd years of nationhood, from sea to cluttered sea, a hell of a lot of bloodletting, winnowing shot and violent death, for a country with high principles but low dealings, of pride that is too often arrogance and shame that breeds pandemic viruses in the fearsome flesh of aggression, and casts in terror’s terms of state a giant shadow; napalm, bunker busters, and a smiling face -from Outer Space to Abu Grebe, from Bunker Hill to Wounded Knee, from gun shots ringing out across the world to Watts in flames and ghetto hells, from the Tet offensive and Khe Sanh to the siege of Sadr City and you and I, citizens of the red, white and blue, and the melting pot of the republic, gridlocked on the endless Trail of Tears, in this flawed, staggering and in our end-days violated and betrayed democracy, conceived in wars and bitter slavery, slavery! I have said it more than once and headed, at lightning, break neck speed, toward spiritual death -o Jesus in a money box! give us your poor, your oppressed, your down trodden hungering, and we will plant them, sons and daughters patriotically in Arlington rows, in the seedbeds of counter revolutions, roots torn from memory, in junk heaps and garbage dumps of greed, in the nightmares of this collective dream and the bone-yard-ash of Apocalypse O- let  freedom ring! in the crucifixion of everyman’s right- life, liberty, in pursuit of this Earth place, this audacity …America

First Banner is now displayed, reading OPENING ARGUMENT

Hunchback (HB): Look at us and remember: a hunchback, a crippled dancer, a bound woman. And our imaginary friends, the demons of violence and despair.

Blank air. Blank space. Blank wall.

We are antithetical people, losers, the others who cohabit with you, who occupy the margins of your world, who populate the nightmare fringes of your public dreams. Our territory grows; our numbers increase. Imagine a future with a majority of shadows, of wounded waifs, twisted mutants, social misfits and mistakes.

Hookers, degenerates, drug addicts, alcoholics, sociopaths, schizophrenics—mental escape artists, emotional dwarfs. Imagine us as we are. You are the doctors, the Frankensteins, we are but patchwork creatures: shadows.

Blank air. Blank space. Blank wall.

Some of you sitting in this audience now identify with us. Some of you are shocked that we exist at all. Maybe there are even a few guilty here who seek repentance, without confession of course, or who are seething to know how far we will go in our narrating the stories of our misadventures.

Binswanger wrote, “If you want to know the future of a society, study its criminals.” If you want to know the secrets of a society, study the victims of its crimes. Blank air. Blank space. Blank wall, wall.

The higher, most difficult, more radical, defiant ethos for a time of trauma, terror, torment, goes something like this:

In this world in which the monstrous is encouraged to become ordinary, an ethic of the unpleasant emerges—emerges as a form of rebellion, when those who will speak of the unspeakable and resist the intolerable take a stand and dare to suffer, aware of the undeserved suffering of others, because of otherness, over that which we, individually and collectively, did not do.

This ethic may be the same as attempting to scale a vertical mountain of razored glass, or to climb a place of skulls and carrion tidbits, bone shards, or even of being crucified because others are hanging on the cross of oppression and dying from the cruelty of the inhuman. But who would dare? Who would dare to do this, to take up this lacerating burden of noble suffering? Noble, in an era of mobocracy and corporate gangsterism! This suffering upon which the humanness of our humanity hangs: writhing, bleeding, dreaming an impractical, scarcely possible, dream.

The alterity—the alternative chosen by indifference or enforcement of injustice—is betrayal. Betrayal is multidimensional. It reaches as high as the stars and beyond, as wide as the horizons, as deep as the psychotic fantasies of hell: Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Darfur, Iraq. It bleeds through and implants complex stains of self-repeating viruses of destruction and death.

Weigh it and measure. Betrayal, or this radical attempt, through resistance and rebellion, at solidarity emerging out of pain. Out of an ethic of the unpleasant countering the undeserved, relentlessly in pursuit of a democratizing response. A campaigning conflict of refining and responsible compassion, carried on until individual beatitudes flourish and replace the private and public politics of cruelty, vulgarity, neglect, deception, betrayal.

Blank air. Blank space. I would say, blank wall. Prison walls. Patterns. Patterns of madness. Patterns of denial. Patterns of betrayal.

Here then is our opening argument—an argument put forward by shadows, misfits, rejects, by the deformed and the dysfunctional. From here we move forward to present evidence by way of heightened testimony. No verdict can be reached; no psychodrama attain the gestalt of catharsis and transformation; without evidence. Without hearing that which is hushed into silence and viewing that which is hidden from polite public view.

Look at us, remember: a self mutilating crippled dancer, a mad bound woman, a crucified hunchback. The ensemble of grotesque star witnesses. And both defense and prosecution. But you, you are the jury. You are the ones who will carry decisions with you beyond these doors of symbolic presentation and serious pretending. For now, let us shape this space to the purpose of drama. We do but play act at that which is too real, that which goes unaddressed, that which we also are. Thus we are prepared—to insert here a quotation from ecopsychologist Andy Fisher commenting on Freud’s most terrifying observation—prepared, that is, to expose you to and wound you also with some of the myriad shapes and faces; and here I quote; of “the demonic terror hidden in the depth of the modern mind behind the façade of consciousness.” The “as if” of our trial takes us from the propaganda of civilization into the problematic of normalcy; from

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About David Sparenberg

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David Sparenberg is a poet-playwright, actor, primarly Shakespearean, stage director, storyteller. His literary work has appeared in over 100 print periodicals and journals, a few ezines as well, and he was a regular contributor to THE TRUMPETER, a deep ecology journal out of Victoria, for years. Presently more some performance work for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, the author was formerly a 20 year resident of Seattle and visitor to Vancouver. He has a play dealing with cancer as an environmental epidemic that an independent filmmaker in Montreal will be making a film version of in the coming months. Creative information on David Sparenberg can be obtained at SHADOWS is part of a now being published book entitled PLAY for An American Activist Theatre, autographed copies of which can be obtained from David at, and any persons seeking to produce the play for performance should contact David for permission.
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