RMBC Play: Capitalism and Death


A Play in Three Acts

© August 11, 2014, by the following members of the Tacoma’s Retired Men’s Book Club:
Burk Ketcham
Jim Robbins
Neil Bergeson
Richard Smaby
Ron Boothe
Ron Powers

During the summer of 2014 several members of the Tacoma Retired Men’s Book Club (RMBC) embarked on a project to write a play about a fictional book club of retired men living in the City of Tacoma, Washington. Most of the authors had been involved with the RMBC since its founding in 2008 and are very familiar with ins and outs of discussing books, both fiction and nonfiction, at their monthly meetings –usually in someone’s home. RMBC has no rules except that each member takes a turn making a book selection on an agreed upon monthly rotation, and that the discussion starts at 9:30 AM and ends at 11:00 AM. For more information about our book club check out our blog at: https://retiredmensbookclub.wordpress.com/


Act One – The Meeting
Act Two – The Party
Act Three – The Memorial Service

Stage Manager, Book Passage Reader, Bob Golding, Jessica Golding, Brand Newsome, Eggy Bacon, Cora Sue Bacon, Les Payne, Amy Payne, August Moe, Smoky Heller, Van Weener, Wanda Upton, Digger Downs, Olga Downs.

The majority of the stage is taken up by a (stage left) Main Room where most of the action takes place. There is in addition a small separate closet-sized Book Room on stage right. A large sign is positioned near the top of this room, facing the audience, CAPITALISM AND DEATH: THE BOOK. This Book Room will be used to allow the Book Passage Reader to read aloud passages from the book being discussed. During a book passage reading the characters in the main room will freeze in motion with their eyes closed and remain motionless and the lights in the main room will be dimmed. Meanwhile, the lights in the Book Room will come on and the Book Passage Reader will read the appropriate passage. At all other times the Book Room will remain dark.

The Book Room remains on stage right throughout the play. The Main Room with no furniture present will be used for THE INTRODUCTIONS. The addition of a dining room table and chairs will be used for ACT ONE, and for ACT TWO the table will be removed to convert the room into a living room with appropriate furnishings. For ACT THREE the room will be converted to an all-faith chapel with plain walls and chairs lined up to face a (stage left) podium.

There is no furniture on stage. Assembled on stage are all the characters in the play dressed informally (Stage notes below designate some specifics regarding clothing and accessories for some of the cast). The Stage Manager, in jeans, a male or female, stands down stage in front of the others. The Book Passage Reader is in the Book Room.

Curtain Up

Stage Manager: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Tacoma, Washington. In this fair city on Puget Sound 40 miles south of Seattle a new book club has been formed. The club will meet monthly at someone’s home to discuss a book selected by one of the members. For the first meeting the book will be Capitalism and Death by Adrian Ames, a professor of historical economics at Johns Hopkins University. You will have the opportunity later in Act 1 to watch this first meeting. Let’s start getting acquainted with the book by listening to a short passage from its Introduction.

{Book Room Lights Go On. Lights in main room are dimmed and all characters on the stage stand motionless}
Book Passage Reader: {holding book in hand, reading} Based on his years studying capitalism in the United States and world-wide, it is Professor Ames’ conclusion that death on a massive scale has gone hand in hand with economic growth in the United States. Armaments are now a major backbone of the domestic economy. It is the one thing we don’t dare outsource to China. The warnings of President Eisenhower about the military-industrial complex are as true today as they were when he was alive.
{Book Room Lights Turn Off as Lights in Main Room come back ON}

Stage Manager: Now let me introduce you to the members of the book club and some of their wives and girlfriends. After my introduction I will ask each to say a few words about themselves. Please remember, cast members, to keep it brief.

First up is Robert (Bob) Golding, a retired professor of English at the University of Puget Sound. Bob is responsible for forming the group and made the book selection for this first meeting. He is now age 60. Eight years ago Bob divorced his childhood sweetheart and married one of his students, Jessica who now stands at his side. Bob likes gin and tonics, a lot of them.
{Jessica does an exaggerated shaking her head yes, and at the same time holds up her right hand and makes a motion like an inebriated person holding martini glass}
{Bob glares at Jessica, obviously annoyed}
But does not like some of Jessica’s antics.

Bob: I should say at the outset that only my closest friends call me Bob. But I assume that all of you standing up here will become my good friends as we move ahead with our book club discussions and associated social activities. I want to remind you that our first meeting will be at my home on North Yakima next Tuesday morning.

Stage Manager: As you can see, Jessica Golding, only 28, is well endowed. She is now aware that she made a big life mistake eight years ago when she married Bob while she was his graduate student.
{Jessica shakes her head yes in an exaggerated manner while projecting a grimaced smile to the audience}
Jessica is a flirt, especially with older men and generally not liked by other women. She also has a way of usually getting what she wants by any means at her disposal.
{Jessica shakes her head in agreement again}

Jessica: Well, Stage Manager, you are the frank one. But you forgot to mention that I was not the first of Bob’s conquests. In more than a few episodes Bob introduced his diphthong to a UPS coed.

Stage Manager: Brand Newsome graduated from Evergreen State College, majoring in Language and Philosophy. He is younger than the rest – a mere 55. He comes from a rich family and ‘retired’ from trying to find a profession that inspired him. Brand never married – he says not for any particular reason, just wasn’t interested.

Brand Newsome: {speaking in an effeminate tone and manner} I look forward to enjoying the stimulating company here – intellectuals who think deeply about things. I count myself among the intellectual class. This club should be a perfect fit for me.

Stage Manager: Now we have Egbert Bacon, 70. Can you imagine naming a son Egbert when your last name was Bacon? Well, once Egbert got to school he became Eggy and has been Eggy ever since. Eggy is very liberal and likes to sound off about anything he likes or dislikes. He serves on the Tacoma City Council.

Eggy Bacon: {Wearing a large VOTE FOR EGGY button} You know, I’m not real fond of the name ‘Eggy’, but what’s a fella to do. In case you’re wonderin’, it all goes back to an unfortunate incident at a neighbor’s chicken farm, but I don’t want to talk about it so don’t bother askin. Having that name worked out pretty well for my political career though. Lots of folks tell me they voted for me simply ‘cause they thought it was fun to vote for someone called ‘Eggy. And having such a pretty wife that everybody liked helped, too. That’s her right here. Cora Sue, stand forward so everyone can see you.

Cora Sue: {Walks over to Eggy and gives him a big wet kiss} Hi, everybody. Glad to be here. I’m surprised that Mr. Stage Manager let him ramble on like that. My husband loves an audience. Once he gets up there it’s hard to get him to stop, but usually a kiss from me will do it.

Stage Manager: Thanks Cora Sue. The club has one representative of the medical profession. He is Dr. Lester Payne. Les is 75 and retired from over 40 years of general dentistry. Les’s passion has been mountain climbing and he claims to have climbed all of the mountains 10,000 feet or above in Washington state. Les doesn’t talk much. Says he gave it up after years of trying to have conversations with patients who could only grunt with their mouths wide open. I wonder if he will have a similar experience with the other members of this book club?

Les Payne: I don’t like to talk much, but I do like to climb mountains.

Stage Manager: Mrs. Lester (Amy) Payne, as you all can see is an Asian from Korea. Amy met Les when Army service following dental school took him to Korea. Amy is an accomplished artist.

Amy Payne: I may seem quiet, but you will find that I have a mind of my own and sound off every once in a while. Ask Les. I think that sends him up all those mountains

Stage Manager: August Moe is a recent arrival to the Tacoma area from the mile high city of Denver. Through his mountain climbing activities he became familiar with Les Payne who told him about the book club. When August is not climbing mountains he is a food commentator for the Sundance Channel food and travel program “Feeding as You Flow.” Aug travels the world with his good-luck charm Ned, an original Liverwurst German stuffed Teddy Bear.

August Moe: {holding his large Teddy bear} Most people lead in-between lives. Too close to cellophane wrapped rib eye steaks, too far from that crux move that will join them with the stars. I always try to go where the star-studded charmed-climbers roost. And of course Ned {holding Ned up} always goes along.

Stage Manager: August’s girlfriend is named Smoky Heller. They met on Three Fingers Mt where she was on a hike with the Seattle Mountaineers. She has strong political views and declares that Tea Partyers descended from the Orangutans.

Smoky Heller: After my husband died I moved to Seattle, fell safely into the arms of August in a climbing accident on Three Fingers and never looked back. I am so glad August joined this Tacoma Retired Men’s Book Club and I am anticipating a breath of fresh air compared to all that crap that passes for intelligent discussion on Fox News and the like.

Stage Manager: And now another professor for the club. Van Weener turned 70 last year after finally retiring as a professor of Jungian Psychology at Vanderbilt University. He too, like Eggy, was given a nickname by his childhood peers – Weenervan. Some of Van’s recent behavior has caused his friends to wonder if he might have a few screws loose.

Van Weener: I take offence at that last comment. If you ask me, it is the author of this book we are going to be discussing, Adrian Ames, HE is the one with a few loose screws.

Stage Manager: Next up is Van’s significant other, the beautiful Wanda Upton. Wanda is from an old Tacoma shipbuilding family and the two of them ramble around in an old 8 bedroom family mansion that she inherited. As some of you know, Wanda was a Daffodil Queen here in Tacoma back in 1950. But there was more between those two ears than a pretty face. Wanda first met Van when they both were on the faculty at Vanderbilt. Since moving back to Tacoma, Wanda has been active in several anti-war groups in the South Sound.

Wanda Upton: I am anxious to hear about the book club’s discussion of my dear friend Adrian Ames’s book. He and I served on a national University Professors’ Committee Against Nuclear Arms. {pause, then turn towards other characters} And I beg of all of you, please be gentle with Van as he is undergoing a very sensitive time right now.

Van Weener: {interjecting and cutting off Wanda} SENSTIVE! Your loose screwing Adrian, he is the sensitive one.

Stage Manager: Van! Hold off. You will have your chance in Act One. Moving right along. Digger Downs comes from a long line of pioneers who were the original settlers of Washington State. Digger inherited the crematoria and memorial chapel chain developed by his grandfather. Digger is a Tea Party right-winger who thinks all those in poverty are slackers who need to get off their rear ends and make a success of themselves the way he did.

Digger Downs: {wearing a campaign button, Cheney/Palin 2016} You got that right! Our family has been in business here for over 100 years. I inherited the business and worked hard for everything I’ve got. And don’t forget my endowment of the Downs Wing of Cadaver Art at the Tacoma Art Museum.

Stage Manager: Olga Downs came to Pacific Lutheran University on a Nordic Scholarship for Norwegians wishing to study in the United States. It was there that she met her future husband Digger. In her younger years Olga won many figure skating championships.

Olga Downs: {speaking with an exaggerated Norwegian accent} You may not believe this but, Ya, me and Digger do not always see eye to eye on the political issues. Back home in the Old Country the folks all try to look out for the fellow citizens, Ya. I wish my adopted country, the USA Ya, was more like that.

Stage Manager: {addressing cast} Thank you all. {Turning to address audience} In the first act we will listen in as the men in the in the book club discuss the book Capitalism and Death. Let’s hear a passage from the conclusion of the book.

{Book Room Lights Go On. Lights in main room are dimmed and all characters on the stage stand motionless}
Book Passage Reader: {holding book in hand, reading} “The search for profit in our capitalistic society takes little account for the fact that death by unnatural causes will be the direct or indirect consequence of much human economic activity.”
{Book Room Lights Turn Off as Lights in Main Room come back ON}

Stage Manager: And now, on with the show.

Curtain Down



The act opens with all seven members of the book club sitting at a dining room table with two at each end and three facing the audience. All have some notes, a few have copies of Capitalism and Death and at least one has a Kindle. From stage right to stage left this is the seating order: Van and Brand on one end, then Eggy, Bob, and Digger facing audience, and then Les and August on the other end. August keeps Ned propped up on the table in a manner that at times annoys Les. There are coffee cups in front of each person and a plate of doughnuts near the end of the table where August is sitting. The Book Room on stage right is not lighted as the curtain goes up.

Curtain up

Bob: As the founder of this group and the one who asked you to participate, I want to welcome all of you. I think most of you know each other from previous involvements in groups or causes. The newcomer to our midst is August who recently moved here from Colorado. Welcome August. (All the others mumble welcome August)

August: {holding up Ned for all to see clearly} And don’t forget Ned. I never leave home without him.

Bob: {continuing} I have asked Van to select the book for next month’s discussion and will ask others to email me with the month when they would like to select a book and lead the discussion. Also, Jessica and I will be hosting a party here at our home this Saturday, so save the date.

If there are no other announcements, let’s start our discussion of Capitalism and Death by Adrian Ames. This is a book brought to my attention by Van’s long-time companion Wanda Upton who has joined me in some anti-war vigils down at the Federal Court House. Wanda knew Adrian from her days as a professor. She tells me that Adrian grew up in Seattle and got his undergraduate degree at UW. From there he went on to a Ph.D. at Stanford and for a few years after that worked on Wall Street before moving to Johns Hopkins where he is now a tenured professor.

Professor Ames book was an eye opener for me in several ways. I was particularly struck by the detailed information he provides about the negative consequences of our massive investment in the military.

{Book Room Lights Go On. Lights in main room are dimmed and all characters on the stage stand motionless}
Book Passage Reader: {holding book in hand, reading} Reading from page 105, We in the United States support a military that cost the taxpayers more than the combined military expenses of all other countries in the world. The military is about death and we have provided the means of dealing death anywhere in the world. And with that hammer in hand our government and the DOD has gone looking for nails to hammer and has found then in Viet Nan, Iraq and Afghanistan to name a few. Death on a massive scale is the outcome.
{Book Room Lights Turn Off as Lights in Main Room come back ON}

Bob: Les, why don’t you start the discussion by telling us your thoughts about the book.

Les: I was fascinated by the parts about the hazards associated with nuclear weapons. The book really struck close to home in the section where it discusses that fact that about forty miles from here at Bangor on the Hood Canal we have a group of Trident subs with the firepower to kill one billion three hundred million humans. I imagine the military are working to increase that number.

Eggy: Not if I have anything to say about it. I sponsored a resolution for the Tacoma City Council opposing any taxpayer support for military expansion.

Digger: Eggy, you and I both know your whacko resolutions have about as much chance of being passed as a snowball in hell. Give it up. I would much rather have my taxes go for protecting our shores than wasteful social welfare stuff like Obamacare and food stamps. I think that Adrian Ames is just another of those left wing professors who occupy tenured chairs in those breeding places for tree huggers back east called universities. Wimps like him tug my chainsaw chain! So filled up with their holier than thou chalk bags! This country is great because of Tea Party type people, free market capitalists who rolled up their sleeves and made a paradise out of the wilderness.

Bob: I would like to remind you Digger that those who rolled up their sleeves in building this capitalistic country killed hundreds of thousands of Native Americans because their land stood in the way of creating what you call paradise. Capitalism and Death points out the down side of capitalism’s adventures. For once an economist is thinking about all the costs, including death.

{van looks suddenly out the window, craning his neck as though trying to see what is out there. Turns towards Brand.}

Van: Brand, who is that out in the yard?

Brand: Oh, that is Bob’s wife, Jessica. She is sunbathing out on the lawn. {Looks more closely, expresses a surprised look} It looks like she might be topless.

Bob: Just ignore her Van. She is always trying to get attention with her antics. Brand, let’s hear what you have to say about the book.

Brand: Everything comes down to power and sex. We have a live case right here. Jessica chose you, Bob, because she saw you as a powerful member of the faculty. And I bet you love her antics. They display a young vibrant female. They prove you are still potent.

Les: Hey guys this is supposed to be a book discussion. If you keep this up I will suggest we change our name to the Dirty Old Men’s Book Club!

Brand: {Annoyed and agitated by what has just happened.} I WAS talking about the book! I was in a meeting with Henry Kissinger once where he explained why power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Les: {murmuring} Name Dropper.

Brand: {Pauses for a moment glaring at Les. Then continues} Kissinger equates power and sex. Capitalism and Death is about power really – power to get what we want, power to have sex with anyone we want and power to destroy anyone who gets in our way. It’s about propagating our genes, making sure we leave behind the right kind of gene pool.

Digger: {murmuring to the group in an attempt at a lame joke} Does that include the gay gene?

Brand: {Pauses longer this time, glaring at Digger. Then continues} I think you stumbled onto the truth somehow Digger. That’s what Ames is saying. We build our military might to kill those who are different from us.

Van: {standing up suddenly, shaking his leg} Sorry, I seem to have a cramp in my leg. Think I will just go over and stand by the window for a few minutes. {Moves to the window, periodically tries to sneak a peek out the window without looking too obvious}.

Bob: Anyone have any thoughts about the books discussion of the relationships between death and taxes?

{Book Room Lights Go On. Lights in main room are dimmed and all characters on the stage stand motionless}
Book Passage Reader: {holding book in hand, reading} Reading from page 256, All this killing is supported by taxes to fund wars and support the Pentagon. We spent a trillion dollars on our death-dealing adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan but cannot pay our school teachers a decent wage.
{Book Room Lights Turn Off as Lights in Main Room come back ON}

August: That section of the book reminded me of the old Ben Franklin saying, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” {looking directly at Digger} I find it a bit ironic that Digger here goes to the bank on the one certainty, but wants to eliminate the other.

{Digger slowly gets up and walks to behind where August is sitting. Then slowly reaches over August’s shoulder in what looks like a menacing manner as August cringes slightly, but Digger only picks up a donut. He munches on the donut as he walks nonchalantly over to stand next to Van at the window and look out at the front lawn.}

August: {His gaze has been following Digger as he moves to the window. Now turns his attention back to the group at the table} There is a power perspective that is willing to expand its privilege through intimidation and killing of innocents. I would cite Dick Cheney as an example. Then there is the flowing power perspective which allows death as just another phase in energy configuration. Alan Watts would be a good example.

Eggy: {standing up} Whoa!

{Eggy starts walking slowly and aimlessly around room during following dialog. At the same time Digger uses this opportunity to walk back to his seat and sit at the table again. Eggy ends up standing next to Van at the Window by the end of this speech}

All that stuff sounds pretty heady to me. All about power and sex and Cheney? And who in the hell is Alan Watts? Where’s all this going to get us? Back in the ‘60’s we talked about stuff like this, smoked a little dope, and I don’t remember getting a little stiff as a bad thing. But all that discussion back then apparently didn’t change things did it? That’s what this book’s author argues. And he’s probably right. Maybe we’d be better off thinking up stuff we could do that would be helpful instead of just jawing about how bad everything is. What if we all just agreed that everything shits—so now how do we get rid of the smell?

{Eggy standing still looking out the window}

{Book Room Lights Go On. Lights in main room are dimmed and all characters on the stage stand motionless}
Book Passage Reader: {holding book in hand, reading} Reading from page 285”, The military is not the only killer. Companies legally selling tobacco products and junk food are leading to slow deaths of many. And the burning of fossil fuels threatens to burry whole cities under water and change the climate in a way that may lead to massive deaths in third world countries.
{Book Room Lights Turn Off as Lights in Main Room come back ON}

{Eggy returns to his chair humming a tune.}

Bob: That’s a familiar tune. What is it?

Eggy: Oh, it’s an old George Burns song. The first line of the chorus is “I wish I were eighteen again.”
I don’t know the rest of it. Maybe I’ll Google and look up the rest of it. {Slight pause, glancing back towards the window} It just came to me somehow.

Bob: I do remember that one. Sort of reminds me of my younger days. Eggy, now that you are back with us, what do you think of those sections of the book that deal with non-military deaths caused by capitalism?

Eggy: It’s not what you would call an uplifting read. I mean, the word ‘death’ must be on every page. Downright depressing, that’s what I call it. I hope your book isn’t more of the same, Van {Looking over at him, smiling.}
Anyways, I can’t do anything about it so reading about all the bad stuff capitalism is supposed to be responsible for just makes me anxious and frustrated. Life is too short for stuff like that. That’s why I left Baker City, Oregon to move to Tacoma. I was a lot younger then—optimistic about life—thought I could change things. In those days, the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, we had a lot of migrant farmworkers and homeless people down there. I thought we could help them out. At the very least protect them from some of the farm boys who thought it was great fun to heckle, even beat them up. {Turning to stare directly at Digger} They’d probably be Tea Partiers now days. When Cora Sue noticed I carried a club just inside the driver’s side door; that was the day she convinced me to leave Baker. Now days I try to effect change through political action instead of with intimidation.
{pauses} See. There I go. Cora’s right, I know, I can get a bit rambly. Sorry I took us off track.
(Eggy sits back in his chair and starts playing with his coffee cup.)

Brand: Before our time is up I want to talk about those sections of the book that pertain to military contractors and homeland security.

{Book Room Lights Go On. Lights in main room are dimmed and all characters on the stage stand motionless}
Book Passage Reader: {holding book in hand, reading} Reading from page 428, Companies such as Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing and Lockheed are the backbone of the military industries and are supported by thousands of subcontractors strategically scattered in every state in the country. When Congress starts to talk about cutting back there are pleas to the local congressmen and senators that you will destroy jobs in our city or state. And since nine eleven the massive funds appropriated for homeland security have permeated every local community in the form of detention centers and fusion centers.
{Book Room Lights Turn Off as Lights in Main Room come back ON}

Brand: Let’s do a little thought experiment. Imagine I am a plant with the FBI collecting information about fringe elements. What better place than book clubs! We already know they monitor library databases to find out what we are reading. {Now looking towards Van at the window. Van is staring out the window and appears to be oblivious to what is happening in the room} Or even closer to home, suppose one of our members were to start thinking they were so powerful that it was ok to be ogling someone else’s wife? Might lead to conflict, or perhaps even death.

Les: How the hell did I even get involved in this group? All this fantasy talk about power and sex. This may be my first and last meeting.

Brand: OK. So, let’s talk about what is real? Breaking into the Federal Courthouse and pouring pig blood all over the records is real. But that’s not original. What would the message be? What would be the point? Would it make a difference? Get some press. Go to jail for a couple of days. How do you really make change? You do something big – something nobody has thought of. You shut down the transportation system – maybe the power grid. That would bring the country to a halt. Does anyone here know anything about the power grid? {Laughing nervously} Get it: ‘power grid’ – ‘power’?

August: So let’s say we set up a brain trust to come up with a solution for the 99 Percent. Who are our modern heroes and what would they do if an individual action could make the difference? A Ralph Nader, Bill Moyers, Arundhati Roy, Jon Stewart, Chris Hedges, Thomas Piketty, Howard Zinn, Mario Savio, Maya Angelou all rolled into one – what would their next step be?

Eggy: Well, I’m certainly none of those people you mention, August. The more I think about it, the more pessimistic I get. It’s probably not capitalism’s fault, anyway. It’s people taking advantage of the capitalistic system to do things for themselves that just have a way of causing a lot of destruction for others. We’re not going to get rid of capitalism. Nothing will change until the ‘bad guys’ change their ways. But I’ve learned through experience that actions that hurt a lot of innocent people in the process won’t solve anything either. {pauses for a moment in reflection} Actually, I’m not sure I know any more about what to do than I did when I started reading the book.

By the way, we seem to have lost Van. {Turning towards the window where Van stands staring out} Van, what do think about all this?

Van: {Turning from window to face room, terrified look on his face} It’s the FBI, and they have machine guns. They know we are discussing Adrian’s book. Run! {bolts out the door}

Digger: {Gets up and walks over to the window, looks out and then back towards group} All I see is the Yard Service Crew working next door. Looks like they are using leaf blowers to clean up. Wow, looks to me like Van might have more than a few screws loose.

Bob: {looking at his watch} Well, I hate to stop this stimulating discussion, but you all know our rule – We stop the discussion at 11 o’clock sharp, no matter what. I want to thank all of you for coming here today for this inaugural meeting of the Tacoma Retired Men’s Book Club. I look forward to seeing all of you back here with your wives and significant others for our party next Saturday.

{Everyone gets up and starts walking out the door, talking to one another. Bob stands near door shaking hands as they leave. Then Bob goes back to the table gathering up his papers. One falls of the floor and he bends down to pick it up. Then stops short as he appears to see something attached to bottom side of table}

Bob: Holy Christopher, what have we here? Looks like a bug. Could someone have planted a bug here to monitor our meeting?





The act opens in Bob and Jessica’s living room with Bob and Jessica glaring at each other. Jessica is wearing a very revealing dress.

Curtain up

Bob: For crying out loud Jessica, it was bad enough that you pulled that stunt during the book club meeting. And now look at you!

Jessica: Calm down professor, you used to like me in this outfit.
{Loud knock at the door} I hear the arrival of our first guests.

{Bob opens the door and greets Eggy, Cora Sue and Wanda}

Bob: Come on in. Glad you could make it. I’m sorry to report that Les and Amy won’t be here. Les has withdrawn from the book club. I guess we were a mountain he didn’t want to climb.

Eggy: I think all that talking about power and sex and death might have just done him in. Wanda came with us because she tells us Van won’t be here tonight, either.

Wanda: Actually I don’t know where Van is. I just got home this morning from a conference in Seattle where I’ve been all week. Van wasn’t home when I got there, but he left me a note saying that something had come up and he wouldn’t be able to make the party tonight. He added that he wanted me to come to represent the both of us.

Jessica: I’m so sorry to hear that, Wanda. Van is SUCH a gentleman. {She looks at Bob} He’s not a dirty old man, like most of your friends.

Wanda: It is really unfortunate Van that won’t be here tonight because guess who I ran into at the conference? Adrian Ames!

Bob: What serendipity.

Wanda: Yes, isn’t it. He just happened to be at the same conference. We had a LONG discussion about his book. I almost had him convinced to come down to Tacoma to attend our party. He was SO excited about the fact that you guys were discussing his book. {Big sigh} But he had to catch a flight out of Boeing Field tonight to get back to Baltimore. One of the trusties at John’s Hopkins had offered him a ride on his private corporate jet.

{The doorbell rings again. Bob opens door and Brand, Digger and Olga enter together.}

Bob: {Showing them in} Welcome to the party! Wanda was just telling us that Van won’t be able to join us tonight.

Olga: Ya, Van? He’s walking his sign on the lawn, Ya?

Wanda: {Exclaims loudly} What?

Digger: Yeah, we saw him when we drove up. He’s walking around out on the lawn carrying a sign. We wondered what he was doing.

Cora Sue: {Walks over to the window, cups her hands on the glass and peers out} Yeah, he’s carrying a sign that says {pauses for a moment trying to read sign, then continues slowly as she reads each word deliberately} RECURSIVELY … DEATH … TO … CAPITALISM … AND … DEATH. {Turning to Eggy} Is that some kind of a campaign slogan?

Eggy: If it is, it won’t win many votes, I can tell you that.

Bob: Why in heaven’s name is he parading around with that sign in front of my house?

Wanda: This is terrible! I’ve got to get him out of there before someone calls the police.

Cora Sue: We’ll help. Come on, Eggy.

Eggy: {shrugging his shoulders} I don’t think he’s breaking any city ordinances, but okay. Let’s try to keep him from any more embarrassment.

{Cora Sue, Wanda and Eggy hurry out the door, leaving the door open and Bob, Jessica, Brand, Digger and Olga staring out into the darkness.}

Jessica: The poor guy. It’s a shame, really, ‘cause he is kinda cute.

Digger: {sarcastically} Cute huh. First, he stands at the window ogling you during our meeting and doesn’t even participate in the book discussion, then he thinks the FBI is after him when it’s only the lawn guys. Now he’s out there with a sign that doesn’t make any sense. I always knew those commie pinko professors were a little wacko but he takes the cake.

Bob: I’m not so sure he was ogling Jessica so much as maybe he was expecting some kind of danger and was mostly just keeping watch. Then maybe his imagination ran away from him. [Pauses and then in an aside} Maybe he had discovered that bug…?

{August and Smokey enter the room through the open door, both with broad smiles, obviously ready for a party. August is holding Ned in one hand and continues to do so throughout the act. The rest of group inside is standing somber and does not respond in like manner.}

August: {in a joking manner setting up Smokey for the punchline} What’s all the fuss about out there? We saw the Bacons and the Weeners huddled together out there on the lawn?

Smokey: {Guffawing} Yea, Ned told us he thought maybe you were going to be serving bacon and egg weenervan sandwiches as appetizers.

{No one responds to the joke. Awkward silence as August and Smokey adjust to somber mood in room}

Brand: {Ignoring the joke and responding seriously to Bob} Did you say something about finding a bug?

Bob: Well, I didn’t want to say anything about it tonight because it might spoil the party. But it looks like that’s already happened. {Short pause} After you all left our meeting the other day, I accidentally discovered a listening device of some sort stuck to the bottom of the table. I didn’t know what to do with it, and the only one I could think of who might be able to help was Eggy. So I talked with him later to see if maybe he could use some of his connections down at city hall to find out more about the damn thing.

Brand: I have some connections over at homeland security. Perhaps I should give them a call too.

Digger: {Interrupting} Well, ain’t that a sweet kettle of fish! Pals with Henry Kissinger and I suppose you knew J. Edgar Hoover, too. Right!

{Cora Sue comes walking in through the still open front door. Right behind her, Wanda and Eggy are each holding one of Van’s arms. Eggy is holding the sign in his other hand. They all make a Laurel and Hardy entrance through the front door. Eggy rests the sign so that it’s readable to the audience against the wall while Wanda guides Van into the middle of the group}

Jessica: {To Wanda} Why don’t you bring Van over to this comfy chair? {Turning toward the group} And how ‘bout all the rest of us grabbing a seat on the couch or in these other chairs we’ve set out. {Turning to Bob} Bobby, why don’t you make yourself useful and bring Van a glass of water while I bring the wine and glasses over to the coffee table?

Van: {to Bob} Forget the water. How about a scotch?

{Van is guided to his seat in a big comfy arm chair. Everyone else seats themselves in a semi-circle around the coffee table while Bob and Jessica take care of beverages. While everyone is getting seated and Bob is bringing Van a glass and a bottle of scotch, the group mumbles asides to one another: “Can you believe this? Small talk fills the air. Wine glasses get filled. Van drinks and then re-fills his glass with scotch at least three times as Jessica curls up on the arm of the chair, puts her arm around Van’s neck and starts to play with his gray, thinning hair while she decorously holds her wine glass in her other hand}

August: Ned and I would like to propose a toast. {holding up his wine glass in one hand, Ned in the other} Here’s to the Tacoma Men’s Book Club and Capitalism and Death and Two Buck Chuck.

Jessica: {looking tenderly at Van} Van honey, you’re going to be all right! You’re among friends.

Van: {looking directly at Jessie, a sheepish smile on his face} I’m already feeling better, Jessie, thanks to you! {after a pause, looks out into space and continues in a serious, but spaced out tone} Why the hell do we always demand that fathers kill their sons? Started with Abraham …

Olga: {interrupting} Ya, the Fear and the Trembling, Ya.

Van: {continuing interrupted sentence} … but keeps right on going with these goddammed atheist capitalists.

Olga: Ya, Capitalism, The Sickness Unto the Death, Ya.

{Bob’s phone rings. He picks it up to his ear.}
Bob: Hello? Oh, hi Les. I’m sorry you couldn’t make it to our party. {Pauses, listening} Amy? No, we haven’t seen Amy. {Slight pause} Just a minute. {Walks over to the window, still listening} Okay, I see her now. She’s walking up our sidewalk. Looks like she’s coming towards the house. I’ll tell her you’re on your way. {Hangs up phone, goes over to door and opens it. Amy walks in}

Bob: Amy, I just got a phone call from Les. He’s looking for you and he’s headed our way right now.

Amy: {looking nervously towards Bob} Did Les say why he is looking for me?

Bob: Nope.

Amy: Did he sound angry?

Bob: It’s hard to tell with Les.

Smokey: Les told us he had to quit the club in order to work full-time stamping out that which lies in-between the lines, whatever that means. {Looking quizzically towards August} I think he and Aug have some plan about that.

August: Death and Capitalism. For Les and me it’s not just static pages filled with lifeless words. For us it’s more than topless faculty wives and tenured peeping Toms. It’s everything in our net-literate neo-consumer lives. Expose minds to the deception, not chests.

{Les storms in and without a passing nod to the others and accosts Amy.}

Les: Didn’t I tell you not to have anything to do with this bunch?

Amy: Cool it buster. Why don’t you just go and climb another mountain.

Les: I have plans for a little mile high adventure and I’m taking you with me.

{Les grabs Amy by the arm pulling her quickly towards the door and they exit}

Smokey: Jesus, when I moved out west I was afraid I might become part of a “Big Chill” sort of mushy moments senior’s thing. Instead you guys remind me more of a “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe” tag team scene. No wonder Tacoma has such bad press.

August: Tacoma may have bad press, but it certainly beats Denver for excitement. {Turns towards Smokey and takes her arm in a less than gentle manner, pulling her towards the door, also speaking in a somewhat crazed manner} Neddy Beddy Time!

{August disappears out the door, pulling Smokey along. As she is being pulled out door Smokey manages to stop for one last look back at the easy chair where Jessica now has a lock of Van’s hair wrapped tight around her right hand pinky. Smokey’s eyes meet Jessica’s in a committed stare.}

Smokey: Is this what retired men do at Tacoma parties? Walk in, say some crazy stuff, grab their woman, and then rush out? {Smokey disappears out the door.}

{Remaining members of room sit quiet in stunned silence for several seconds. Bob goes over to window looking out and remains separate from the rest of group who are gathered near where Van is sitting}

Cora: {After several seconds of silence, looks toward the placard leaning against the wall, speaking in a tone of one attempting to find a way to break the silence} So what does recursively mean?

Van: {in an inebriated manner} It’s part of Hofstadter’s eternal golden braid. Capitalism leads inevitably to death, even when you incorporate the lessons of Capitalism and Death.

Jessica: Ooh, Van. You are so passionate, and…smart!

Brand: I’m afraid it’s one of those deep concepts that only those of us in the intellectual class can fully appreciate. {Looking at Digger} Deeper than six feet under. {Then looking at Eggy} And not something that can be turned into a sound-bite campaign slogan.

Eggy: Don’t you intellectuals ever take a break from your intelligentsia gibberish? And who the hell is Hofstadter?

Digger: {Looking at Brand} Six feet under and hard work allowed me to make a hell of a lot of money, Brand. The only people who want to kill capitalism are losers like you and Eggy, and all your loser friends who are too lazy to get a job, and just sit around waiting for their government handouts.

Eggy: [Looks back and forth between Digger and Brand, obviously angry} I’ve heard enough crap from both of you guys. You two better both watch your backs. I still stow a night stick under my car seat. I might have to go get it and give you both a little lesson in real world capitalism and death.

Cora Sue: {Acting almost frantic, rushes over to Eggy, trying to put her arms around him} Eggy, Eggy, Eggy! Calm down. We don’t want to have another of your little incidents now do we? {Looks over towards Bob at the window} We really need to be going now. {Takes Eggy by the arm, she quickly walks him out the door}

Digger: {Looking at Olga} We need to be going too. {Takes Olga by the arm and starts walking quickly towards the door. He stops and looks back at Bob} Thanks for the party. Always wondered what a party at a pinko professor’s house would be like.

Olga: {As they are going out the door} Ya. Yust like Bergman movie in old country, Ya?

Bob: {Walks from the window where he has been standing to join group gathered around Van. Looking directly at Jessica, he speaks sarcastically} “Ooh, Van. You are so passionate and smart!” You’re such a phony, Jessica. You wouldn’t know “smart,” if it bit you on your ample bottom.

Wanda: Getting a bit edgy are we? Jessica may be a phony, but she’s an honest phony, unlike some of us here.

Brand: It’s getting late. Guess I should go too. You know what they say; {speaking sarcastically} Out of the capitalist closet, into death’s frying pan. {As he walks toward the door] Good night all. Sleep tight. Don’t let the “book bugs” bite. {Leaves}

Wanda: {walking to where Bob is standing and speaking directly to him} Tell me more about that bug. Adrian Ames confided in me today that he knows he’s being tailed. Followed! His book Capitalism and Death has angered many in the corporate world for exposing many of their sins. Now he fears for his life, like Salman Rushdie. He’s heard that some of the major donors to Johns Hopkins are saying that either he goes or they go. We all know that NSA isn’t the only part of our society spying on us. Adrian says the corporate world can buy any outcome it desires, including death.

{Lights in main room are dimmed and lights in Book Room turned on}
Book Passage Reader: {book in hand and reading.) I read from the last page of Capitalism and Death: I have followed capitalism for many years and have come to the conclusion that those who, for reasons of ethics, humanity or peace, stand in the way of the corporate Juggernaut to amass wealth by any means face threats to their very existence. Corporations are organizations created and allowed pursuant to federal and state laws. In my view none are persons, as our Supreme Court has ruled, but many are death-dealing monsters.
{Book Room Lights Turn Off}

Curtain Down



The act opens in Downs Funeral Parlor, and there is a sign hanging on stage left that says “Downs Chapel.” Also on stage left is a podium. Facing the podium are chairs arranged in rows. On stage right is The Book Room, dimly lit with only a single spot light on The Book Passage Reader, who is holding a newspaper. Wanda is standing at the podium and the seated guests are most of the cast, noted exceptions being August Moe, Smoky Heller, and Van Weener. It is the Friday afternoon following the Saturday night party.

Curtain Up
{Book Room spot light turned on; rest of the stage is dark.}
Book Passage Reader: {reading from a newspaper} I read from the New York Times on Wednesday: “Serious questions are being raised in government circles about the circumstances surrounding the Retech corporate jet crash on takeoff from Seattle’s Boeing Field last Saturday night. All on board the plane destined for Baltimore, Maryland, were killed. The dead include the pilot, Bob Thompson, a co-pilot, Jud James and one passenger, noted best-selling author, Adrian Ames. Ames, a tenured professor at Johns Hopkins University, has been a recent critic of American capitalism and American corporate culture. The FAA has asked the FBI to join the investigation because of allegations of sabotage to the jet….”

{The Book Passage Reader puts down the newspaper and picks up another}

And here’s the obituary in yesterday’s Tacoma News Tribune:
“Adrian Vanguard Ames died in a plane crash in Seattle, Washington. Ames was born on July 25, 1957 at Tacoma General Hospital. He spent his childhood growing up in Seattle with his mother, the late Gertrude Nordstrom Ames, and his stepfather, the late Ichabod Ames. Adrian attended the University of Washington and later Stanford University, where he received a Ph.D. in Economics. After his graduation he worked as a corporate consultant in New York City. In 2001, Ames moved to academia as a tenured professor at Johns Hopkins University. Earlier this year, Ames published Capitalism and Death, a controversial work highly critical of corporate America. Adrian Ames is survived by his father, Van Weener of Tacoma, Washington.
{The Book Room spotlight dims and then the chapel lights come on}

Wanda: {at podium} First, let me thank Digger Downs for providing his chapel to us for this memorial service to Adrian Ames. Van was scheduled to be the one delivering the eulogy for Adrian, but for reasons that will become apparent later today, Van cannot be here today so I am going to try to fill in for him.

Although I am the only one in this chapel who knew Adrian personally, I am sure those of you who read and discussed Capitalism and Death gained an appreciation of the depth of his concerns about how death is often the handmaiden of our economic system. Adrian was an academic whistle blower. Whistle blowing takes courage, guts, if you will, in the American vernacular.

What I suppose most of you did not know until you read the recent TNT obituary is that Adrian Ames was Van Weener’s biological son, conceived during Van’s secret relationship with Adrian’s mother, the late Gertrude Nordstrom Ames. Van and Adrian never had a close relationship, and growing up Adrian took on the surname of his stepfather, Ichabod Ames. Adrian and Van became completely estranged after Adrian went to work on Wall Street in the 1980’s, so much so that they had not seen or spoken to one another in almost thirty years.

Since I knew them both, I ended up being a sort-of go-between, sometimes carrying news, or occasionally, messages between them.

Van had no idea how much Adrian’s views about capitalism and corporate America had changed in recent years—not until he read Capitalism and Death, a serendipitous consequence of Bob Golding’s having selected that book for the Retired Men’s Book Club inaugural discussion. I cannot begin to describe to you the psychological impact reading this book had on Van. I’m afraid it drove him into a rapid descent into psychosis, the magnitude of which even I was not fully aware of until just the last few days.

{There is a commotion at the back of the chapel as August, with Ned and with Smoky, walks into the chapel and down the aisle. Smoky slides into a chair with the other members attending the memorial, but August heads straight up to the podium, moves Wanda aside, turns to the assembled group and speaks. As he continues speaking, Wanda gradually moves further away from podium, and eventually takes a seat in audience}

August: I have a few things I want to say concerning the death of Adrian Ames, who we now know was Van’s son. I just came from a meeting of a newly established group called Recursive Death to Capitalism and Death, or RCDC for short. The membership in this group is being kept secret, but it includes individuals with political persuasions ranging from leftists to the tea party right; we have professors and politicians, members from the health professions and morticians, men and women, straights and gays, citizens and foreigners, dancers and mountain climbers.

For those “bugs” in the audience I would have you know that a transcript of what I am about to read here has already been turned over to the press.

{August takes a paper from his pocket, unfolds it and reads}
The idea of a Corporate Owned America is not the same thing as the concept of The United States of America. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are human states of being and not the qualities that the courts should grant to an inanimate corporate appliance. Yet corporations are now taking over America and for the human citizens living here it’s once broad horizons of abundance and grace are now a panorama of disaster. In shining a light on this traitorous transformation, Adrian Ames paid the ultimate price. Members of our organization have many conflicting political views, but what we have in common is that none of us approve of silencing someone who speaks the truth. It is a sad fact in the United States today that both our government and our capitalists think they can, with impunity, use any means possible to silence those who find their actions illegal or threats to the bottom line. That is about to change.
{folds up paper and puts back in his pocket}

There is a major event planned for later today. Turn on the 6 o’clock news and you will see what I mean. This is one event even the corporate owned media will not be able to suppress. I am a humanist not a religious person so do not know how to bring this to a proper close in this multi-faith chapel. But, I exhort you to join with us. Democracy is at stake!

{The chapel lights dim and the Book Room spot light comes back on}
Book Passage Reader: As was mentioned earlier, it was Van’s turn to select the book for next month’s book club discussion. He had selected Moby Dick. It is a story about a commercial whaling venture around 1850 to bring back oil to light the pre-petroleum lamps of the world. That and many similar ventures worldwide involved the killing of whales on a massive scale. The Captain of the ship was Ahab, a monomaniac who had no qualms about taking himself and his crew to their deaths in quest of the bottom line. In modern times we have wall street vultures doing the same kinds of things for the bottom lines of corporations in outposts of global capitalism scattered all around the world.

So ladies and gentlemen that’s it for Capitalism and Death.

Final Curtain Down


About Ron Boothe

I am a Professor Emeritus at Emory University, currently living in Tacoma Washington USA.
This entry was posted in 2014 Selections, Capitalism and Death: The RMBC Play. Bookmark the permalink.

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