M.  Vincent  van  Mechelen


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"To rise, to reign and rest in dust again", says Death in the allegorical play within this play. It was, it is and it will be the lot of all human (and other living) beings. Together with death the common aspects of life, such as family, friendship and sexuality, form the main theme of the present play, including all attempts to hang on to life physically or to transcend death or future nonexistence spiritually. Admittedly, this theme is not extraordinary. Extraordinary is it that the three acts this play consists of cover a period of more than a thousand years. For that reason each character --even Death-- appears in one act only.

Besides death and the common aspects of life, there is another element of the human condition which runs as a thematic thread thru the various parts of this play. It is what might be called "the cross-temporal bias". Even tho we have basically remained the same over the centuries, many tend to look upon their fellow human beings of the past as people living in a worse condition than their own. They picture to themselves a primitive species struggling for survival without modern technical means and modern art. And they picture for themselves a naive species endeavoring to live on without modern scientific knowledge and modern media. When calling one period of human history "the Dark Ages", they implicitly suggest that they themselves are living in a scientifically and technologically advanced time in which human beings have become enlightened (and moral) and have, if not wholly, at least substantially managed to free themselves from stupidity and the eternal human lot.

This play torpedoes that suggestion. Also the people from the so-called 'Dark Ages' can come up with reasons to consider the time of the writer of this play 'a dark age', full of odd ideas, bad habits, frightful conflicts and unenlightened people. All they need for such an image is the assumption that everyone in our time thinks, feels, acts and is the victim of the same things as everyone else, an assumption those thinking in historical stereotypes all suffer from. "Unfortunately", one might say, it provides this play with a greater thematic unity in spite of the incredibly long time span. It will turn out that from its beginning to its end there are characters who are 'glad to live in their day and age', which are very different days and ages indeed.

In addition to the thematic unity of the play, there is a structural unity, created, among other things, because certain characters in the first and third acts are going to see this play themselves. This, perhaps, may be nothing special for some, but it takes place without having those characters end up in an infinite regress. And then it is done for good substantive reasons as well.

The three acts of this play are:

    (the year 963 of the Christianist Era)
  2. THE NEW ELCKERLYC by Vinsent Nandi
    (a play based on a morality play from about 1460 CE)
    (1963 CE or 18 after the Second World War)

In the title of the total play (which admits of at least two different interpretations) Everyone alliterates with Elckerlyc. Elckerlijc (spelled with ij or y) is, first of all, the allegorical name of the protagonist in the medieval Flemish-Dutch morality play of that name, which is the counterpart of the English Everyman (probably a translation). Elckerlijc means everyone, and this word is also used as the name of the main character in the second act, which is based on the medieval allegory. (The last syllable of Elckerlyc should be pronounced as the English term leek, without stress or with a secondary stress as on the last syllable of everyone).

The main scene is an idyllic medieval, Western European landscape with a brook running in a dale on the left and a sweet-smelling wood on the right and at the back. In the foreground there is a fire which is kept burning with small pieces of wood. A round metal pot is put over it in a makeshift arrangement. There is a little wooden table with about six soup plates on it. It is the summer of the year 963 of the Christianist Era, the time of the Papacy of John XII (the years 955-964). With regard to Europe, the period of history concerned is now commonly referred to as 'the Dark Ages' (the second half of the First Millennium).

During a part of this act there is a separate scene on the fringe of the main scene. It shows a richly decorated palace bedroom with a king-sized bed, a chair, an insence burner and gold chalice on a little table and a large cross on the wall. This scene within the scene represents a private experience in which the actors who are the object of the experience do not and cannot interact with the actors seeing and hearing them. (Unlike a play within a play, which is a public experience in which the actors playing the actors can easily interact with the actors playing the audience, provided that there is such an audience.)

In the main scene we meet one male-female couple and a mother and her son. Their ages are between 17 and 40. The scene within the scene shows a male-female couple and a second man, whose ages vary from 18 to 27. The characters of both scenes appear in this act only. They are:

  • BERTRAM, a man of about 30-35 years old
  • SIGRID, Bertram's partner, a woman of about 26-30 years old
  • GERTRUDE, Sigrid's sister, a woman of about 35-40 years old
  • RONALD, Gertrude's 17-year-old son
  • OCTAVIAN, Pope John XII about 27 years old
  • LAURENCE, Octavian's friend of about the same age
  • FELICIA, Laurence's wife, about 18 years old

The scene is an elaborately decorated brightly lighted living room with a table of tropical hardwood good for ten dinner guests. Against the left wall there is a chest of drawers and on the same wall, to the left of it, a computer-television flatscreen. In the back wall there is a large window and, on the far right, a door to a hallway. On the right there is a steep, open staircase with marble steps leading to a corridor upstairs. Contemporary or even futuristic apparatuses, devices and gadgets may be displayed and used in this part of the play.

This act features a play within the play, referred to in both the first and the third acts. It is a modern adaptation of Elckerlijc and Everyman (see above). Elckerlijc was created in a time midway between the year 963 (the time of the first act) and the year 1963 (the time of the third act), that is, around the year 1460 of the Christianist Era. It is in essence a normistic work of art, as it centers on virtues and other values. Yet, the story has always been presented in a clearly, if not blatantly, theocentristic framework. Here the medieval story is cut back to its purely normistic core, where it concerns people of all times, of all beliefs and, not less, of nonbelief. At the same time the allegory has been improved upon both by deleting nonallegorical characters and by adding new allegorical ones.

We meet sixteen people of both sexes and various ages. Again, the characters appear in this act only. They are:

  • ELCKERLYC (Elckerlijc, Everyman)
  • FEASTING, parent of Here and Now
  • HERE, young child of Feasting
  • NOW, young child of Feasting
  • FUTURE, parent of Longevity and Death
  • LONGEVITY, grown-up child of Future
  • DEATH, grown-up child of Future (Die Doot, Death)
  • FRIENDSHIP (Gheselscap, Fellowship)
  • FAMILY (Maghe & Neve, Kindred & Cousin)
  • WEALTH (Tgoet, Goods)
  • STRENGTH (Cracht, Strength)
  • BEAUTY (Schoonheyt, Beauty)
  • PRUDENCE (Vroetscap, Discretion)
  • PERCEPTION (Vijf Sinnen, Five Wits)
  • INSIGHT, sib of Good-Deeds (Kennisse, Knowledge)
  • GOOD-DEEDS, sib of Insight (Duecht, Good Deeds)

(The names between parentheses are the counterparts in the medieval plays Elckerlijc and Everyman respectively.)

The scene is a large asphalt North American parking lot, bordered by the left wall of a tall building on the right and a polluted concrete ditch on the left. Because of the many cars it is not possible to see how far the parking lot extends at the back and what is behind it. In the shade of the wall on the left there are two adjacent plastic picnic tables. A number of wooden poles support overhead telephone cables and there is also a public phone booth. The time is 18 years after the end of the Second World War (the year 1963 of the Christianist Era).

We meet seven people (two male-female couples, one same-sex female couple and a single young man), aged 16-26. They are:

  • JAN, a woman of about 23 years old
  • GLADYS, Jan's partner, a woman of about the same age
  • ANGELA, Jan's sister, about 21 years old
  • WILLIAM, Angela's husband, about 25 years old
  • HIRAM, Jan's brother, about 19 years old
  • PETER, Hiram's friend of about the same age
  • MYRA, Peter's partner, about 17 years old

As far as the British and (North) American variants of the present language are concerned, it should be noted that British rather than American idiom and spelling are used in Act One, and American rather than British idiom and spelling in Act Three. The same rule ought to be applied to the actors: if native speakers, a British or other European accent is to be preferred to a North American one in the first act, and a North American accent to a European one in the third act. There is no such general guideline for Act Two or with respect to other native and nonnative accents.

The language in both Act One and Act Three is old-fashioned in that it is sexually irrelevantistic; in other words: genderized regardless of context. The language in Act Two, however, is sex-neutral and -transcending (and neither European nor North American, or both). It is the language of persons rather than of men and women, unless sex is relevant in the context concerned. (The third-person singular pronouns used are: 'e, 'im and 'er.) Hence, not only do the actions in Act Two take place at the technologically most advanced time, they also take place at the linguistically most advanced time of the play.

©MVVM, 58-68 ASWW

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