copyright © 1990 Todd Ristau

A Case of Conflict

By Todd Ristau

(SPUD and MIKE, two old men with four teeth between them, sit in a tiny room, the windows boarded shut. A sterno can burns under the tin of beans that SPUD cooks, stirs, and labors over. There is a single patch of light coming through a hole in the ceiling. This light falls on a large stalk of corn in a flowerpot. MIKE tries to play a game of chess with himself on a board made of rocks glued to the floor and various bottles for pieces–alcoholic beverages vs. non-alcoholic beverages. MIKE and SPUD will often look with desire upon the corn, but will hide these looks from each other.)

SPUD: It’s almost time for the stew, Hank.

MIKE: My name is Mike.

SPUD: That’s right. (pause) You hungry?

MIKE: Yup. (pause) Check.

SPUD: Say, Jerome, why don’t you take some of them bottles down and turn ‘em in on deposit?

MIKE: Fuck you. And, it’s Mike.

SPUD: That’s right. (pause) If you got some of that deposit money back…some of the money on them bottles, we could maybe–

MIKE: Maybe get some other kind of food than beans?

SPUD: No….no, I was just thinking, you know, condiments. That’s it.

MIKE: That’s what?

SPUD: What I was thinking. Condiments.

MIKE: Luxury items. Ain’t standing for luxury items.

SPUD: Alvin?

MIKE: It’s Mike, you bone head.

SPUD: I know…Carl, would you wash the plate and the fork?

MIKE: Mike!


MIKE: There!

SPUD: Please!

MIKE: Don’t pull no shit.

(He exits with dirty fork and plate, we hear splashing sounds. SPUD covets the corn.)

SPUD: Four ears. About 407 kernals per ear. Half fer seed, and a new crop, and two whole ears boiled and buttered….Oh, God, Beatrice, I bless the day I found your seed.

(Latch sounds, MIKE returns, SPUD hurries back to the beans.)

MIKE: Cut me.

SPUD: Why? You old fool.

MIKE: No, I cut me. Dropped the fork down the drainpipe. Can’t reach it. Arms are too thick around the elbow.

SPUD: Simon! I told ya never to wash it in the eaves unless you lay down screen first!

MIKE: Mike! It’s Mike!

SPUD: So, I guess it’s up to me to fetch it again.

MIKE: If you want the fork.

SPUD: It’s my Navy fork!!

MIKE: Yeah.

SPUD: Yeah. (he starts to leave) Stir the beans, but don’t pull no shit.

(Spud exits, Mike covets the corn.)

MIKE: Beatrice….I won’t let him do this. I’ve watch you grow from the day you broke earth to now….bearing your golden Children of Nature. It’s time he knew about us. He’s no good for you. Don’t you worry, I won’t let him cut you open, tear you apart, boil your children, an stuff them into his disease-ridden mouth.

(SPUD enters. MIKE pretends to brush pigeon feathers from Beatrice.)

SPUD: The beans!! Abigail, you dumb shit! You burnt the beans!

MIKE: Sorry.

SPUD: You’re sorry! What’ll we eat?

MIKE: Spud, we’ll……we’ll eat the beans. Pretend it’s a muffin, and cut it in half.

SPUD: Cut. It. Cut it.

(SPUD gets a manic look, picks up a knife–its bent with no handle. MIKE too is going dazed, picks up the Alcoholic King bottle.)

MIKE: Check.

SPUD: It’s kind of warm in here.

MIKE: Hot, I’d say.

(They move now in an absurd dance of veiled swings, stabs, and punches.)

SPUD: I’m beginning to perspire.

MIKE: Maybe we should put out the fire.

SPUD: Be nice if it were a real fire.

(Harpsichord music begins to play.)

MIKE: Complete with the smell of nature being consumed?

SPUD: Not like a toxic waste dump burning in winter.

MIKE: Where do you learn words like that?

SPUD: I read what I wear to bed at night.

MIKE: Do you sleep alone?

SPUD: I sleep. You can’t. Too much corn in your eyes.

MIKE: Your stomach growls, the sound rots your mind.

SPUD: Your mind is twisted….you want her, you want my corn, don’t you!!

MIKE: You’re insane!

SPUD: Mike! Mike! You want my corn!

MIKE: She’s not your corn! She is her own corn! And that corn loves me!

SPUD: You can’t have her! She’s mine! I’m going to eat her, alone, tonight, stalk to tassel!

MIKE: Inhuman fiend!

(The dance has now become a macabre minuet, the music reaches a peak, bottle and blade do their work on flesh and skull. During the course of the next week, the broken hearted BEATRICE will wither and die, dropping an ear of corn each upon the bodies of SPUD and MIKE. Next year, a new crop appears.)


AUTHOR'S NOTES (7/12/02):
This was written in Experimental Playwriting for Shelley Berc, which would be during 89-90, I think. The assignment was to write a scene where two characters each wanted the same thing, each had a secret, had to incorporate a plant, water, and fire. I think I may have started this piece as kind of a smart ass gesture, but ended up really liking it. We did it at No Shame with Stan and I reading Spud and Mike, and someone else doing stage directions as a piece of reader's theatre. It is possible that the steady diet of beans and booze which Stan and I consumed over on Prentiss Street did some real damage.

AUTHOR'S NOTES (3/21/03):
Originally done in IC in TH. B as readers theatre with Stan as Spud and me as Mike. Done in Charlottesville on 1.11.02 with Gare Galbraith as SPUD and me again as Mike, Ursula readng stage directions.

"A Case of Conflict" (possibly) debuted 1989-90 (see Author's Notes), performed by Todd Ristau and Stan Ruth.

Performed at No Shame / Charlottesville on January 11, 2002, with Todd Ristau as Mike, Gare Galbraith as Spud, and Ursula Hull reading stage directions.

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