Layli, Majnun, and the Infernal Tree
by Mark Perry2001
A nightingale's song. The Crack of dawn. The Islamic call to prayer. A lamp is burning, and a man beside it, in prayer. This is MAJNUN (maj-NOON). He sits on a large oriental carpet. The room is spacious with columns and hanging draperies. In the background, the soft colors of dawn play against silhouetted buildings of a 12th century Persian city. Majnun begins to chant, accompanying his chant with motions. He calls out, arms outstretched, and begins to drop toward the floor. At the lowest point of his prostration, a light comes up on Layli (LAY-lee). Music. Ravishing, ornately-dressed, veiled - she is the personification of Majnun's love. As he prays she comes forward and begins to dance around him, music following. Eventually, he becomes aware of her presence, though he never seems to lay eyes on her. They dance: Fred and Ginger in 12th Century Persia. At the end of the dance, they both return to their former positions. Majnun moves as if to quench the lamp. Layli moves as if to remove her veil. Lights come quickly up to full, Blackout.
Lights up. The same house. Majnun is gone, Layli is in the courtyard, transformed into an ORANGE TREE. During the Scene 1 dance, another individual, MUSA (moo-SAH), entered the room and has been occupied in checking and correcting a set of blueprints of the house's structure. He has worked in a manner at once diligent, surreptitious, and evidently unaware of Majnun or Layli's presence, and he is now finishing up. He returns the blueprints to a long tube. A sound from outside, Musa is startled, fearful that he might be caught and his precious drawings confiscated. He quenches the lamp and tiptoes out of the house. Another man, Karim (ka-REEM), enters. He stops at the Orange Tree, takes a piece of fruit, and begins to eat it, surveying the property casually. He goes near the lamp and sensing the heat, reaches down to touch it. He jerks his hand back as if it's hot. He thinks a moment and then returns to his orange and his musings. Another man, the MULLA enters. He seems to be in a big hurry.
Mulla, Maharba! Welcome, welcome to Shiraz!
Thank you. This is the house of Infernal Hell Fire?
This is the house of Siyyid Ali Muhammad.
Ali Muhammad will do.
I'm sorry, Mulla, was he not a descendant of the Prophet?
Peace be upon Him! Such an honor was made of no consequence once he made his pact with Satan!
MULLA (Looking around.)
Ayatollah says no stone will be left unturned.
Yes, yes. Allah-u-akbar! Ayatollah speaks, and it is so! It is inconceivable this house could be used to promote the true faith of God!
What are you saying?
Who am I to say anything once Ayatollah has spoken?
Come, come. To the point. I don't have all day.
Insh'Allah. Excuse me, Mulla, for saying so, but this house. . . is. . . Well, is it impossible to conceive the good name of Islam might be promoted while it is still standing?
Speak plainly, Karim. Don't vex me with your Shirazi riddles!
For example. Mulla. If a local believer -- someone nearby -- were to come around every once and a while.
That's a great idea, Mulla!
It would have to be someone who lives very close, or someone who would be willing to live here.
Yes. To make that sacrifice.
Someone to look after the place.
Someone we could trust.
Of course, he would have to be compensated for his sacrifice.
You are too kind, Mulla!
(A pernicious smile. He pronounces each word with great relish.) No stone unturned! (He laughs and goes to leave but turns.) And get rid of that accursed tree! "Verily, the Infernal Tree shall be the food of the sinner!"
Absurd laughter coming from all directions. Lights up on Majnun in prostration.
Except he is now in the street. Merchants with wares, people passing by. Layli is gone. Majnun digs his hands into the dirt, as if searching for gold.
Layli! Layli! Layli!
(Look at this mad boy. He's lost his mind. Sifting the dust, crying out "Layli! Layli!")
Young man, what doest thou?
I seek for Layli!
Alas for thee! Layli is of pure spirit, and thou seekest her in the dust!
I seek her everywhere. Haply somewhere I shall find her.
MAN #1 (In Persian.)
(Trans: It is shameful)
Here I am.
The men laugh out loud -The laughter amplifies. Darkness.]
Back at the house, we hear demolition sounds. The orange tree (Layli) looks worried. Two WORKERS come over to look at it. They take out various implements of destruction and get ready to hack away at the orange tree.
Don't you gentlemen have something better to do?
I thought we were supposed to get rid of the tree.
If not now, then when?
I mean, don't you have walls to knock down? Foundations to tear up? It's just a harmless orange tree.
Yeah, yeah, I know what Ayatollah says! Just get on with it, huh? You're not getting paid to stand around! (He walks away.) What are you looking at, huh?! Get to work!
Another street. Lights up on a doctor leading Majnun out of his shop. Some other young men stand nearby.
DOCTOR (Half in Persian.)
[I'm sorry, Majnun.] I have no medicine for one sick of love. [Aren't those your friends?
Go ask if they have seen her.]
[My friend.] These doctors, they know no cure for me. It's been years I've been away from her. [My friend] can you help me?
[My friend.] I can't sleep at night. I can't rest by day. Look at me, my body is worn to a sigh. Have you a good word for me, my friend?
No. No. This tree has borne no fruit but despair. This fire is blazed out. Fallen to ashes. Hope be gone! Tonight I meet my beloved in the grave!
Musa is sitting on the street crying. His friend, HUSAYN, approaches him.
Musa, what's wrong?
Oh, Husayn! The house. It's gone. They've destroyed it. What do I do?
But Musa, you said all the plans of the house were already drawn up.
Yes, yes, they were.
But then why despair, my friend? One day, this country will retrieve its sanity. And that day, we'll rebuild, Musa. Just as it was. Exactly as it was, my friend, and because of you. It is to your everlasting glory that it can be done.
But Husayn, there is nothing left. Nothing. My friend, all I needed was a marker. One reference point and everything could have been rebuilt. One thing. Anything. A brick in the outer wall. That orange tree. But they even took the orange tree, Husayn! They've razed it all and covered it over with pavement.
Well, that's okay, Musa. It doesn't have to be in the exact same spot...
No, no. It's not the same. It's not the same.
Musa! Where is your faith, man?! Certainly, you conditioned this endeavor on the Will of God. Now give it up. Come. Come to my house. We will pray and the way will be made plain.
Majnun reenters with a lamp from the back of the house. He is exhausted and walks with a limp down the aisle toward the stage.
Where are you? Koja hastid? Koja hastid? Layliy-e-man! Do not leave me alone here! Khahesh-mikonam, Layli, do not leave me alone!
[Hey there! Who are you? What are you up to at this hour?]
MAJNUN (Rousing from delirium.)
[Hey! Stop! Come back here!]
Lights up on the Orange Tree in Fetal position. At specfic times during the previous scenes she has moved slightly. Now she begins to move and pushes upward, apparently breaking through the pavement. As she comes up, she gasps deeply as if she was suffocating. She struggles to stand. Musa enters.
This, this. What is this? The tree? The tree? The orange tree!!
Majnun runs back on stage.
Surely this watchman is 'Isra'il, my angel of death, following so fast upon me...
[Why did you run? What have you done?]
(Squaring off to fight him.)
Or he is a tyrant of men, seeking to harm me.
[Uh-oh. Mad dog. I'm not gonna fight you.] (He blows his whistle twice.)
He tries running in another direction and another watchman appears. Then others appear. He runs straight up the stage and jumps to scale a wall, crying out in pain as he climbs. The watchmen come behind him, grab his feet and push him up.]
Lights go out on the watchmen and the street, and come up on the garden where Majnun has flung himself at the feet of the Orange Tree, which he knows as Layli. A nightingale's song. Majnun looks up to see Layli as she is bending over to pick up a ring as if she had lost it.
Here you are.
O God! Give Thou glory to the watchman, and riches and long life. For the watchman was Gabriel, guiding this poor one; of he was Israfil, bringing life to this wretched one! Glory to God in the Highest! My Beloved and I are one.