Construction site on the outskirts of a big city. A winter evening. The sky still reflects light, but during this first act, little by little, it will become fully engulfed in evening. A looming, pallid, full moon rises over the vapor-silhouette of a smoke-stack amidst factories. A light, yet pervasive cold wind blows.
In the foreground lies a stark building site, flattened and waiting for excavation. At its edges, skid loaders and dump trucks of every variety at the ready. Rising behind, vast halls and compounds of the Chemical Works.
In the middle of these industrial plains, huddle three squalid, almost tremulous, formerly colorful circus trailers. All the windows, rooves and floors are shabbily patched together, their colors peeling from wind and weather are washed-out and faded. The hitches to the circus trailers remain horseless. They gather themselves into a small M-shaped corral to bolster against the wind.
Out of the naked earth, in this equation of sorts, burns a small flame, nourished by paper cartons and flammable garbage. Warming themselves around it are the last members of the circus troupe. They all seem neglected and starving. They wear ordinary, tattered winter clothes. That they are artists, one can only tell by a few strange markers.
BUX, the ventriloquist, sits near the fire on an old suitcase. He is a small, frail man around sixty with white hair and a white, thin, handlebar mustache. He conducts himself like an English Lord. He wears a black jacket that at one time was high-end, though now, is threadbare and worn. On his knee sits OTTOKAR, the puppet, who wears a bellhop costume with an unusual expression on his face. Both of them busy themselves, either whispering in eachother’s ears or turning to one another in speech. BUX has completely forgotten that OTTOKAR is only another part of himself. For him, the puppet is a living being.
Near him, JUSSUF the magician, an indefinable age, speaks in a curious accent. He wears a knuckle-length military-security jacket. Around his neck, a long, colorful woolen scarf hangs and on his head is a battered top-hat. When he speaks, he points to his overbite and rolls his eyes. From time to time, his fingers, of their own volition, make a cigarette appear and disappear, riff a tattered deck of cards into a bridge, and pull an egg out of a colleague’s nose. But no one’s paying him much attention. He seems to do this all automatically.
On the other side of the fire, PIPPO crouches, the red-face, forty-something acrobat and juggler. He wears baggy corduroys, a thick naval coat with a turtleneck, and on his bald head sits a tiny, knit stocking-cap. His voice is hoarse, his nose runs, and he is unshaved. During the conversation, every now and then, he gathers a few small stones, juggles with them or balances a stick. But then he settles down and either plunges his hands in his pockets or warms them over the fire.
Near him, squatting on her heels, the tightrope-walker, LOLA, warms her hands. She is girlish and dainty but her face reveals an aged haggardness. Her black hair is parted and tucked into a ballerina’s bun. She is bundled in a plethora of different tattered blankets. When she adjusts the blankets, one can see the layers of pink wool and thick Ballerina tights. Around her neck is flung a moth-eaten pink feather boa.
Left: outside of the trailer corral, WILMA, the knife thrower-marks-woman jerks herself away and leans opposite the troupe. She peers expectantly over at the Chemical plant. She’s wearing riding-breeches with tall boots, a gun belt, and a shabby fur coat. She has ginger hair and her face is marked heavily with too much rouge.
On the other side of the trailer corral, off right in the foreground, squats ELI, a young girl around ten or twelve who digs channels with her fingers to link one puddle to another. She is very dirty. All the clothes she wears are buttoned incorrectly and hang strangely on her small, emaciated body. They are all fit for nothing and left out of the troupe fund. By the way the child moves and speaks, one can tell she is behind in growth.
After long silence, Pippo, the acrobat, throws his head up at the sky, as if awakening, and says lightly:
Pippo: It’s already dark.
Lola: And cold. (Pippo throws an arm around Lola to warm her.)
Wilma: (Comes closer to troupe to warm herself.) We don’t need to wait for him anymore.
Jussuf: No. He is certainly not coming.
Bux: I would have never thought of him to leave us like this. At least not this time.
The Puppet: I, for one, think that guy over there looks like him.
Bux: You hold your mouth, Ottokar!
Eli: Jojo’s coming. Eli knows for sure. Jojo is kind.
Wilma: Yes...yes, Jojo is kind! How many performances have we given without him because he
was suddenly lost! The poor dog, he’s always consoling himself at a Schnapps-bar that
only has an entrance, no exit, says he.
The Puppet: It can’t happen today.
Wilma: Why not?
The Puppet: We don’t have a performance today, he he he!
Bux: This is not a time to joke, Ottokar! After that joke, no one will be in the mood.
Pippo: Maybe he didn’t get very far with them?
Lola: (ironic) Yeah. Sometimes he’s actually reasonable.
Jusuf: That he hasn’t come back could mean that he hasn’t given up, that he still has hope.
Pippo: And I bet you a sack of gold that he’s left us high and dry.
The Puppet: Bux! Did you hear? Bux? Pippo bet a sack of gold! (He screeches for effect)
Bux: Shut your face or you’ll end up in the box!
The Puppet: (sing-song and brash)
Cain spoke to Abel
Shut your face!
Abel was stuck
with a fork
after the chase.
Never in the box, Bux!
My face is stone cold.
Lola: But, listen – what if they are holding him? (She crosses herself)
Pippo: Like, locked up? Why?
Lola: Maybe we’re overstepping some local law? I mean, because we’re basically loitering. Perhaps they’ll come and get us all together tonight?
Wilma: Well, for my sake, at least if they lock us up, it will be warmer.
Eli: Eli is kind. Eli hasn’t done anything. We are all kind?
The Puppet: Exactly, Eli. You don’t need to be afraid. Lola’s only joking. No one is going to do
Wilma: We should send someone there. Who can seriously speak to those people?
Jussuf: Jojo can speak for all of us, for sure.
Wilma: Yeah, he can speak to little children and make them laugh. But that doesn’t help us in
Pippo: Well, we all voted for him. You, too, Wilma.
The Puppet: Me, too!
Wilma: I know him. He did something wrong. These people are always afraid of being made fun of.
Eli: Wilma shouldn’t be afraid. Eli isn’t afraid.
Lola: What can he do now? The reason is the same and you all know it. Whether they chase us
away tomorrow or in two days, this is the end of the line...everyone off the train! Since
the Believers have taken away the last three donkeys, what can Jojo get from the factory
people? They’re increasing the construction so they can push us out. Do we pull the
trailers out? And where to? We have nothing more to give...whatever’s not nailed down
has already been taken. For the last two months, it was already clear to me when we
hocked the tent and the costumes to buy horses. When a circus has to sell their tent...our
reign is over, the show at its end.
Wilma: It started a lot earlier than that. Don’t fool yourselves. You know exactly what I mean.
Three years, to the day, is when we hit this bad luck streak. I was against it from the get-
go but no one would listen. We used to be twelve, but then we added one more and
became thirteen. Thirteen! You all knew what that meant. First, Nick got sick. Then,
Carlo got into an accident and in one year we lost Leo and his entire family. From then
on everything went to shit. We shouldn’t have brought this kid with us, or at least
campaigned to help her out. We could have been seventeen. But thirteen!
Pippo: Campaign with whom? When?
Lola: We couldn’t very well have left her in the gutters, Wilma. Eli was deathly ill. She would
Jussuf: Besides, kids like her bring luck, Wilma.
Wilma: Luck? Alright. Then show us.
Pippo: Our bad luck is not Eli’s fault.
Wilma: Fault? Who spoke of faults? The count was even...the count, do you understand?
Lola: Be quiet. She can hear us.
Wilma: Pshaw. She can’t understand.
Eli: (Goes up to Wilma and pats her.) Wilma is kind. Eli is also kind? All of us are kind? (She goes to everyone and strokes them tenderly).
The Puppet: Actually, with me we are fourteen!
Bux: Unfortunately, you don’t count, Ottokar.
The Puppet: Could we try another, bigger circus that maybe needs us?
Lola: All of us together?
Pippo: All of us or none. We promised. We need to stick together. Or does anyone think
Jussuf: We’ve already asked the five biggest ones. They all sent us away.
Pippo: There’s one more.
Wilma: No, Pippo—don’t even go there. We’re simply not good enough. None of us.
days, we’d have to draw a huge crowd, otherwise we can’t compete. Audiences aren’t
like they used to be.
Bux: Not even the children. They’re happy to watch a circus on TV. Even in the villages. For all
of us it used to be better. We were useful members of society.
The Puppet: Me too? Tell me, Bux, does this hurt?
Bux: A little.
The Puppet: Then I’d rather run away. (They struggle)
Bux: Quiet down, my small one. Without me, you can’t run away.
Wilma: Have you all heard that Leo’s in a movie now? As a stunt double, exploding and jumping
off tall buildings into cushions. He makes pretty good money, they say.
Pippo: Yeah, he left us high and dry.
Wilma: Sooner or later we’ll all have to ready ourselves.
Eli: Jojo’s coming! Look, Jojo’s here!
(She runs up to him and throws her arms around him.)
Jojo! Jojo! Eli wait so long!
(Jojo, a man around fifty, wears a shabby winter coat and in a baggy pocket, a bottle
sticks out. On his head, a pointy clown-hat sits askew, which he takes off ceremoniously
and bows to his colleagues, as if they are applauding him uproariously. He wears an
accordion strapped across his back.)
Pippo: Well, tell us something, Jojo!
Lola: Did they tell you anything?
Jojo: (Situates his hat) Yes.
Wilma: What then? Yes or no?
Jojo: (lightly) No.
Pipo: Jojo, don’t joke!
Bux: What did you do, Jojo?
The Puppet: Why did it take you so long, Jojo?
Jojo: Because (he thinks hard) because (he hits his forehead) Well, before I knew, for sure...but
I lost it somewhere. (He looks around him).
Wilma: What did I say? He did nothing!
Pippo: So, everything was for nothing? Tell us, Jojo!
Jojo: (Defends himself with his hands held up and looks around the ground)
Bux: It’s what we anticipated, Ottokar.
The Puppet: It’s all very reasonable, Bux.
Jussuf: Such teeth! They have such teeth! They worry me.
Lola: What are you talking about, Jussuf? Who do you mean?
Jussuf: The monsters. The dragons. The sorcerers. Them, over there...there and there.
Lola: Oh, the tractors. That’s just a front-loader and a dump truck.
Jussuf: They wait. They are waiting there. For us.
Pippo: Nonsense, Jussuf. Look at them together. What could they do to us? We live in a civilized city. We’re not going away. We’ll stay together. Then they can’t do anything to us. Do you think the front-loader will plow us under?
Jojo: Stop! Now I have it! Do you know what I did? Total suffering!
Wilma: Who is suffering, Jojo? You hurt someone?
Jojo: (With big gestures) Everyone.
Pippo: That’s great! What else did you do?
Jojo: I personally spoke to all of the higher-up generals.
Pippo: (stunned) You did?
Jojo: (proudly nodding) I did.
Pippo: With the general director of the plant there?
Jojo: Certainly. And personally. From person to person, you know? Him there and me there. Or actually, opposite of that. Him across there, and me here. And do you know what they all told me...the highest personal general directors? They told me that they were very sorry, very, very sorry...personally.
Pippo: And what are they very, personally sorry for?
Jojo: That everything is already determined, and they can’t change any of it at this point. Here, where we’re standing, the Chemical works will be building a new factory wing, that they urgently need to begin work. Tomorrow morning, early, they begin. Here– everything will be scraped. Also, our trailers, if they are still here. But, naturally we have time before tomorrow morning to put them somewhere else.
Pippo: And where would that be?
Jojo: (He points here and there and finally lets his arms sink) See now, Pippo, that’s exactly what I asked.
Pippo: And what did the General director say to you?
Jojo: Your short memory has failed you, too, Pippo? – That they’re very sorry.
Pippo: (sits down) Then we’re done! Out and over!
The Puppet: You, Jojo. Listen a minute, Jojo. Did they truly tell you nothing else?
Jojo: Wait. Yes. Let me remember, a second. What was it? Oh, right. They wanted us to campaign for them.
Pippo: What do they want us to do?
Jojo: Campaign for them.
Pippo: All of us together?
Jojo: All of us together.
Wilma: And this is the first time you’re telling us this?
Pippo: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. What...are they hiring us as?
Jojo: (sees a paper in his bag) As an advertisement circus. Here is the contract. We need only to
sign it. We’ll get new trailers, motorized, naturally. And new costumes. And everything
absolutely new. Even new numbers. The advertisement office will think for us. Naturally, also a new name...the circus will be the same name as the plant.
Wilma: And the pay?
Jojo: Not bad.
Wilma: Children – Will wonders never cease!
Jussuf: And what do we have to do for them?
Jojo: We pull our trailers through the area and advertise for the Chemical Plant. Throughout the
small villages and everywhere. And we’ll make ads for TV, too.
Pippo: This is our saving grace. (he cries)
Lola: (takes his arm gently) We’re still a big troupe.
Pippo: Has anyone an objection?
Jojo: (points a finger) I do, please.
Wilma: Of course! Him! What is there then to think about?
Pippo: So say something, Jojo.
Jojo: The rulers have a small condition. We must part ways with Eli.
Jussuf: With Eli? Whatever for?
Jojo: They say it doesn’t make a good impression with her around. We are supposed to trust their
chemical products to advertise. We should show how harmless and useful their products are, they say. Such a child could give false opinions, they say. And they don’t want that.
Lola: And what’s to become of Eli?
Jojo: Oh, we don’t need to worry ourselves about that, they say. The firm provides an institute
for such children. It’s modern and state of the art. Fabulous physicians, fabulous nursing staff. Top of the line science. They want to admit her there.
Wilma: (after a pause) Alright. Then everything’s in order. She’ll have more development there
than with us. Perhaps they could even help her. What do you say, Eli? Would you not like to go to a super nice home where you can get healthier and even learn?
Eli: (holds Jojo’s hand anxiously) Eli is kind. You are all kind, right?
Jojo: You all know that I’m dumb. Too dumb for this. We must all decide together. Until
tomorrow morning, we have time. But something else has happened to me. Perhaps it is very dumb. Do you know how it was three years ago? When we pulled up into a spot that was so funny. The people were all on the run. In the streets everwhere they toted hens and dogs and cats. And then it started to rain and the grass turned yellow. Later, in the news it said that it was a poison gas cloud. It’s at that time Nick got sick and has remained so to this day. And also, there we found Eli, creeping in the street. That’s all, what happened to me.
Pippo: Yes, that was a catastrophe. Whoever’s fault in a facility, only a kilometer away from us.
Why do you bring it up?
Jojo: That facility belongs to the same company here. And they make the same product. And for
that we have to publicize for them, and part ways with Eli. (the whole troupe appears
Wilma: (restless) Children. Now I also need to say something. With how it is, we don’t have
much choice. We must take what’s offered us. If we don’t, we won’t change the world.
Besides, we aren’t ultimately responsible for what they are doing.
Jojo: (staring at her for a long time) No? I’m too dumb to know. You all must decide what we
(A long pause.)
The Puppet: Don’t all speak at once!
(Jojo takes his accordion and begins to play a melody.)
Eli: (He pulls through an old Luxemburg song). Jojo? Jojo is kind. Jojo tells Eli something.
Jojo: A story? I don’t have anything to tell today. You know that I’m dumb, my child. You know
Eli: (Laughs) No. It’s not true. Jojo tells Elli a fairytale, yes?
Jojo: (Strips off accordion) A fairytale? And about whom shall it be?
Eli: About us. (Points to each individual) About Eli and Jojo and all of us.
Jojo: (Pulls the bottle out of his pocket, drinks a sip, looks around the circle pensively, treads closer tentatively, takes another sip and sets down the bottle) Let’s see, how does it go... (He begins again to play lightly on the accordion. While he speaks it begins to darken quickly. The scene disappears. One only hears Jojo’s voice.)
Well, listen now, Eli. Once upon a time there lived a beautiful, small princess named Eli,
who wore silks and velvets who lived high above the world in a castle made of colorful
glass. She had everything that one could dream of. She ate only the finest meals, and
drank only the sweetest wine. She slept on silk pillows and sat on ivory thrones. She had
everything— but she was all alone. Then everything around her, her attendants and
maidens, her dogs and cats and birds, yes, even her flowers...all were mere
reflections, mirror images...(The music goes on, until the next image appears)
The First Reflection
Slowly from the dark emerges the castle of colored glass high above the world. A big hall.
Morning sun breaks glistening in a thousand sparks of color, in translucent walls and columns. Princess Eli rests in a grand, heavenly bed. The feeble child from the prelude has now become a wonderful young woman between sixteen and twenty. Into her chamber, maidens bring her a beautiful dress. They open the heavenly bed’s curtains and wake the princess. Eli rises and is anointed by the maidens with all sorts of precious perfumes, after which she is dressed, combed, and adorned with jewels. Lastly, they place her sparkling crown on her head.
Eli: A new dress! A new day!
Ready for something new to play
Servants, all, dumb
what should we begin?
My life is all play
fun everlasting days
Time’s lapse, time still
Oh, if you were mirror images, all–
You would not shout.
Also, pets and sprouts
All mirror images, abound.
I dreamed I was far away
In a foreign place
In a bad and dark place
were beings like me
they spoke, sang and serenaded me
Their human answer was
So comforting and pleasing!
Oh, to me please converse
Once, like those of the earth
I want to listen to them all
and to sleep, never fall.
And for you to be nearby
one must to earth fall
must one die,
to be equal?
How tied I am – no, oh, no!
stuck in a castle of glass—yet colorful!
forever a queen child,
rich for all time
I can never die.
(A remote, nearing, multi-voiced, glassy sound is heard.)
Eli: My magic mirror nears, my Kalophain!
Kalophain: (A distant and dark voice of a woman) Turn away, my child. Be wise. My gaze could be deathly.
Eli: (Turned around.) Come now and rest from your journey,
You’re fine. On your journey, away day and night,
did you bring with you, a thousand new mirror pictures, a thousand new games, delights?
Kalophain: (very close) I only come if you shut your eyes, so you don’t reflect in me or die.
Eli: (covers eyes with hands) She says day in and day out,
Don’t look into her,
I follow her advice with a pout,
to remain eternal, and alone.
(The magic mirror hovers like a sliver of moon that descends down. A silver female figure wears the sliver and expands into his frame, comprised of ornaments.)
Kalophain: Obedience, my little mistress, you,
bring me the pictures I’ve collected.
Eli: (to herself) How different her voice sounds to me,
as if she rang out of my dreams.
Kalophain: Does princess Eli order me to begin?
Eli: No! Wait a minute! Answer first and tell me: When you see people while hovering high above their world and their lives, what makes them so different from me?
What do they have that I cannot have?
Kalophain: No, little mistress, don’t think of that!
Eli: Yes, I will! You must give me an answer!
Kalophain: (Begins to jingle and sing enchantingly) Let yourself be satisfied with the stifling pleasure of looking at the pictures.
Fateless, floating high above life in eternal dream!
The pictures, they silence, so still your own, for all time.
With you as playmate, let love go, and feel no pain.
Eli: (as in a trance – sweet anesthesia) True, I do not understand the meaning,
it sounds so sweet I fade away,
in your gentle shimmer.
Kalophain: In my tender magic, the questions – only you forget them. (aside) And so I never lose you and you stay with me forever.
Eli: (waking) What did I want then? I never know...What did you say, dear Kalophain?
Kalophain: You were satisfied with my answers. (The frame of the mirror begins to glow)
Come forth, come forth, you delightful glowing figures! Now emerge from the silvery-lit round–Your pictures, that my magic has gathered, now free once more, full of life and colorful!
(Out of the depths of the mirror come fantastic figures of all sorts: animals, mythical creatures, men in outlandish costumes. They emerge from the mirror frame and fill the room. The people from the circus are underneath, now, though, in their restored and glorious circus costumes. The mirror pictures begin to dance a labyrinthine “round” dance around the room, that bewilders all.)
Kalophain: (hovering) Flying away over land and sea,
High over cities and fields until
I move motionless, my compass eyes,
Looking and gathering with glassy feel,
What I can catch in my sight,
Beautifully strange and wonderful
I bring to you now to play and revel,
For my little mistress, for you all things joyful.
(The dance of the mirror pictures becomes wilder and wilder. Lastly, Jojo’s picture emerges as prince Johan. The clown from the circus appears now as a handsome young man in a princely cloak. He immediately disappears into the vortex of the dancers.)
Eli: Everyone still! Give me not this beautiful face, shame,
I will see you again.
Stop the wild dance! O lovely eyes shine.
Now the dance is at an end!
(The dance breaks up, the mirror pictures freeze)
Kalophain: What is this, my little mistress?
just like the others, this was a picture,
Sit back and enjoy, let it go on. Is it not fun? Come, sit here!
Eli: (finds the prince picture and stands in front of it) How is it so strange to me? I can’t understand it.
This visage here, it calls to me,
a deep, dark sense wakes.
O Kalophain, O mirror of mine, never before
have you given me pictures like these.
Where did you find them? And who is he?
The one who left this image, beautifully?
Kalophain: I know it not. And if I’d known what it does to you,
I wouldn’t have brought it.
Eli: I seek him! Ask, what’s his name. Bring him to me!
Will you, it will go on.
Kalophain: Me? Bring him? Mistress, you know:
I cannot. I am a ghost
And can only pictures bring.
Eli: You will not?
Kalophain: Tame your will!
Forget your wish! He can’t live up to you.
Eli: Forget? What makes me dizzy, fades from a dark future, as my life secret, deepest life? Forgetting him? How could I do it? And if I can’t give him a sign, I will become mortal. (the mirror neared her)
Kalophain: Come back, come back! You bring yourself danger! What are you doing? Stop! Stop!
Eli: You magic-mirror, bright and clear,
My Kalophain, hear my will!
Whatever threatens me,
Your command I must fulfill.
Take my picture and bring
It with you over land and sea.
Perhaps he doesn’t know where I am.
Perhaps he wanders about.
Perhaps he looks around and sees
My image in you.
Perhaps he follows your laugh
And finds me that way.
(She steps resolutely in front of the mirror and sees her reflection.)
Kalophain: Too late! Oh, too late! With your threat
Now you’ve forced your needs on me.
Eli: How suddenly I become so peculiar? I feel completely transformed.
Kalophain: You saw your image! You, who had eternal life—
Eli: What holds me and burns inside? O Kalophain,
I have one heart! But it seems like only half!
I miss the other half
How poor and miserable it makes me.
Kalophain: It is the longing that torments you, but greater suffering now awaits you!
Eli: Do not extend them. Do not leave them unsatisfied. Arise yourself. Rush, fly into the distance. Surely, he will see the image which lacks me.
Kalophain: I will do it. Yes, I will do it gladly.
(Eli’s image remains in the magic mirror while the other rises and floats away.)
Eli: All mirror pictures away! Go to the garden!
(Eli forces the image of the prince, who also wants to disappear, to remain with a gesture.)
Only this one will remain with me through day and night. I will wait, wait, wait...
Michael Andreas Helmuth Ende (12 November 1929 – 28 August 1995) was a German writer of fantasy and children’s fiction. He is best known for his epic fantasy The Neverending Story; other famous works include Momo and Jim Knop fund Lukas der Lokomotivführer (Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver). His works have been translated into more than 40 languages, sold more than 35 million copies, and adapted as motion pictures, stage plays, operas and audio books. Ende is one of the most popular and famous German authors of the 20th century, mostly due to the enormous success of his children’s fiction. He was not strictly a children’s writer, however, as he wrote books for adults too. Ende’s writing could be described as a surreal mixture of reality and fantasy.
Rather than make the statement that she speaks German, Elisabeth Kinsey calls herself a German enthusiast since the German language, while precise, also expands and holds layered weights of meaning. She translates German in order to join its consciousness and let it erupt inside her psyche. She holds two Creative Writing degrees and is ABD in her PhD at the University of Denver in Literary Studies. She is published in Emergency, Apogee, Wazee Journal, The Coil and more.