by: Leonid Andreyev

adapted by: Walter Wykes


[A circus.  Backstage.  Posters everywhere.  Enter PAULIE and WALLY, two clowns marching and playing kazoos.]


WALLY: What?

PAULIE: You’re off!

WALLY: I’m off?


WALLY: I’m not off!  You’re off!

PAULIE: I’m off?!

WALLY: That’s right.

PAULIE: How can I be off—it’s my song!

WALLY: But you keep changing it!



PAULIE: No!  Listen!

[He stands close to WALLY and plays into his face.  When he is finished, WALLY shrugs.]

WALLY: From the top?

PAULIE: From the top!

[As the clowns resume their march, PAPA BRIQUET storms toward them.  The ringmaster and manager of the circus, he is red in the face.]

PAPA BRIQUET: You make me sick!

[The clowns freeze, astonished.]

WALLY: What did we do?

PAULIE: We’re just rehearsing.

WALLY: March of the ants.

PAPA BRIQUET: Not you!  Him!

[Enter COUNT MANCINI.  He carries himself with an aristocratic air, and, when he laughs, his thin sharp face takes on a marked resemblance to a satyr.]

MANCINI: I beg your pardon?

[PAULIE and WALLY quietly retreat.]

PAPA BRIQUET: You heard me!  You stick your nose where it doesn’t belong and provoke the artists while they’re trying to work!  Someday you’ll get a beating, and I promise you, I won’t interfere!

MANCINI: You can’t really expect a man of my station to treat the performers as equals.  I speak with you quite familiarly—what more do you expect?

PAPA BRIQUET: Now you’re really asking for it!

MANCINI: And if they did attack me—

[He produces a derringer from the handle of his cane and aims it at PAPA BRIQUET.]

MANCINI: Useful little thing.

PAPA BRIQUET: Put that gun away.

MANCINI: By the way, you wouldn’t believe the little treasure I dug up on the subway yesterday.  What a beauty!  Eyes like sunshine and legs that— [He laughs.] Well, I know you don’t approve of such sport.  Look, give me a hundred dollars, and I’ll relieve you of my unpleasant company.

PAPA BRIQUET: Not a dime.

MANCINI: All right, Briquet.  You leave me no choice.  I’ll have to take Consuelo.

PAPA BRIQUET: Your daily threat!

MANCINI: What would you do in my position?  You know I have to keep up appearances.  Family reputation and all that.  Is it my fault I’ve had a run of bad luck that’s forced me to make my daughter a bareback rider in your silly circus?  We can’t be allowed to starve!  Fifty dollars.

PAPA BRIQUET: I won’t contribute to your depravities.

MANCINI: My depravities?

PAPA BRIQUET: You’re a predator!  You chase young girls half your age!

MANCINI: They know what they’re doing.

PAPA BRIQUET: They don’t have any choice!  They’re desperate for their next meal!

MANCINI: Which I’m happy to provide.

PAPA BRIQUET: You prey on their unfortunate circumstances!  And just because they consent to your perverted little games doesn’t mean you’re free and clear!  Mark my words, Mancini—you’ll end up in jail one of these days!

MANCINI: Jail?  Don’t be ridiculous!  I have to uphold the family name—don’t I?  The Mancinis are known for their love of young girls!  It’s a family tradition!  Is it my fault I have to pay for what my ancestors got free of charge?  I don’t drink, I stopped playing cards after that unfortunate incident with the police—there’s no reason to laugh—now if I give up girls, what will be left of Mancini?!  A coat of arms?!  Fifty dollars, and I’m on my way.

PAPA BRIQUET: I told you no.

[Enter XENA, a lion tamer.]

MANCINI: Madame Xena! [He takes her hand and kneels.] This barbarian may murder me in my sleep, but I cannot suppress my feelings for you one moment longer!  You are a goddess!  A queen among women!  Come away with me!  Leave this brute to his clowns and his jugglers!  He can never appreciate your radiant beauty!

XENA: And you can?

MANCINI: I am an expert in such matters.



XENA: Don’t give him any.

MANCINI: Ah!  Such cruelty from one so beautiful—it isn’t natural.  I’m not one of your beasts to be whipped before the crowd!

XENA:  Jackson tells me you’ve hired a tutor for Consuelo.  What for?

MANCINI: What for?!  She’s the daughter of a Count!  Shouldn’t she have the finest education?

PAPA BRIQUET: If I were the government, I’d forbid all artists to read books.  It ruins them.

XENA: I like a good book every now and then.

PAPA BRIQUET: I’m not talking about the kind of books you read.

MANCINI: You surprise me, Briquet.  Are you really an enemy of enlightenment?

PAPA BRIQUET: Why not?  What has education ever done for anybody?  It just makes them restless!

MANCINI: How do you expect improvement without education?

PAPA BRIQUET: I don’t expect anything.  You’re an educated man, Mancini.  You’ve read all the important books.  What has it taught you—how to strip young girls of their dignity?  How to live like a parasite off your own daughter?

MANCINI: I resent that remark.  I would do anything for Consuelo.  In fact, I have a little something in the works right now.

XENA: The Baron, you mean?

PAPA BRIQUET: Don’t get any ideas.  Remember—I have her under contract.

MANCINI: Such base formalities.

XENA: Give him ten dollars and make him go away.

MANCINI: Ten!  Never!  Twenty at least!  I simply can’t do with any less—even the dirtiest street urchin costs that much.

XENA: Disgusting.

PAPA BRIQUET: [Gives MANCINI a twenty dollar bill.] Here.  Get out of my sight.

MANCINI: Much obliged.

[Enter PAULIE and WALLY.]

PAULIE: Papa Briquet—

WALLY: —there’s someone here to see you.

PAULIE: I think he’s drunk.

WALLY: Drunk or crazy.

PAPA BRIQUET: What does he want?

PAULIE: [Shrugs.] Didn’t say.

WALLY: But he looks important.

PAULIE: Looks loaded.

PAPA BRIQUET: Loaded as in booze—or money?


WALLY: And a little crazy to boot.

PAPA BRIQUET: Send him back.


PAPA BRIQUET: Why are you still here?

MANCINI: I want to see your mysterious guest.

XENA: The red lion’s nervous today.


XENA: The red lion.  He’s restless.

PAPA BRIQUET: What do you want me to do?

XENA: I’m just telling you.

PAPA BRIQUET: I don’t like that damn animal.  He’s too unpredictable.

XENA: Do you want me to cut him?

PAPA BRIQUET: No.  He’s the best part of your act.

[Enter a STRANGER in formal attire, escorted by the two clowns.]

STRANGER: Excuse me … are you the manager?

PAPA BRIQUET: Papa Briquet.  What can I do for you?

STRANGER: [Indicating XENA and MANCINI.] And these are your artists?

MANCINI: [Laughs.] No, no!  I’m Count Mancini.


MANCINI: That’s right.  And who might you be?

STRANGER: Well … I’m not really sure yet.  I mean, I haven’t chosen a name.  I thought you might offer some advice.  I have a few ideas, but they don’t have the right ring—too literary, you know.

PAPA BRIQUET: Too literary?

STRANGER: Yes.  Too sophisticated.  I’m looking for something … I don’t know … a little more straightforward. [Indicating PAULIE and WALLY.] Are these your clowns?

PAPA BRIQUET: That would seem obvious.

STRANGER: [To PAULIE and WALLY.] And what are your names?

PAULIE: I’m Paulie.

WALLY: And I’m Wally.

STRANGER: [Smiles.] They rhyme!  Your names, I mean.

XENA: He’s a quick one.

PAPA BRIQUET: What exactly can I do for you?  Are you looking to rent the place out?  A special engagement maybe?

STRANGER: Oh, no—it’s not what you can do for me, but what I can do for you!

PAPA BRIQUET: And what can you do for me?

STRANGER: I want to be one of your performers!

PAPA BRIQUET: One of my performers?


PAPA BRIQUET: Are you drunk?

STRANGER: I don’t drink.

PAULIE: Not at all?

WALLY: Not even a little bit?


PAPA BRIQUET: Are you crazy?

STRANGER: [Laughs.] Perhaps.  Nevertheless, I would like to be a performer.

PAPA BRIQUET: Do you have any experience?

STRANGER: What do you mean?

PAPA BRIQUET: Experience.  In the circus.


MANCINI: You look like a society man.

STRANGER: Unfortunately, yes.  But I’d like to be a clown.

MANCINI: [Laughs.] A clown!

PAULIE: What’s so funny?

WALLY: Yeah—what’s wrong with being a clown?!

MANCINI: He’s joking!  He’s obviously pulling your leg!  Is there a hidden camera?

STRANGER: This is no joke.  I’m very serious.

PAPA BRIQUET: But what can you do?  Do you have any skills?

STRANGER: [Laughs.] No!  None!  Isn’t that funny!  I can’t do anything!

WALLY: That is funny.

PAULIE: He’s got something there.

PAPA BRIQUET: I’m afraid all our positions are filled.

STRANGER: There must be something I could do!  We can invent something!  Maybe a nice little speech on politics or religion!  Something like a … a debate among clowns!

WALLY: Is he joking?

MANCINI: Sounds hilarious.

PAPA BRIQUET: Get Jackson .

PAULIE AND WALLY:  Jackson Jackson !

[Enter JACKSON, another clown.]

PAPA BRIQUET: This is Jackson .  Our most famous clown.

STRANGER: [Shaking JACKSO N' S hand.] Oh!  It’s a pleasure to finally meet you!  Really!  You’re a genius!  A real genius!

JACKSON:  I like him.

STRANGER: I’ve watched you perform!  So many nights!

PAPA BRIQUET: He wants to be a clown.

JACKSON:  A clown?


PAPA BRIQUET: What do you think?

JACKSON:  Well, let me take a look.

[The STRANGER excitedly removes his coat and prepares for the examination.]

JACKSON: Hmmm … turn around.  That’s it.  Now smile.  Wider.  Broader.  Do you call that a smile?  Big!  That’s more like it.  I don’t suppose you can do a cartwheel.

STRANGER: [Sighs.] No.

JACKSON:  Somersault?

STRANGER: I’m afraid not.

JACKSON:  How old are you?

STRANGER: Thirty-nine.  Too late?

[ JACKSON moves away with a whistle.  Silence.]

XENA: Take him.

PAPA BRIQUET: What?!  What the hell do you think I’m going to do with him?!  He can’t even do a somersault!  Besides, he’s drunk!

STRANGER: Honestly, I’m not.

[Enter CONSUELO and BEZANO, two bareback riders.]

CONSUELO: Daddy! [She kisses MANCINI on the cheek.] Are you staying for the show?

MANCINI: No, not tonight—I’ve been watching the show backstage. [To the STRANGER.] This is my daughter, Countess Veronica.  But her stage name is—

STRANGER: Consuelo!  Yes, I know!  I’ve enjoyed her work!  It’s marvelous!  Really amazing!

CONSUELO: There’s nothing to it, really.

MANCINI: Oh, don’t be so modest.  She is remarkable.  Everyone says so.  In fact, don’t you think she’s due for a raise, Briquet?

PAPA BRIQUET: Don’t start.

STRANGER: Everyone here is so interesting!  I really would like to stay!  There must be something I could do … something unique … something that doesn’t require any real talent … [He thinks.] I’ve got it!

WALLY: He’s got it!

STRANGER: I shall be he who gets slapped! [General laughter.] You see!  I made you laugh!

JACKSON:  “He Who Gets Slapped.”  That’s not bad.

XENA: I like it.  Straightforward.  Not too literary.

[ JACKSON suddenly steps forward and gives a circus slap to the STRANGER who is somewhat startled.]

HE: [Rubbing his cheek.] What was that?

JACKSON:  He Who Gets Slapped.  That’s the bit, right?

[The others laugh.]

HE: How funny … it didn’t really hurt at all … although my cheek burns a little.

WALLY: He says he’d like another.

[ JACKSON gives HE another slap.  More laughter.  This time, HE laughs along with the others.]

JACKSON:  [To PAPA BRIQUET.] Take him.  I think we can do something with him after all.

PAPA BRIQUET: All right, but he’s your responsibility.

WALLY: Congratulations!

PAULIE: Welcome to the circus!

[WALLY and PAULIE march around HE, playing their kazoos.]

HE: Thank you!  Thank you!

JACKSON:  Do you like music?  I can teach you how to play a Beethoven sonata on a broom, or Mozart on a bottle?

HE: I’m not very good with music, but I’d love to learn.  A clown!  My childhood dream!  When all my friends were thinking of sports and literature and science—I dreamed of clowns.  Beethoven on a broom!  Mozart on a bottle!  This is what I’ve wanted all my life!  Oh!  I need a costume!

JACKSON:  Yes, a costume must be chosen very carefully.  Have you seen my Sun here? [He displays a sun emblazoned on his posterior.] It took me two years to come up with this.

HE: It’s wonderful.  I’ll start thinking right away.

MANCINI: Well, this has been thoroughly entertaining, but I’m afraid I have a pressing engagement that I simply cannot miss.  Goodbye.

[MANCINI exits, followed by PAULIE and WALLY playing a funeral march on their kazoos.  HE and JACKSON laugh.]

BEZANO: [To CONSUELO.] We’d better get back to work.

CONSUELO: All right. [To HE.] Congratulations.


JACKSON Give that costume some thought, HE.  I’ll think it over, too.  Be here at ten o’clock tomorrow morning. And don’t be late, or you’ll get another slap!

[He laughs.  Exit JACKSON .]

PAPA BRIQUET: Well, I suppose we should talk money then.

HE: Oh, you don’t have to pay me.  I’ve got enough money.

PAPA BRIQUET: He does have potential! [To XENA.] Draw up the contract!  Get that in writing!

XENA: [Producing an official-looking book.] We have to put down the names of all our performers, you know—government regulations.  Just in case of an accident.  So … what’s yours?

HE: [Smiling.] HE.  I just chose it—didn’t you hear?

XENA: No, your real name.  Do you have a passport?

HE: A passport?  No.  I mean, yes, but … I had no idea the rules would be strictly enforced here.  What do you need my name for?

[XENA and PAPA BRIQUET exchange a glance.]

PAPA BRIQUET: Is there some reason you don’t want to give us your name?

HE: Yes.  There is.

PAPA BRIQUET: Then we can’t take you.  I’m sorry. 

XENA: We don’t want any trouble with the police.

PAPA BRIQUET: You might get hurt or kill yourself doing something stupid.  Personally, I don’t care.  A corpse is just a corpse.  It’s up to God and the Devil to sort out.  But the police—they’re curious.  They want names.

HE: I … I thought here, of all places, I could lose my past.

PAPA BRIQUET: Something to hide, eh?

HE: Can’t you just pretend I have no name?  That I’ve lost it—like I might lose my hat or a shoe?  Or let someone else take it by mistake?  When a stray dog shows up at the door, you don’t ask his name—you just give him another.  Let me be that dog. [Laughs.] HE—the dog!

XENA: Why don’t you just tell us your name—just the two of us.  Nobody else needs to know.

PAPA BRIQUET: Unless you happen to break your neck.

[HE hesitates.]

XENA: Whatever your secret—it’s safe with us.


HE: All right.

[HE produces a passport.  XENA takes it and looks it over.  Surprised, she passes it on to PAPA BRIQUET.]

PAPA BRIQUET: Is this really true?  Are you really—

HE: Please … this person no longer exists.  It’s just a name—a check for an old hat.  Forget it, as I have.  I am He Who Gets Slapped—nothing more.


PAPA BRIQUET: Are you sure you’re not drunk?

XENA: It’s his business.  Leave him alone.

PAPA BRIQUET: [Shrugs.] You’re a strange man, HE.  But who am I to question?  All right, come on.  I’ll show you the dressing room.

HE: Thank you.  I’m so happy.  I really feel like I belong here.  But it still seems like a dream.  I won’t believe it until I feel the sawdust under my feet—until I stand in the ring where I will get my slaps!

XENA: Send Bezano in, will you?  I need to settle an account with him.

[HE and PAPA BRIQUET exit.  XENA studies her book.  After a moment, BEZANO appears in the doorway.]

BEZANO: You wanted to see me?

XENA: Sit.

BEZANO: I’m in the middle of a rehearsal.

XENA: With Consuelo?


XENA: Do you love her?


XENA: Are you in love with the little witch?




BEZANO: I don’t love anybody.  How can I?  Who am I?  An acrobat.  A bareback rider.  She’s the daughter of a count.  He could take her away tomorrow.

XENA: He will, you know.  One of these days.

BEZANO: I know.

XENA: He’s trying to marry her off to a rich baron.

BEZANO: Have you seen the man?  He’s a pig.

XENA: And what about me?  Do you love me, Bezano?

BEZANO: No.  I told you before.

XENA: Still no?  Not even a little?

BEZANO: [Pauses.] How could I love you?  I’m afraid of you.

XENA: Am I really so terrifying?  Am I such a monster?

BEZANO: You’re beautiful.  Almost as beautiful as Consuelo.

XENA: Almost?

BEZANO: But I don’t like your eyes.  They command me to love you—and I don’t like to take orders.

XENA: Do I command?  Or do I only implore?

BEZANO: You look at me like you look at your lions.

XENA: My red lion loves me—

BEZANO: If he loves you, why is he so restless?

XENA: Yesterday, he licked my hand like a dog.

BEZANO: Do you want me to lick your hand too—like a dog?

XENA: No.  I want to lick your hand.  Give it to me.

[She takes BEZANO’S hand—tries to put it in her mouth.]


[HE appears in the doorway.]

XENA: Why do you torture me like this, Bezano?  You know I love you.

BEZANO: Let go of me!  Stop it!  Let go!

[As BEZANO pulls away, they become aware of HE standing in the doorway.  There is an awkward pause.  BEZANO rushes out of the room.  Silence.]

HE: I’m sorry.  I … I forgot my coat. [Pause.] I didn’t hear anything.

XENA: I don’t care what you heard.

HE: I … I thought you and Papa Briquet—

XENA: It’s none of your business. [HE turns to go.] Look at me, HE.  Look at my body.  My legs.  My face.  My breasts.  Now, tell me—what do you think of a man who would turn all this down?

HE: I … I really don’t know.

XENA: Is he really a man, or just a stupid beast?

HE: I’m not sure I understand.

XENA: Oh, HE … what can I do to make my lions love me?

* * *


Copyright © 2007 by Walter Wykes

CAUTION: Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that He Who Gets Slapped is subject to a royalty. It is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America, and of all countries covered by the International Copyright Union (including the Dominion of Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth), and of all countries covered by the Pan-American Copyright convention and the Universal Copyright Convention, and of all countries with which the United States has reciprocal copyright relations. All rights, including professional and amateur stage performing, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio broadcasting, television, video or sound taping, all other forms of mechanical or electronic reproduction, such as information storage and retrieval systems and photocopying, and the rights of translation into foreign languages, are strictly reserved.

Inquiries concerning all rights should be addressed to the author at sandmaster@aol.com

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