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Columbus (a pageant play)

15th century European reports of details of Columbus’s finding provide bizarre items used in the play: pet flying fish, communally smoked cigars smoked through a nostril… and numerous linguistic errors and misunderstandings.

Columbus (a pageant play for one professional actor (Washington Irving [prologue] and Columbus) and community players. The play was commissioned by the East Lynne Company to tour during the 1992. Minimal sets, augmented with large cardboard cut-outs depicting the Courts of Spain and China, and a large, square red-crossed sail.

[Evening, Christmas Eve, 1492, off a Caribbean island.] (The deck of the Santa Maria. A table serves as the bow with a cut-out figurehead of the Virgin. The ship’s wheel is at center stage with the great, red crossed sail, festooned with grim looking sea weed as a Christmas decoration. )

(Behind the sail the sailors are singing “Oh Holy Night.” Peralonso is at the wheel, Cosa behind him. Arawak Man dangles a string in the water.) Chris comes on “deck” and to the “bow.”

Columbus

(looking to Stage Right) That is the Nina in the west? Near the horizon?

Cosa

Yes, she’s as becalmed as we are. The Pinta caught a breeze and has sailed on.

Columbus

(observing Arawak Man) What is he doing?

Cosa

He’s walking his puppy.

Arawak Man

(reels in his string ith a flying fish tied to the end of it. He shows the fish and says his new word proudly.) Puppy!

Columbus

(glowers at Cosa) We are trying to teach him to speak properly!

Cosa

(changing subject, gestures to sail) What do you think of our Christams decoration, Admiral?

Columbus

Surely this is the first Christam men have celebrated in this part in the world. Would that we had reached the golden city of Bohio and baptized the Great Khan Guacanagari on this night.

Peralonso

W’ve been becalmed for days in the passage. I look at the same beach over there hour after hour but we don’t move by so much as a ripple.

Columbus

(Putting his arm around Arawak Man’s shoulder.) Come. Everyone may rest this night. Peralonso, come. Boy! (speaks to the youngest, smallest cabin boy) You may keep watch and take the helm this night.

Boy

(very proudly) Yes, sir… Admiral.

Columbus and all exit behind the sail, leaving the small boy at the wheel beneath the vast red crossed sail.

(Darkness. Moonlight illumines the face of the child at the helm. Behind the dail the ailors singing “We three kings” has an ominous sound. At their last chorus of “Lead us to thy truest light…” there is suddenly  the sail bulges and there is a terrible crashing sound. The ship’s wheel pulls violently from one side to the other. The Boy shrieks.

Boy

Captain! Captain!

(Columbus, Peralonso, Cosa, Tores, Arawak Man and sailors dash from behind the shaking and billowing sail and Cosa takes the wheel.)

Cosa

She’s run around on the coral heads! (Fighting the wheel) She’s settling! (More loud crunching, then the wheel stops moving despite the shaking of the sail. Cosa gives the wheel to Peralonso.)  Her bow is stuck upon the coral.

Columbus

Throw out the anchor! We’ll winch her off! Cosa, man the row boat and have the ailors tie lines to the ship. Use the boat to drag her free!

Cosa

We’d best get help from the Nina.

Columbus

There may not be time!

(A Sailor heaves an anchor overboard off Stage Right. An onstage line plays out then goes tight at a low angle. Cosa and Sailors bring on a cardboard image of a row boat, get “in” and are handed ropes by sailors on the “ship.” They exit Stage Right and their lines pull tight.)

Columbus

Pull! Pull, or we are shipwrecked!

(The lines go slack)

Cosa

(off stage Right) It is no use! I go to get help from the Nina!

Columbus

Come back! There’s no time!… He’s gone…

(A loud noise of splintering wood. )          

Peralonso

(Struggling with the wheel.) She’s rising higher on the shoal! We’re taking water!

Sailor 1

Mother of God, come to our aid!

Sailor 2

We’re crushed on the rocks!

Sailor 3

Her seams are opening! We’re sinking!

(In the moonlight, as everyone on the ship struggles in panic, a stately dugout canoe (cardboard cut-out) glides on from Stage Left. Feathered Arawaks paddle her and in her bow stands the Arawak chief, Guacanagari. (From European drawings) he wears a ostrich feather headdress similar to a nightclub chorus girl. His body is colorfully painted with tattoos and he wears a flowered loin cloth. He is regally curious about the strange ship and its frightened crew. [best played by a well known member of community where show is playing.]

Arawak Man

Guacanagari! Guacanagari! (rushes to side of “ship” nearest the canoe. Speaking pseudo Arawak.) Mikiwooi! O attal. Oowie! Oowie. (motions for sailors who bring rope to throw to canoe.)

(Paddlers take rope and move forward trying to pull the Santa Maria free.)

Columbus

It’s no use! We’re sinking! We’re saved!