Phineas and the Harpies

(PHINEAS enters with a bag lunch and sits on the park bench.)

POET
Phineas was blessed with the gift of unerring prophecy, but his generous use of that gift brought the wrath of Zeus upon him. To torment the old prophet, Zeus plagued him with a pair of Harpies — winged vixens who stole most of the old man’s food, and befouled the rest with their loathsome stench, keeping their victim ever on the edge of starvation.

(When the POET mentions the harpies, SWIFTWING and FLEETFOOT enter from opposite sides of the stage and creep toward PHINEAS. They have big, bat-like wings, beehive hairdos, and are dressed in 1950’s-style dresses and high heels. They are heavily made-up with red lipstick and very long polished nails, and both wear harlequin glasses attached to beaded chains around their necks. As they approach, PHINEAS looks in his bag lunch and pulls out a sandwich wrapped in wax paper, unaware of their approach.)

PHINEAS
Let’s see what we got here. Corned beef on rye? Mmm, that smells good. That’s that spicy mustard I like so much. What else have we got here . . .

(The HARPIES step around opposite sides of the bench and stand over PHINEAS. They speak with pinched, nasally voices and tend to parrot each other’s phrases like Myna birds.)

image001FLEETFOOT
Why, if it isn’t Phineas.

SWIFTWING
Yes, if it isn’t Phineas.

PHINEAS
Oy, not you two again!

FLEETFOOT
Is it lunch time already? What’ve we got today?

(FLEETFOOT grabs the lunch bag out of PHINEAS’ hand and starts to look inside.)

PHINEAS
That’s mine! Leave that alone!

(PHINEAS grabs the bag back while, on his other side, SWIFTWING picks at the sandwich
in his hand. FLEETFOOT continues to try to slip her fingers into the lunch bag.)

SWIFTWING
I’m so hungry. Aren’t you, Fleetfoot?

FLEETFOOT
I’m so hungry, Swiftwing, I could eat a centaur.

(PHINEAS realizes SWIFTWING is fingering his sandwich, so he pulls it away to his other side — putting it within FLEETFOOT’s reach.)

SWIFTWING
She could eat a centaur! Isn’t she funny?

(SWIFTWING grabs the lunch sack this time.)

PHINEAS
No, she’s not funny. Give me that!

(As PHINEAS grabs the bag back, FLEETFOOT takes the sandwich out of his hand.)

FLEETFOOT
Mmm, I’ll have some of this.

PHINEAS
Here, stop it! Don’t touch that!

(FLEETFOOT turns her back to PHINEAS as she picks at the sandwich. While PHINEAS tries to stop her, SWIFTWING grabs the bag again and starts poking around inside it.)

SWIFTWING
Do you have any pickles today?

FLEETFOOT
Oo, ick! Nasty mustard! That’s no good.

(FLEETFOOT throws the sandwich on the ground.)

PHINEAS
Now look what you’ve done! That was perfectly good corned beef!

SWIFTWING
(looking in the lunch bag)
Oooo, lots of tasties! (to FLEETFOOT) And a pickle too!

FLEETFOOT
And a pickle too?

(PHINEAS picks up the sandwich and sniffs it. It has been spoiled by the harpy’s touch.)

PHINEAS
Oy! Don’t you ever wash your hands? That’s disgusting!

SWIFTWING
Well, thanks for lunch, Phineas.

FLEETFOOT
Yes, thanks for lunch, Phineas.

BOTH HARPIES
(in unison)
We’ll be back for dinner!

(They laugh wickedly and exit, chattering to each other. SWIFTWING still has the lunch bag. From the other side of the stage, JASON enters followed by CASTOR, POLLUX, ANTIOPE, and NEPHELE. As they approach the bench, they watch with curiosity as the harpies depart.)

FLEETFOOT
Did you smell that mustard?

SWIFTWING
That was awful mustard.

FLEETFOOT
I wish he had better food.

SWIFTWING
Then we’d have better food!

(They cackle at that as they exit into the wings.)

PHINEAS (dejectedly)
Perfectly good corned beef.
(He sighs heavily and wads up the sandwich in its wax paper. Then he looks up at JASON and the others, who are approaching slowly and respectfully.)
Nu?

JASON
(with uncertainty)
What?

PHINEAS
What’s on your mind, boytchik? You’re staring.

JASON
Oh. Sorry. I am Jason, son of Aeson, captain of the Argo.  My crew and I have sailed many leagues —

PHINEAS
I know who you are, Jason son of Aeson. I’m a prophet for God’s sake! I know everything! Except where my next decent meal is coming from. Did you see what I have to put up with here? Did you see those
meshuganah harpies and what they did to my corned beef?

 

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