Do Not Pass Go

Ulrike Syha

Illustration by Monika Grubizna


All dialogue in the play is compulsory.
All other text may be spoken as desired, if it appears to make sense to do so.
The words in the footnotes are not necessarily tied to their footnote markers and can be moved freely to later in the play or left out entirely.
The Au Pair speaks with no accent, and displays no outward signs of Baltic character or local colour.
Animals have no place on the stage and should not appear, please.

Once Upon a Summertime
A garden with left-of-centre tendencies, featuring both AU PAIR1 and Pond2.
On the garden table: a Monopoly set. Next to the Pond: a red toy tractor.
Sitting around the table: the family.

HERR SCHUSTER:  It was in the year 1934 . . .

The Patriarch is enthroned at the head of the table.3
The Patriarch has the rules of Monopoly in his hand, and a firm grip on the situation.

HERR SCHUSTER:  . . . that Charles B Darrow, an American from Pennsylvania, first presented a game by the name of "Monopoly" to the senior management of the Parker Brothers company.

THE WIFE stifles a yawn.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  He's not going to come after all, is he?

HERR SCHUSTER:  Despite an initial brush-off on the grounds that the game contained no fewer than fifty-two fundamental errors, Darrow persisted with his idea. In common with many of his fellow Americans, he was unemployed at the time . . .

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Not once in his entire life will he actually drag his miserable carcase over here.

With some vehemence, THE MOTHER-IN-LAW extinguishes one of her hand-rolled cigarettes in the ashtray.4 THE WIFE allows her gaze to rest for some time on the stubbed-out remains.

HERR SCHUSTER:  . . . So it was that he decided to undertake the manufacture under his own steam of this most exciting of games, a game of Property and High Finance.

Kicks off with a bang, don't you think? Inspirational. Success story straight from the grand old days of Capitalism.

THE WIFE:  It seems to me, we can probably dispense with the introductory notes and so forth, Georg.

HERR SCHUSTER:  Dispense with.

THE WIFE:  My hunch is we have all played Monopoly at least once.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Personally, I have never played Monopoly in my life.

THE WIFE:  That is not strictly speaking true.

A wind moves through the leaves of the shrubbery5 that encircles the patio.
From the next-door garden comes the howling of a dog.

HERR SCHUSTER:  Fine. As you please. In that case, we shall dispense with the historical context.

THE WIFE:  All I said was . . .

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Historical context. You sound exactly like that old bastard. Mr Head of Department. That is to say, my former husband. And yet you only married into the family, didn't you. That's what I always thought. I always thought I had only given birth to that one there. Oh, and the other one.

THE SISTER-IN-LAW shudders perceptibly as THE MOTHER-IN-LAW points at her.

THE WIFE:  Karin, I thought we had agreed . . .

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Incidentally, where are the children?

And the dog howls for a second time.6

THE WIFE:  Sleeping.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  At this hour?

THE WIFE:  Well, they're children, you see.7

In response to the trigger-word "children," THE AU PAIR, who, despite the fact that the sun has long since set has up to this point been ensconced on a sun-lounger by the Pond clad only in a bikini, raises her sunglasses a fraction and casts in the direction of THE WIFE, from beneath those large, mirror lenses, a look of transfixing intensity.
THE WIFE returns this look.
There is a rustling in the bushes8 that encircle the patio.
THE AU PAIR replaces the sunglasses9 on her nose.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  And have the children not asked after their grandmother?



THE WIFE:  "Grandmother" is a lexical item which perhaps understandably seldom makes its way into their active vocabularies.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  There are many wrongs in the world. One cannot simply spend one's entire time looking after one's family.

THE WIFE:  No. One cannot.

In the next-door garden, someone begins to fill a couple of watering-cans with water. For a time, we hear only the sound of running water. And someone humming a vaguely familiar melody.
A child laughs somewhere. Briefly. Abruptly.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Not once in his life will he come to this house.

The tap is shut off.

Not once in his life will he muster the energy to prise himself out of his ivory tower, slither out of his intellectual hermit's shell.

HERR SCHUSTER sighs and plunges back into his reading of the Rules.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Out of the snuggery of his stupid male ego.


THE WIFE:  Karin.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  What? What? I'm here, aren't I? Keeping my side of the bargain. I'm here.

Not here, on the other hand, is my ex-husband.

THE WIFE:  I'm sure he'll be with us in a minute.

Without warning, THE SISTER-IN-LAW stands up, causing her chair to screech across the terracotta tiles of the patio.
Everyone looks at her.
Nothing further occurs.
She sits down again.

HERR SCHUSTER:  Fine. On the basis of my wife's unilateral consensus decision, we shall be skipping the introduction and launching ourselves in medias res.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  No Latin, please.

HERR SCHUSTER:  Who's helping me sort out the bank?

THE WIFE:  I'll do it.

THE WIFE casts a long and tortured look in the direction of the Pond.

HERR SCHUSTER makes no attempt to pass her the Monopoly set. She in turn makes no attempt to pull it across the table towards her.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Not once in his life will he come to this house.

I mean, just venturing into the street has always been a bit of a challenge for him. Venturing out, after all, even in the most private sense of the word, requires a certain resolution. A certain enthusiasm.

And if we're honest with ourselves, even back in the eighties, the man was devoid of enthusiasm in all walks of life.

THE WIFE continues to look towards the Pond.

At least, as regards anything going on beyond the walls of his little snuggery.

HERR SCHUSTER:  The snuggery of his stupid male ego.

Oh, I'm so sorry. It's just I rather liked the phrase.10

THE WIFE:  That is not strictly speaking true.

HERR SCHUSTER:  I beg your pardon?

THE WIFE:  I mean I wouldn't know where to start if I tried to count up quite how many demos and protest marches we'd been on with Daddy and you.

Without saying anything, THE SISTER-IN-LAW pulls the Monopoly set towards her, and begins putting the bank notes in piles.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  True. But not because he could actually muster any enthusiasm for the demos themselves.

The enthusiasm was for me. That was the only thing that dragged him into the whole No Nukes business.

THE WIFE rolls her eyes.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Spare me the groans, darling—men in general at the time were really quite enthusiastic about me. Persistently so.

Not in itself such a huge surprise. I was somewhat slimmer, after all, was endowed with somewhat longer hair, and, speaking of endowment . . .

THE SISTER-IN-LAW:  Mummy, please.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Now what's the matter?

THE WIFE casts a long and tortured look in the direction of the Pond. Where THE AU PAIR continues to lounge. THE AU PAIR does not look up from the magazine11 she is engaged in reading.12

THE WIFE:  Karin, I thought we had agreed . . .

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Yes, yes, I understand. The protectress of house and hearth would prefer it if the conversation were not to take a turn for the permissive.

As if suddenly revolted, THE SISTER-IN-LAW pushes the Monopoly box away from her.
Everyone looks at her.
Nothing further occurs.

THE WIFE:  Good guess. Quite right. The protectress of house and hearth would prefer exactly that.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  I trust that's not some sort of sore point with Madame La Civil Engineer. My rather medieval limitation of your role to house and hearth?

THE WIFE:  I don't mind in the slightest.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Just as I thought.

A group of children on bicycles rides by, along the cul de sac behind the box trees.13 We hear no voices. Only the ringing of bicycle bells.
And again the wind14 moves through the leaves.

HERR SCHUSTER:  Right then. The Rules of the Game.

There is a rustling in the bushes.15

THE WIFE:  The suspense is killing us.

HERR SCHUSTER:  The Monopoly board . . .

None of the women is looking at him. THE MOTHER-IN-LAW is looking at THE WIFE. THE WIFE casts another long and tortured look in the direction of the Pond. And THE SISTER-IN-LAW stares fixedly at the stainless steel pepper grinder 16 which has been standing all this time on the table in front of her.
The table has not otherwise been set.

Board, dice, banknotes, property cards, Chance cards, Community Chest . . .

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  You really missed your pedagogical calling.

HERR SCHUSTER:  The goal of the game is to become the sole player to avoid bankruptcy.

He raises a finger.

That is to say . . .

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  That is to say, one is obliged to drive everyone else into the gutter.

What a charming game. A thorough preparation for life out there in the Market Economy. You play it with your children too, I imagine, Valerie?

THE WIFE:  My children . . .

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  I mean as a business woman you are doubtless familiar with such things in any case. Cutbacks, bullying, involuntary redundancy . . .

THE WIFE:  It's just a game.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Of course it is. What else could it be, darling?

Herr Schuster continues his impeccable and entirely unappreciated preparations for the game.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Had the pair of you ever snuck such a pile of amoral, Capitalist nonsense into my house, I'd have whipped you within an inch of your lives.

THE SISTER-IN-LAW:  And there I was thinking you were opposed to authoritarian upbringings.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  I'm sorry? Did you say something?

THE SISTER-IN-LAW:  Me? No. No. I'm not even here.

From the next-door garden comes once more the howling of the dog.

THE WIFE:  I'm not so sure. You'd have to have actually been at home, too, wouldn't you? To whip us within an inch of our lives.

Let's get started.

HERR SCHUSTER:  Good. The rules are apparently familiar to all of us. No time limit on the game, and in the event that the Bank goes bust . . .

THE SISTER-IN-LAW:  The Bank can't go bust.


HERR SCHUSTER:  In the event that the Bank goes bust, there will be no quantitative easing. No printing, no cutting out with scissors. None of that stuff. And no property auctions either.


HERR SCHUSTER:  Because it's stupid.

THE WIFE:  I have no idea what you're talking about.

Somewhere in a neighbouring house, the telephone begins to ring. It rings at length, insistently. No one answers it.
And again the wind moves through the leaves.

HERR SCHUSTER:  Who wants to be what?

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  I have really no idea, Valerie, why you got it into your head that we should spend the evening playing some parlour game.

THE WIFE:  We are not here for the parlour game. We are here because you have an appointment with your ex-husband, who coincidentally is also my father.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Not to mention the father of that one there.

Again, THE SISTER-IN-LAW shudders perceptibly as THE MOTHER-IN-LAW points in her direction.

At least, that's what it says in the paperwork.

THE WIFE:  . . . However, since the gentleman in question has not yet put in an appearance . . .

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  No, but in all seriousness. We could also use the time to have an actual conversation. Other families do this too.

HERR SCHUSTER:  It's just a rumour, if you ask me.

THE WIFE:  You know perfectly well what happens when we attempt to have a conversation.

The next-door-neighbour, who until now has been watering the lettuce that grows hard by the garden fence, chooses this moment to switch on his electric hedge-trimmer.

HERR SCHUSTER:  Oh, Hallelujah. Sunday wouldn't be Sunday . . . It's like going to church, or watching The X Factor. Hübner fires up the hedge trimmer.

How about you, Luize? Do you want to play too?

THE AU PAIR removes her sunglasses and turns upon HERR SCHUSTER a look of transfixing intensity. 17
Then without a word, she replaces the sunglasses on her nose and leans back.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Since when do you go to church?

HERR SCHUSTER:  That was by way of a metaphor.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Well, thank Christ for that.

HERR SCHUSTER:  I'm a writer, you know.

THE WIFE:  Yes, so we are informed.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  It is not clear to me quite why this family has quite such a hard time with communication. Communication is essential to the effective functioning of society. Of our lives. To the effective functioning of our infamous parliamentary democracy. Given its existence, there would appear to be an obligation of some kind to make the best of it.

Well looky-here, now. Just for a change, the little one looks as if it may well have pepped itself up by indulging in the consumption of a couple of precautionary gin and tonics.


THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  After all, the prospect looms of an evening of interpersonal communication.
Uninhibited, open communication is a positive thing, children. You should thank me, really, that you were spared an upbringing in a totalitarian state.

HERR SCHUSTER:  Why's that, then? Had you been planning to emigrate to North Korea?

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  I'll come to you in a second, Georg.

THE WIFE:  Please dispose of your cigarette ash in the ashtray. Not on the ground. The children . . .

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  It seems to me we should use this lovely Sunday evening to put in some practice in the field of free and open domestic conversation.

THE WIFE:  The children play on the ground.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  We could start, for instance, by inquiring of your sister here how her thesis for her Masters is coming along.

THE SISTER-IN-LAW:  Doctorate.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Oh? What a very long way we seem to have come, don't we? Doctorate, no less. No doubt your father is extremely proud of you.

THE SISTER-IN-LAW:  You can ask him later.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  He's never going to turn up.

In any case, I am quite sure he is proud of you. In the old days, people engaged politically. They opposed. They arose. These days the younger generation just sits at its desk in the University; it sits in its ivory tower, as furnished by its fathers, and earns its living doing research on civil obedience.

THE SISTER-IN-LAW:  Civil disobedience.

The hedge-trimmer is switched off.

It's not a crime to be a sociologist.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Sociologette. I have the impression we have somehow returned emancipation ad acta.

HERR SCHUSTER:  No Latin, please.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Understandable, I suppose. It was a superfluous idea in the first place.

HERR SCHUSTER:  Fine. Let's see now. What have we got? Two dice, thirty-two houses—I hope—and . . . hmm . . . I have this odd feeling I may already have posed this question. Who wants to be what?

THE WIFE:  Just give me any old piece.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  There are untold numbers of things on this earth worth fighting for.

THE SISTER-IN-LAW:  Yes. We know. And, in your eyes, both Valerie and I have failed the whole way down the line.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Well, let's not forget Charles Dickens here, either.

HERR SCHUSTER:  Don't be fooled by my disguise. I'm a sleeper.

THE WIFE:  Oh, Georg.

To the right of the pond, but still inside the garden, a couple of cats embark on a catfight. For a while, all eyes are on the cats.

translated from the German by Neil Fleming

1. It was my hope that her introduction would represent an improvement. An organizational improvement. For all of us. In reality, however, it just made everything more complicated.

2. As to the origins of the Pond, she was of the opinion that we needed one.

3. The Patriarch, of course, is me.

4. In point of fact, the ashtray is a collector's item. A collector's item from the fifties, and a relic of the days when we were still smokers, Valerie and I. Ah, those were the days.

5. Box trees. They are box trees. I planted them myself.

6. Stupid mutt. I have a theory, incidentally, about dogs and their owners.

7. More on my canine theories anon.

8. They are box . . .

9. Curious. The sunglasses in question exactly resemble those of my wife. On the other hand, my wife has a large number of pairs of sunglasses. I wonder how I might set about . . .

10. I'm a writer, you know. I write . . .

11. "Literary Affairs"

12. Hold on. That's my magazine.

13. They are . . .

14. The wind is too loud.

15. And then there are the colours. Too green, too garish, too saturated. They make my eyes swim. But then my eyes have been swimming ever since we moved here. I am quite certain that somewhere out there, somewhere amongst the hedges and the flowers and the shrubbery . . . something is hidden, something lurks . . .

16. I see my wife has been catalogue-shopping again.

17. That day, the day we picked Luize up at the airport. I still thought it was true. It would be an improvement. An organisational improvement. But in reality it just made everything more complicated.