Columbus (a pageant play for one professional actor (Washington Irving [prologue] and Columbus) and community players. The play was commissioned by American Stage Company to be performed on a Staten Island beach overlooking the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline, and by the East Lynne Company to tour during the 1992 Columbian Quincentennial. Minimal sets, augmented with large cardboard cut-outs depicting the Courts of Spain and China, and a large, square red-crossed sail.
[Christopher Columbus pleads for his project at the Court of the Spanish King and Queen, Ferdinand and Isabella. It is 1492.]
[Lights come up on a bare stage.] Chris, travel weary, enters Stage Left just as Spanish Courtiers begin to pour onto stage from Stage Right: Scholars, Huntsmen, Fops, Ladies, Jesters, Soldiers, Royal Ministers, Priests. They bring on potted orange trees, satin cushions and stools, long satin pennants and numerous life-size cut-outs (like out-sized cut-out creche figures for a toy theater,) The cut-out figures may be: a group of Arab musicians; exotic merchants with goods ranging from bolts of cloth to fine gold vessels, monkeys and peacocks; there are jugglers and acrobats; a girl dancing on a large green ball; a group of scholars; the Three Kings of a proper creche set. There is great glitter and hubbub as the Court assembles.
(Chris wanders among the courtiers and cut-outs with his letter of introduction, searching for Medina Celi. At last he finds him. As they speak, the Courtiers gradually exit, leaving the stage full of the cut-outs and a grandly dressed Astrologer who circles among the cut-outs.)
My lord of Medina Celi?
(Medina nods slightly in acknowledgement.)
(Hesitantly) I have here a letter of introduction to you from Perez de Marchena, to whom I was referred by Father Marchena of Palos de la Frontera.
(Approaches Medina and whispers loudly in his ear.) My calculations of the stars show there’s something to it. Buy in! Buy in while the investment’s cheap!
(Medina leans toward Chris who, in pantomime, describes his stupendous plans. Medina’s eyes widen.)
(To Perez, who circles toward and past him.) Cheap! Perez, I can’t afford this. Only a king could put up the nut for such a gamble! (To Chris, mincing, smiling) I’ll obtain an audience for you… And if the project’s fruitful… (He rubs his fingers, suggesting payment to him.)
(A Trumpeter blares a fanfare as a Royal Procession enters from Stage Right. Pages bring on a gold-fringed satin canopy, a carpeted dais and two thrones. Royal children frolic among pages bringing on monkeys, parrots, treasure chests, etc.
The Trumpeter again blares his fanfare and King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella enter at a stately stride. Isabella may be dressed as a medieval monarch or a modern business woman, she is sharp faced. Ferdinand looks shifty and uncertain, he defers to her.
Chris, Medina and Perez bow deeply to the royal couple as they settle onto their thrones on the dais under the canopy. Perez approaches the thrones.)
What ho, Astrologer. Will we ever gain Granada? Or is it just a pit down which the Queen tosses gold?
Ah, good King, Granada will be yours, and all on this peninsula, in time.
(Sharply) What do you mean, “on this peninsula”? Will we lose our islands?
No and a thousand times no, wise Queen. The islands to be yours know no numbering! Whole continents will pay you homage. Your realm, in ten years’ time, will stupefy the modern mind. But what I see is veiled in mists. Sea mists. And I dare say no more.
Your words, old man, are extravagant.
(Rushing to the throne.) Not extravagant, good Queen. I’ve come to lay at your feet just such a plan to bring great continents to know and pay homage to your most exalted self!
What mad man is this? Who here is his sponsor!
(Fearful) I am, my Queen. I thought that in this mariner’s dreams you might find some amusement.
(Chagrined, but controlling himself, bowing.) Great Queen, I am your servant.
Speak up, then. What do you have to say to redeem our astrologer’s ravings?
(Weaving magic with his words.) No less a person than the Great Khan of China shall grant you homage. His mighty kingdom of Cathay I shall set at your feet. The Emperor of gloried Cipango, Japan, shall hail you “Queen.” On and on we shall conquer, in the name of Christendom of course, until we join hands with the Ancient of Ancients, Prester John whose Christian realm shall be the only terminus of Spain’s Empire.
[As Chris speaks, the Trumpeter switches instrument to a raucous Chinese horn. A Procession of the Orient emerges from Stage left: The Great Khan is dressed like a General in the Peking Opera; the Emperor of Japan, like the Mikado; Prester John, a skeletal monk. From behind the cut-outs Perez and Medina take and put on oriental masks. Other Courtiers draw long silk streamers from the cut-outs. The cut-outs themselves are revolved to show a Kabuki lion, geishas, Fu Manchu, Shiva and Shakti dancing, Japanese Tourists with cameras, Smiling Merchants with cars, television sets, toys and computers.
(Lost in the magic of his own words.) Pearls! Spices! Emeralds! Silks! Gold and jewels that dazzle the eyes! (The Chinese horn squeals.) Music like the breath of angels! Scents that fill the lungs with ecstasy. Works of art more subtle than cathedrals’ filigree! Secrets of the Earth unknown since Chaldea. Cures for ailments we have not yet felt.
An Asian flu. Achew!
(To Isabella) All these things will be yours, laid at your feet. And yet one treasure more must be added. One treasure which turns all the rest to dross.
(Chris turns to the courtiers who gradually drop their masks, etc. and stand without disguise.)
We must reach out our hands. Not as conquerors. Not as greedy merchants. But as fellow mankind, in brotherhood under God. Our own God of course.
(Deeply moved, walks among her courtiers.) Could such a dream be won? (She cocks her head doubtfully.)