FERDINAND
SAM SCHANWALD

Characters

BEEF, narrator, happens to be a frozen slab of kosher beef in the snow, played by a man
MIRIAM, an ex-orthodox-Jew, newly divorced, still wears the wig, mascara everywhere
MARYAM, a friend, newly married, does not wear a wig, dressed like Miriam
ISAAC, a kosher butcher whose apron is covered in blood
FERDINAND

Setting

Now. Winter.
A back alley outside a kosher butchery on a dark street in a small town.
Then, simultaneously inside the butchery’s back room.

Notes

Text is played very subdued, then emotionally explosive in sporadic moments.

There is music. And the music is a cold, secretive kind of lonesomeness. Maybe it’s brass gone rusty, or an old obsolete instrument picked from its sequestered attic.


Alleyway

The night is dark, starry, and very brisk. Sounds of car tires through slush. Various jingle-jangles from pocket change. Everyone is blushing all the time in this weather, clinging to each other like bonded atoms.

A slab of beef in the sidewalk snow speaks.

Beef

I am a poor slab of kosher beef, frozen in the snow. Earlier today, a carnivorous woman dropped me. I am still just as red, but now much harder. A dog pissed on me earlier. A child stepped on me, too. I think that maybe God is dead if this is how I must go. To wait out the winter and endure urine until summer comes, which is when I can finally, finally rot. When will the end come? I sigh and sigh.

He does.

Over there, two women are leaning on the wall of the butchery smoking cigarettes. I eavesdrop.

The women are revealed. They are Maryam and Miriam. Miriam looks like she’s been crying for centuries and has mascara all over her.

Maryam

What’s the meat man’s name?

Beef

That’s Maryam, who has a husband.

Miriam

(scoffs)

Beef

That’s Miriam, who doesn’t.

Miriam

Isaac. His name is Isaac. He’s a real person. His name is Isaac. He is not a meat man.

Maryam

He does meat for a living.

Miriam

Isaac. His name is Isaac.

Maryam

Isaac the Butcher.

Miriam

And Isaac happens to, yes, be a butcher.

Maryam

Isaac is a nice name.

Beef

Any semblance of Miriam’s motivation to continue their conversation falls back into her face. For Miriam, her outer life disappears past her jawbones. Miriam’s eyes wax and wane like silver planets. A streetlamp illuminates a child in a red coat playing in a dirty snow heap. Just a few yards away, another streetlamp reveals a mutt sniffing and then peeing on the hard frozen shell of a different snow heap. I do not wish to be peed on again. I quiver.

Miriam

That child is tasting the snow on her mittens.

Maryam

So?

Miriam

Isn’t it clear that a stray dog has just peed on that snow bank? They are all so stupid. The fucking strays and the fucking children. I’m sorry. Everyone’s so stupid. All the time. Eating dirty snow off mittens. All of us. I never want children and I hope that she dies from eating so much urine.

Beef

Miriam thinks about how many quarts of dog pee the girl has ingested in her short lifespan.

Miriam

I bet she’s ingested at least two quarts of dog pee to date.

Maryam

How old do you think she is?

Miriam

Seven. Has probably swallowed a quart a year starting at age five when she could begin walking and playing in the world. She seems ravenous for snow. She won’t stop eating it. But it’s full of pee!

(Shouting into the distance)

Little girl! There’s pee in that snow! You can’t see the pee because it’s dark outside, because it’s nighttime, but it’s there! You’re ingesting an unhealthy amount of canine urine!

Beef

Maryam finishes her cigarette and wishes Miriam were less cynical. Maryam feels embarrassed for Miriam. Maryam throws her cigarette on the sidewalk.

Maryam’s cigarette butt lands on Beef.

Two nights ago, I was a shivering cow muscle. Now I am a meaty ashtray.

Miriam

He’s late.

Maryam

It’s five minutes past eight.

Miriam

He said he was closing tonight. I just don’t know how long that usually takes. Butcheries are messy. Probably so messy. I’ve never seen an animal killed but I assume it’s a lot of blood. Maybe I saw a chicken die on TV once. But it’s a good thing he’s a kosher butcher. A kosher butcher must be more sensible than another butcher — another kind of butcher — you know?

Maryam

I don’t know.

Miriam

Well with the kosher butchers the animals die fast. There’s a slit in the neck and it’s done. Just one cut and it’s over. There’s no slow kind of bloodletting. I shouldn’t be doing this. God this is painful. I’m dying. I’m slowly dying. You can go if you want. You don’t have to wait. You can go on with your night. I’m dying. You should go home to Mark. You should go. I’m dying. This is horrible. I don’t want to do this.

Maryam

Mark can wait. Mark has probably already masturbated and gone to sleep.

Miriam

Sounds like an ideal relationship with a husband. I’m envious. I want a husband. But I want one that doesn’t wait up for me. I want one that is a cut and then he’s over. I want one that’s negligent enough for me to lead a life that’s separate. Where can I find someone like Mark? I’m dying. You should go.

Maryam

I want to wait for him to get here. I want to see him and make sure he’s normal. A normal man. Like Mark. I want that for you. I want someone like my husband for you. I do! I do. I want to support you and make sure you stay alive. I don’t want you to be nervous, but this butcher, I mean — he probably has a lot of knives. I don’t want you to die at knifepoint.

Miriam

You’re right, he probably has an extraordinary amount of knives.

Maryam

I don’t want us to be nervous, either. I don’t want us to think too much about it. I don’t want you to be nervous, but, you know, he probably does have a lot of knives. I will stay here until he gets here. And I will wait for you to go to the Chinese restaurant. You’re safe in public.

Miriam

Fine.

Maryam

Fine.

You know what they say about a kosher butcher?

You know what they say about a kosher butcher?

You know what they—

Miriam

What, Maryam? What do they say?

Maryam

A kosher butcher knows how to handle his meat.

Miriam

Ah. That is what they say, isn’t it? Except for maybe that slab of beef in the snow. Looks like someone let that guy slip.

Beef

I am so lonely.

Miriam

He is so lonely.

Beef

I want to be touched.

Miriam

He wishes he could be inside a mouth.

Maryam

(pointing at Beef) That beef? You’re going crazy, Miriam. It’s beef. It’s only beef!

Beef

Maryam points at me with a red, shellacked press-on nail as I slowly crystalize in the sidewalk snow. I feel the stares of two shivering people on me, and the stares are lonely stares. They’re the kind of stares that are solos in a symphony. And for a moment we all realize how alone we each are, how cold we are, how our expectations often fail us, tend to flog us…

OFF: the really long, guttural sound of a cow dying. Miriam listens intently. Maryam is confused.

…but then it passes.

Maryam

What was that?

Miriam

There’s a slaughterhouse attached to the, um—

Another abrupt sound of a cow dying, but this time it goes on for much longer. Miriam has begun to openly sob along with the cow’s guttural screams from inside the slaughterhouse. It goes on for some time. Too long. Maryam and Beef stare out into space.

The cow has stopped. Miriam stops sobbing and wipes her eyes on her sleeves, turning them black.

Maryam

They probably kill them at night so that no one can—

Abruptly: another long, loud scream of a cow dying. Again, Miriam instantly bursts into tears along with it. The mooing and the sobbing together again. Maryam and Beef stare out into space.

Once more, the cow stops dying. Miriam stops sobbing. Miriam wipes her eyes on her sleeves.

Maryam

Are you okay?

Miriam

I’m sorry.

Maryam

It’s fine. You’re fine. You’re—

Miriam

Dealing with a lot, I’m dealing with a lot. He’s so late.

The cow crying. Miriam instantly sobbing at full volume this time. This time Maryam gets a bit teary eyed, too. Then it all stops.

Down the alley, Isaac appears.

Beef

A door swings open in the alley and light pours out. A man advances toward Miriam and Maryam. He has a bloody apron on, which makes him like vile animal jelly. He’s not perfect, but he has some undeniable beauty to him. Miriam squints at Isaac until she likes what she sees.

A counter bell dings.

Miriam

I’m Miriam.

Isaac

You’re Miriam.

Miriam

Yes.

Isaac

I’m Isaac.

Miriam

Yes. I’m so glad you finally showed up.

Isaac

I’m sorry I’m late. I’m glad I showed up, too.

Miriam

This is my friend. She was waiting with me.

Isaac

(To Maryam) Hello.

(To Miriam) You have mascara on your face. But besides that, you’re very pretty.

Miriam

The cold wind makes me cry. You have blood all over your apron.

Isaac

Oh! I forgot I had it on. It’s a no-no to leave the shop with my apron still on. I’m sorry. So grotesque, I know. It’s a lot of blood, more than you’d expect. I’m very hands on (…) As a BUTCHER, I mean!

He chortles.

Maryam

You know what they say about kosher butchers?

Miriam

Stop.

Isaac

A kosher butcher knows how to handle his knives. (…) Kidding, I’m kidding. Be right back.

Beef

But before he goes, Isaac the butcher spots me—

Isaac

Ah! Poor slab of beef! Damn!

Beef

And he picks me up off the sidewalk. Miriam watches Isaac’s strong hands caress my frozen sides, making water where there wasn’t. Miriam watches Isaac appraise me, turning me over and over in his arms. I tumble from edge to edge. He looks at me and saliva appears at the corners of his mouth. He feels me and looks at my marbled body. I am beautiful. He is beautiful. We are a perfect couple. I am sweating. He is sweating beneath his apron. We are sweating together. We are perfect together. The padded tips of his strong fingers push into me. I feel alive. I feel alive! I’m basically alive again. I want to be squeezed tight and made warm. He hugs me against his body—

Isaac

It looks fine, right. Preserved by the cold, thank god. How lucky. I’m just going to put him back in the freezer.

Maryam

You’re going to sell that sidewalk meat?

Isaac

No no no no. Heavens. For my dog, Ferdinand! I’ll be right back.

Maryam

Don’t make me wait any longer.

Isaac

I will be fast.

A hidden back room of the butchery is revealed. It is a gray cube with a single yellow overhead light. There are bones and pieces of gristle on the floor near a drain.

Isaac takes Beef indoors. He slams the door behind him and locks it tight with a key. Then, another heavy bolt.

Miriam and Maryam wait outside, precisely as they were, slowly freezing.

Beef

This is it. This is it. He takes me inside. Oh, how I love to be in his arms in a warm room. Oh, it is so warm in here. I couldn’t be more grateful. I couldn’t feel more perfect. I am perfect. I am perfect. I am in ecstasy! I am set on the floor.

Isaac

Ferdinand! Ferdinand!

Beef

He calls into a dark corner of the room.

Isaac

Ferdinand! Ferdinand! It looks like we didn’t sell out completely! I found this slab of beef in the snow, and he is perfect.

Beef

I am perfect! I am nearly warm!

Beef continues writhing in ecstasy as if under a heat lamp.

Maryam

I need a good fuck.

Miriam

Me too.

Isaac

My pet, you must come eat quickly. I have a date tonight.

Miriam

I going to make him fuck me tonight. I’ll do anything. I’ll shine his shoes kneeling on the floor of the Chinese restaurant.

Isaac

Come. Ferdinand, come.

Miriam

I’ll rip my skirt open for him. You ever get the feeling that someone has a dangerous, violent kink right away? Like, you can tell by just looking at the dirt underneath their fingernails or at the way their facial hair grows?

Isaac

Ferdinand, come. Ferdinand? Ferdinand! Ferdinand, now. Ferdinand!

Maryam

What do you want from him?

Ferdinand

(a dry, hoarse voice from an unseen corner)

Isaac

I’m sorry, Ferdinand, I can’t hear you at all.

Ferdinand

(the dry voice again, now more audible) Will you stay with me while I eat?

Isaac

Yes of course, my pet.

Under the following dialogue, Ferdinand crawls out of the dark very slowly. As he comes into the light, we see he is an emaciated white man with a leash around his neck and no clothes. He has blood on his hands and around his mouth.

Miriam

I don’t know, but. You ever want to swallow someone whole? Sometimes I don’t even think it matters what they look like. I just want to swallow and swallow and swallow until they disappear inside me. I want to taste all of him. Can I tell you something? I’d never say it to him right away, but—

Maryam

What?

Miriam

I don’t know. Something about him. He makes me hungry. I want him to undress me and tie me up with his dirty apron.

Maryam

You’re hungry.

Miriam

I know.

Ferdinand sniffs at Beef and begins to lick him.

Isaac

That’s very good, Ferdinand. Very, very good.

Ferdinand begins eating Beef. Beef screams in ecstasy, and it sounds like a cow being slaughtered. Ferdinand keeps eating more aggressively. Isaac laughs and claps.

Miriam and Maryam hear Beef’s scream. They sob openly outside, holding hands, frozen to the wall where they wait.

Beef screams like a dying cow.

Miriam sobs.
Maryam weeps.
Isaac claps and laughs.

The scream gets smaller and smaller until it stops and Beef disappears. The sobbing dwindles alongside Beef’s decrescendo.

Ferdinand licks his lips. Isaac bends down to pet Ferdinand. Lights go out in the butchery’s back room.

Miriam

(calm again, with alarming clarity) You know what, though? I think I just need to stop having, like, any expectations at all. How our expectations fail us! How they flog us! I stand here with my arms around everything I want to happen, hope will happen, but the weight of all these things keeps me frozen to the wall, totally stuck. No more expectations. For anything. You know? No more expectations. No more longing for something I can’t place or name. I’m tired and my sleeves are covered in my own tears, black and watery. It’s all black and watery. And I get colder and colder.

Isaac returns, apron off this time. Light pours into the alley from elsewhere.

Isaac

Ready to go?

Miriam runs into Isaac’s arms.
Blackout.

End of play.

 

Disclaimer: Performance of this work is forbidden without express permission of the playwright.

Sam’s FERDINAND is a love story about slaughter. Miriam and her friend wait for a kosher butcher named Isaac to arrive so Miriam and Isaac can go on a date. A frozen slab of kosher meat peers at them from a snow pile. Miriam dreams of a husband who won’t wait up for her, who won’t bother, who won’t demand too much. She wants to be left alone but not to be lonely. Maybe she just wants a good fuck. Can’t we get what we want without binding ourselves to each other for all eternity? I have never read a more queer and more Jewish play, honest like the cold expanse under a winter sky and ecstatic with degradation.

Alex Borinsky, Playwright
 


BY THE SAME AUTHOR

Issue.16: Public Displays of Expression

I Love Dicks on Walls (NSFW)

FROM THIS ISSUE

Issue.29: The Creative Issue

Songs From Last Winter




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*

%d bloggers like this: