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MANY PLAYWRIGHTS PREFACE their dialogue with only brief descriptions of scenes and characters, the interpretation of the production left largely to the director. By contrast, Gore Vidal offered extensive details for his wonderful satire Visit to a Small Planet.
Here in Part 2 are tidbits gleaned from the play’s interactions of a (well sorta) typical 1950s American family when they encounter Kreton, a visitor from a planet whose inhabitants are telepathic, immortal, and utterly without passion. Except for Kreton’s strange infatuation with the U.S. Civil War, which he intended to visit but was off by almost one hundred years.
The Text. Vidal tends to provide precise directions with the dialogue: “ELLEN [to Kreton]. (Crosses R. Conrad on her R.) What year did you have in mind?”
“KRETON. 1861 A.D. You see, I was on my way to the Battle of Bull Run when something went wrong with the machine and I landed here, a hundred years out of my way. (Looks at Ellen thoughtfully.) But of course you’re very nice too. Very nice. In fact, I shall give you a word of comfort: Hitler will not conquer the world. He will be exiled to an island in the Atlantic.”
“ELLEN. Hitler’s dead, Mr. Kreton. He killed himself.”
“CONRAD. (A step toward R.C.) And that was Napoleon on the island.”
On Sex. Ellen asks, “But how… how do you multiply?”
“Multiply what?” Kreton says.
“ELLEN. Each other. How do you have babies?”
“KRETON. We don’t.”
“ELLEN. I don’t understand.”
“KRETON. Well, you see, we have ourselves and since we don’t die we don’t need any more of us! So we gave it up…. I sometimes wonder if we weren’t rather hasty. (Briskly.) Anyway, you must promise to let me watch the next time you make love….”
“ELLEN. (Rises horrified.) Why, that’s disgusting.”
“KRETON. (Bewildered.) Oh? (Crosses R.C.) But… but it’s on your minds so much I simply assumed it was all quite public….”
“ELLEN. Of course I know you’re from another planet and all and I guess we do think an awful lot about sex, but we’re not supposed to talk about it and we only do it when nobody’s looking.”
“KRETON. How ravishing! These primitive taboos. You revel in public slaughter: you pay to watch two men hit one another repeatedly, yet you make love secretly, guiltily and with remorse… too delicious.”
Romance is Kindled. Kreton puts his telepathic skills to use in revealing the thoughts of one of the General’s aides about “that babe with the crazy build. Yeah, I’ve been watching you shaking it around this house. And you’ve been watching me, watching you, driving me mad.”
“ELLEN. Why, he’s thinking about me!”
“CONRAD. (Furious.) Now damn it…”
After the fight, Ellen says, “Conrad’s a pacifist and willing to fight for it….”
“KRETON. A pacifist with a hard right, a stealthy left jab and a sly knee to the groin…. And may I add, that in his heart there was blood lust.”
“ELLEN. (Crosses to Conrad and kneels.) Darling, where does it hurt?”
And later to her father, “Wasn’t Conrad simply wonderful!”
Ellen Saves the World. Kreton is ready (just for fun) to start a world-destroying confrontation, but consents to teach Ellen a little of his telepathy. This allows her to summon Delton 4, who arrives in time to forestall the Armageddon by taking Kreton back home.
“KRETON. Well, back to the continuum, back to an eternity of ennui. Oh, how I envy you.”
“CONRAD. For what?”
“KRETON. For being so violent… so loving… so beautifully imperfect. And so much happier than you know….”
Satire is all the better served warm. Thanks, Gore Vidal. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022