Zoohouse

Available in Library

Set in an asylum for the criminally insane of a dystopic future, "Zoohouse" is a twisted tale about who has narrative authority, where we keep history, and whose lives matter. Destined for an explosive conclusion, The inmates of "Zoohouse" find themselves on a dark and surreal ride fueled by the psychological, sexual, political and social topics that permeate our everyday lives.

The story involves movement, music, and media blended into the epic-fable of the “Bhagavad Gita.” The ancient Hindu poem is about awakening the inner warrior. It’s not necessarily about actual war, nor is it an indictment to always be peaceful. To many what the “Bhagavad Gita” represents is a break from dualistic religious thinking that plagued the world thousands of years ago: right and wrong, good and bad, set in stone.

What’s good and bad is even more elusive in a nation like the United States, where disadvantaged and oppressed are often called to fight for the very rights they’re denied. In some ways, the story of the black and insane is perfect fit for an epic like the “Bhagavad Gita.”

Performed as a multimedia piece, “Zoohouse” is formed around ensemble of artists and musicians. The work can take in a traditional theatre or in an alternative venue like an outdoors space or a transformed building complex.

This piece was developed at National Black Theatre under the I AM SOUL Residency.

workshop production at National Black Theatre
workshop production at National Black Theatre
Civil War

Read Sample

2. AN AMERICAN FABLE
DIRECTOR enters and rings bell. A row of patients sit behind him rocking themselves, and scratching their heads.

DIRECTOR
In the cavernous depths, we are pleased
to welcome you all to this staged read.
As director of this artistic project
we hope this workshop has therapeutic affect.
For we aim to please so you can see
America as it is now: in the 22rd century.
In Harlem National Hospital where ancient Manhattan sits
there is a floor for the black n’ bruised misfits.
A psych ward several come to clear their wits
their worries, and get back in the right spirits.
Not long these ragged bunch will remain
this is place for the Black….
And criminally Insane.

What does it mean to be black and insane?
To think ancient Gods pick at your brain.
To speak in tribal robes, dressed in strange tongues
To twist slang into bizarre misshapen clothes.
It’s an out of body other-worldly reminder
To be watched, searched, and shoved through a meat grinder.

Monsters seem to attack you and you can’t tell
Whether it’s your imagination or a real jail.
But in the end is there a difference between the two?
Cause both prisons will easily entrap you.

Some of the patients fought for flag
Some bought for pride,
Some stole for hunger,
Most are soldiers who think they’ve already died.

Institutionalized for their danger and rowdiness
with these pills they do kiss
their future sedated happiness.

And since we have been financially forgotten
and left in dark budgetary drought.
We hope that you can spare a small donation
for the men who fought for this great nation.

DIRECTOR
Cast your eyes on these broken-down toys
men of honor, sons of state, patriotic boys.
Who fought the ‘good’ war and saved the day
but on the inside they lost their way.

Tonight we will help them to find some peace
and return to their wives as men, not beast.
Our patients will perform in versed glory
tales of Civil War history.

Composed by our talented patient Sgt. Turner
who has a penchant for hip hop and club burners.
Turner is here for the most ignominious disgrace
in fighting for God and country he lost face.

And as his squad came under attack
he simply could not fight back.
And at his feet they fell one by one
Poor Turner couldn’t even fire his gun.

DIRECTOR
Officer who betrayed his unit and code
Poor Turner couldn’t even shoot his load.
And there he sat in a jail cell of hell
until the government figured he must not be well.
So Turner arrived in disgraceful shame
but if this show goes as plan,
we will salvage his name.
But enough of my words and silly prattle
let’s start our story on the eve of a battle.

Lights flicker and dim. Sound of gunfire outside and mortar attacks. Director and patients pause for a moment.

DIRECTOR
Ladies and gentleman, now I admit
the setting may seem a bit counterfeit.
Outskirting New York is anarchist horseplay
of a few militia dead-enders who won’t fade away
But rest assure here in the psych ward
is the safest place in Harlem to accord.

Lights go back to full strength.

DIRECTOR
Splendid.
Now forego labeling these players as ‘mad’ or deranged
just pretend their method actors who are a bit strange.
And transform this rusted impoverished place
into theatre: the best money could efface.
Therapy and performance as healing baptism
now hear the story of a nation healing its schism.

3. LINCOLN
DIRECTOR steps aside and rings a bell. NURSE comes out as Herald. She carries a giant hardcover book to a lectern. She opens book, rings a bell, and reads.

HERALD
“Lincoln: A Courageous Epic”
In our nation’s history there stands one man
who healed this dark and divided land.
Honest Abe was the treasure sent from above
to shower us all with his White Fatherly love.

SINGERS
Lincoln, Lincoln you so fine.
You so fine you blow my mind.
Big big daddy tell us what to do
You’re the best we ever knew.

HERALD
The great Emancipator wakes from slumber
with a nightmare that breaks his peace asunder.

DIRECTOR
(aside)
I forgot to mention I’ll be in Lincoln’s role. You see, the patient who was supposed to be playing him lacked a certain...honesty. Before becoming the director, I was quite a darling child actor. I remember a production of Our Town in which…

HERALD
AHHHEEEMMM!!

DIRECTOR
Yes. Right. On with the show.

Director tapes on a beard, puts on a stove pipe hat. He becomes Abraham Lincoln.

LINCOLN
(mumbling, paused-filled method actor)
I...woke…with...awful...

HERALD
(hits a bell)
We can’t hear ye’ sonnet Lincoln.
Hear ye’, we must know what he be thinkin’.

LINCOLN
I woke with an awful premonition
as the Potomac rains began to pour.
Haunting my sleep, ghostly apparition
Prophetic ravens came forth in four.

Turning in bed, first raven's fruition
whispered soft sensual unguent.
The second warned nation’s detrition
flapping scarlet clouds of corpulent scent.

Final two ravens sat on each shoulder
sung scatological superstitions
forewarning a Confederacy bolder
than all the Union’s sweetheart volition.

Laid awake in a coat of darkness
on my lips, prophetic black birds do kiss.

HERALD
And who shall Abe Emancipate,
but those poor souls bonded in hate.

SINGERS
Slaves!

HERALD
And who shall Abe liberate,
but those souls who can not wait.

SINGERS
SLAVES!

HERALD
And hearing the words of Emancipation
some slaves shouted in jubilation.
While others sighed and continued ploughing
some did what was beyond allowing.
And fled the farm and crossed the line
of Mason Dixon into Northern minds.
And gathered under Abe’s mighty wings
to sing his praise, shout, and sing.

SINGERS
Slaves love singing
Slaves love rapping
Slaves love dancing
Slaves love acting
For the great, great, great, great
superwonderful, magic Pimp Daddy.
ANY-THANG!
I said anything... is possible.

As they sing, four slaves form a Soul Train Line. Each one does a contemporary dance (the running man, The Prep, ‘wind-me-up’ “lawn sprinkler, etc.) Abraham Lincoln dances down the line doing the robot and ‘funky chicken.’

LINCOLN
This is fun.
And therapeutic.
And very historical.

HERALD
Let us hear more of their praise
they lavish the Emancipating sage.
Before we return to his bravery
let’s hear a brief sonnet on slavery.

TURNER steps out from the group of slaves who plough the ground. They move around the entire space, encircling and penetrating the audience, making chain gang noises so the audience feels surrounded.

TURNER
I can hear the shackles in my bones
like a chain gang in Carolina fields
Hot iron weeps the mutilated tones
of the cross that guilty men do yield.

Corrosive red teeth bite down into flesh
as metal mouths chew as the rawness.
Wailing widow songs serenade the thresh
Southern sorghum laid for a distiller's press.

Men no longer cry at outrageous deeds
the pitiless world laureled on their brow.
But swing sling blades low and uproot the weed
choking the sharecroppers buried field ploughs.

In rusted marrow these cutlass chains turn
as war-ravaged pyres of corpses burn.

The chain gang noise stops when Peaches blows a kazoo enters in regal Egyptian pose, being carried by Slave One and Two. She goes unnoticed at first.

LINCOLN
Dear sweet slave, I wage
your words upon my Proclamat-ed page
the hour soon strikes and shall not miss
angels will bless thee with a kiss.
And…(noticing Peaches) And…Peaches
Very cute in your get-up there,
Say your name and from place thee where?

Peaches continues to look out among the crowd like a queen.

LINCOLN
Are you some sort of ghost?
Oh, a wretched slave whore?
A spiritual host of oppression,
Raped and ripped out core?

PEACHES
No, I am a queen of the Nile
Huntress of men from Rome to the Serengeti
A regal vintage sashaying bile,
My name is Nefertiti.

LINCOLN
Nefertiti: a slave of delusional woe.

PEACHES
A great female pharaoh.

LINCOLN
Dear Peaches… this is a Civil War play
There is no place for this so-called queen.
Turn your strut into a shuffle way
And remove your sashaying preen.
And who are your companions?

SLAVE ONE
My name is Hannibal Garvey Shaka Obama.

SLAVE TWO
Hey. I’m Bill.

SLAVE ONE
Your name is Wild Willie Kenyatta Bambatta

SLAVE TWO
That’s what I said. Bill.

PEACHES
These are my kings.
Who will seed my regal womb
With a thousand princes.

SLAVE ONE
333 sons will rule the earth,
333 sons will rule the sea,
and 333 will rule the sky.

SLAVE TWO
And the one thousandth son shall rule man.

PEACHES
And his reign will be as long as our suffering.

LINCOLN
And who am I in your little fantasy?

PEACHES
You are a nobleman from a land of light:
A Duke known as Benjamin B. White.

LINCOLN
As flattering and charming as you are Peaches,

PEACHES
Josephine Peaches Nefertiti

LINCOLN
Let’s come back to our regular scheduled slavery.

PEACHES
But…but I am a queen.

LINCOLN
Are you sure?

PEACHES
But I am…or will be.

LINCOLN
If you are queen why do you sound so uncertain?

PEACHES
I…I…

LINCOLN
Come back to what you know.
There’s a nobility in suffering.
And your knowing safe history
Not some half-baked mixed up mystery
With this Civil War festivity.

PEACHES
What do you want, Daddy Lincoln?
Let us put up our face.
Tell us what would soothe your worries
And help us keep our place.

LINCOLN
I do love your soulful field songs,
You keep such sharp and on-point timing
I almost forget they’re about all the wrongs
And yet I can’t help but wanting to sing along.

Peaches sings and they all turn back to slaves. They plow endless cotton rows.

PEACHES
(singing)
Skylark
Have you anything to say to me
Won't you tell me where my love can be
Is there a meadow in the mist
Where someone's waiting to be kissed

The sound of whips whistling through the air. Some of the men fall to the ground. They get back on their feet.

LINCOLN
Please don’t stop the singing.

TURNER
But the whips-

LINCOLN
Whips? There are no whips.
But I like your imagination.

PEACHES
(singing hesitantly)
Skylark
Have you seen a valley green with spring
Where my heart can go a-journeying
Over the shadows and the rain
To a blossom covered lane

And in your lonely flight
Haven't you heard the music of the night
Wonderful music, faint as a will o' the wisp
Crazy as a loon
Sad as a gypsy serenading the moon.

Whips whistle through the air. A lash seems to hit Peaches and she screams.

LINCOLN
What is wrong with you?
Hysterics are good and fine
In keeping with this civil view,
But control your imaginings
And keep harmonizing
Or more pills will surely be due.

PEACHES
Skylark
I don't know if you can find these things
PEACHES (cont’d)
But my heart is riding on your wings
So if you see them anywhere
Won't you lead me there?

Skylark
I don't know if you can find these things
But my heart is riding on your wings
So if you see them anywhere
Won't you lead me there?

LINCOLN
(applauding)
More more, my children
please emote and fabulate black tears!
The only thing missing from this piece
Are the intimate terrors that brought you here.

TURNER
What would you like us to do?

LINCOLN
Share something personal and painful
And blackfully tragic tale
So we can feast…I mean enjoy…
I mean feel good about ourselves.

The patients look at each other. And then they start lying the lie they know others like to hear.

TURNER
My Dad left me and my momma’s on smack

LINCOLN
-Delicious-

KRIS
My sister’s hooking and my brother slings crack.

LINCOLN
-so sad-

PEACHES
I’m an illiterate type-two diabetic,
who can’t count to three.

LINCOLN
-And the Oscar goes to-

SLAVE ONE AND TWO
(blues song starts)
So won’t somebody please, please please…
help me.
Cause it’s sad.

LINCOLN
So sad-

SLAVE ONE/TWO
We’re black and so mad

LINCOLN
-and it’s all bad.

SLAVE/TWO
Reliving slavery and oppression
White micro-aggression
Putting on rags to haul bags.
Some times I think the reason we’re born
Is for your torture porn!!!

LINCOLN
And what about you nurse?

HERALD
Herald. And I am without a care.

LINCOLN
But wouldn’t you like to share?
You must have some pain
That can be used for common gain.
Isn’t your brother in a ward
That is just like this?
For the black and insane
And the deranged misfits.

KRIS
Nurse got the crazy gene
That’s why she’s so mean-

HERALD
NO!

PEACHES
She’s scared of becoming like us,
Sitting at the back of America’s bus.

HERALD
Lincoln, that was personal information
Not meant to be used for this celebration.

SLAVE ONE/TWO
Nigger nurse got the crazy gene
That’s why she’s so black and mean!
Nigger nurse got the crazy gene
That’s why she’s so black and mean!

LINCOLN
I mean this is good clean fun
And entertainment
No need to get upset
I just wanted you to add to thee event
Besides…
sharing is caring

HERALD
And then you shouldn’t care
If I spilled your tea
About your family and what you shared with me-

LINCOLN
Now, Herald-

SLAVE ONE/TWO
Share! Share! Share!

PEACHES
Share some freaky sexual conditions,
What he look like in a compromised positions?

SLAVE ONE
And who his kinfolk and why he always sneaking off?

SLAVE TWO
Is he doing drugs or just beating off?

LINCOLN
Right now, you will stop this.
I am the founding father of this asylum
And you will respect my wish.
And in this play I am your savior
Not some reality tv media whore.
KRIS
(ploughing away)
Then we aren’t either
Respect is a two way street or neither.
And we don’t just want to dance
but help our people to advance.

LINCOLN
You are rather noisy and rude.
Not like Turner, much too crude.
But both of you are my sons,
my good son (points to Turner)
and the bad one (points to Kris).
So your very lovely words I hear
And in my heart I hold them dear-

KRIS steps out from line of Slaves.

KRIS
Then we will fight with a knife and gun
plus why should you Emancipators have all the fun?

Slaves bring out several sticks. They hand them out as rifles.

LINCOLN
Wait!!! Wait, hold it!!

Cast Requirements

CHARACTER BREAKDOWNS

1. TURNER - 30-year-old former Black soldier.
2. KRIS - 30-year-old scarred veteran. Should be non-white.
3. DIRECTOR/ABRAHAM LINCOLN - 40-year-old White male.
4. NURSE/HERALD - 40-year-old Black nurse.
5. SLAVE/PATIENT #1 - young Black male
6. SLAVE/PATIENT #2 - young male (non-White)
7. PEACHES/NEFERTITI/SLAVEGIRL- young female.
8. SINGERS – Peaches and slaves in chorus.

Set Description

Harlem National Hospital. Mental Asylum. 22nd Century.

Honors

I AM SOUL residency at National Black Theatre

Production and Development History

National Black Theatre workshop - 2016