Zoo Terrarium

©1998, by Dory Lynch

Setting: The stage is divided into two areas. The lower area is a circular walkway surrounded by glass cages. Signs and displays give the ambience of a primate house at a modern zoo. On the upper level, a staff room overlooks the walkway. In the background, primates hoot and screech. Jungle sounds echo through the theatre.

Characters: Four zoo attendants, and two visitors: a man and a woman. Also various primates, which are mostly heard rather than seen.

As lights come up, two guards in ultra-modern gear enter the observation room. Two night-shift guards await them. They converse briefly, then one of the newly-arrived technicians turns on a large monitor: an image of a group of chimpanzees which surrounds a pile of bones appears on the screen. All four guards salute it, then recite this fragment of a Walter De La Mare poem:

Guards (in sing song)

Bang! Now the animal
Is dead and dumb and done.
Nevermore to peep again, creep again, leap again,
Eat or sleep or drink again, oh, what fun!

Night Guard 1: (Faces the window, twirls around, pretends to point a rifle at the animal cages below.) If only...

Guard 2: Now, now if someone were to zap our little Tarzanitas, we'd be stuck, ass to chair, at some work station 'til they run out of interchangeable body parts for our old carcasses.

Night Guard 1: Great! No more ape-poop to scoop, no more dealing with nightmarish eco-terrorists.

Guard 1 (serious suddenly) Any show last night?

Night Guard 2: Viridians? Nah. At least nobody that fit the wrinkled cotton/alternative leather mold.

Night Guard 2: You mean (he demonstrates) nobody tried any lip-smacking on the window, any handsy-pansy on the plexiglass?

Night Guard 1: No way, they woulda showed last night. Any Viridian truly into the movement Z-trained down to Tennessee to that stupid 'Take Back the Druids' Festival.

Guard 2: Shit! Saw that eco-crap on InfoSpeak. Looked hella silly. Grown men and women sobbing on the ground as they stroked the broken limbs of trees.

Guard 1: They billed it "A Christening of the Lost Tree Spirits." Do you folks know what Druid means?

Night Guard 1: Uh-oh, here comes Mr. College. DRUID. Just go and do it.

Guard 1: Oak Wise. From the Celt--

Night Guard 2: Oak-wise but sap-dumn.

Guard 2: As long as it keeps 'em kilometers from here. We don't need no orangutan-lover riling up our Chida again.

Night Guard 1: Yeah, Chida's lovelorn. Misses her bearded Viridian.

Guard 1: How was Chida last night?

Night Guard 1: (punches a screen in. A large image of a love-sick orangutan appears.) Mopey, dopey. Missing her pudding and pie.

Guard 1: Webster's called it pining. An old Middle English word which comes from the Latin word for pain, poena.

Nightguard 2 Peter pined for the pretty pine.

Guard 2: Penny pinched the puny pinyon

Night Guard 1: Alright, motormouths quit it. You too Reko, cut us a break and lay off the vocabulary lesson. We're outta here. It's been a lonnnngggg night. It's always a long night. The apes cry more after dusk. Almost as though they miss the earth's darkness. Something they couldn't even know about since they've spent their whole lives inside artificial--

Guard 1: You're not turning green on us too, are you Lobo?

Nightguard 1 Hell no, it's just sometimes I miss darkness too. What with the city brilliantly lit all twenty-four hours, so we citizens can be safe. But hey, we're off now. Come on Kauzak, let's make like an orangutan and brachiate out of here.

The two night guards pat each other on the back, drop low, hoot and then run out. As soon as the door shuts, an electronic message flashes on the screen. PLAY WELCOME MESSAGE appears on the monitor. Guard 2 hits a button, and the following taped message is played, "Welcome citizens to Zoo Terrarium. One of Planet Earth's few remaining animal sanctuaries. Once Homo Sapiens roamed the earth, one of many animals which wandered our savannahs, our plains, our fetid forests. Now thanks to our incredible success, our taming of this planet, the only places these other species can be enjoyed are in government reserves such as this. While visiting, we ask you to respect our fellow creatures, our lower-in-the-hierarchy brethren. Don't touch the glass. Don't make any prolonged eye contact with our primate cousins. Here in the ape house you'll meet our nearest wild animals. When you see them, give thanks to our superior genes. Welcome to Zoo Terrarium."

Guard 2: Why the Hell do they come? Day after day, week after week dragging their young--

Guard 1: To have a look, to breathe in the fresh equatorial scent--

Guard 2: To sniff that sweet-smelling ape-shit.

Guard 1: (Stares intently at monitor) No, I think it's something something less tangible. To bask in animal shadow.

Guard 2: (holds up one leg, juts out one arm.) To thank the Lord for their ten pinkies and toes.

(Other man shakes his head.)

Guard 2: To touch the little geezers then?

Guard 1: We don't allow them to touch. Not even in the Kids Zoo. In the old days they did.

Guard 2: Yeah, I studied that in park history. Turtles, donkeys, asses. A real riot touching asses. Too biblical for me by a long shot.

An older woman enters downstairs. She's wrapped in wrinkled capes, carries a bag at her side. Her age is indeterminate. She walks up to the plexiglass. Mouths something silently. Guard 2 runs over and flicks on a switch. The animal sounds are much more intense now and the woman can be heard almost chanting.

W Good Chida darling. Chida, Chida, Chida. Wild Singing Arms. Babykins.

Guard 1: Talk about disfunctional chatter. That sorry old lady is so desperate to connect. Willing to risk a life-record just to communicate for five minutes, interspecies.

Guard 2: No interspecies fondling allowed. (they both stare at the woman) My grandmother taught me that animals came from God.

Guard 1: Hell, my dad swore on his portable global-check that they came swathed in snowballs from outer space. Even those big ancient mastadons were sheathed in tons of ice. As they rained down to earth, their ice-cauls splintered, and the animals stood up and roamed, spent their whole lives searching for their real home, some pipsqueak ball of stone out past Alpha Centauri.

Guard 2: I've seen video clips of when people still owned dogs. Some of the dogs gazed at our grandparents with looks that were loving--almost human.

Guard 1: My Granddad owned a dog. One of my earliest memories is the smell of wet fur on my skin. The way it lingered, sweet and rank at the same time. My mother sent me to wash my hands. I ran the water instead, saved that hint of canis on my hands, wafted it before my face when I went to sleep that night. Pretended it smelled like the jungle, wild like this.

Guard 1: Wild? But there's not a single speck of wildness here. We've anaesthetised the wild out. Once those researchers discovered that wild smells make humans uneasy, not happy with the status quo. It makes people want to quit their Info-Jobs and T-Training and drive out to Nevada, or one of the Dakotas. Better to keep the smells out, and the workers working, content with their Buzz Screens and Ear-Targeted music.

Guard 2: Rumor goes that the President of Wildlife Preservation keeps a real lion at headquarters. A lion which sits in a gelded cage at all their high level meetings. Sometimes, they even ask it to vote on important matters.

Guard 1: How can he vote? Have they taught him how to tap its heels?

Guard 2: Nah, he sprays into either one of two big cans. One says "Just Do it!" The other says, "Screwy Idea. Hell No." The more piss he pours on it, the stronger he feels about a particular project.

A man enters, looks furtively around. He stares straight at the guards' camera. His bearded face fills the computer monitor. He arches his eyebrows, bares his incisor teeth.

Guard 1: Shit! One of the Viridians has arrived. The one Chida pines for.

Guard 2: Come on college boy. Call a spade a spade. The one Chida's got the hots for. What's that creep doing now? (Reaches for a control) I have a mind to--

Guard 1: (Puts a hand out to stop him) Better not. We'll have to write a report if we zap anyone. Besides he hasn't tried anything yet.

Guard 2: Tried nothing? What about getting Chida moony-eyed for weeks? Why he comes everyday making forbidden eye contact. Wriggles, sashays in front of her cage--Look he's doing it now. Slithering green-cloaked eco-lover. 600 buckaroos, he paints his ass green too. Keep your eye on him. Make sure he doesn't drop his pants like the last time.

Guard 1: It's the woman, I worry about. She's left Chida. But look how she's painting her face for those bonobos. Give me a quick scan of her record.

Guard 2: Citizen 3470-F, suspected Viridian. First appeared at Zoo Terrarium on Nov. 12, 2037. Also appeared on the 17, 23, 27 of that month. Showed up eight times in Dec. Already in Jan. has visited on the 2, 3, 6, and 7th.

Guard 1: No mention of any green cape?

Guard 2: They're afraid to wear them here. Besides that's one of the signs, increased visitation.

Guard 1: She looks perfectly harmless. That dowager's hump. She could barely run from us. I think we should concentrate on the man.

Guard 2: I don't trust either of 'em. They got plans. Seamy earth-loving plans. But we're on to them. This woman's been monitored before. Dietary Preference: Vegan. Video Store Checkout--old National Geographic Videos/Discovery ones. Apartment, five pictures of extinct animals on the wall, candle burning in front of them, Viridian member since 2030.

Guard 1: But it was legal to be a Viridian then.

Guard 2: Before the assholes put nature first. Nearly blew up New York, so Central Park could be full of slimey slugs and bird droppings again.

Guard 1: Before the big fire when we showed them who was boss, who, in fact, was earth-friendly. (Both guards stare at the screen as imaginary violent scenes of fires, habitat destruction go past. On the screen a message appears, "Arrested Moment 2032."

Guard 2: Why the Hell did they send her to Kenya for rehab duty? They shoulda sent her to Hong Kong, New York, Lima--sidewalk duty. Somewhere the only animals are rats and baby alligators swimming in sewers.

Guard 1: For some Virs it works. Gets em close to the creepy earth, the bugs, the snakes, the dank foul-smelling soil, five years shovelling lion shit before tour buses roll past, but in her case, it backfired. Got her more involved with them. When she came back, she began to type up a language code for some elephants she found there.

Guard 2: Yeah, she was really pissed when our elephants died here, when we couldn't find one elephant in the world to replace them, that's when she switched to-- (He activates a mike so we can hear the woman's voice again. Her voice pours over the room.)

Woman Hey fellas. Don't you look smiley and bubbly? It's still morning dearies, some sun, some hope of lower carbon dioxide levels. Even in here, you can sense it. That scratch of chemicals on your throat. The good news is they haven't paved over the sky yet. Yes, take a look at it. Someday--sooner than you think--I'll take you out for a closer view. You can lie on the grass then, or whisk through the trees. Before they destroy them too. Before they , pave over the entire earth. Funny our money's still green but that will change too.

Guard 2: She's bonkers. D'ya know she elected to have her own children? The biological way. Never showed up at work til they were weaned.

Guard 1: And what happened to them? Are they Viridian too? Did they get arrested?

Guard 2: Nah, they're the disappointment of her life. They work for the government, over-see the production of ever-glo lights. (Several beats pass as they watch the woman. Guard 2 switches off her sound) Hey bud, how did you get involved in zoo work anyway?

Guard 1: Long ago, when they still let you touch the animals--

Guard 2: Before the animal plagues--

Guard 1: Way before that. When people still kept pets--

Guard 2: My grandmother had seven cats. Imagine that. Slinking beasts which gathered in the kitchen every night. I used to watch video flicks of those ancient zoos

Guard 1: Yeah, I rode a turtle once in a kids one.

Guard 2: Is that why you chose doing this?

Guard 1: Not for love of the little creeters, believe you. They smell, they're dirty, they rub their private parts, they show asses. I came to it from a law enforcement perspective. If I have to monitor people, why not monitor them in a place where they can't steal--

Guard 2: That was in the old days. Nothing's for sure anymore. Last year those Viridians helicoptered a whole primate unit out of the London Zoo. They stun-gunned the guards. Disappeared into the Scot Nuclear Highlands. As the two guards talk, the woman has circled back to Chida 's cage. The man who has never left it approaches the plexiglass near her. They face the animals on opposite sides. But the woman and man are almost touching. Suddenly the woman takes something from her bag, there's a loud pop, and smoke everywhere. Alarms begin ringing. The man runs for the door, yelling

Man Now, now, now. Come on sweet Chida, other primates, run for your freedom, run for your lives!

Guard 1: Damn! The outer door lock's not catching--

Guard 2: (On an emergency phone) Class one incident, ongoing, repeat ongoing, in the Primate House. Seek reinforcements immediately. Eco-terrorists have engineered a massive animal escape.

Guard1 (to other guard. ) Better implement plan G.

Guard 2: The guy's already gone with Chida. Did you see them arm in arm. That goddamn ape lifted that Viridian over the fence, almost like she was liberating him.

Guard 1: The woman. She's not ever leaving. But the gibbons and colobus are running toward her. Christ, they're reaching out for her. For her hand. Oh great, the robot reinforcements are arriving. (He flicks on the sound again. Over the sound of sirens the woman's voice repeats something.)

Guard 2: What's she mumbling?

Guard 1: It's more like a chant, like a prayer.

Woman Clear a path, clear a path, clear a path. For your own safety. Clear a path.

Guard 2: Something's wrong. The Robos are letting them thru. Even the monkeys. Grab you gun and let's go.

Sirens continue ringing, the guards race from the room. The stage goes to dark, then lightens again. A message appears on the screen under an image of orangutans dressed in guard uniforms with humans behind cages. PLAY MESSAGE APPEARS. Lights dim as the following message is played: "Welcome to Zoo Homo Sapiens. One of Planet Earth's few remaining human sanctuaries. Once Homo Sapiens roamed the earth, one of many animals which wandered our savannahs, our plains, our fetid forests. Now because of their incredible success, their temporary subjection of this planet, the only places these species can be enjoyed are at government reserves such as this. While visiting, we ask you to respect our fellow creatures, our lower-in-the-hierarchy brethren. Don't touch the glass. Don't make any prolonged eye contact with our human cousins. Here in the People House you'll meet our nearest wild animals. When you see them, give thanks to our superior genes. Welcome to Zoo Homo Sapiens."

© 2008, Dory Lynch, all rights reserved