Meshiekh in amerike

[Messiah in America]



Act I. The offices of shyster producer Menakhem-Yozef. Menakhem-Yozef and his assistant, Jackie Bluffer trying to come up with an attraction for the coming theatrical season. The main thing: it should make a racket. After rejecting a spitter, a woman who can swallow her teeth and the Swedish ballet, they hit on a plan to bring the Messiah and cast Jackie’s uncle Reb Simkhe in the role. Reb Simkhe’s long beard and green-horn naivete make him a shoe-in. Menakhem-Yozef brings in the press—three farcical reporters—and when word hits the streets—“Extra! Extra! Messiah in America!”—a crowd gathers seeking redemption. Jackie and Menakhem-Yozef induce the crowd to give money, watches, jewelry. Reb Simkhe who is in poor health is overcome by the piety of the crowd and the cynicism of the ploy and collapses. The crowd is left in mourning while Menakhem-Yozef and Jackie enjoy their newly swindled booty.

Act II. The Coney Island sideshow of Menakhem-Yozef ’s competitor Mr. Zipkin, aka, Scoundrel Johnnie. Flossie—who was Menakhem-Yozef ’s secretary in Act I— is now working at the side-show. She casually mentions that some “guy from Kovno” stole her honor and she’s suing him for $30,000 after which she is attached to a broom and floats in mid-air to attract a crowd. We meet a drunken preacher spewing bigotry and spoiling Sunday, the best day for business in Coney Island. After he’d driven off, we see the sideshow freaks and attractions almost all of whom are fakes from the “Indian” who can’t come in because it’s his father’s yortsayt (death anniversary) to the “Hindu Fakir” who speaks gibberish but turns out to be from Minsk. Moyshe Nadir takes this as an opportunity to condemn racist attitudes and practices by portraying the historical game “Hit the Nigger”. Ultimately, the crowd feel cheated when “their” “Nigger” turns out to have been a Jew. Scoundrel Johnnie himself performs as “Zip, the Human Riddle” the complete idiot who is of no sex, no race and no party. Flossie and her boyfriend The Bearded Lady vow to return to Menakhem-Yozef .

Act III. Scoundrel Johnnie’s office. Scoundrel Johnnie is also an inventor and aficionado of gadgets, again mostly frauds, like the colored lights that are supposed to tell who’s calling when the phone rings. A lover? A creditor? Your wife? It doesn’t work, but the colors are pretty. Scoundrel Johnnie and his assistant Charlie hit on the idea of bringing their own Messiah, a young modern Messiah, a Kovner Zionist with a monocle, a Messiah who can play football and dance the black bottom, in short, a Messiah for women. “Our Messiah won’t come riding no ass, our Messiah’ll come riding a motorcycle at 70 mph.” After interviewing a crackpot inventor with a plan to have everyone riding around on samovars, Scoundrel Johnnie enters into negotiations with Dr. Kestleberg with The Press acting as Dr. Kestleberg’s agents. Since Dr. Kestleberg is an idealist and a martyr, he commands top dollar. “I will not redeem the People of Israel from exile for less than 200 dollars a week. Don’t forget what an ancient people they are. And what a stubborn one.” Finally, there’s the matter of the motorcycle. Dr. Kestleberg goes to try it out and we hear a racket. Flossie’s just slugged him. “So. He’s her seducer. The swine . . . . But . . . business is business.”

Act IV. The sideshow on a hot sticky day. Scoundrel Johnnie and Charlie fret over the news that Menakhem-Yozef has taken out a patent on Messiahs, but hit on the idea that they should form a “moirger” with Menakhem-Yozef , have a Messiah cartel and freeze out the competition. Borrowing a union slogan, Charlie declares that, “In unity is strength”. Jackie, who just “happens” to be in the area, stops in to visit. But soon the twin purposes of his visit are revealed. He warns Scoundrel Johnnie against infringing their patent and there is some debate as to whether this will cover an improved Messiah. Secondly, he warns that Flossie’s suit is ready to go ahead and that the new Kovner Messiah will be in jail before he can come on his motorcycle. But soon Scoundrel Johnnie turns aside Jackie’s threats with the idea of a merger. Even better, they’ll hold a boxing match right here at the sideshow to determine the True Messiah. “One Messiah slugs. The other, a solid blow. Right in the snout. Bam! One with a bloody nose. The other with a black eye. Haha. If that don’t put America back on its feet, I don’t know what will.” After Jackie’s departure Scoundrel Johnnie and Charlie debate the sideshow and America. Scoundrel Johnnie delivers an impassioned apologia and panegyric in which he declares his devotion to fraud, hoax, bluff, to bread and circus. “And the dimes become dollars, and the dollars become hundreds, and the hundreds become millions. And if you’ve got a million, you’re alright. And with a couple of million, I, ‘Zip’, can be President of America, President of the richest republic in the world.”

Act V. The sideshow on the day of the fight. Jackie tries to get his uncle Reb Simkhe angry at the opposing Messiah with little luck. Reb Simkhe looks for the amulet his mother gave him to protect him in life, but Flossie tells him that a better charm for winning a fight is a horseshoe. He tries to pocket it, but , she slips it into his glove. Jackie finally rouses Reb Simkhe’s ire by pointing out that his opponent is trying to take away his livelihood. Scoundrel Johnnie’s and Charlie’s attempts to arouse anger in their champion are less successful as Dr. Kestleberg gets angry at them instead of Reb Simkhe. After speeches and a benediction, the fight begins and ends quickly with Dr. Kestleberg lying dead on the floor. Menakhem-Yozef gives a suitably fatuous speech praising the triumphant Messiah “such a holy man, such a divine man, who redeems all, whether for cold hard cash or on credit, that is, on the installment plan.” The play ends with the audience rising and singing Hatikvah to the tune of Yankee Doodle.