• U.S.

The Stage: If U Nu Pablo . . .

3 minute read

Imagine this multiple-choice question: Which of the following are modern playwrights?—Tennessee Williams, Pablo Picasso, U Nu.

1 ) None 2 ) Williams 3 ) All threeAs any master of multiple choice could detect in a flash. No. 3 is the correct answer. All three men now have plays in production—Williams in New York, Picasso in Vienna, U Nu at East Carolina College in Greenville. N.C.

Word from Plumpfoot. Picasso’s play has just opened in a pocket-sized, experimental Viennese theater. It was written in 1941, but has rarely been performed (a literarily distinguished cast headed by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir once gave it a formal reading under Albert Camus’ direction in Paris). Its title, Le Désir Attrapé par la Queue, comes out Wie man Wünsche beim Schwanz packt in German, which more or less means “How to Catch a Wish by the Tail.” Described as a surrealistic carnival revue, Artist Picasso’s play catches little else. Performed by twelve young actors, it is a disheveled stream of Freudian consciousness, generally pouring from a poet called Plumpfoot whom women cannot resist.

Laced with food, money and sex, the play gets down to the cube root of reality with such show stoppers as a Parisian policeman being eaten by a green crocodile and five pairs of detached feet singing “My chilblains! My chilblains!” Some of Picasso’s less abstract images had to be deleted before the show could get even a Jugendverbot (no kids) rating. Other scenes presented insurmountable production problems and had to be dropped. In one, the audience was supposed to look through five translucent hotel-room doors at the shadows of five apes eating the shadows of dancing carrots.

“We sprinkle the rice powder of angels on the soiled bed sheets,” says Plumpfoot at the final curtain, “and turn the mattresses through blackberry bushes! All lanterns lighted! And with all power the pigeon flocks dash into the rifle bullets! And in all bombed houses, the keys turn twice around in the locks!””Diffuse and absurd,” wrote Vienna’s Express, “grotesque and bacchantic.”

New Wages. If Picasso’s play is opaque, there is nothing obscure about The Wages of Sin, by U Nu, Prime Minister of Burma. Playwright Nu has been produced in the U.S. before—his The People Win Through was once presented at the Pasadena Playhouse in California—and U Nu is still pounding away at the same theme: the evil of Communism and how to combat it. The Wages of Sin will be given its U.S. première on the East Carolina campus this week, with a Louisianaborn history professor playing U Po Lone, a Burmese government minister who is corrupted by the Communists.

When the curtain goes up, U Po Lone is dallying with his mistress in a Rangoon pad. Before the curtain falls, he has been shot. His sad story is shot through with black-marketeering, opium smoking, booze, bribes, and prostitution.

As a statesman, Neutralist U Nu has sometimes professed to see little difference between the Communist powers and the West. But as a dramatist, he is as forthright a champion of democracy as any democrat could wish. Sample dialogue (between supporting characters):

U Tum: The way I look at it, Communism is no match for Democracy. Democracy gives man his dignity, whereas Communism bridles him like a beast. Put the two ideologies side by side before the people and they are bound to choose Democracy.

U Mone: Not if the leaders on Democracy’s side become depraved.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com