THE RUG MERCHANTS OF CHAOS

Kennedy Center New American Plays Award, 1990

51Y+ee74iBL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_“There’s a line in ‘The Rug Merchants of Chaos’ that says it all—about the desperate characters in this latest Ronald Ribman play and about the human condition as a whole: ‘Everything in our lives is hanging so delicately between tragedy and farce.’ So is Ribman’s new play…The two American couples fleeing Capetown who are the focus of this tragifarce…are among the unsung legions of the world’s business adventurers, eternal optimists who gamble with one sure-fire deal after another and usually lose… This modus vivendi has resulted in the luckless foursome losing a bundle quicker than they make it, which has taken them on golden goose chases to Panama City, Montevideo and most recently Cape Town. There, in desperation, they torched their rug business for the insurance money. Except that they bungled the job and are on the lam on a crummy Japanese tub…en route to Tasmania. Once on board the complications multiply…

“Ribman knows how to turn out strong characters and punchy one liners…But the funniest lines belong to doubting Shiela, the non-stop naysayer, panicked that she can’t ‘even remember the rhyme scheme for the Petrarchan sonnet’ and played by Fran Drescher with the urgency of a lovesick loon and a voice that’ll drill holes in your brain. The interaction among the four works like a well-oiled machine…

“The gang of four finally resolves its mounting problems with a literal leap of faith. It’s a dubious note of hope at the end, but hope is hope and Ribman is correct to find renewal in desperation.” — Sylvie Drake, The Los Angeles Times

“First rate…an often funny treatise on faith, hope and despair…an interesting and clever story.”’ — Daily Variety

“Intensely funny…A fabulous production that travels from silly farce to insight and back again with style.” — Pasadena Star News

A zany comedy…very funny!” — Hollywood Reporter

Sample Excerpt:

THE-RUG-MERCHANTS-OF-CHAOS1MAX

Let’s all calm down, shall we? Captain Nakamochi is a reasonable man. I’m sure we can work this out to everybody’s satisfaction.

CAPTAIN NAKAMOCHI

Okay, for sure. Four thousand dollars now, four thousand dollars in Tasmania.

SHEILA

Tasmania? This boat is going to Tasmania?

MAX

Can we get into that a little later, Sheila?

SHEILA

Where the fuck is Tasmania?

MAX

Not now, Sheila! Captain Nakamochi has to get his ship out of the harbor as quickly as possible! (Turning his attention back to the captain) If we pay what you’re asking we’re not going to have any money left when we arrive in Tasmania. We’re going to be stranded.

CAPTAIN NAKAMOCHI

Okay, for sure.

MAX

No! Not okay for sure! Now suppose we stick to our original agreement, plus I will throw in an additional personal bonus for you of five hundred dollars. That’s forty-five hundred dollars in all.

CAPTAIN NAKAMOCHI

You pay me seven thousand dollars and I throw in personal bonus for you— breakfast for free. Not a la carte.

MAX

Five thousand, and with all the meals.

CAPTAIN NAKAMOCHI

No other ships in harbor.

MAX

That’s my final offer, Captain. It’s quite fair.

CAPTAIN NAKAMOCHI

(Opening the door to the ship’s deck to reveal the reddened glow coming from the distant warehouse fire, and to let in the full sound of the distant fire engines) Big fire out there. Sparks fall all over Cape Town. (Gesturing at Max’s bandaged hands) You do something to your hands?

VICTOR

Yeah. He had an industrial accident.

CAPTAIN NAKAMOCHI

(Looking at the two men for a moment and then bursting out in a laugh) That very funny. I like that. Industrial accident. (Suddenly stopping his laugh) Okay. Five thousand. Food a la carte.

MAX

Included.

CAPTAIN NAKAMOCHI

Food much better when it is a la carte.

MAX

We’ll be happy to eat whatever you eat, Captain. (For a long moment Captain Nakamochi just stands there, and then, obviously deciding that he’s wrung out everything he’s going to, breaks out into another one of his false laughs. First Max, then Victor, then Annie force themselves to join in. Sheila alone doesn’t bother.)

SHEILA

Oh, pul…eeze!

CAPTAIN NAKAMOCHI

(Suddenly all business) Rest of down payment.

MAX

Give him the other five hundred dollars, Annie. (Annie takes an envelope out of her purse, and one by one lays five one hundred dollar bills in Captain Nakamochi’s outstretched hand. When the captain walks toward the door to the deck, the sky seems redder than before, the sound of the sirens even louder.) Hot time in the old town tonight. (Offering up a final laugh before exiting. Max presses his back against the door, shutting out the reddened sky and sound of the sirens from the distant fire. Victor heads over to the bar for a drink.)

VICTOR

That guy reminds me of the six inch millipede that crawled up my leg one night at Vinh Long, or Da Linh, or Phan Rang. I’m down on the ground trying to get some sleep because I haven’t slept for about two months and I feel like shit and I look like shit, when I feel this thing coming up the inside of my pant’s leg like a wave. I don’t know what the hell it is. I’m so fucking tired and I don’t even know if I’m dreaming it. (Pouring out his drink) Meanwhile, it’s rippling through my pubic hair, undulating up my groin, and I’m scared shit to move and I’m scared shit to bang down on it because I don’t think I can kill anything that size in one shot, and God knows how many fangs the fucking thing’s probably got. Pretty soon it’s up on my chest and palpating my lips with its front two hundred and fifty feet. I want to scream out and fling this thing away from me, when it rears up and looks me right in the eye. And that was when I saw it. The thing had a face! And I could tell from the way it was swiveling it around it was as lost as I was. It had black eyes and a little yellow face…and it was as lost as I was! (Swallows his drink)

SHEILA

What am I doing here? Why am I on a boat that’s going to Tasmania? My parents saved up all their life to give me a first class education with the WASP’s at Bennington. I slept in a room with a girl named Muffin who had six pairs of opera gloves, a face like diaper rash, and ended up marrying Standard Oil of New Jersey!

VICTOR

It’s all going to work out, Sheila. Stop driving yourself wacko.

SHEILA

Literature majors of the Italian Renaissance are not arsonists by nature! (Directly at her husband, Victor) Chemistry majors from Cornell are not arsonists by nature!

ANNIE

Nobody’s an arsonist by nature, Sheila.

VICTOR

(To Sheila) Will you take it easy?

SHEILA

Why? (Pointing at Max) Because that’s what he always says? “Take it easy. Take it easy” while he moves us all along like cows down the executioner’s chute? He’s not going to stop until we all end up with a three-inch bold of steel in our head! That’s the way they kill cows, you know. I read all about it in a book exposing the meat packing industry!

VICTOR

We’ve had a lousy day, Sheila, that’s all. You’ll feel better in the morning when you’ve had a good night’s sleep.

SHEILA

Nothing works out! The Big Brain’s resort business in Tampico didn’t work out! “Fix it up! Sell it to Club Med! It’s got a climate just like Cuba’s!”

VICTOR

That deal almost went through, you know that. If that hurricane didn’t come up and blow half our beach cabanas into the Gulf of Mexico…

SHEILA

“If” doesn’t do anything! “Almost” is failure. The neon light business that didn’t work out in Panama City! The synthetic perfume he had you brewing up that smelled just like Chanel No. 5 for two dollars an ounce that didn’t work out in Montevideo!

ANNIE

(Coming to the defense of her husband) It worked out good enough for you to buy a fur coat out of it!

VICTOR

That perfume was every bit as good as Chanel No. 5. There was enough profit margin there to set us up for life if women were smart enough to purchase quality instead of labels.

SHEILA

Right! And that’s the excuse for the soda syrup that was supposed to taste better than Coca-Cola, only it stuck to your teeth like epoxy and you had to have a city permit just to pour it down the sewer?

MAX

When you’re under-capitalized and forced to brew syrup formulas using milk bottles for test tubes, Sheila, these things occur. However, the truth of the matter is that any one of our business ventures could have just as easily caught fire as failed and made the four of us extremely wealthy.

SHEILA

“Caught fire?” Did anybody notice the metaphor he just used?

MAX

I think you realize as well as any of us that every business venture has a certain element of risk attached to it that must be balanced against the opportunity for decent capital appreciation. The phone didn’t work on day one for Alexander Graham Bell. The radium didn’t come out of the pitchblende on day one for Madame Curie.

SHEILA

The Dreyfus Lion speaks. The man of many disguises and situations: mining engineer and real estate developer, perfume manufacturer and salesman of the unsellable Mont Blanc Cola—the only cola in the world to have an injunction slapped against it by a pen company! (Salaaming with her hands) Whereto now, O Wise One?

MAX

Wherever it is at least it’s not going to be without our initial seed supply.

SHEILA

And what does that mean?

MAX

It means, dear Sheila, that though we may never have seen these particular seeds ripen into fruit, yet they remain intact.

SHEILA

Does anybody know what he’s talking about, because I don’t. We don’t have any seed supply, Max! You gave it all away to Captain Nakamochi!

MAX

Not quite. It’s true we would have had even more if Captain Nakamochi hadn’t unjustly seized a business opportunity and upped the ante, but what we have is not insufficient for our purposes.

VICTOR

We’ve got three thousand dollars more, Sheila.

ANNIE

It’s under the bandages. When I wrapped Max’s hands he gave it to me to put under his bandages.

SHEILA

How can we have three thousand dollars more? After we paid off Nakamochi we were supposed to be down to nothing!

VICTOR

Max pulled it out of the business the first six months, while we were still making a profit.

MAX

You see, Sheila, the average individual when faced with a difficult or seemingly insoluble problem tends to think of solutions in terms of either-or. Either I go left or right, buy or sell, up or down…

SHEILA

(Interrupting, to Victor) How long did you know about this?

VICTOR

Just this evening.

MAX

…The truth of the matter is, is that there is always at least another alternative, and most probably an infinite number of them. Faced with the choice of either distributing our initial profits or using them to expand our inventory in hopes of enlarging the business, I simply chose the unexpected alternative—I buried it in the cat’s litter box at the warehouse.

SHEILA

You kept thousands and thousand of dollars buried in that stinking urinous litter box all these years without telling anyone?

MAX

I didn’t see any reason to divulge this particular information. If the business had succeeded, the money would have been freed up. If things went the other way, our basic seed supply was secure.

SHEILA

And who gave you the right to make that decision without consulting anybody?

VICTOR

It was the right decision, Sheila. If he hadn’t put the money aside, it just would have gone down the tubes like the rest of it. We’d have nothing. At least now we can begin again.

SHEILA

And what would have happened if that goddamn cat’s urine had soaked down to the bills and eaten them up? God knows it stunk bad enough all these years.

MAX

Oh, there wasn’t any cat. There was just the litter box. I sprinkled ammonia into it every day to smell like cat urine. I always thought one of you would have asked me why the litter box was always wet when nobody ever saw a cat, but nobody did.

Available At:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Merchants-Chaos-Other-Plays/dp/1559360496
http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/17227/rug-merchants-of-chaos-and-other-plays-the
*Original first editions also often found through eBay and Coming Soon in eBook.