Gilgamesh is a longtime obsession for me
I adapted the epic of Gilgamesh once before, in a very long spoken ballad with musical accompaniment, as part of my play Aerwacol, written over a decade ago. Why Gilgamesh is a subject for another post, but the song grew to be so long that I felt compelled to present it in three parts over the course of the play. I have long suspected this to have been a cop-out on my part, and that perhaps I should have edited instead...
Recently though I had the pleasure of seeing a new production of the play, in St. Louis, Missouri, and I found that the journey of the song (and the songwriter) through the play turned out to be one of its strongest components. Along with the fact that they answered the script's call for a manual railroad cart with the real thing.
An added bonus of the St. Louis production was this review, by Richard Green, on a regional news site called Talkin' Broadway.
... a band of slightly gob-smacked Canadians, broken by recent tragedies, sets out across the plain. They roll along on a railroad push-cart (a "jigger"), only to meet with unwelcomed success. Gradually, they disband until we reach an ending that still defies explanation, in my mind ... Aerwacol is a masterpiece of the commonplace, the desperate, and the impossible.
The whole cast is remarkable, natural and polished. We are led into the wilderness without a map, just as Christopher Harris (as a pig farmer) is led through the woods and ditches in the opening minutes by his delirious wife (Donna Parrone). And in that flight, she says the absolutely unspeakable, instantly rising to mythic stature...
It would probably be boring to read about every little unexpected bit of naturalistic humor or stagecraft that makes Aerwacol so transcendent, but you'd be surprised at what magic can arise from small things: a fine mist from stage left catching the cool white rays of dawn; a country cottage that snaps open like the end of a long fever-dream; and an odd chicken-wire shell surrounding the top of a mine, creating echoes of mysterious depths whenever its platform is struck with a shovel or plank. Taken all together, it makes you think there may still be a couple of centuries of good theater still ahead of us.
I'm old enough now to know that a notice like this doesn't mean I'm en route to Broadway, but it's a nice thing to see, fer sher.
Here's the ballad from the play. It focuses in on a detail in the Gilamesh story — his encounter with the barmaid, Shiduri.
Sources close to the Mayor conceded last night,
Callyhoo is not up to the task.
He lost his brother last month in a skiing accident
And he’s no longer up to the task.
This was clear yesterday when, found by the river,
Still swollen from last week’s flood,
He’d lost his shoes and his socks and his hat and his Pride;
His renown is unfortunately now stuck in the mud.
The distraught Callyhoo stumbled into a bar
For to try and catch his breath,
The barmaid looked at him straight in the eye
Said don’t waste time with your challenging Death.
Don’t waste time with your challenging Death my man
Let your days be untroubled and free
Pay heed to the little ones that hold you by the hand
And the touch of a woman like me.
Of each day make a feast of rejoicing my love,
Let your people be a comfort to you,
So when you pass on they’ll remember, they’ll say
That man new life. That Mayor Callyhoo.
But the Mayor said “No!” “No!”
He had to learn on his own.
He had to wander the roads of the earth
To fill the hole that was there in his heart with a home.
For awhile Callyhoo went with Wild Bill's Fair
On display for the leering crowd
For awhile he worked on a high scaffold
Where he shouted his questions at God out loud
In his travels he found hearts ravaged as his
Were numbered as stars in the sky
So he founded a town where they could all lie down
Where all were welcome to come lie down and die
Now people came to this town from miles around,
By the hundreds or more, to be dead.
Callyhoo lay there living for 99 years
Then he stood up again and scratched the top of his head.
He thought he recalled something that he had once heard
That seemed in a flash to make sense
And a damn sight wiser than all this lying around,
So he addressed all the supine ladies and gents
He said let's not waste time with this pretense of death,
Let's make our days untroubled and free
pay heed to the little ones that hold us by the hand
And build up a town for you and for me
A town with fresh water and plenty of wine
And land all around for to make
A garden of Tears that would reap Happiness
In our Village of Early Awake.
"Each day must be full of rejoicing and love
For the people are a comfort to you.”
He proclaimed all this and said "When I pass on
Tell them that man knew life – The Mayor Callyhoo!"