Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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True Beginnings of Elmo of the Apes
I wrote the following in the spring of 1991 for a grade. I was in a theatre history class (for my humanities credit) and the professor gave us the assignment of writing a one act play. He said it did not have to be an original work but could be adapted from a favorite book or song or whatever. So I sat down with pen and paper and my favorite book. The end result is here before you. I hope you enjoy. (By the way; my grade was an "A" :-)
John Clayton, Lord Greystoke - a strong, handsome, young English nobleman, about 25 years old. Tall (about 6' 4"), black hair (short and neat at first - later a little shaggy). Strong but not overly muscled (a Tom Selleck type of build).
Lady Alice - John's young wife, about 20 years old. Blond, beautiful and petite. Very elegant and graceful, but until now, somewhat sheltered and naive.
Baby Elmo - One year old son of John and Alice.
Black Michael - Leader of the mutineers; a huge bear of a man (large wrestler type of build). Shaggy black hair and full beard. speaks with an illiterate sounding British accent sometimes and with a more educated sounding accent at other times.
Other crew members - 6 to 10 rough-looking pirate type characters.
Kala - a female ape, somewhat smaller than the male apes, with a strong mother instinct.
Kerchak - male leader of the apes and the largest one.
Other apes - [Note: all apes should appear large ( over 300 lbs) and strong, and they should walk or run with a lumbering gait. When the apes talk, their speech is intermingled with growls, grunts, and other ape noises.]
Narrator - Sits in a large highback chair on a platform off of stage left. An end table with lamp, and a hat rack with a hat and overcoat on it sets behind and to the right of the chair. Narrator is an elderly gentleman wearing a suit. He smokes a pipe and gestures with it when talking. He talks to the audience as though they all are sitting together in the den of a manor house after dinner, and he is telling a story to his hosts and the other guests.
(Curtains closed, spotlight on narrator)
Narrator: I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me or to any other. I may credit the seductive influence of an old vintage upon the person who told it to me. I do not say the story is true, for I did not witness the happenings which it portrays, but the fact that in telling it to you I am taking fictitious names for the principal characters, quite sufficiently evidences the sincerity of my own belief that it may be true. The yellow mildewed pages of the diary of a man long dead, and the records of the Colonial Office coincide perfectly with the tale originally told me. So I give you the story as I painstakingly pieced it out from these agencies.
In 1888 a certain young and wealthy English nobleman, whom we shall call John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, was commissioned by the Colonial Office to go to a British Westcoast African colony in the service of her majesty, Queen Victoria. Since he expected a possible 5 to 8 year stay, he brought along many luxuries as well as the necessities for himself and his wife, Lady Alice. But the crew, of the small sailing vessel he chartered to take them on the final leg of their journey, mutinied. Black Michael, the leader of the mutineers, determined to put Lord and Lady Greystoke ashore, with all of their belongings, on an uninhabited stretch of African coastline.
(Spotlight on narrator goes off as curtain opens.)
Scene I - (A narrow strip of deserted beach down stage and thick jungle up stage. Background sounds: surf and jungle noises. Lighting: mid-morning sunshine. A few packing crates and chests are setting DR. John is dressed in a full suit; Alice is dressed in an expensive-looking dress, and both are very neatly groomed. Black Michael is dressed in a pirate-looking outfit. All three are standing SL. During the exchange between John and Black Michael, about 6 to 10 other pirates bring in several more crates and supplies from DR and put them with the others. The pirates may argue and mutter among themselves but not so loud as to distract from the main conversation. Alice looks frightened and stays very close to John but says nothing until after the pirates leave.)
Black Michael (to John): Ye'll be all right 'ere for a few months 'til we make port somewheres an; scatter a bit. Then I'll see that yer gover'ment's notified where ye be an' they'll soon send a ship to fetch ye.
John: Please, for her sake (indicating Alice), take us to a civilized port. I promise you a rich reward once we get there and that we will never talk about what happened on board the ship.
Black Michael (almost apologetic): Ye may be all right, but it would be a hard matter to land ye in civilization without a lot o' questions being asked, an' none o' us 'ere has any very convincin' answers up our sleeves.
(A lion's roar is heard in the distance. Alice gasps and moves closer to John, who puts his arm around her.)
John (angrily): For God's sake man, it is inhumane; landing us on this unknown shore to be left to the mercies of savage beasts and, possibly, still more savage men!
Black Michael (determined and speaking more properly, as if his upbringing might have been better than he lets on): See here, I am the only man aboard who would not rather see you both safely dead, and while I know that that's the sensible way to make sure of our own necks, Black Michael's not the man to forget a favor. You saved my life once. When that bully of a captain would have shot me, you knocked his gun away. In return, I'm going to spare your life, but that's all can do. The men (indicating pirates) won't stand for anymore, and if we don't get you landed quick, they may even change their minds about that. I've put all of your things ashore with you because I don't want any evidence of you around if we are stopped and searched for any reason. I'm also leaving you some tools, cooking utensils, some old sails for tents, and enough food to last until you can find some fruit and game. With that , and your guns for protection, you ought to be able to live here easy enough until help comes.
Pirate (calling from pile): That's the last of it, Black Michael!
Black Michael (calling back): I'll be right with ye mates! (to John) I swear when I'm safely hid away, I'll see to it that the British government learns where you are. Goodbye (pause) and good luck. (turns and strides toward the other pirates, laughing) Come along ye land-lubbin' scalawages, let's leave this 'ere dead-end port and find one with a bit more action. (exit Black Michael and the pirates SR.)
(John and Alice stare after them.)
Black Michael (heard off stage and fading into the distance): Let's shove off lads. Put your backs into it me hearties. Heave ho, heave ho...
(John and Alice turn to look at each other then Alice bursts into tears.)
Alice (crying): Oh John, the horror of it. What are we to do? What are we to do?
John (calmly and quietly): There is but one thing to do, Alice, and that is work. Work must be out salvation. We must not give ourselves time to think, for in that direction lies madness. (determinedly) We must work and wait because I am sure that relief will come sooner or later.
Alice (still sobbing a little): But John, if it were only you and I, we could endure it, I know; but--(she breaks off, looks down, and places both hands on either side of her stomach).
John (also looks down and gently places his hands over hers then speaks softly): Yes, dear, I have been thinking of that also; but we must face it, (raises his hands to her chin and lifts it) as we must face whatever comes, (pause) bravely and with the utmost confidence in our ability to cope with circumstances, whatever they may be. (he begins to walk around gesturing and speaking louder, Alice has stopped crying and watches him) Hundreds of thousands of years ago out ancestors of the dim and distant past faced the same problem which we must face possibly in these same primeval forests (gestures toward jungle). That we are here today is evidence of their victory. (he gets louder and more excited as he strides toward the crates, Alice follows) What they did, may we not do even better? For are we not armed with ages of superior knowledge, and have we not the means of protection, defense, and sustenance (gestures toward crates) of which they were totally ignorant? (wonder) What they accomplished with weapons of stone and bone, (determination) surely we can accomplish with weapons of steel! (grabs a rifle from the pile and holds it above his head).
Alice (wishful): Ah John, I wish that I might be a man with a man's philosophy; (disappointed) however, I an but a woman, seeing with my heart rather than my head, and all that I can see is too horrible, to unthinkable, to put into words. I only hope you are right, John. (she straightens up and walks toward John, smiling) I will do my best to be a brave primeval woman, a fit mate for the primeval man (gestures toward John).
John (also smiling): Well, this primeval man says, let's get to work. (Close curtain as they begin sorting through boxes.)
(Spotlight on narrator).
Narrator: And work they did. That night John constructed a little platform in the trees, out of reach of the larger of the savage beasts in whose realm they were. The next morning he began work on a more permanent shelter and by the end of the second month, he had built them a strong, one room cabin complete with a fireplace and furnishings. That he had been able to turn his hands at all to such unaccustomed labor was a source of mild wonder to him. But he loved the work because it was for his beloved Alice. (pause) At night, great beasts snarled and roared about their tiny cabin, but so accustomed may one become to oft repeated noises, that soon they paid little attention to them, sleeping soundly the whole night through. (Spotlight goes off as curtain opens.)
Scene II - (Up stage is the front of a log cabin. A chopping block log with an ax on it and a small wood pile are UL. Lighting: bright mid-afternoon sunshine, inside open cabin door is dark. Jungle sounds continue in the background. John and Alice enter through the cabin door UC. Their appearance is more unkept looking than before. John's hair is a little longer and shaggy looking. His shirt sleeves are rolled up, and he is no longer wearing a suit coat. Alice is also dressed a little plainer, and her pregnancy is very obvious.
(enter John and Alice).
Alice: John, where are you going this late in the day?
John (picks up ax): I found the perfect tree to make a cradle out of, and I want to chop it down now, so I can begin making the cradle in the morning.
Alice (looks down, hand on stomach): Well, we are going to need one very soon, (looks at John) but please be careful. I always worry so when you are away from the cabin.
John (goes to her and kisses her cheek): I'll be back in no time. (He walks toward SR, enter ape from SL growling and stalking John.)
Alice (screaming): Oh God, John, look out! (She backs toward the cabin door.)
John (turns and is startled to see ape but quickly puts on a brave front): Close and bolt the door, Alice I can finish this fellow with my ax.
(Alice disappears in the doorway for a moment then comes back out with a rifle).
John (horror): Back Alice; for God's sake, go back!
(DR John swings the ax at the ape. The ape grabs the ax out of John's hands and throws it to one side then he reaches for John. As the ape reaches, Alice fires the rifle at it. The ape roars, turns, and springs toward Alice but falls dead at her feet. At the same time, Alice faints. John rushes to her.)
John (desperate): Alice, Alice! (He drops beside her and checks her) Oh, thank God, she's only fainted; (He picks her up in his arms.)
Alice (coming to, but groggy): What happened, John?
John: You fainted, but everything is all right. I'm just going to carry you in the house.
Alice (lays head on John's shoulder and sighs): Oh John, it is so good to be really home. I have had an awful dream, dear. I thought we were no longer in London, but in some horrible place where great beasts attacked us.
John (worriedly as he carries her through the doorway): There, there Alice. Try to rest and do not worry right now about any bad dreams. (Close curtain)
(Spotlight on narrator.)
Narrator: That night a little son was born in the tiny cabin beside the primeval forest. Lady Greystoke never recovered from the shock of the great ape's attack. She never again went outside the cabin, nor did she ever fully realize that she was not in England. Sometimes she would question Lord Greystoke as to the strange noises of the nights, the absence of servants and friends, and the strange rudeness of the furnishings within her room. But though he made no effort to deceive her, she never could grasp the meaning of it all. However, in other ways, she was quite rational, and the joy and happiness she took in the possession of her little son and the constant attentions of her husband made that time a very happy one for her; the happiest of her young life. (Open curtain as spotlight goes off.)
Scene III - (The interior of the cabin. All furniture is rough and handmade looking, from tree limbs and boards from packing crates. Cradle is setting by the bed. Shelves behind table have dishes and cooking utensils. Shelves behind the bed have books and pictures. Tables have hurricane lamps. Bamboo shades hang over windows. Rough looking handmade clay vases with flowers in them are setting on tables and some shelves. A diary and writing quill and ink is setting on the large table. Animal skin rugs are on the floor. A rifle is hanging over the doorway. Lighting is dim inside the cabin, but light through the doorway is bright sunshine light.)
(Open curtain. John and Alice are sitting at the table. John is writing in his diary and Alice is holding the baby in her lap. John's appearance has not changed much from Scene II, but Alice has become pale, weak and sickly looking.)
John (musing): You know, Alice, somehow, even against all reason, I seem to see our son as a grown man, taking his father's place in the world--the second John Clayton--and bringing added honors to the house of Greystoke.
Alice (playing with baby): Of course he will, John. Here in London he will have all the opportunities he needs, and he will make us proud. (John, with diary and pen in hand reaches toward the baby in Alice's lap) John, what are you doing?
John (fiddles with the baby's hands for a moment then puts the diary and pen back on the table): There, to give my prophecy the weight of his endorsement, I have placed the seal of his fingerprints upon this page in my diary.
Alice: That's nice dear. (John gets up) Where are you going?
John: I am going out to see if I can get something special for out supper tonight in honor of little John's first birthday.
Alice (playing with baby again): Why don't you send one of the servants so you can stay here with us?
John (gently): We don't have any servants here dear.
Alice (matter of factly): Really John, you are too kind--always letting all of the servants off at the sane time. But go on, we'll be fine here until you get back.
John (puts on jacket and hat then looks sadly at Alice): I won't be long. (He takes the gun down, opens the door, and goes out door shutting it behind him.)
Alice (to baby): We will have such a nice party for you tonight dear. We'll invite all of our family and friends. (to self) It seems like it has been such a long time since anyone came to visit. (to baby) But I know they will all be here for your special day, so I guess you had better take a nap now so you won't fall asleep on the middle of your party tonight. (She gets up and walks back and forth rocking the baby and she may sing or hum a lullaby then she puts him in the cradle.) I have been feeling so tired of late. I think I will lie down for just a moment myself and then I will get things ready for the party. (She lays down on the bed and speaks in a fading voice) Just a moment...so, very...tired. (She gets very still and quietly dies--goes limp, arm slips to hang off the edge of the bed as head rolls to one side to help indicate her death.) (pause)
(John enters through the door He begins talking to Alice without looking at her while standing in the open doorway hanging up his gun, jacket, and hat.)
John: Well, dear, my hunt was successful, we shall have thick, juicy rinocerous steaks for little John's birthday dinner. Perhaps that will put some color back in your cheeks. I know that you haven't been feeling very will lately, have you Alice? (notices her and becomes concerned) Alice? (leaves door open and rushes to the bed to try and wake her) Alice! Wake up! I'm home! Alice!! (he kneels at the bedside and realizes that she is dead, he holds her hand) Oh God, no! Alice, don't leave me.
(He hugs her body overcome with grief and he cries for a minute. Then John masters himself and stops crying. He slowly stands up and pulls a sail cloth from the foot of the bed up over Alice's body and head then walks slowly--like the weight of the world is on his shoulders--to the table and sits down at it with his head in his hands. (pause) Then he picks up the pen and begins to write in the diary.)
John (writing): Today Alice has passed away; I do not know how I can go on without her. (The baby in the cradle begins to cry. John looks up slowly toward the cradle, then he drops the pen and looks toward the ceiling and cries out in desperation) My little son is crying for nourishment. Oh Alice, Alice, what shall I do? (Then he collapses with his head on the table as though in a faint. Baby continues to cry.)
(Through the open doorway, about 8 apes enter slowly and silently. One ape, Kala, is clutching a limp and lifeless baby ape in her arms. They are all looking around very curiously. Then John raises up and as he moves, the other 7 apes--not Kala--rush toward him while growling and roaring. John looks shocked as the apes surround him. He gives one anguished cry as the apes bear him to the floor and kill him [NOTE: audience does not see John get killed because the apes are crowded around him, afterward his body is left lying on the floor]. At the same time when the other apes rush John, Kala goes to the cradle and examines the baby inside then she tenderly picks it up and drops her own dead baby ape in the cradle. As she cuddles the baby, it stops crying. Then the 7 other apes start toward Kala, but they stop when she growls and bares her teeth at them.)
Kerchak: Give me the little man-thing, Kala, so I can kill it like I did the big man-thing.
Kala: No, Kerchak, he is mine. I will keep him in place of my dead baby ape.
Kerchak: It will never be a great ape. Always you will have to carry and protect it. What good will it be to the tribe? None; only a Burden. Give it to me.
Kala: Never, if I must carry him forever, so be it. I will never give up my little Elmo.
(Kala, carrying baby and growling at the other apes, exits through the door. They let her pass and then follow her).
(Spotlight on narrator)
Narrator: And so the second John Clayton did survive as Elmo of the Apes, and when he was grown, he took his father's place in the world and brought added honors to the house of Greystoke, just as his father had foreseen. But how all of that was accomplished is another story. (Narrator stands and puts on hat and coat.) If we ever meet again, perhaps I can tell you about it then, but for now, I bid you GOOD NIGHT.
(He turns, walks off stage and spotlight goes off.)
Editor's Note: Patterson's "Elmo" in the title was originally another famous ape-man in literature. In respect for the trademark(s) of many, and in keeping with editiroal practices at Tangor's Pastiche and Fan Fiction, Elmo (named after the friend of Big Bird, not that Lincoln fellow of the movies) has been used to avoid any confusion with other copyrighted or trademarked fictional characters.