copyright © 2003 John Shirley


Lights remain down as the speaker, between his mid-20s and his late 30-s, sits naked on a backless stool in a position replicating that of Rodin’s "Thinker" as closely as possible. If at all possible, the actor should spend some time before his performance studying as many different photographs — taken from multiple vantage points - of the sculpture as he can find. Despite multiple references to his nudity, he should never present himself in a sexual manner. All of his references to the subject should be even, matter of fact, and emotionally — rather than physically — motivated. Under no circumstances should he ever touch or consciously attempt to cover his pubis.

Lights up slowly (to between 2/3 and 3/4 of their full intensity) on the speaker as he speaks his first line, maintaining as much stillness as possible.


"Le Penseur." They call me "The Thinker" for a reason.

The Thinker slowly begins to move during the following speeches, as though the words themselves, or at least the voices speaking them, grant him life.


Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt,

Thaw and resolve itself into a dew…

To die, to sleep no more - and by a sleep

To say we end the heartache and the thousand

Natural shocks that flesh is heir to. 'Tis a

Consummation devoutly to be wished. (William Shakespeare)


I saw you sitting there upon a rock:

A smooth but rugged statue carved by the

Unforgiving hands of reality

And paralyzed by its unfulfilled dreams.


To melt the unproportion’d frame of nature.

Oh, they are thoughts that have transfix’d the heart,

And often, in the strength of apprehension,

Make your cold passion stand upon your face,

Like drops of dew on a stiff cake of ice. (Ben Jonson)

The Thinker resumes speaking as though the preceding trio of voices never interrupted him, connecting the following speech back to his earlier comment regarding his name.


I’ve been hearing voices inside of my head for what seems like forever. At first, they were just whispers, dissonant and strange, that kept coming back whenever I was alone. They’ve been louder lately, more insistent and somehow clearer. That was the first time I ever really listened to what they said. Hm. That’s funny. My back isn’t sore. It’s not even stiff. I don’t know why, but after all this time, I thought it would be sore. Actually, I thought a lot of things. A lot of them were probably wrong. But I guess that doesn’t matter now. (Looks to someone in the audience and responds, but without any discernable vocal change) Yes. I realize that I’m naked, but do you really have to stare? Especially at that? Don’t act innocent. I know where you’re staring. That’s where people always try to look. Well, not everybody. Not always. Everybody but the children. The children are different. They don’t see my nakedness. At least not at first. Most of the time, the little boys look at me and see themselves in twenty (or thirty, depending upon the age of the actor involved) years. Usually the little girls just see the sadness in my eyes. They don’t look at my penis. Most of them don’t even know that I have one. But I don’t blame you for looking there. Down at the proof that I’m a man. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. It is kind of impressive, isn’t it? Almost a sculpture all its own. Just like a calf or a breast or a finger. Maybe. Or maybe it’s just a little bit intimidating if you’re a man and it makes you confront your own insecurity. Maybe. Actually, it’s one of my biggest (and, in some ways, my smallest) frustrations. That and my nakedness. But mostly that. It just hangs there, flaccid and brazen. I can’t jack it. It’s a joke. I’m a joke. Dammit. I’m just a joke. I don’t know why, but people seem to think that I don’t feel. They seem to think that I don’t need to feel. As if some strange numbness were just another part of my composition. They didn’t see me before. I used to be strong. But the wind and the rain have worn me down. They have eroded the seemingly impermeable exterior of my metallic resolve. They have exposed the pinprick pits and hairline faults of insecurity where the hardest mettle is the first to succumb. You know, I’d like to know, just one time, what it feels like to touch my own penis. What it feels like to have an erection and run my hand along the shaft. I want to taste a woman’s lips and feel her tongue inside of my mouth. Have the sensations of flesh and blood. Somehow know that I’m alive. Yes, I can be sexual. No, I’ve never made love. No, I’ve never been kissed. Yes, I have been in love. Sex and love are not synonymous to me. I know. You only see my body. Maybe it makes you laugh when you look at it. Maybe you’re laughing right now. But He didn’t just give me a body. He carved my soul: dark and heavy like a complex rock made of densely compressed shadows. Maybe you don’t even believe it exists. But it’s there. You can be sure. It’s not something I can prove. I don’t know. I do know what I want. I want someone to love me who doesn’t have to love me. Someone to know me who doesn’t have to know me. Someone to need me who doesn’t have to need me. I want someone to hold me naked for an hour and never think about sex. Somehow to experience the abject honesty of touch without any literal or conceptual barriers. To be able to talk to a woman who actually believes me when I tell her that I understand how she feels. To be able to tell her that I think she’s beautiful without it making me sound like I’m trying to score. My frustration won’t let me. To be able to say "I love you" to another man without it making me gay. To be able to give him a hug and know that it’s not going to change anything. My frustration won’t let me. I want to feel somebody grip my shoulder like a vice. Hear them tell me that I make a difference in their life. One gesture. One sentence. And maybe it would all make sense. Maybe. Or maybe it would just confuse me more. I don’t know. I realize that I’m naked. And I’m exposed. And I’m vulnerable. And, right now, I’m scared out of my mind. And I’m open. And I’m aware. And, at last, I’m alive. I’m alive. I realize that I’m naked. Naked and alive. Go ahead and stare.

Lights fade slowly to black.


"Thinkerspeak" debuted March 14, 2003, performed by John Shirley, Trent Westbrook, J.D. Ruelle, and Todd Ristau.

Performed at Best of No Shame on March 27th, 28th & 29th, 2003.

Performed at No Shame Iowa City on October 3, 2003 by John Shirley

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