When I spoke to my parents over the phone this past weekend, the first thing my father asked was if my musical has a second act.
“It’s very entertaining,” he added. “I’d buy a ticket.”
Wouldn’t we all, especially if the opening line of Act Two was, “This is my car. The brakes don’t work.” Not like Maurice even needed to say that since just a few minutes later it became perfectly clear when he barreled across a single lane bridge and nearly ran a tuk-tuk over the edge, thus prompting the girl to lead the group on a multilingual sing-a-long called “Certain Death.”
When Maurice’s truck sputtered into the next town two hours later – a time lapse that will be illustrated by a thick layer of orange peels litered on the floor of the car – Maurice enlists the help of his brother in repairing his brakes. They speak in Malagasy, but the girl can see that this man knows less than nothing about cars and so is completely useless to her but for the fact that he has a lemur tied to a rusted farm tractor in his front yard and for that all is forgiven.
It is under the watchful eye of this animal that Maurice explains to the girl that the car cannot be fixed – at least not in this town. But he offers a message of hope: “If we made it this far, we’ll probably make it the rest of the way.”
The girl agrees because that logic seems sound and, more importantly, she realizes she has no real choice in the matter anyway. A brief reprise of “Certain Death” plays as the truck totters onto the road and struggles under the weight of 30 pounds of fresh fruit that Maurice’s wife purchased while everyone else was looking at the lemur.
By the time the party finally arrives in Anivorano, ten hours have passed. But for the sake of the musical, we’ll pretend it’s still daylight and cut right to the part where Maurice takes the girl to city hall to meet the mayor of Anivorano and implores him to take personal responsibility for the girl’s safety while she’s in town.
“Safety from what?” the girl wants to know. But she never gets an answer because the entire town erupts into the first big dance number of Act Two called “Welcome to Anivorano! (And please confirm the presence of all the computers your doctor donated),” which takes place on the steps of city hall amid several dozen fish vendors and a stray pig.
When the number concludes, the girl finds herself magically transported to the clinic where she is to work for the rest of the week. Coincidentally, it is located behind several dozen different fish vendors and, curiously, the pig has followed her there.
The girl, through no real fault other than her white skin, terrifies the children gathered at the clinic – the very children she has come to offer peanut butter sandwiches and multivitamins. She tries to bribe them with candy and trinkets, but they all cry just the same. Their parents sing a spooky number called “Ghost Lady,” during which she agrees not to touch any of the kids unless one of them is being attacked by the pig.
Later that day, the girl is confined to a small windowless shed at a nearby school where she inputs data points for the morning’s hospital visits and analyzes the results. Ghost Lady is sad to see that most children are severely underweight and many are only getting worse as time goes on. The children, however, are much less afraid of her and that’s a good thing.
At some point, she considers a subplot about how there seems to be significantly more baby boys than baby girls in the town. A solo called “Correlation is not Causation” ensues as she pages through database. By the end of the song, the girl has binged on 4 fried bananas that she bought for 2 cents apiece and, in the process, convinced herself that the numbers are reasonably equal.
And thank God, because a birth rate conspiracy is not the conflict that Act 2 needs. Not when the girl is faced with a real emergency involving an ATM – or, more specifically, the town’s lack of one, which forces her to take a 2-hour journey at the end of the week to withdraw money so she can pay for her $6/night hotel with the “sort of” working shower and an army of geckos that she coaxed through the front door in the hopes that they would eat the swarm of mosquitos hovering over her mattress.
This errand is perhaps too unbelievable for the stage, and so if this musical is ever produced, the directors may opt to make this elaborate trip taken via bush taxi not to visit a bank that accepts Visa check cards, but to, say, a hospital to access a life-saving medicine. Or to a orphanage to reunite a young child with his family. Or just something better than pulling the equivalent of $180 in cash from a savings account.
But truth is sometimes stranger than fiction and that is, in fact, what brought the girl to a new town. Once she arrives safely at the bush taxi station in Diego – a small miracle in and of itself – she kicks off a spirited solo called, “Rolling the Dice,” during which she weighs a series of two equally idiotic options:
What’s better? Announce to a taxi driver that she wants to use an ATM, or have him drop her in the center of town and then wander around until she finds it? (She takes Option 1.)
What’s safer? Have taxi #1 wait for her to use the ATM and risk getting mugged down the road, or find a different one after using the ATM and risk getting mugged down the road? (Option 1.)
What next? Consider the mission a success and take a return bush taxi back to Anivorano, or proceed some 40 minutes to a place called Ramena Beach and hope to find a hotel before dark? (Option 2.)
The audience should, with good reason, feel that all of these ideas were terrible and that the girl was, quite frankly, asking for it. In fact, she was. And she knows it. But as the story goes, it all turned out fine. The driver deposited the girl at a hotel with a swimming pool where she rented a bungalow for $14/night and settled down to watch the sunset on the beach with a glass of wine.
And because this play needs a little romance, I’m happy to report that she crosses paths with a French man, who has nothing more important to do than spend the rest of the weekend acting as guide, translator and porter. This activity is captured in a montage called, “I Think You’re Perfect,” in which the man explains his feelings in basic English and the girl does her best to prove him wrong by tripping over a coconut and wearing a backpack to a nightclub.
His name is Primeu and try as she may, the girl can’t manage to pronounce it properly because her French is atrocious and now that he’s around she isn’t even bothering to try anymore. This inspires a group number called, “Tomayto, Tomahto,” which features a great many very patient French tourists who tolerate the fact that she only speaks English and culminates with the girl spraying her entire body with what she thought was a bottle of French inspect repellent, but turned out to be the French version of Raid.
On Sunday, as the girl is preparing to leave Ramena Beach and the lovely Primeau, who she has since taken to calling Le Crutch, Fate intervenes – this in the from of a cyclone that is zig-zagging its way across northern Madagascar and threatening to dump buckets of rain onto the already precarious roadway between Anivorano and the port in Ankify. When it starts to drizzle, the girl has a panic attack on the steps of the pool, which makes Le Crutch decide to take matters into his own hands.
His solo, “I’ll Get You a 4×4,” involves a series of phone calls to hotels far and wide to identify an SUV that will take the girl to Ankify before the cyclone makes landfall and, perhaps as importantly, allows her to bypass driving another ten hours with Maurice. Somewhere in the middle of the song, Primeau decides that he too would like to go to Ankify – as he coincidentally will be moving there next month to work in a hospital on one of the surrounding islands – and the song changes to “I’ll Get Us a 4×4!”
This seems like a fantastic idea – comparatively speaking – and the two pack up and set off the following morning. The play could end there with the two driving off as the sun rose and clouds gathered in the sky behind them, but that would deny the audience one more good laugh as the pair’s car breaks down not once, but twice, on the road to Ankify.
The first issue was a problem with the piston, and since that’s pretty mundane as car problems go and also relatively hard to convey on stage, I’ll focus on the second instance – an event which involved the insides of the car literally falling out the bottom of the vehicle and dragging along the side of the road.
Primeau was surprised. The girl was horrified. But the driver, speaking in Malagasy, appeared unphased. “Oh, this again,” he seemed to say as he climbed out of the truck and peeked underneath.
“BRING ME YOUR BIGGEST TREE!” he bellowed to the villagers who had gathered on the side of the road to pity the idiots in the broken-down 4×4. “And give me your belt,” he added.
He then leads a song called “System De” (which I was told translates roughly into “Something Out of Nothing,”) and proceeds to use these two items to tie the bottom of the car back into place. With the tree trunk now braced under the bottom of the car and fastened to the SUV’s running boards, he drives ever so slowly to the port just down the road where he leaves Primeau and the girl to take the last overcrowded speedboat of the day to Nosy Be.
The arrive. They check into a hotel owned by a Primeau’s friend. They eat some fish. The next day, because they’re not done pressing their luck, they rent a motorbike and ride it to the top of a mountain where, I’m happy to report, absolutely nothing happens.
And that’s where we’ll leave it – for the stage version at least. A “Happily Ever After” moment that every audience requires. Anivorano the musical – hope you enjoyed!
Although anyone reading this blog should know that the real ending involves me, I mean, the girl, breaking a wine glass in her hand and then dodging a 12-foot palm branch falling directly in her path as she walked to the beach. It is suggested that she wears a scooter helmet for the rest of the week, which she seriously considers.
Perhaps because life was simpler (not to mention safer) separately, Primeau and the girl decide to part ways a few days later – he to his hospital on another island and the girl to a four star resort where she promptly falls off a horse and gets a mild case of food poisoning.
In between all that, she masters the phrase “Take me snorkeling, please,” in French and she does, in fact, go snorkeling and it’s great. So it still ends well, is what I’m saying.
Madagascar, out. Israel, you’re up!