Note: This is a modern version of Shakespeare’s KING LEAR. The author has veered as closely as possible to the characters and plot; but, of course, what emerges is in many ways different. Yet Lear is as difficult as ever; the jester is now a stand-up comic; Goneril and Regan are flush with evil intentions; and Cordelia remains as stubborn and beautiful as ever.

Two men have just entered the once opulent dining room of Leonardo Kingston’s mansion. It has been savaged. Most of the furniture has either been stolen or smashed to bits. The walls have holes in them and are festooned with obscene words and drawings. Parts of the floor have been torn up. It is an early winter morning, very little light. One of the men seems to be in his late forties. People call him Ribald, though the other man, Leonardo Kingston, sometimes refers to him as Quentin. Ribald is stamping his feet and shivering. Kingston, an older man, is tall and slightly stooped. He is holding a pistol in one hand and a flashlight in the other. Suddenly seeing what has happened to his home he cries out:

KINGSTON    Aaahhhhhhh! What the fuck! [His flashlight is

moving all over the place.] Look what they did! Look

at this havoc!! This magical place wrecked!  The only

house I ever loved pissed on! Whoever did it, dead or

soon to be! [He is breathing heavily, almost gasping.]

Whoever the fuck managed this desecration! I’ll get

them for sure!  Get my hands on them! One two ten of

them! I don’t care how many!  Rip their balls off!

Wrecking my house!  This lovely place! [Stopping and

staring at Ribald] You think I can’t do it?

RIBALD    The thing is, Mr. Leonardo, I’m a little worried about

the heart part of you.  

KINGSTON    [Gasping a little] Don’t worry about it! My heart is fine!

All it is, my problem I’m talking about, is sometimes I

get a little short of breath. But my rage keeps me going,

always has always will.  A little cocktail is all I need! A

rage cocktail! A booster rocket shooting me into the

stratosphere!  Molotov cocktail for the soul! Get it?

Bourbon and rage on the rocks! Any booze left? [He

extends his hand to Ribald who puts a flask in it. He takes it

and has a few fast shots.] Yes, does the trick. There’s a

kind of a smoky aura rising up into my brain. Yes, yes,

if you sit long enough wait long enough the world

comes to you, blathering and incoherent, its eczema

blazing! [Laughs, shivers, coughs, drinks, shudders, looks

around.] You know what’s out there surrounding us?

Man defying mountains created by ancient slabs of ice,

huge boulders tossed about like popcorn, furious rocks

hiding behind clouds, primed and ready, waiting for

the final signal! The trumpet, if you’re Biblical! The

sound, think on it, of it! That earth-shattering end-day

sound that will send it roaring down destroying all

that’s below! Unimpaired impartial destruction

targeting everything and everyone from mega to minor

leaving nothing intact!  Every spec, spot, blot, sperm

stain, pinhole, needle hole, ass hole created by the

human race wiped out! The eagle eye of some forlorn

god looking down on it all; his wrongheaded creation

pole-axed, finished! Smiling he shoots himself in the

brain. The experiment is over. [Pause] Just look at those

mountains. Stone cold carnage waiting to explode!

Don’t you agree? [He puts his gun away.] I asked you if

you agreed.

RIBALD    Too dark to see.

KINGSTON    What?

RIBALD    I can’t see anything.

KINGSTON    Use your imagination!

RIBALD    I got rid of that damned thing a couple of weeks ago.

Didn’t I tell you?

KINGSTON   What? Got rid of it?

RIBALD    That’s right.

KINGSTON    Is that possible?

RIBALD    For me it was a necessity.

KINGSTON    What made you do it?

RIBALD    We were not getting along. Arguing, fighting,

bickering; the honeymoon was over. Things started to

get dangerous. Insults were traded, furniture broken.

Sooner or later one of us would not walk out of the

room!  So gaining the upper hand, I kicked it out on its

ass!

KINGSTON     I’ve always wondered, is the imagination male or

female?

RIBALD    The imagination is a neutral mechanism! Still, who

knows?  It might even be bisexual. Could be mine

was?  But don’t tell anybody—okay? They might get

the wrong idea.

KINGSTON    What did you do with it?

RIBALD    [Close to tears] It kept causing me trouble. What could I

do? We used to be so close. But then things started

getting crazy. I figured enough was enough. Sure,

we’d been together for a long time. But I knew that I

had to act. So I dumped it, her/him, who-ever!

KINGSTON    Dumped it where?

RIBALD    I gave it to charity, the Sally Army. At first they didn’t

want anything to do with it. Said it was incongruous,

misinformed, bellicose and oddly perverted.  But I

gave them fifty bucks and they took it.

KINGSTON    They probably tossed it in the garbage.

RIBALD    I think you may be right. Sometimes I think I can hear

it, like now.

KINGSTON    Doing what?

RIBALD    Babbling insane jokes to a heap of garbage: eggs shells,

orange peels, coffee grinds, soup cans, the occasional

used condom. It knows no shame. It doesn’t care. You

name it. Everything is a target. The thing never stops

talking!

KINGSTON    Is it still funny?

RIBALD    A pisser! Listen to that bag quake with soggy laughter!

Can you hear it?

KINGSTON    I think I can.

RIBALD    What do you hear?

KINGSTON    Well, what I think I’m hearing is something that

sounds like a couple of lamb chop bones emitting low

pitched shrieks of delight!

RIBALD    Orgasmic?

KINGSTON    I wouldn’t go that far, but who knows?

RIBALD    You know, you’re getting wacko, Leonardo. There’s no

doubt about it. Lamb chop bones emitting shrieks of

delight? Give me a break! We all know that all lamb

chop bones are able to emit is a plaintiff baa-baa-baa

sound.

KINGSTON    Remember when I found you, rescued you from that

dump where you were doing your comedy. Comedy

Club they called it! Comedy Outhouse/Whorehouse,

Comedy Hole would be more fitting. A home away

from home for middle aged werewolves looking for a

bite of something tender—squadrons of avaricious

teenagers and over-age perverts of indiscernible

sexuality ogling one another—and sometimes, yes, the

occasional semi-educated nymphomaniac in training

accompanied by her mother.

RIBALD    Sounds like the crowd you came in with.

KINGSTON    You were a cokehead and a pussy hound!

RIBALD    Yes, I was. And I thank you for straightening me out

and ruining my life in the process!

KINGSTON    You made me laugh. So I decided to keep you around.

RIBALD    I’m forever grateful for being turned into a household

pet. [Looking around.] Though there’s not much to

laugh about these days, is there Leonardo?

KINGSTON    No. Not much at all, but… [Looking around.] Who the

hell did this to me, to my house?

RIBALD    Maybe the kids, you know, the kids who live around

here, mountain kids, farm kids, rat kids fueled with

meth amphetamine.

KINGSTON    The mountain kids? You’re crazy! They love me! I gave

them great parties, lots of games, food, gifts, costumes,

Halloween, Christmas! Remember, I played Santa?

RIBALD    And I was a fucking elf.

KINGSTON    They walked away laden with gifts.

RIBALD    The hands of the masters reaching down to their

KINGSTON    Who the hell do you think you are, Fidel Castro? Grow

up!  It’s a real world! Everybody likes gifts!

RIBALD    The problem is you’re inconsistent in your

benevolence.

KINGSTON    “Benevolence,” I hate that dumb-ass word!  It’s an old

lady word! Dirty-up your vocabulary when you speak

to me!  Obscenity is all that I’m willing to accept as

verbal currency these days! [Slight pause] It’s true, you

know?

RIBALD    What is?

KINGSTON     Look around you. All that violence, decay, hatred,

betrayal, on and on–without the aid of obscenity or

two we would have no accurate way of describing it.

RIBALD    It’s wonderful to see how you’ve mellowed with time.

Gotten a tad sentimental, it seems.

KINGSTON    The truth is I’m like nature. In fact, I’m nature’s child.

RIBALD    You certainly are. A cuckoo hailstorm, a whack-ado

freak of nature, mistaking summer for winter, tearing

through hundreds of acres of delicate crops,

destroying everything in sight, then finishing, looks

around and says, “Oh shit, look what I did! How’d

that happen?” Basically I would say you’re nature’s

retarded child.

KINGSTON    Nature is various and forthcoming, both dangerous

and splendid, but always creative, and to use your

word, at times, benevolent.  And it never forgets; the

seasons are always in their right place. Have you

noticed?

RIBALD    Yes, I have noticed the precision of the seasons, along

with the holidays that come rolling along with them is

amazing. We’re never disappointed. I mean, I’m never

afraid that Halloween will show up on December

twenty-fifth, or the Easter Bunny will come hopping

down the bunny trail in mid August.

KINGSTON    Neither am I. But… [Suddenly worried, looking around…]

Where the hell are we anyway, Quentin? I’ve been led

somewhere; I have been distracted; I have been set up!

Are they trying to assassinate me?  Perhaps you set me

up?  How much did they pay you for the favor?

RIBALD    No. It’s not me. Not yet, anyway.  But I consider all

KINGSTON    I didn’t mean to say it was exactly you, but… [Looking 

around again.]! It’s not my home anymore, is it? We

seem to be stuck somewhere between hell and a worse

place. I’ll tell you what!

RIBALD    What?

KINGSTON    Let’s go to the worse place. It can’t be any worse than

this.

RIBALD    Probably not.

Robert Auletta is an Obie Award winning playwright with many plays produced in theaters in the U.S. and Europe. He has taught at the Yale Drama School, Harvard, NYU, the Strasberg institute, and the School of Visual Arts. He is widely known for his modern versions of Greek Tragedies.