A Play

in Ten Scenes

(5M 2F)

Based on Matsuo Basho's




Jane Reichhold

The whole play takes place around one stage setting. In the very middle is a rather large tub or cut-off wine cask planted with 3-5 or 7 small pine trees. These should not look like Christmas trees, but be pruned around the lower 2/3 so they look like "real" shore pine or pines as they grow in a forest when they are old. The trees can be 7 - 10 feet high. This arrangement should be in harmony with the rest of the stage. This size should determine how many trees are in the tub and how tall they are.

Unseen and unlighted at stage center left, behind the trees is a black wooden inclined structure of a size that equals a little less than 1/4 of the total stage length. It can be about the size of a double bed. The rise, from front to back, need not be higher than two or two and one-half feet.

The most active stage element is the moveable partition or "curtain". This structure's length should be a bit less than 1/3 of the stage's length and at least seven feet tall. This screen is really a portable partition that is manned by two unseen persons. Part of the rigid frame structure should have two collapsible seats so the stage hands can sit down to rest between the moves. The very top of the partition has a rod on which the curtain can be bunched or pulled smooth with the excess material, at times, pulled around the corners.

The curtain should have some "drape" like a knitted fabric but must be cotton in a natural, neutral color like unbleached muslin or burlap. It should not be white or dyed beige - tan - light brown but should have natural flecking or imperfections. It should not be new or crisp but old, used, almost worn with footprints (which will come naturally if it is used for rehearsals). In the bottom hem (of 2 -3 inches) should be some sand to keep it down and not moving and to create some tension in the folds.

For each scene the screen is in a different position on the stage.

Sometimes the move will be made with the lights on and at other times the changes will be done in darkness. Every attempt should (usually) be made to minimize the fact that two men are behind this frame. It should never be lifted so high that their shoes are revealed and they should (for the most part) be silent. (They can be used as prompters.) These two should not be viewed, however, as "just stagehands" but as actors so the curtain becomes and remains one of the players.


can be all male, all female, or a mixed group. They can be of any nationality. The play is set in Japan.

BASHO - is about 40 - 50 years old, gray hair or a shaved head. Walks stiffly, sighs heavily. Can be slightly overweight or just tall and heavy or as Basho was -- medium height (5'3") and rather thin. Larger than Sora.

SORA is the same sex as BASHO but is much younger. SORA is in his/her early twenties, athletic, smaller and quicker than BASHO. It would be well if his head could be shaved. Nationality of the actor can color his concept of SORA.

INNKEEPER I AND II Overbearing professional type. Acts as if his hotel is the best thing since the Hilton.

A POET TOKYU He is middle-aged, the typical "academic poet-professor." Terribly polite and correct and intrusive.

BLIND MINSTRAL if possible, can play a stringed instrument


These four above roles can be played by one person

PROSTITUTE I The older one. Not very wise, but very secure.

PROSTITUTE II One is younger, more insecure.

In the script the gender reference corresponds to the original character but can be changed.

The costumes can be contemporary clothes compatible for the respective parts or one can decide to "set" the play in feudal Japan 1600 wearing robes and Japanese kimono.

Or it can be set with punk clothes, or neo-hippies in original Wavy Gravy.

Scene 1

The screen is at down stage right about 2 feet from the curtain line.

A soft light on the curtain area, plus a very dim, weak small hazy spot is on the tops of the trees in the tub. Several spots are wide and indistinct on the curtain. Not too bright. The light of a spring afternoon on the open road.

March 29, 1689.

There is no curtain to open.

At Lights Up:
( The stage is empty. Voices can be heard just off down stage right as BASHO & SORA are heard bidding their friends farewell. This should go on for "actual time" of a minute or more.)



(enters stage left very slowly proceeding only two feet across the curtain. He wears a backpack, a canteen dangles from his waist, a knife is holstered to his belt. He wears a jacket over a T-shirt, walking shorts, a knitted hat under his straw hat. He carries a walking stick which he uses for every purpose except as something to lean on.)

(looking off-stage to the right)

Basho, the journey will never begin if you don't soon stop saying good-bye.

(One hears BASHO'S voice, still calling his farewells as he stands in the wings offstage. He ignores everything SORA says.)


Look! it's getting late. Soon we'll have to find a place to spend the night and we haven't even left yet.

(recognizes that BASHO is not paying any attention to him and begins to whine.)

We might as well go back with them and have another party tonight.

(now certain BASHO is not paying any attention to him at all begins to speak to himself. At the same time he finds his shoe lace untied. He unloads his pack and bends to tie his shoestring.)

I don't want another party like last nights'. My head still aches and rings. A good five mile hike would make me feel better. What's this trip --with this old guy -- going to be like? I had hoped to have some adventures and learn something they don't teach in school. It's gotta get better than this...

(backs into the light. He is still waving, wiping his eyes, acting overwhelmed by all the gear hanging on him in a disorderly fashion.)


(perks up, begins to put his backpack on again when BASHO'S advance is stopped by a voice from off-stage.)

VOICE (off-stage)

Wait! Wait! Here comes Ama. She got it finished. Wait! She must give it to you.


(goes back off stage. One can hear sobbing and more farewells.)


(looks exasperated, but is speechless. Finally, he takes off his canteen and drinks from it. As BASH again backs into the light, he hastily closes it to pretend he wasn't getting a drink but BASH is totally absorbed in his farewells. Now he is carrying a raincoat on his arm and has a sack in one hand and a drawstring bag hanging from the other hand. Just before reaching SORA BASH stumbles. SORA touches his arm to steady him and at this BASH recognizes him.)


(gestures helplessly, waving all these things about.)

Oh, oh.


(bustles about setting down his pack, picking up items BASH has dropped around him as he sits down -- distracted and unseeing. As SORA repacks things he ridicules each "worthless" item. In the mean time BASH has taken a notebook from a pocket and is busy writing --pause -- thought in it.)

Okay, let's try to begin this trip again. Up and away we go.


(just sits, but finally says:)

What do you think of this as a beginning for the book?

(he reads)

Days and months are travelers of eternity. So are the years that pass by.


(obviously wants to begin walking, yet he eyes the older man with admiration as he helps him to his feet.)

Li Po would be proud of you.


You recognize that?


They are good lines. Li Po is glad to loan them to you. They are his gift to send you off on your way.


(seems unable to begin walking)

The gods seemed to have possessed my soul, to have turned it inside out and images from the road seem to come from every corner -- inviting me, me... It was impossible for me to stay idle. I mended my pants, tied a new strap on my hat, exercised my legs to make them strong.


(takes him by the elbow to get him walking.)


Did you know I even wrote a farewell poem and pinned it to the doorway?


(continues to tug on him)


a door of grass
the resident changes for a time
a house of dolls

(He stops to look directly at Sora.)

Do you think the third moon is too early to begin such a long trip? Too cold. All my friends think so. That's why they wept so bitterly when our boat reached the place of parting.


They were drunk and half-sick from river waves.


spring departing
birds cry, and in the fishes’
eyes are tears

(He turns and waves. Puts his hand above his eyes, looks long and realizes no one is waving back to him. He takes a few very tiny steps, stops again to adjust his backpack, hefts it as if it is too heavy for such an old man. He is feeling very sorry for himself.)

(As the two walk with large hiking movements that stay nearly in the same place from right to left side. When they reach the left corner lights dim)


Continue to Scene Two .