“Caged,” a one-act play, was produced by Sidewalks Theater, and published by several literary Magazines.
By Gary Beck
SCENE: An urban zoo, with an outdoor cage and a door leading to the indoor cage.
(Ambient zoo sounds throughout the play. Zookeeper enters. Unlocks cage door and sweeps, whistles, does a short ‘broom dance’. Visitor enters. Watches.)
Visitor: You look real happy in there.
Zookeeper: Well I’m used to it. This is my 3rd year in the big house. And
I’ll be leaving soon.
Visitor: That’s a funny thing to say. The big house. It sounds like a
Zookeeper: It is for them.
Visitor: Don’t give me that. They got a roof over their heads, good
food, medical benefits. So what if they can’t go for a bus ride.
They don’t get mugged.
Zookeeper: How would you like to be on public display eight hours a
day? Everyone gaping at you. Yelling, cursing, spitting,
throwing things, treating you like an animal. . . .
Visitor: They are animals. You’ve got a real identity problem for a
Zookeeper: I’m not a guard! Except to protect them from people just
Zookeeper: Yeah. Don’t you talk to them? Give them peanuts? Taunt
them? Dare them to come out and go a few rounds with
Visitor: I don’t do anything like that!
Zookeeper: Well something else then…? Do you have fantasies about
walking a wild beast on a leash and attracting beautiful
Visitor: You’re a weirdo. I don’t think about things like that! Besides,
what business is it of yours what I think?
Zookeeper: You started this conversation, not me.
Visitor: That wasn’t an invitation to analyze me. And I’m not like that
Zookeeper: Then why are you here? It’s probably for something cruel or
perverse. That’s why people come here. That’s why the
animals are in cages. So everyone can tease them and
gloat how superior they are.
Visitor: We are superior! We’re people. That’s why we’re out here
and they’re in there.
Zookeeper: If we were superior, we wouldn’t torture these poor brutes
with life imprisonment, just for our entertainment. Especially
when almost two million Americans are in prison for real
crimes. We don’t make a sideshow out of them.
Visitor: What are you talking about? We’re not barbarians. That’s
why everyone’s against capital punishment. That proves
we’re more civilized then the animals.
Zookeeper: If we were civilized, we’d put these poor beasts out of their
misery and show movies or television, instead of letting
people gape through the bars. But no, people have to see
what they really look like, live and miserable.
Visitor: But zoos are building natural habitats, so the animals can
live well. They’ll be happy and our children can learn about
Zookeeper: Why don’t you step into this habitat for a minute and see
what it feels like.
Visitor: No, thanks. I don’t want to get my clothes dirty, and I’ve got
an appointment soon.
Zookeeper: Didn’t you ever wonder what it would be like, looking out at
all those people? Hoping you could get your claws on
them…. Losing hope as the years go by…. Fading away….
Coughing…. Getting sick.
Visitor: That wouldn’t happen to me! I’d exercise regularly and eat
the right way.
Zookeeper: It’s not like that for them. They can’t ask to speak to the
warden, or request library privileges.
Visitor: You’re blowing it out of proportion. They’re protected at least.
What do you think would happen to them in Africa or Asia?
Someone would be making them into rugs or coats.
Zookeeper: It might be better then this. Try it. (He beckons to the visitor.)
Visitor: What are you, nuts? (encouraged by the zookeeper, he
hesitantly enters and starts inspection.) It may not be the
Waldorf, but they got a roof over their heads and they get lots
of attention…. (cage business.)
Zookeeper: Why don’t you jump up on that perch and see what it feels
Visitor: That’s crazy (He starts to exit.)
Zookeeper: You’re here already and nobody’s watching. You’ll never get
another chance like this.
Visitor: I feel stupid.
Zookeeper: Try to imagine what you would feel like if you were a tiger,
curled up there, watching, waiting, twitching your
tail…. Springing down on the weak, helpless men…. (the
visitor slowly mounts the perch, assuming a cat pose.)
Sinking your teeth into them…. Tearing off a piece of meat….
Padding off to a quiet, concealed place, to eat without
anyone watching. (The zookeeper slowly goes to the cage
door and slips out.)
Visitor: What’re you doing? (He starts to get up.) I don’t want to stay
Zookeeper: Neither does the tiger.
Visitor: He’s just an animal!
Zookeeper: I know. (He locks cage.)
Visitor: This isn’t funny!
Zookeeper: I know.
Visitor: Let me out!…. (The zookeeper starts to exit. The lights
slowly fade.) Come back here!…. Help! Somebody get me
out of here. Help! Where are you going?
Zookeeper: Inside. To see if the tiger wants to visit you.