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  • A Silver Dish
  • Joanne Koch (bio)

Adapted with the author's permission from the short story.

"A Silver Dish" © 1978 by Saul Bellow. All rights reserved.

"The Old System" © 1967 by Saul Bellow. All rights reserved.

Stage adaptations by Joanne Koch and Sarah Blacher Cohen.

Presented with "The Old System," adapted by Sarah Blacher Cohen, as "Saul Bellow's Stories on Stage" as a staged reading directed by Byrne Piven at the Chicago Writers' Bloc New Play Festival with support from the Dramatists Guild Fund, Inc. in 1996; at the New York State Writer's Institute, University at Albany, 1994; at the Barbara Streisand Festival in San Diego in 1995; as a staged reading at the Florida Atlantic University Library Series in 2000; at The Egg Center For the Performing Arts in Albany, New York, in a memorial performance directed by Rebecca Kaplan and sponsored by SUNY Hillel in 2005; as a staged reading at the Spertus Institute in Chicago and at the Milwaukee Public Library in 2005, both presentations directed by Sandy Shinner.

CAST OF CHARACTERS

WOODY SELBST………………………………expansive, likeable man of sixty

YOUNG WOODY……………………………teenager shuttling between sex and the seminary

MRS. SKOGLUND……………………………wealthy, Swedish widow, once a cook

WOODY'S MOTHER………………………………English woman with Victorian airs (doubles as NURSING MOTHER at the fair) [End Page 202]

POP……………………………………………loveable con man, zesty, crude, unpretentious

REVEREND DOCTOR KOVNER…………a Polish Pat Robertson (doubles as FARMER)

WOODY'S AUNT REBECCA………………suspicious, smart wife of Rev. Kovner (doubles as OLD PROSTITUTE, MAID HJORDIS)

TIME: 1980 & 1932

PLACE: Chicago

Note on accents: Woody's mother and Aunt Rebecca were born and raised in England. Woody's father was born and raised in Russia, spent his adolescence in Liverpool and has since hung out in pool halls and betting parlors in Chicago. Reverend Kovner has Polish accent, suggested by the "v" for "w." Mrs. Skoglund came from Sweden as a young girl and retains her accent. Suggestions of these rhythms, rather than any attempt to simulate thick accents works best.

WOODY SELBST, a man of about sixty, a warm teddy bear of a guy, paces in a hospital waiting room, pauses to look out a window, listening to the distant sound of church bells.

Woody

(to audience) I can't go back to Pop's room just yet. For weeks now, every time I see him, I think, this could be the last time. What can I do?

SOUND OF CHURCH BELLS RINGING

What do you do about death? Be realistic. There's not much you can do.

We're not much better at dealing with it than, well, water buffaloes, like the ones I watched in Africa.

I'm a tile contractor with plenty of responsibility, believe me—a wife here, a mistress there, a mother, two sisters that don't exactly play with a full deck… and a father who may not last out the day. (He casts a somber glance back to the window.)

But once a year, I get away. I go far—Japan, Mexico, Africa. It was on a launch near the Murchison Falls in Uganda, I saw a buffalo calf seized by a crocodile from the bank of the White Nile. (He gets into the telling of the story, moving downstage.)

There were giraffes along the river, and hippopotamuses, and baboons and flamingos and other brilliant birds crossing the bright air in the heat of the morning, when the calf, stepping into the river to drink, was grabbed by the hoof and dragged down. The parent buffaloes couldn't figure it out. Under the water [End Page 203] the calf still thrashed, fought, churned the mud. It looked to me as if the parents were asking each other dumbly what had happened. They were just animals, but I believe they felt grief.

SOUND OF CHURCH BELLS RINGING

Woody

(listening for a moment) Sunday… Bells. I have plenty of connections with bells and churches.

Technically, I was born a Jew, but when I was still a kid our whole family—except for Pop—was converted by my uncle, the Reverend Doctor Kovner. Kovner had gone to the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, but then, I guess he got...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-5077
Print ISSN
0271-9274
Pages
pp. 202-236
Launched on MUSE
2010-11-07
Open Access
No
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