Image © by Biba Kayewich
©By Karen Malpede
(Euripides insisted on giving voice to the victims: The magnitude of the crimes were such only
those who suffered injustice at the hands of power and brute force retained the moral authority to
Above the stage, the GODDESS PLAGUE paces.
PLAGUE: I woke from my deep slumber in my cave. The Goddess Profit called. She who
clutches at the hearts of human creatures, driving them to heights unimaginable by every other
living thing who clings to earth in all humility. Alone, increasingly isolate, the human person
slaved to Profit knows no bounds.
The GODDESS PROFIT enters
PLAGUE: Why have you commanded me to come?
PROFIT: You speak well, Plague. Plus, I know you expected my summons here, alert in your
deep sleep, yet dream-life awake to humans’ gross missteps.
PROFIT: And now your time has come to sweep away the misconceptions plaguing those I, the
Goddess Profit, gifted with the rights of exploitation. They have gone too far. They are on the
verge, though most cannot conceive it yet, their minds balk, stop, go dark. Great goddess Gaia
who watches over all has herself called halt, reminded me of limits which my people have forgot.
Gaia sent me here and sent wild beasts to wake you up. My people will learn or be destroyed.
This is Gaia’s will. Before they turn her earth to dust.
PLAGUE: And you concur? You will ruin your own? You who let them go so far, devouring?
PROFIT: I shall. Profit bonds with no god but Greed. But we are tired now. We’ve done our
work and proved our point. Humankind’s insatiable.
PLAGUE: You know, I too, am limitless, without compassion, wily and will stop at nothing.
PROFIT: In these ways, my people emulate you and will blindly follow where you lead.
PLAGUE: Then they shall learn. But what they learn remains as always up to them. I will do the
work of Fate as Gaia asks, Free Will remains loyal to humankind, just as you, Profit, have adored
the grasping fools, and Free Will may save them yet.
The gods depart.
HECUBA rises from the dust:
HECUBA: Rise stricken head, from the dust. Lift up the throat. This is my city, my city, which
once was great, but my city is no more. Stricken by pestilence and plague, its people cower and
shake, they tremble in their beds, afraid to leave their homes. Only those who must survive by
doing work others disdain dare go out into the pestilence stricken air there to sicken and die,
convulse and choke on their own bile. My city, which was once a light, a beacon, a great gift, has
fallen. The wealthy flee; the poor remain. And I, who once had the run of this city, who came to
greatness here among these people, who rose on the strength of my own actions, words,
conviction, who broke convention, invented who I was, all I loved is gone. I am left alone to
grieve, aged, unwanted and despised.
A BOY rides a motorized bicycle onto the stage and circles the kneeling woman. He holds a
BOY: I go to set the Amazon on fire. Why not. It’s a job like any other. The pay is better than
working in a taco joint. What’s a few less trees, more or less. A few less Indians, too, driven
from their homes, their land ablaze while I’m long gone without a trace. The world is new. Get
out of my way, old woman, I won’t listen to your pleas. Why should I stop, now? Why should I
ever stop? Opportunity awaits the lucky few, the industrious who rise by their own wills, their
actions, guts. The Amazon will burn but I’ll be rich.
Two LOVERS covered in plastic with masks and goggles, rise from the earth on separate sides of
the stage. They struggle to speak to one another through their plastic sheeting.
#1: I wanted to say.
#2: Wanted to
#1: Forgive. I
#2: Forgive you
# 1: I do.
#2: Me, too.
#1: Love, I tried
#2: I did, but
#1: The line finked out.
#2: Crackled and stopped.
#1: Please don’t, not yet
#2: I’m back.
#1: Please, stay.
#2: I’ll try.
#1: Thank you.
#2: For all that you…
#1: Yes, of course. I…
#2: I didn’t know, I couldn’t say, not then.
#1: Now, I can. At last. Don’t leave me now.
#2: Will say, I am. I was, is, will be. I tried.
#1: Me, too. I did.
#2: Please. Stay.
#1: Don’t fear. It’s only death. Come gently to steal your breath.
The plastic coated LOVERS sink back to the earth.
A huge FISH flaps its way onto the stage, and flaps around a bit, in distress, until it gives a final
gasp. The old woman comes to the fish and sits next to it, stroking its head.
HECUBA: There, there, here, let me, hush, now, hush.
She reaches inside the FISH’s mouth and begins to pull pieces of plastic from its mouth and she
works a straw free from its nose.
HECUBA: Dear, dear. Dear fish.
FISH: Beached, bitched. At first you think how delicious, then how convenient. World cuisine
inside a bag. No fuss, no struggle, no mess. Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, Italian cheese,
sausage, fish, even, without the chase. At first, you want it all, straws, soda pop tops. Ravenous.
At first, you think this is life, plenty for the taking, the gulping, grasping, diabetes, heart disease,
lungs, the lungs give out, choke on themselves. At first, it tastes so great. You decide nothing bad
will happen to you, anyway, so what, you might as well as enjoy. You gasp and you choke.
Some nice animal rescue folks clean you out. You go viral, the straw in the nose, the stomach
pumped. Then what. You get tossed back into it all, if you have luck, if you’ve been saved, you
get thrown back in to swim away. Where is away, you ask yourself. Where is the other side of
this, where the calm blue, cleaned by coral wreaths bleached out, skeletons in the sea. You could
swim and nibble on things, your mother could, hers before her and back into eons of ocean,
before plastic, say the word. Say it loud. Plastic. I cannot breathe. If I cannot neither can you.
That is tragic irony. I’m just a fish. Get used to it.
The CHORUS marches in from two sides of the stage, young black, white, brown students,
wearing masks. Above their heads, they hold pieces of cardboard boxes on which “BLM” is
written in black marker.
CHORAL SONG: How do you spell racist?
Now how do you spell racist?
NYPD, suck my dick.
I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.
We, the youth, just want to say,
Fuck the racist police.
No justice. No peace.
Shot in the back.
Shot with his hands up.
Knee on his neck.
Eight-minutes, forty-six seconds.
The CHORUS kneels. They hold up cellphones that play the video of George Floyd’s death, for 8
minutes and 46 seconds.
TALTHYBIUS, a rooky police officer, appears, in uniform, pacing around the crowd. The
CHORUS stands and leaves.
ANDROMACHE (enters, her child strapped to her back): We are homeless, mother. Where do I
go? Where sleep with my child at night.
HECUBA: You must give him up, take the work they offer, go with the man who wants you,
who has money who can pay. Leave the boy with me. I am old. People drop coins as they walk
by. Necessity is harsh, my daughter. Once we lived inside, had a roof, a refrigerator. Once we
worked, nine, ten hours a day, cleaning up their messes, emptying their garbage, scrubbing their
toilet bowls, but we survived. We went home at night to our own house, fed our own children,
read to them, tucked them in. No longer. Our city, ours, has fallen. Its people become slaves to
bitter circumstance. Plagues haunt us now.
TALTHYBIUS: Someone else, not me, should bring this news. Someone hardened, longtime
on the force. Boot in the face. I should not be the one, rookie, new to this, proving myself, who
has to say, who has to tell her: I’ve come for your son. Give him to me.
Andromache: Never. I will carry my boy on my back forever. Never will I give up this child.
TALTHYBIUS: Resisting arrest.
(HE pulls the BOY from ANDROMACHE’s back and wrestles with him. THEY struggle. Finally,
he gets his knee on his neck.)
ELIJAH: I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house.
I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun.
I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me. I don’t even kill flies! I
don’t eat meat! But I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to was
become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity. I’ll do it. You are
phenomenal. You are beautiful. And I love you. Try to forgive me. I’m a mood Gemini. I’m
sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You are all very strong. Team work makes the dream
work. (crying)…oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to do that. I can’t breathe correctly.
TALTHYBIUS: (Shoots ELIJAH seven times in the back. HE drags the body off stage):
Someone else should do this work. Not me.
ANDROMACHE(cries out after them): Are you so weak? So frightened of a gentle boy?
Criminals. Criminals from the top. Who orders such a murder? Who fails to stop it? Who
destroys with hate? And why?
The CHORUS enters, from two sides of the stage, split in two; CHORUS # 1 wears MAGA hats
and t-shirts. They have padded bellies and large penises, which they hold. CHORUS #2 wears
masks and medical scrubs. They hold stethoscopes
CHORUS #1: Praise, praise be our noble leaders who have presided over victory. Miracle cures.
Bleach. Take off your masks, throw them away. Sing. Sing. We are free people. Free.
CHORUS #2: Mask yourself. Freedom is caring for others. Freedom is protecting our
connections. Web of life. My mask prevents your death.
CHORUS #1: Pussies, Sissies. Real men don’t wear masks. There is no disease, there is no
contagion, the Dow Jones overcomes all illness. Eat, drink, spend, go to the casinos, the bars,
racetracks, fireworks, open up.
CHORUS #2: The science says we must stop community spread. Stay at home. Don’t go out. Put
on a mask. Protect those you do not know. Wash your hands. Honor the dead.
CHORUS #1: There is no disease. You’ve been sold a load of bull. They will implant
microchips. Their vaccine is poison. Anarchists. They will force it on you. They want complete
control. Do not listen to the experts, what do they know.
CHORUS#2: Look at the numbers. Listen to the science, the scientists. They tell us our world is
burning up. They say the virus spreads invisibly in the air we breathe. They tell us sea level is
rising. Storms becoming more intense. Food supply at risk. They tell us to stay safe.
CHORUS #1: God will provide. If you believe their lies, you lack faith in the divine. You want
to live in fear? Not me. I will be free. Made in the creator’s image. Go where I please. Pass me a
CHORUS #2: We do God’s work. If not us, who? If not now, when? We are God’s hands. We
work with one another for the greater good. Masked, at home, apart, we are One.
(KASSANDRA appears, holding blazing torches)
KASSANDRA: Don’t fear, mother, women whose wombs
Are used for cannon fodder, whose black children
Die on the street, their bodies left, while by-standers
Moan, or are shot in their beds, I will take them down.
A virus I shall become, a pox, I shall be merciless
Rip through the same people I wish to protect
To get at the rest, those who deny my power
Will find their own bloated bodies diseased,
Will struggle to breathe, finally, choke,
Drown, unable even to beg, stalked by
Their own minds, terrified.
Lost, alone utterly, without sense. No one
Shall comfort them. So, do you not see, do not
Fear my fate, a slave-girl, a princess once,
Prophetess, I shall have our revenge. Be
Joyful, then, Sing, Sing. They are done.
Their pride has undone them, a virus shall
Claim them. Watch them writhe, plead,
To no god who will intervene. “God’s
Breathing system,” they cry, refusing to mask
Themselves against me. “I will be free.”
While I, the freest of all creatures on earth
Worm my way into them on a cough,
On a sniff, a kiss, so rejoice, Mother, dear,
They are undone. They will find themselves
In the dust, without aid, their healers
Dead, wasted, crazed. Doctors will put guns
To their own heads. Nurses jump.
Lift up your frail self from the dust,
To sing a song of triumph with me.
Mother, they have destroyed themselves
Have consumed themselves to death.
All their bombs useless to stop me
Their plagues they caused
Will destroy them utterly.
TALTHYBUIS (returns): Quiet, Kassandra. She is going to the great leader. She has been
claimed by him. His concubine.
HECUBA: He has a wife. Leave the poor, mad girl here.
KASSANDRA: No, mother, I go willing. Willingly to spit on him.
Bring him down. The plague I bear will be his undoing.
Let me go, to his demise, singing.
The CHORUS enters.
CHORUS: I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe without delight. I can’t
breathe without scent, flowers, turmeric, sweat. I can’t breathe without you at my side. My hand
in yours. I can’t breathe unless you take your knee off of my neck. Unless you stop. I can’t
breathe without love. I can’t breathe no more of this hate. I can’t breathe with virus in my lungs.
I can’t breathe unless I stand up. I can’t breathe without help. Take my hand, heart, story. I can’t
stop. I won’t stop dancing in the street, playing the violin. I wanted to go home. I want to be at
home. I want to walk free. I want to breathe. I want we. You, me, I, they, thou, us somehow. I
am you. We are we. Air is free. Take your chemicals out of my air. Give me breath. Let me
breathe. Be. I, you, we. We can’t breathe.
The CHORUS collapses.
Two WOMEN DOCTORS rise from the dust. Exhausted. The marks from wearing masks for
many hours show on their faces.
WD 1: Last night
WD2: I know
WD1: I really thought.
WD2: We have nothing for them.
WD1: He’d make it through.
WD2: I thought so, too.
WD1: But this morning, he wasn’t even on the chart.
WD2: I didn’t dare ask.
WD1: What good would it do to know.
WD2: I have a woman, young
WD2: Her family wanted to pray. I held the phone. They prayed but not just for her. They
wanted to pray for the medical staff taking care of her.
WD2: She’s not going to make it. (pause) Such a nice family.
WD1: I haven’t been able to sleep at all.
WD1: Then, last night, it was like I passed out. For seven hours I slept. Not even a dream
WD1: I woke up. For a minute, I thought, then it hit.
WD2: She won’t be there when I go in today. Want to bet.
WD2: There’s this kid. This security guard. He takes the clothing, the jewelry, the wedding
rings, the cell phones, he puts them in a plastic bag then into the closet with a name tag. I ask
him sometimes how he is. He’s about nineteen. He said to me, “I always check their ages.
They’re young, a lot of them.”
WD1: In truth. We have no idea how to treat this disease.
WD2: We’ve got nothing for them.
The CHORUS rises.
CHORUS: Once, we lived with abandon in this city
That was our home. We have come from many places
That would not let us live. We were chased, or ran, we
Came of our free will to live in a crush next to others
We did not know. Once, we pushed and shoved, helped,
Gave of ourselves, laughed, took the chance, dodged,
Grabbed what we wanted, what we craved. Once, we
Stepped over, around, or stopped to offer a hand, carried
Someone else’s stroller up the subway stairs, someone
Else’s child smiling in our eyes, silver saliva bubbling
From her mouth. Once we waved our fists and marched, spilled
Out into the streets to yell for justice. The knee on the neck.
Once we knelt in crowds, for eight minutes and 46 seconds,
Inside our heads, the same images, the same nightmare horror,
The sorrow for the one not us who is us, ours, one of us
Without breath, the tube down the throat, sedate, “you will
Probably die; this is your last chance.” “Please, I can’t breathe.”
Once, someone masked held the iphone to the bed.
“Mama,” we cried. Once, Breonna and Sandra smiled.
Once we hugged strangers, friends, once,
We laughed in one another’s faces, traded bites, shared drinks,
Dreams, changed lovers, gender, careers. Once
We loved with abandon, tried not to use plastic, eat well,
Exercise so we might live to do whatever we wished with
Whomever we chose. Once, if we thought about all that we had
We thought it was not enough, not quite what we hoped, but
We were sure, next year, around the next corner, the break,
The new life, the success. Once, we stopped sometimes
To give thanks.
HECUBA: People of Troy, here we stand on a mountain of dead.
City of Troy, your last sad people embrace you now.
Author’s note: Much of the language in this play was found: on the street while participating in
the protests, from an essential worker student and other medical professionals, by reading
newspapers, listening to interviews, and reworked from memory. Elijah McClain’s last words are
Troy Too was written because the director and theater historian, Avra Sidiropoulou invited me to
be the only American theater maker in her edited collection Staging 21st Century Tragedies:
Theatre, Politics and Global Crisis, to be published by Routledge in 2021. Avra said I could
write an essay or a short play. New York had just gone into lockdown and I had been rereading
Euripides, whose rage at the Greek annihilation of Melos inspired his play. “In candor, one can
hardly call The Trojan Women a good piece of work, but it seems nevertheless to be a great
tragedy,” Richard Lattimore’s summation gave me the permission to be messy and furious.
I didn’t write the play to be staged but once Avra received the script, we began making plans to
realize it as an international collaboration between our two theater companies, Theater Three
Collaborative, based in New York, and Avra’s Persona Theatre, based in Athens. This
production will be an animated youtube version with actor’s voices and drawings by Biba
–Karen Malpede, New York City, 2020