to scratch an angel


containing the impressed history of a master's last hour,

and -- in its forceful brevity -- projecting us

to the limits of the actual world



original libretto & music by ari frankel



Duration: app. 90 minutes without intermission


PRIMO                                                  lyric baritone


MESSENGER                                        countertenor           


MOTHER, dbl. MELENCOLIA            mezzosoprano        


WIFE, dbl. EUTERPE                          soprano                    


DAUGHTER                                         soprano                    


CONCIERGE                                         mezzosoprano        


SON, dbl. CADMUS                             tenor                         


FATHER, dbl. Uncle & CRONUS       bass                           


NEIGHBORS                                        SATB ensemble       





               1.         Skin                                         Neighbors

               2.         The Shave                              Messenger

               3.         Prelude                                  Instrumental

               4.         Check/Mate                           Mother, Computer/Messenger, Primo

               5.         Oh, Primo                              Mother, Son, Intercom Voice, Primo

               6.         Home                                     Wife, Daughter, Mother, Messenger, Primo

               7.         Dirty Feet                              Primo, Neighbors

               8.         Mail Dance                            Wife, Daughter, Primo

               9.         Not To Worry                      Primo, Concierge

               10.       Gray Zones                            Wife, Concierge, Neighbors

               11.        Living, But Not Alive           Son, Primo

               12.       Walk In My Footsteps        Primo, Neighbors

               13.       It Can. It Is.                           Messenger, Primo, Father

               14.       Like you, caro babbo           Primo, Father

               15.       Sand                                       Son, Primo, Cronus

               16.       Broken                                   Euterpe, Neighbors

               17.       Point. Comma. Point.          Melencolia, Primo

               18.       Afar [dust]                            Neighbors

               19.       Chemistry                              Primo, Neighbors

               20.       Does Not Equal                    Neighbors

               21.       Some Never Do                    Melencolia, Neighbors

               22.       Ask Me                                   Euterpe, Concierge, Cronus

               23.       Arm Patrol                            Messenger, Cadmus

               24.       Burning Coal                         all but Primo

               25.       Non ne posso piu                 Primo alone




Melencolia I, Albrecht D€rer


The stage may be a 3-dimensional cut of Levięs family house. At its center - a wide, spiraling staircase, –hugging” an elevator shaft. The staircase has a low railing.

The different floors are visible, or –marked”, and at least the ground and 3rd floors –are there”. The PRIMO apartments occupy all of the 3rd floor. Other neighboring apartments are also visible.


MOTHERęs room is visible to stage right. At the bottom of the vertical, caged, elevator shaft, descending the middle of the stairwell, one also sees its well and bottom elevator door. On the ground floor, the CONCIERGEęs apartment door is visible, on the far left.


Alongside this center –column”, there are projection screens / activity areas, that will allow virtual tableaux to be both staged/performed and/or screened. When PRIMO falls, his –body”, or morphed projections thereof, can actually be contained inside this elevator cage/shaft; the cage itself can sometimes morph into barbed wire or glass/chemical tubing or some lit mesh.


As morning breaks, PRIMO is still sleeping in bed, the house awakens, as neighbors start their day. PRIMO slowly rises.



1. Skin




[crease, cease,] doubt thou the stars are fire;         [crease, cease,] doubt thou the stars are fire;

[crease, cease,] doubt that the sun doth move       [crease, cease,] doubt that the sun doth move

[crease, cease,] doubt truth to be a liar;                   [crease, cease,] doubt truth to be a liar;

[crease, cease,] but never doubt I love.                      [crease, cease,] but never doubt I love.[1]


Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita                          In the middle of the journey of our life

mi ritrovai per una selva oscura                                 I came to myself within a dark wood

che la diritta via era smarrita.                                     where the straight way was lost.[2]


Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie                         All theory, dear friend, is gray but the

Und gr€n des Lebens goldner Baum.                            golden tree of actual life springs ever green.[3]


Verde que te quiero verde,                                            Green I love you green,

Verde viento. Verde ramas.                                            Green wind. Green branches.[4]


Tacitae per amica silentia lunae                                   Through the amicable silence of the soundless

Verbum caro factum est.                                                moonlight[5] The word was made flesh.[6]


On lęenterra... aux vitrines ňclairňes,                          They buried him... in the lighted windows,

ses livres disposňs trois par trois veillaient              his books arranged three by three kept watch

commes des anges aux ailes ňployňes...                        like angels with outspread wings...

Les vrai paradis                                                                  The true paradises

sont les paradis quęon a perdus.                                  are paradises we have lost.[7]


BATHROOM in the childhood house where PRIMO was born. After brushing teeth, he proceeds to shave. MESSENGER, who may not yet be –visible”, sings, mimicking, or shadowing, or guarding PRIMO, and his reflected mirror image.



2. The Shave



MESSENGER:         I come with whiskers rather short.

                                 I hate to shave, oh, help me grow.

                                 I know your time is in much demand;

                                 I only ask you to be my friend, with

                                 worlds colliding, cultures lost;

                                 have no control, find no God;

                                 be my savior: try it on.

                                 Oh, be my savior.


                                 I come with questions, answer not.

                                 I come to hold you in my dark.

                                 The sheets are dirty, I care not

                                 My laundryęs rich and full of stuff, so

                                 be my savior, try it on;

                                 wear the crown, wear the crown.

                                 Be my hero, one and all;

                                 be my savior.

                                 Shave me close.


                                 The cream is burning from outside.

                                 The blade is bright and smooth and nice.

                                 With drugs available for free,

                                 Ięm somewhat worried, wouldnęt you

                                 be my savior, try it on.

                                 Be my savior, wear the crown.

                                 Be my hero, one and all.

                                 Oh, be my savior.


                                 I knock, and wait, and watch TV;

                                 Play with computers in search of me;

                                 Life is fleeing, sleep no more;

                                 Ięm always tired, so alone with

                                 worlds colliding, cultures lost;

                                 have no control, find no God;

                                 Be my savior.

                                 Oh, be my savior.


                                 Be my savior: wear the crown.

                                 Be my savior: try it on.

                                 Be my hero, one and all.

                                 Be my savior.


                                 I come with whiskers rather short.

                                 I hate to shave, oh, help me grow.

                                 I know your time is in much demand;

                                 I only ask you to - - - shave me - - -

                                 shave me - - - shave me.



3. Prelude




As PRIMO finishes dressing, he moves into his STUDY, fixing his shirt into his trousers. Booting the COMPUTER, he looks around for some notes. He launches a chess program, and sits to play –against” the computer. Its –voice” will actually be the processed voice of MESSENGER).



4 . Check/Mate

Mother, Computer/Messenger, Primo



COMPUTER:          Your move.


PRIMO:                   My move?! Why, yes. Youęre right

I must have dosed off; not quite awake yet.

                        Queen takes Knight 4.


COMPUTER:          Watch out. Youęll score.


PRIMO:                   This house° This room. This game°


COMPUTER:          Were you born here?        

What do you know?


PRIMO:                   One thing° one thing° [frustrated] I forget.


Your move.

COMPUTER:          Bishop bows. Pawn is out. I have doubts.


PRIMO:                   How is that possible?

Ięll re-boot you and youęll know.

Doubts are human.


COMPUTER:          Watch out, you men.


PRIMO:                   This house° This room.


BOTH:                     This game°


PRIMO:                   I write.


COMPUTER:          You record.


PRIMO:                   I delete.


COMPUTER:          Erase some more.

                     Help me with this game.


PRIMO:                   Prostate pills † go away!

Post-op was hard°


COMPUTER:          Pawn takes White Heart.


PRIMO:                   Check?


COMPUTER:          Check.


PRIMO:                   This house. This game°


MOTHER:               [from other room] Primo!


COMPUTER:          Who calls?


MOTHER:               Primo!


PRIMO:                   Mother calls.

[toward Motheręs voice] Ięll  be°


COMPUTER:          Right away you jump to her side!


PRIMO:                   What else can one do?

What else would you do for an ailing mom?

[pause] Check?


COMPUTER:          Check-mate.


MOTHER:               PRIMO!


PRIMO:                   Yes, mother. Coming.


Rising from the desk, PRIMO slowly, with effort, turns to go to his MOTHERęs room. On his way, the apartmentęs intercom buzzer sounds. He answers.



5. Oh, Primo

Mother, Son, Intercom Voice, Primo


”I go to the door of my motheręs room and

I feel the weight of the whole world on me.”


† Primo to relative


PRIMO:                   Prego.


VOICE:                    Is Renzo there?


PRIMO:                   No. He is Number Four.


VOICE:                    Sorry!


PRIMO proceeds through the corridor, as the apartment door swings open.


SON:                        Sorry, father. My friend pressed the wrong bell.


PRIMO:                   Not to worry, son.


SON:                        Weęll be in my apartment for a while, if you need anything.

                                 Ci vediamo [be seeing you].


PRIMO:                   [waving son away] Ci vediamo.


Passing through the landing, PRIMO transforms from a moral compass, from the celebreated guru of a writer that the world perceives, into a controlled child, eager to please mommy.


MOTHERęS ROOM. Bedridden for months, with Primoęs DAUGHTER at her side, the ill woman complains. Seemingly senile, weak, she remains stubborn.


MOTHER:               Oh, Primo, Primo.

Ięve been calling you forever.

Where have you been?!


PRIMO:                   In my study, Mama.


MOTHER:               Why donęt you answer?

You donęt care at all about me°

Itęs only –work” with you!


PRIMO:                   Sorry, Mama. I am sorry.


MOTHER:               [answering, as if she was asked:]

Sleep? I had no sleep.

All I had was pain.

I want to go home.


PRIMO:                   But, mother, you ARE home. We ARE home.

This IS home. (looking around at the room)

This has always BEEN our home.


MOTHER:               No, my words° you donęt understand.

You donęt understand my words.

I want to go to my true home.

My home in the sky.


PRIMO:                   Mama, what nonsense!

                                 Donęt TALK like that.


w/SON:                   Donęt talk°


PRIMO alone:        ° like that.

MOTHER:               Ah, it hurts!


TOGETHER:           It hurts.


MOTHER:               Yes, it hurts so much!


PRIMO:                   Ięm sorry, Mama.

Not our home. Not our home° What IS home?




6. Home

Wife, Daughter, Mother, Messenger, Primo


DAUGHTER:                                  Home is often a thing you loose.

Home is never a place you choose.


w/MOTHER:                                  Home is maybe. Home is wet.


MOTHER alone:                            All my troubles begin in bed.


w/PRIMO:                                      Home is throats that are seldom sore.


PRIMO alone:                                Home is freedom desiring more.


w/MOTHER:                                  Home, I gotęch you.


PRIMO, DAUGHTER, WIFE:       Home, youęre it!


WIFE, MOTHER:                          Please come closer; now retreat.


MOTHER alone [half spoken]:   Home is mirrors that never, ever crack.


PRIMO [spoken]:                          Home, Ięve left you and now Ięm back.


w/WIFE [sung]:                            Home is shelter. Home is clean.


DAUGHTER:                                  Children Playing, mothers near.


MESSENGER:                                 Home is where wings are hung to dry.

Home is truth over many lies.


w/PRIMO:                                      Home is beauty. All is well.

You [P: I] move lightly within your [P: my] shell.


MESSENGER alone:                      Fly, fly home.


w/PRIMO:                                      Fly, fly soul.


PRIMO kisses MOTHER, who relaxes back into bed. He leaves her room slowly, shuffling his feet. As NEIGHBORS begin the hymnal DIRTY FEET, PRIMO freely, oratorically, recites:



7. Dirty Feet

Primo, Neighbors


                                 I marched far away to the forest;

                     I crawled close to the burning bush;

                                 I tried to aim, and then fire,

                                 but you [you] never understood.


I was caught, and then I was tortured.

                                 Tested, again and again.

                                 Starving, dirty, abandoned

                                 by you, and by what some call Hell.


Oh, mother, your doorway s0 heavy;

                                 Its weight more precious then stones;

[linger, extend the end –s”]


                                 I have traveled the railways of Europe.

                                 Still carry the markings of war.

                                 But when violence let go, released me,

                                 both my shoes were too dirty for home.


                                 Oh, mother. [pause]

Your doorway. [pause]


                                 I live but for life, and the others?

                                 Living with fears of regret.

                                 We love not for the sake of forgiving,

                                 but for the chance to crawl, dirty, to bed.


 WIFE appears from another part of the apartment, carrying a shopping bag.

CONCIERGE begins to make her way up the stairs, carrying a bundle of mail.



8. Mail Dance

Wife, Daughter, Primo


WIFE:                     Primo, I am off for a short while;

We need some vegetables and milk.


PRIMO:                   Very well, my dear. Very well.


                                 [quickly turns to DAUGHTER as WIFE leaves]

                        Please answer any phone calls that may ring.

I am going down to check for [any] mail

That the mailman may bring.


DAUGHTER:          But is it not always brought to you, caro babbo?

                                 Is it not always brought up to you?


PRIMO:                   Well, yes. [hesitant] It does not matter°

But, yes, well, it IS a Saturday morning°

Maybe. Yes, it will be easier if I, myself go°


DAUGHTER:          Of course, caro babbo.


PRIMO:                   ° if I go myself.


DAUGHTER:          Of course°


WIFE:                     So, I am off.


PRIMO:                   Very well


WIFE:                     Will you be alright?


PRIMO:                   Yes. Surely.

[pause] You know°


WIFE:                     [only slightly impatient] What is it now?


PRIMO:                   We could brighten up this hallway a bit.


WIFE:                     What do you mean?


PRIMO:                   Paint. Change curtains. Add light.


WIFE:                     Primo, itęs Saturday morning° Early Saturday morning.


PRIMO:                   I know, cara, but this has been on my mind for some time.


WIFE:                     Well, can we discuss this later?


PRIMO:                   [spoken] Sure. Why not.

[softly] Letęs dance.


Instrumental Dance/Dream follows. PRIMO and WIFE dance, awkwardly. This is a shared fantasy, imagining a spontaneous, expressive courtship they wish they had had. At climax, tango vamp/beats appear; then, back to real life.


As music ascends, with basket in one hand, WIFE gives PRIMO a brief hug with her free hand. He shies away from the touch. She lightly waves goodbye, without speaking. PRIMO waves back, without speaking.


As WIFE descends, she passes by the CONCIERGE. She slows down, and will pause at the landing, without yet exiting the building. Through the corridor, PRIMO passes his STUDY and reaches apartment door. As he opens it, the CONCIERGE reaches it from the other side.



9. Not To Worry

Concierge, Primo


CONCIERGE:          Oh, excuse me, Dottore Levi!


PRIMO:                   Not to worry, Signora Gasperi.


CONCIERGE:          [handing him the bundle] Not much mail today, Dottore.


PRIMO:                   Not to worry.


CONCIERGE:          Some days thereęs a bag, and other days

there is almost nothing but catalogs and bills.


PRIMO:                   Not to worry. Not to worry.

Thank you, Signora Gasperi.

Thank you kindly.



Levięs terrace, street corner. Photo: Ari Frankel


PRIMO waves, closes apartment door, and returns to STUDY. Absent mindedly, he draws the curtains and looks out the terrace, onto his street. The CONCIERGE begins descent, and duets with WIFE, who remained near building exit.



10. Gray Zones

Wife, Concierge, Neighbors


WIFE:                     Raw emotions pouring out

                                 to touch life; to bless this house.


w/ CONCIERGE:    Pain above us, pain below.

How I love him, he wonęt know.


CONCIERGE:          Do I need him? More than air!


TOGETHER:           Give me passion, or I despair.


Gray zones cover both our lives.

                                 Words of freedom never rhyme.


NEIGHBORS hum a chorale ending, as WIFE exits and CONCIERGE descends and reaches her apartment. PRIMO turns back from terrace, returns inside, and sits to look through the mail while dialing a phone number. In another apartment, SON is also now seen, speaking to his visiting friend.



11. Living, But Not Alive

Son, Primo



SON:                        My father, he is not well.

He is living, but is not alive.


PRIMO:                   I am living, but am not alive°                           [repeat]

[on phone] Cara, how are you?

                                 [sigh] How many things we have done together.


You, you know by now.

How by writing I found peace for a while,

                                 And felt [myself] becoming a man again,

                                 A person like everyone else;                                [x2]


w/SON:                   Neither martyr, nor debased;

Neither martyr, nor a saint.


PRIMO:                   Cara, how are you?

Here, it is over. Over.

                                 It is harder now then it was in the camp.

                                 I am worse then I was at Auschwitz.

So hard. So slow.


w/SON:                   I am living, but am not alive°                           [repeat]


PRIMO:                   Grazie° Tu sei molto gentile. [pause, repeat]


PRIMO hangs up the phone. MOTHER calls from her room.


MOTHER:               [to the DAUGHTER, angry]

Donęt tell ME if I can call him or not!!

                                 [towards PRIMOęs study, loudly]

Primo!! [pause] Primo!!


PRIMO:                   Coming, mother! Coming.



Exiting the study into the corridor, something shifts PRIMO out onto the floor landing. He is a bit unstable, holding onto a low section of the railing for balance. PRIMO presses down on the railing as a memory illuminates itself in another part of the stage.


VIRTUAL TABLEAUX I: [MUSIC STARTS] Mountains, morphing from snow-covered Alps to Italian countryside ones. A young PRIMO (app. 8-11 years of age) is seen climbing, following in the footsteps of some friendly, strong adult. They are in full gear+hats. They hum/whistle a popular folk song, innocent, and happy.



Levi cycling along the Italian lakes, 1941.

Photo: Bianca Giudetta Serra



12. Walk In My Footsteps

Primo, Neighbors


PRIMO:                   In 1927 or 1928, when I was eight or nine,

                                 my Uncle Oreste Colombo, an outdoors type,

                                 took me on strawberry picking expeditions


[+NEIGHBORS:]   in the hills above Torino.


PRIMO:                   –Walk in my footsteps”, he would say.

                        –Walk in my footsteps”.


NEIGHBORS:         In the hills above Torino.


PRIMO:                   –Walk in my footsteps”.


NEIGHBORS:         In the hills above Torino.


PRIMO:                   –Walk in my footsteps”, he would say.


NEIGHBORS:         In the hills above Torino.


PRIMO:                   Before long, I accompanied Uncle Oreste

to more ambitious altitudes.

                                 These excursions greatly improved my physical confidence

In The hills above Torino.

                                 –Walk in my footsteps”, he would say.


NEIGHBORS:         In the hills above Torino.


PRIMO:                   –Walk in my footsteps”.


Video images slowly shift between another –walk in oneęs footsteps” memory, this one from Auschwitz, following Capo Alexęs leather boots on the descent from the chemistry examination, noticing his own, unmatched foot rags°


NEIGHBORS:         In the hills above Torino.


PRIMO:                   –Walk in my footsteps”.


NEIGHBORS:         In the hills above Torino.


PRIMO:                   Many days later, I approached [+CHORUS] mountaineering

                                 with the seriousness of [+CHORUS] a vocation.


PRIMO:                   Walking in his footsteps.                |

                                                                                             | x3.5

NEIGHBORS:         In the hills above Torino.                |


Lighting morphs back to the present day staircase of his home. PRIMO sways back into his study.


MOTHER:               [calling from her room]

Where IS that boy?!


–Uncle Oreste” is now seated in the study, a heavy coat covering his mountaineering outfit. The coat has many large pockets, stuffed with books. He is FATHER.



13. It Can. It Is.

Primo, Messenger, Father


PRIMO:                   Father° It canęt be!


MESSENGER:         It can. It is.


PRIMO:                   Father° What is this?!


FATHER:                We need to talk, my son.

Ięve been traveling way too much.

But you know I am always –there” for you.


PRIMO:                   Father, you•re dead!


FATHER:                Donęt rub it in!

Nobodyęs perfect.

I know I was too old and distant, but°


PRIMO:                   This canęt be°


MESSENGER:         It can. It is.


The confused, older, self-centered FATHER, hammers –Carmen” on a piano, while engaging in a fast, overlapping sprechtstimme exchange with PRIMO.



14. Like You, Caro Babbo

Father, Primo


FATHER:    Drink!


PRIMO:       I donęt drink, Caro Babbo [Dear, Daddy]


FATHER:    Smoke!


PRIMO:       I donęt smoke, Caro Babbo


FATHER:    Go with girls!


PRIMO:       There ARE no girls!

FATHER:    Reading, then?                     |

                                                                     | x4

PRIMO:       Yes! Reading!                      |


FATHER:    Whatęs wrong with you?!

You donęt drink!


PRIMO:       I donęt drink, Caro Babbo. [Dear, Daddy]


FATHER:    You donęt smoke!


PRIMO:       I donęt smoke, Caro Babbo.


FATHER:    You donęt go with girls!


PRIMO:       There°


FATHER:    Well, at least you read.                                                    X8


PRIMO:       [overlapping] I love to read, like you.

         Read, like you, caro Babbo.
                     I love° like° you° I° love° to read.


Semi-VIRTUAL TABLEAUX II: SON joins them in STUDY, and begins SAND. By its end, he morphs into CADMUS.  FATHER morphs into CRONUS. By the time he himself sings, he will be pulling on curtains, walls, and bookshelves. Reality blends with depressed illusion, as walls and curtains, turn into mud and blood.



Late 1986. Photo: Giansanti/Sygma



15. Sand

Son [Cadmus], Primo, Cronus [Father]


SON:                        Blood plays a game of hide and seek

With your veins and with your needs

If it goes † you loose;

Stay † you win; Goes † you die;

Stays † you live; Blood plays a game.


PRIMO:                   Sand, sifting through your hands like lice.

Follow my commands and see.


w/SON:                   If you do † you win;

Donęt † you loose; Go † you die;

Stay † you live; Sand plays a game.


CRONUS:                Mud mixes up the sand and blood;

[w/SON, PRIMO]  Dripping on the wall above.


            If it flows † you loose;

Stays  you win; Goes † you die;

Stays † you live. Mud plays a game.


PRIMO w/SON:     Flows † you loose; stays  you win;

Goes † you die; stays † you live.

Mud plays a game.


VIRTUAL TABLEAUX III: on a post-war wasteland, EUTERPE † previously WIFE - introduces the –journey”/mood.




Euterpe by Roqueplan



16. Broken

Euterpe, Neighbors



is a bird full of mud,

I say aloud.


† Anne Sexton, After Auschwitz


EUTERPE:              There is a square in black and white

                                 Where shots ring out throughout the night.

                                 Please help me; Please come

                                 to stop the violence of our tongue.


                                 In a burning forest hides a pine,

                                 So no-one will forget your crime.


w/N2 (Alto):          Please help me; please come

                                 to join in writing of that time.


EUTERPE alone:    A train is flying off the track.

                                 All numbers carved into my back.

                                 Please help me; please come

                                 and move my knight from where it lies.


+ NEIGHBORS:     In a land where rules are broken,                                  [repeated, chorally built]


EUTERPE:              wearing robes all torn.


V.T. IV: LIGHTING shifts images related to logic, formulas.



17. Point. Comma.

Melencolia, Primo


MELENCOLIA:       Point. Comma. Point.

Point. Comma. Point.



PRIMO:                   I wonder.


MELENCOLIA:       Point. Comma.


PRIMO:                   Tired with all these°


MELENCOLIA:       [from sides of stage]  Try to be as scientific as you can


PRIMO:                   Tired with all these, from these would I be gone.


V.T. V: Neighbors may now appear as fellow chemists, or prisoners, or patients, projecting idea summaries of Jean Amery and The Old Testament.



18. Afar [dust]



NEIGHBORS:         We know who you are.

                                 You are who we say you are.

                                 Afar el afar;

                                 Ki afar ata                                           For dust thou art

                                 Vň-el afar tashuv.                               and unto dust shalt thou return.[8]



V.T. VI: Images morphs into articles of clothing, chemical symbols, and Nazi triangle marks, the actual PRIMO appears in another, virtual pseudo-lab setting.


PRIMO, in a torn (or clean?) lab coat, is at a lab table with a bunzen burner, tubes, and other science tools; paint factory lab? Auschwitzęs exam? school experiment?




Different Nazi triangle symbols, identifying the various enemies of the regime.

The horizontal categories list markings for the following types of prisoners:

(from left to right) political, professional criminal, emigrant, Jehovah's Witnesses,

homosexual, Germans shy of work, and other nationalities shy of work.

The vertical categories begin with the basic colors, and then show those

for repeat offenders, prisoners in punishment commandos, Jews, Jews who have

violated racial laws by having sexual relations with Aryans, and Aryans who

violated racial laws by having sexual relations with Jews. The remaining symbols

give examples of marking patterns. Photo: KZ Gedenkstatte Dachau



19. Chemistry

Primo, Neighbors


PRIMO:                   Chemistry is clear, precise.

                                 Chemistry is verifiable.

                                 Chemistry is an essential, definitive system;

                                 A language that I like enormously.


                                 There was a manual to be found in every home †

                                 –New Industrial Recipes” †

                                 explaining how one can prepare oneself,


+ NEIGHBORS:     spiritually and physically,


PRIMO:                   so as to be in a state conducive to making an invention.

                                 I have a curious sensation;

                                 is there a plot at my expense?


+ NEIGHBORS:     Here is the echo of great discovery

                                 Here is the echo of ecstasy.


PRIMO + VOX 2:   Chemistry is                                                                       [voice 2: Emotion,]

                                 clear, precise,                                                                     [esthetic]

                                 verifiable information                                 [and poetic].

                                 Chemistry is                                                  [A discovery]

                                 a definite system                                                               [that takes];

                                 A language that I like enormously                                 [your breath away!].


+ NEIGHBORS:     All that can exist, exists. [x4]

                                 Chaos gave way to order;

                                 The indistinct to the comprehensible. [x4]


PRIMO:                   Chemistry is clear, precise, verifiable information.

Chemistry is an essential, definite system;

A language that I like enormously.


NEIGHBORS:         [whispering] A discovery that can take your breath away. [x 4]


PRIMO:                   Here is the echo of great discovery.


NEIGHBORS now also appear to hold bunzen burners, or candles. They may be survivors, or –gray zoned” compromisers, or scientists in the great lab that is life.



Primo in the lab.

Photo: Giansanti/Sygma



20. Does Not Equal



NEIGHBORS:         Symmetry does not equal balance.

                                 Make the leap [with us] from

                                 Prosy symmetry into poetic balance.


                                             And meanwhile, go on living, living and partly living.


                                 Belief does not equal faith.

                                 Make the journey [with us] from

                                 Greedy belief to pedestrian faith.


                                             And meanwhile, go on living, living and partly living.


                                 Just does not equal wise.

                                 Take the road [with us] from

                                 Cultural justice to inner-bound wisdom.


                                             And meanwhile, go on living, living and partly living.


VIRTUAL TABLEAUX VII: an old, poor, devout woman, slowly, deliberately, crawls down a church aisle, while murmuring her prayers. MELENCOLIA  en route to the altar? A parallel image will later appear, where PRIMO † alone, or with fellow prisoners/patients/inmates † all crawl in a similar way, not down an aisle, but towards a fence, or towards barbed wire, or towards a lit entrance/exit.




21. Some Never Do

Melencolia, Neighbors


Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,

Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.


† Shakespeare, Sonnet LXVI


NEIGHBORS:         [in background, as intro]

Strong. Weak.

Strong. Weak.


MELENCOLIA:       A sign red; a seal said;

Bang the dead slowly.

Defend me, my memory;

It all is true.


A thin sand; a hand wrong;

Bang the dead slowly.

I came first; I go last;

Some never do.


NEIGHBORS:         Or mipinot heder; teva shakuf;

                                 Mavet yasig otti, mavet katuv.

(Hebrew: Light from room corners, transparent nature.

Death will take over me, written death.)


MELENCOLIA:       A sign is; a seal is;                   NEIGHBORS:                                  [in background]

                                 Bang the dead slowly.                                                                  Strong. Weak.

                                 To occupy; to not release;                                                           Strong. Weak.

                        Donęt loose control.                                                                     [continue?]


                                 But only; but every;

                                 Bang the dead slowly.

                                 I came first; I go last;

                                 Some never do.


NEIGHBORS:         Or mipinot heder; teva shakuf;

                                 Mavet yasig otti, mavet katuv.

(Hebrew: Light from room corners, transparent nature.

Death will take over me, written death.)


When old woman finally reaches the altar she somehow partakes (alone, or in parallel, with the others) in a sort of communion, but instead of or in addition to the thin host, she digs into a round loaf of bread, accelerating with hunger, shoving more into her mouth, then stuffing pieces into her pockets° MELENCOLIA is now again the bed-ridden MOTHER, as CONCIERGE begins –Ask Me”. EUTERPE, and CRONUS join from elsewhere, –above”? Semi-VIRTUAL TABLEAUX VIII.



22. Ask Me

Euterpe, Concierge, Cronus


And I wander in a land of barren boughs:

If I break them, they bleed;

I wander in a land of dry stones:

If I touch them they bleed.


† T.S. Elliot, Murder in the Cathedral


CONCIERGE:          You ask me once, you ask me twice,

                                 You ask yourself a million times:

                                 Oh, how such things can happen.

                                 You search above; you search below;

                                 You search for someone who might know.

                                 But answers are not forthcoming today.


CRONUS:                And time moves on, and years will pass.

                                 More people may embrace these acts,

                                 As history repeats itself.


w/CONCIERGE:     You hope we learn. You hope we pray.

                                 But weęre up here and youęre down there,

                                 And animals will grow hungry for more.


EUTERPE:              No sticks nor stones will break my bones;

                                 The glass is hard, the wind is strong,

                                 And smoke will cover many.


w/CONCIERGE:     As birds - we sing, as stones † we throw;

                                 I fear youęll never really know.


w/CRONUS:           But answers are not forthcoming today.



VIRTUAL TABLEAUX IX: PRIMO lies down, covering himself with a blanket. Background/set transforms from mountain-top to camp bunks, or hospital beds,

or morgue drawers; with only a scrap of blanket to cover his ill, shaking body. MESSENGER hovers over bed-ridden PRIMO.



23. Arm Patrol

Messenger, Cadmus


MESSENGER:         As I land on your bed now,

                                 Hold your head in my hand,

                                 Thereęs a breath in your lungs still;

                                 There is time for regret.

                                 I donęt want you to die now,

                                 But thatęs why Ięve been sent

                                 From the place some call heaven;

                                 The domain of the rest.


                                 You are very afraid now.

                                 You are weeping alone.

                                 As I fly out the back way,

                                 As I go on patrol.


w/Cadmus:             Rain is falling outside now,

                                 Rain is leaking inside,

                                 Through the walls of this cabin,

                                 Through the evils-in-kind.


MESSENGER:         Thereęs a number behind you.

                                 Thereęs a number in front.

                                 Letęs examine your arms, now;

                                 Connect all your marks.

w/Cadmus:             Pain is falling outside now;

                                 Pain is leaking inside,

                                 Through the walls of this coffin,

                                 Through the bridges of sighs.


MESSENGER:         As I land on your bed now,

                                 Hold your head in my hand,

                                 Thereęs still bread in your pocket;

                                 Thereęs no time for regret.


PRIMO, at railing, looses his balance. The projected mountaineering, images return. The young PRIMO looses his balance on the mountain as well. MESSENGER watches over them both, but canęt hold back any of the two. The young PRIMO jumps, or plunges, or falls/slips off the mountain. The actual, live PRIMO falls over railing, –plunging down” in ultra-slow-motion.


PRIMOęs slow motion, tumbling fall to the ground lasts throughout the 7 minutes of –Burning Coal”. Projected images may morph into colors, flowers, animals, uniforms, chemical elements, etc. Additional possible VIRTUAL TABLEAUX X: Passengers in a train. It is not Primoęs crowded war travels; perhaps a latter return to Germany, or just one of many business trips. EUTERPE opening lines may still be underscored by train noise [audible using sampler playback].


R.B. Kitaj, –The Jew, Etc.”



24. Burning Coal



I sang to the moon the toadęs liquid song,

my constant hunger riddled wood.


† Primo Levi, Autobiography, Collected Poems


EUTERPE:              I will not adapt to anything.

                                 The ones who adapt to everything

                                 Are those who Survive.


w/MELENCOLIA:  Most do not adapt to everything.

Unable to adjust to trivial things


EUTERPE alone:    And die like a pair of shoes.


w/CRONUS:           A chemist is trained to interpret things.

A substance can say the time is here.


EUTERPE alone:    I leave you no hope.


w/MESSENGER:    A country can be marked by certain smells.

A land can often tell of secret things;


w/CADMUS:          Toasted barley, burning coal°


ALL:                         We will not adapt to anything.

The ones who adapt to everything

Are those who survive.


EUTERPE alone:    Most do not adapt to everything.


The virtual tableau on stage sides goes dark, as we return to the house set.

Back in real time, PRIMOęs actual body reaches and hits landing.


There is SILENCE, then there are the last words from PRIMO:



25. Non Ne Posso PiŘ

Primo alone


PRIMO:                   Non ne posso piŘ.                            I canęt go on.




William Blake


PRIMO lowers his head, dead.


CONCIERGE rushes out of her ground floor cubicle to see what the noise was. PRIMOęs body becomes visible next to the elevator shaft. She screams and runs to the citofono, the intercom system, at the entrance.  She buzzes SONęs apartment.



Levięs building buzzers. Photo: Ari Frankel


SON voice:              Prego?!


CONCIERGE:          Tuo padre°                                                  Your father°

                                 Si ¦ ammalato°                                           He has taken ill

                                 Ha avuto un incidente.                                He has had an accident.


Just then, WIFE returns with a full shopping bag, holding bottles ,eggs, and other breakables. She enters, sees PRIMOęs body and freezes.


As SON speeds down the stairs and reaches the landing, WIFE drops the bag, which shatter loudly in the silence.


As the bagęs contents shatter, the stage goes black.





Levięs grave, Torino. Photo: Ari Frankel




[1] William Shakespeare, Hamlet II.ii.115

[2] Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Inferno I. 1-3

[3] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Studierzimmer

[4] Federico Garcia Lorca, Romance Son¸mbulo

[5] Virgil, Aeneid ii. 255

[6] The Mass in Latin, See 71:27

[7] Marcel Proust, La Prisonniňre I, 1

[8] The Old Testament, Genesis 3:19