Leading to a new theatre piece, “Club Faustian” — Or, “How have you managed to walk so far/ with your head up your ass?”


. . . As one of my back-burner Covid-19 “reconnecting-with-the classics” projects, I’ve been re-reading the works of playwright, George Bernard Shaw (GBS), and came across his last words: “Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” This is a phrase used many times since GBS’s death. (An actor-director here in Pittsburgh — now writing a spoof of the musical, “Showboat,” — has a delightful opening number with a take on that title). In that same finding where I found GBS’s last words, were the last words of Shaw’s contemporary, Oscar Wilde: “The wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”


Oscar wilde

All this got me interested in doing a “last words” search. (Not as morbid as I feared.) Here’s a sample:

Humphrey Bogart: “I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.”


Humphrey Bogart

And this from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (similar Bogart-boozed theme): “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s the record.” Sir Winston Churchill: “I’m bored with it all.” Birth control advocate Margaret Sanger’s last words were, “A party! Let’s have a party.” Poet Emily Dickinson: “I must go in, for the fog is rising.” Elvis Presley: “I’m going to the bathroom to read.” Sinatra: “I’m losing it.” And the tragic last words of pop singer Marvin Gaye (his father had shot him): “I got what I wanted. I couldn’t do it myself, so I had him do it. It’s good, I ran my race, there’s no more left in me.”


Marvin Gaye

Some of these may be apocryphal. But they got me thinking: About writing a (let-us-hope) fun-fable theatre piece, “The Last Words of River Styx?” . . .that might take place in a new tony bar and bistro called, “Pub Faustian.”

In Pub Faustian  Discovered — is my protagonist — a very successful writer (a Woody Allen-type character? with gallows humor one liners) — who is very, very, very obsessed with death (pen name, “River Styx”). River is gulping down “up” gin martinis, and letting everyone in the room know of his death obsession.

Enter the new Pub’s maître d’, Mr. M. Charon — a very tall, exceedingly thin chap, who tends to move in slow motion; with guru presence, muted, melifluous voice, and with one purple glass eye. Mr. M.Charon wears a form-fitting elegant, black traditional tuxedo. And, resting on his bald head — a bible-black beret.

Mr. M.Charon — in some kind of a quid pro quo deal (to be developed) — tempts River to come up with new “devilishly clever last words” — for a year — one set a week — and if he does — writer River Styx “will live forever!”

I have no idea where this could (or should) lead. But, at the least, I thought it might be interesting to dip my toes in the “last words” rapids and see what I could devise for River Styx’s first “Last Words” entry.

This is my (alas!) un-devilish best effort: “Damn! The delete key finally worked.”

But then, my friend Milton (about my age), a retired distinguished psychoanalyst who, late in life, turned to writing poetry (now widely published in poetry journals), sent me his latest poem,“THE END AT THE END OF THE ROAD.” He sent it to me in response to my Facebook posting on the 36-year anniversary of the 1984 San Ysidro, California, McDonald’s gun massacre. In 1984 I had written the text for a choral cantata on the subject (https://gaglianoriff.com/project/san-ysidro/composer, Jim Reichert). Milt thought his poem might cheer me up (It did). And I’m now thinking that the last line of Milton’s poem might be a better start for River’s death-obsessed list. Milt has given me permission to post the poem.

“THE END AT THE END OF THE ROAD©” by Milton P. Ehrlich

“I stumble forward — trudging along until/ I see my imagination-enriched view/ of the end of the road. /But I see no Pearly Gates/ or hand of God to greet me — /not even a Dead-End sign./ Just a pile of rocky rubble/ With a graffiti-scribbled question:/How have you managed to walk so far/ with your head up your ass?”

The Poem’s last line does seem to establish a better first “last words” weekly list-making absurd tone for the writer protagonist in my fable. Yes. Off and running. River Styx’s first-week “last words:” “How have you managed to walk so far/ with your head up your ass?

So I now add “Pub Faustian” to one of my plague diversion, back burner theatre pieces — along with my Trump “Stink Opera.” (See: https://sandrico.medium.com/on-bullshit-and-my-stink-fantasy-in-the-age-of-trump-and-the-stink-opera-developing-36dff2f104df)

Thanks Milt. [And check out Milton’s prodigious oeuvre on http://www.milton.ehrlich.com]

And, while pursuing your own plague diversions — in this last sprint to the plague finish line — get vaccinated, stay masked, stay safe and keep any last words at bay.

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Frank Gagliano, playwright