The Sedan Chair
a radio play adapted for theatre
by Paola Moretti
Pepi – (1st Footman)
Diodato – (2nd Footman)
(Similar in appearance, and although dressed in eighteenth-century livery, they look quite shabby)
Scene: the backdrop on cardboard will be replaced by others as the need arises and with the greatest of nonchalance, like in a school play. The characters are two footmen carrying a closed sedan chair containing a mysterious personage, presumably of very high rank. He communicates with the footmen with gurgling noises only they can interpret and is never seen by the audience.
Music: We will rock you (Queen)
(The two men enter carrying the sedan chair. They are hot, bothered and out of breath. They advance in time to the music of the Queen)
Pepi – We can slow down now. I’ve thrown out the leftovers and closed the window.
Diodato – Always the same.
Pepi – Can you see anything?
Diodato – Maybe he’s fallen asleep.
Pepi – Let’s stop.
Diodato – He’d wake up.
Pepi – We can pretend to walk.
Diodato – In that case we might as well walk.
Pepi – It’s the principle that counts.
Diodato – How far is it to the city?
Pepi – I don’t know. I need to take a look at the map.
Diodato – What’s keeping you?
Pepi – One moment; it’s under my wig.
Diodato – Next time I’ll keep it.
Pepi – You? Don’t make me laugh.
Diodato – Stop a moment: I have to unbutton my livery.
Pepi – We’re going up a slope. I can’t stop.
Diodato – The heat’s killing me. Where did you put the sunglasses?
Pepi – Under the frogging.
Diodato – What frogging, damn it?
Pepi – Mine. My glasses are under my frogging.
Diodato – Mine, my, can’t you say anything else?
Pepi – No.
Diodato – You weren’t like that once, Pepi.. You were sweet, romantic, so considerate towards me.
Pepi – Once I didn’t know you so well.
Diodato – But why, what have you got to complain about ? Don’t I pull my weight, just like you do? If it weren’t for me, Pepi, you’d be dragging this chair all on your own and without exchanging a word or quarrelling with a soul… don’t I help make your day?
( light knocking on the window)
Diodato – Pepi?…
Pepi – Shh! Just pretend you didn’t hear.
(as above, only louder)
Diodato – Pepi…
Pepi – Shhh, let’s just get to the top of this slope first.
Diodato – But when he calls it means he needs something… Did you ever think what might happen to my children if I lost my job?
Pepi – You haven’t got any children.
Diodato – So what? You don’t want me to feel guilty about that, do you?
(very loud knocking )
Pepi – Stop. Now, very slowly…set it down.. Open the door.
Diodato – After you, Pepi.
Pepi – Open the damned door!
Diodato – (sulkily) All right then!
(He fiddles clumsily with the handle trying to open the door on the side hidden from the audience. As he does, the passenger emits indistinct gurgling sounds, somewhat akin to a series of modulated raspberries, more or less intelligible depending on their volume. The door finally opens and is accompanied by a violent vocal outburst, unintelligible to the audience, from the unseen passenger )
Pepi – Your Excellency…
Diodato – Yes, Your Excellency….
Pepi – I’m mortified, Your Excellency.
Pepi – At once, Your Excellency. (To Diodato) Hurry up, get the funnel.
Diodato – Which funnel?
Pepi – The small one. His Excellency simply wants to wet his lips (Diodato rummages in his uniform for something)
Pepi – Forgive me, Your Excellency, my assistant is new, sometimes he’s more of a hindrance than a help.
Diodato – (passing him a fan) Here you are. Is that all right?
Pepi – Didn’t you understand me? Funnel, I said f-u-double n-e-l.
Diodato – Funnel.. And where do you think I can get hold of one?
Pepi – Can’t you see it dangling from your garter?
Pepi – Yes, Your Excellency, he will be severely chastised as soon as we reach the castle..
Diodato – Here’s the funnel.
Pepi – Give it here. Get the water canister.
Diodato – (he does so) All right..
Pepi – Yes, Your Excellency, now, open wide….that’s it…thanks. (to Diodato) Pour the water into the funnel and mind you don’t wet His Excellency.
Diodato – Yes, Pepi.
(loud noise of abundant water pouring into a cistern.)
Pepi – That’ll do.
Pepi – Lift His Excellency’s feet so I dry the step.
Diodato – At once..
Pepi – Your gloves?
Diodato – What gloves?
Pepi – (barely keeping his temper) You must wear gloves before touching His Excellency’s shoes!
Diodato – (anguished) I’ll look for them… (rummaging among his things)
Pepi – He was appointed by public examination, Your Excellency, like all of us, but you know, you’re a man of the world. You can judge for yourself without my …
Pepi – Very well, we’ll get going again, at once. There, pardon me, that’s it, perfect. I’ll close the safety latch…(he bangs the door of the chair violently)
Diodato – They’re not even in the satchel; I must have lost them when I fell into that puddle.
Pepi – There’s no further need for them, I did everything myself.
Diodato – What now? Are you going to report me?
Pepi – I’m not sure, I’ll have to think about it.
Diodato – Oh, no! Please, Pepi, no, I implore you….
Pepi – Where in the rule book does it say that you must get away with things scot free?
Diodato – Nowhere, Pepi…Oh, Pepi, allow me to kiss your hand..
Pepi – No way! Don’t even think of it? …(the sound of a loud smacking kiss) Get off. Revolting!
Diodato – I owe it to you! Another…
Pepi – Cut it out!
Diodato – Let it never be said I’m ungrateful…(the sound of yet another kiss)
Pepi – That’ll do!
Diodato – Pepi…
(some business involving kisses and punches, until a loud banging on the window brings things to a sudden halt: the two footmen are bent in two, out of breath)
Pepi – I think we’ve said all that needed to be said.
Diodato – Where’s my wig?
Pepi – On that branch.
Diodato – No, that’s the lunch satchel.
Pepi – But it’s blond!
Diodato – Yellow.
Pepi – Wavy?
Diodato – Go fetch it.
Pepi – Forget it: too much hassle. (Furious knocking on the window. The two burst out laughing, but the second footman’s laughter turns suddenly in to desperate sobbing)
Pepi – Now, what are you up to?! Diodato, what’s the matter with you?
Diodato – I can’t take any more of this, Pepi, I’m tired.
(Very loud knocking as if His Excellency were trying to break the door open)
Pepi – There, there, we’ll discuss it on the way..
Diodato – Whatever you like..
Pepi – Ready?
Diodato – Wait, I need to blow my nose.
Pepi – Okay, ready?
Diodato – Ready.
Pepi – Up she goes!… ( exit footmen, backs straight, chests out, carrying the chair as if with great pride )
Short musical interlude
(They enter again through the opposite wing, and look as if they have walked a long way)
Diodato – A short while ago you called me by name… for the very first time.
Pepi – I can’t stand seeing people cry.
Diodato – I’ve stopped.
Pepi – I’ve been chained to this sedan chair for the past twenty years; yes, Your Excellency, no, Your Excellency, I’m mortified Your Excellency…
Diodato – An artist in your own way, aren’t you, Pepi?.
Pepi – You don’t get it.
Diodato – What?
Pepi – My quandary.
Diodato – Your quandary?.
Pepi – Not understanding why certain things need to be done and doing them just the same as best I can.
Diodato – For the wages?
Pepi – You must be joking.
Diodato – A sense of duty?
Pepi – Towards whom?
Diodato – I’ve no idea, just give me time to think it out.
Pepi – There’s no need. It’s all too clear. (pause) Are you capable of making a decision?
Diodato – What do you mean?
Pepi – I want you to focus, Diodato.
Diodato – Shall we stop?
Pepi – Stop? In that case you’re an even greater idiot than I thought, downright hopeless! For no reason under the sun must he realise there’s something wrong.
Diodato – Who?
Pepi – His nibs.
Diodato – His Excellency?
Pepi – Don’t call him that, you must learn not to call him that anymore.
Diodato – Are you sure?
Pepi – Look around you.
Diodato – (brief silence) The ravine.
Pepi – And what a ravine!
Diodato – The ravine of all ravines!
Pepi – Take a look at those pointed rocks, my friend, lend an ear to the harmony of freedom rising up from its depths.
Diodato – I can’t. I suffer from vertigo.
Pepi – Look.
Diodato – I’m dizzy..
Pepi – We’ll be free, Diodato, free..
Diodato – I don’t follow you, Pepi.
Pepi – This time you don’t need to. Just let me guide you. Or don’t you trust me?
Diodato – Did I ever tell you about my childhood?
Pepi – Don’t be such a baby.
Diodato – Okay.
Pepi – Are you on or not for bumping him off?
Diodato – I’m on.
Pepi – That’s the way I like you, determined, decided.
Diodato – Thanks, Pepi.
Pepi – Let’s outline our plan of action.
Diodato – It’s hilarious.
Pepi – Shush a moment. I need to think.
Diodato – Who are we going to bump off, Pepi?
Pepi – Ah, there’s a sadistic streak in you. You want me to repeat it so that you can savour your adventure from the word go… the taste, the smell, the colour of freedom. Focus, Diodato, and listen carefully to what your friend Pepi has to tell you, colon, inverted commas..
Diodato – Inverted commas…
Pepi – Soon His Excellency will be no more than a tiny heap of dust at the bottom of that ravine.
(Diodato starts and the chair tilts. They try desperately to right it, while the passenger knocks furiously on the door producing strange grunting sounds)
Pepi – You’ve woken him up, you damned idiot!
Diodato – I slipped on the gravel.
Pepi – I noticed.
Diodato – I was thinking: “Have you ever seen such blue gravel before?” No, never actually. And I slipped…
Pepi – You’re afraid. I’ll do it myself.
Diodato – At the end of the day, I can’t blame you.
Pepi – But… who will believe it that you just stood there looking on without lifting a finger?
Diodato – Nobody?
Pepi – You’re in this up to your ears.
Diodato – More or less
Pepi – Just one foul swoop and we’re free… forever. (spelling it out) Forever!
Diodato – What must I do, Pepi?
Pepi – (quickly) At the next curve I’ll open the latch all of a sudden, you tilt the contraption on the brink of the ravine, and (he whistles) Bob’s your uncle!
Diodato – They’ll cut off our heads.
Pepi – We’ll hide in the wood for a while; then we’ll board the first clipper to the Indies.
Diodato – And the chair?
Pepi – We’ll take it with us. You never know, a patrol from the castle…
Diodato – What if they want to see who’s inside?
Pepi – We’ll throw the book at them: “opening His Excellency’s chair without His Excellency’s explicit request…”
Diodato – Big trouble.
Pepi – Yeah, 95 days seclusion.
Diodato – Excluding Sundays.
Pepi – Well, are you on?
Diodato – Am I on?
Pepi – You said you were on.
Diodato – When?
Pepi – You’re a rip off!
Diodato – I have to think about it.
Pepi – If you look him in the face you won’t be able to do it!
Diodato – Wait…
Pepi – Shall I unlock the latch, Diodato?
(furious blows on the window)
Diodato – All right, Pepi, go ahead.
Pepi – Ready?
Diodato – Ready.
Pepi – Steady, then… (he clicks the latch open) Gooooo!!!
(Dark. Confused noises, a loud metallic scream that fades out before a final thud, like sound effects in a cartoon)
On the backdrop a naïf painting of country life; background noises of chirping, lowing, the babble of a rushing stream. Pepi is leaning up against one of the wings, his hands behind his head, as if admiring the landscape and enjoying it.
Pepi – A blade of grass between your teeth, a stalk of wheat, a red poppy… the world is your oyster, Free Man. Diodato? Are you asleep, Diodato? Where are you?
Diodato – (Off) I’m here, Pepi, can’t you see me? In the chair!
Pepi – Living it up, eh?
Diodato – On the contrary, unbelievably uncomfortable … suffocating, even with the door open… How did he stick it? He was worse off than we were.
Diodato – Don’t give it a thought, enjoy life.
Diodato – In one week the welts on my hands have practically healed, even if I can’t open the palms fully as yet…
Pepi – Give it time, there’s no hurry..
Diodato – What peace!
Pepi – No schedules to keep to.
Diodato – No masters to cart about.
Pepi – Stress-free.
Diodato – Easy.
Pepi – A beautiful woman the inn-keeper.
Diodato – Not bad. But the husband…
3 – What do you care? In the Indies we’ll have the most beautiful women in the world.
Diodato – When are we leaving?
Pepi – In a hurry?
Diodato – Just asking.
Pepi – In a month or two.
Diodato – So long?
Pepi – Why, doesn’t that suit you?
Diodato – Perfectly! But in a month or two there might be snow.
Pepi – The heat in the Indies will make up for that.
Diodato – Right. But you, have you ever been there?
Pepi – Never.
Diodato – Where are the Indies relative to here?
Pepi – Eh…there, maybe there… what difference does it make?
Diodato – (entering) What if they’re too far away, what if they don’t exist…
Pepi – If you don’t like the idea, you can just leave, go anywhere you like on your own.
Diodato – How touchy you are today. Can’t I even ask you a question?
Pepi – I don’t like your questions.
Diodato – All right then, let’s say nothing. Let’s contemplate the river, the sheep, the fields, without a peep out of us lest we break the spell. Let’s eat and sleep, no objection to such bliss, let’s die of happiness in silence. But what are you afraid of, Pepi, of admitting that we’re bored out of our minds?
Pepi – What did you say?
Diodato – You heard me perfectly.
Pepi – Indeed, I was a fool to think that people of your sort were capable of appreciating freedom. They need to complain, whinge, swear and be exploited all their lives!
Diodato – (unruffled) Why, aren’t you bored too?
Pepi – Yes, but at least I keep my mouth shut.
Diodato – So, you see, it’s simply a question of character. I’m outgoing, I speak my mind. When I fought with you twelve hours a day and my arms were in bits from carrying His Excellency, and I was dying of hunger and sleep….well, how can I put it? I enjoyed life far more.
Pepi – Ah yes? That’s not how it looked …
Diodato – I didn’t give a hoot about the Indies; the very thought of them makes me seasick.
Pepi – I’ve already told you that you can go elsewhere on your own whenever you like .
Diodato – You’d like that, wouldn’t you? I leave, they arrest me, execute me for the murder of His Excellency… and you get off scot free! Is that what you think ? No, my friend, I won’t even take one step without you..
3 — (scathingly) You’re afraid…
Diodato – Aren’t you?
Pepi – Look here, are you looking for a fight?
Diodato – Yes, Pepi, let’s whack each other like we used to in the good old days… get up… on your guard, loosen those knees… (he mimes the act of boxing)
Pepi – You’re revolting.
Diodato – Don’t you feel like it?
Pepi – No.
Diodato – Are you ill?
Pepi – No!
Diodato – What then?
Pepi – Back to the ravine then…
Diodato – The ravine?
Pepi – Wasn’t that what you wanted ? You’ve succeeded… sickening!
Diodato – I assure you, Pepi…
Pepi – Shut up!
Diodato – Do you really want to go back there?
Pepi – He might still be alive…
Diodato – Don’t try to delude me, Pepi, I couldn’t take it. (pause) But, wait, once the court physician said he had nine lives like a cat. Do you think maybe he’s still got one left?.
Pepi – Do you think so?
Diodato – Yeah, it can happen..
Pepi – Strong as a horse …
Diodato – The whole family as healthy as salmon…
Pepi – His great-grandmother had to be beaten to death to finish her off.
Diodato – Everyone knows that.
Pepi – Well then, what’ll we do?
Diodato – You decide.
Pepi – As far as I’m concerned… (pause)
(Diodato runs off)
Pepi – Diodato, Diodato wait for me, where are you off to in such a hurry, I’m here too…
(the sound of excited voices that fade out. Darkness.)
(The two men are hanging on a ladder as if climbing down into a ravine: every movement is deliberate, exaggerated and slow.)
Pepi – Easy, easy does it, you don’t want to break your neck.
Diodato – It’s the clay.
Pepi – We’ll get our shoes dirty.
Diodato – The buckles…
Pepi – Never saw such tall nettles
Diodato – Mind you don’t get your hands stung.
(sound of falling earth; the two yell in overly dramatic fashion)
Pepi – You’re a downright imbecile! We almost ended up below.
Diodato – Sorry.
Pepi – Let’s stop. Can you see anything?
Diodato – We really gave him the ride of a lifetime…
Pepi – Some respect, please.
Diodato – What a lovely smell
Pepi – It’s the countryside.
Diodato – Autumn.
Pepi – Maybe we’re dreaming
Diodato – I never dream when I’m in livery.
Pepi – Let’s be serious..
Diodato – What do you suggest?
Pepi – Let’s turn back, we’ll never find him
Diodato – One moment: look over there, behind that rock.
Pepi – Which one?
Diodato – The one with the yellow flowers…
Pepi – They’re all yellow.
Diodato – But they’re a garish yellow.
Pepi – I see nothing.
Diodato – Follow the line of the crevasse. see?
Pepi – I think so.
Diodato – Down, down further; isn’t that the edge of an embroidered sleeve?
Pepi – No.
Diodato – I can see it, let’s go…
Pepi – Just a moment! You don’t think we’re going to climb all the way down without being sure of finding what we’re looking for, do you?. What if you’re wrong, we won’t have the strength to continue and another day will pass.
Diodato – I’m going, Pepi, with or without you. If there’s any chance of finding him alive…
Pepi – You’re fooling yourself, Diodato.
Diodato – We have to go and see..
Pepi – Do you want to risk your life?
Diodato – He moved! He moved. I saw him!
Pepi – (excited) Are you sure?
Diodato – Look, take a look for yourself, can’t you see…wait, there, can’t you see something white… hurry, Pepi, hurry, we’re saved, he’s still alive!
(Darkness. When the lights go on again, the two are still on the ladder in the same position as before)
Diodato – Here we are.., one more step, hold on to me, easy does it, don’t be afraid…
Pepi – Are you sure this is the shortcut?
Diodato – I’m not sure of anything…
Pepi – You said there was a stream here!
Diodato – I said so just to bolster my nerve …
Pepi – I’m not able to move anymore.
Diodato – Let’s take our jackets off..
Pepi – You don’t want to appear before His Excellency looking like a tramp!!
Diodato – Who knows how pleased he’ll be to see us.
Pepi – He’ll weep with joy..
Diodato – We’ll all weep…
Pepi – Careful!
(sound of a landslide)
Diodato – We’re almost there. He’s under this rock.
Pepi – I’m bunched… let’s take a little break…
Diodato – This is it, I tell you…
Pepi – We need a rope…
Diodato – Hold me by the heels and lower me down.
Pepi – Are you out of your mind?
Diodato – I’ll take my shoes off.
Pepi – Do you want to be dashed to pieces?
Diodato – Come on, hold me…
(He assumes the appropriate position on the ladder.)
Diodato – (choking) Look, like this.
Pepi – You’re head’s dangling..
Diodato – (as before) It’s supposed to.
Pepi – My hands are perspiring…
Diodato – Hold on to me… easy does it… just a little further… (improvised sentences, muffled and barely comprehensible)
Pepi – Diodato? Diodato, have you got him? How is he? Diodato!
Pepi – (in a cavernous unrecognisable voice) Pull me up, Pepi..
(Pepi complies, he helps the other up onto the upper rungs of the ladder. Diodato sits there panting)
Pepi – (anxious) Well, how did he seem to you?
Diodato – It’s all over, Pepi.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED