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Joni Noodles

This was performed by its author, Walt Breen, and Susan Guzzi, his lovely assistant, before adoring fans at JoniFest '03, Full Moon Lodge, August 8, 2003: Joni Noodles (A thankfully brief 4-noodle play about Joni Mitchell's initial foray into music, and what went wrong) Cast Walberta Joan Anderbreen, Hereafter "J", a blond 7-year old girl from the prairies of Canada, who seems to love music and has been sent up the street to take piano lessons. The Teacher, Hereafter "T", a stern and bitter old woman. Intro J walks on-stage. S/he looks as unlike a seven-year-old blond girl as is physically possible (while remaining nominally within the human species). J: Good evening, and welcome to an evening of speculative theatre. Tonight, we'll be asking the question, What really happened during those fateful first piano lessons for Joni Mitchell? First of all, I want you to know that we had the budget for me to do these brief biographical skits entirely in authentic early-50s little-girl drag -- yes, in my size -- remember, I live in San Francisco, where such things can be found. But since for whatever reason, I always get my carry-on luggage searched whenever I fly, I decided not to risk having to explain what I was doing with nail clippers hidden in shiny black leather Mary Janes the size of gunboats. Instead, I'll have to ask you to use yore imagination a little bit. [Optional: J shouts "Wardrobe!" and someone walks out with a really decrepit blond wig, or even just a newspaper colored yellow and taped or stapled to look like a wig; J takes it disdainfully and puts it on.] So now picture me as a seven-year-old blond girl from North Battleford, Saskatchewan. [Looks himself up and down]. That shouldn't be so hard, eh? Okay, now excuse me while I go into character. [Covers face with hands and appears to be concentrating, for about 3 seconds; drops hands] Actually, I just realized that emotionally, I am a seven-year-old girl from North Battleford, Saskatchewan, so we might as well get started. The setting is the front parlor of an embittered, regimental old piano teacher...[Walks off, stage right] Noodle 1 J [Enters stage right, walks up and knocks on imaginary front door] Hello? [louder] Hello?! [Walks in and closes door behind her.] Hello?! [Spots piano.] Oh. [Walks over and sits down. Starts playing a mishmash of familiar intros and themes from JM's music.] T [Storms in, ruler in hand, and slams it down on or near J's fingers] J [Shrieks and pulls her fingers away.] Ow! Why did you do that?! T [Booming] Young lady, do you usually go into strangers' homes and start playing nonsense on their pianos without permission? J Sorry! I'm Walberta Joan Anderbreen, my friends call me Joan, and I-- T I know who you are, young lady, I keep a tight schedule, and you are [checking watch] two minutes late. J Well, you weren't here either, so what difference does it make if I was late? T [in full umbrage] I... BEG... YOUR... J [calmly continuing] And that wasn't nonsense I was playing, that was part of a song I wrote called "Robin Walk". T [getting control] Young lady, why on earth would you want to play by ear when you could have [theatrically:] the masters at your fingertips? J [looking doubtfully at fingers] Really? T We'll start with the key of C. Right there [gestures with ruler, which makes Joni flinch slightly] J [puts fingers on keyboard and dutifully starts playing exercises in the key of C] Blackout/Curtain Noodle 2 (a.k.a the Yankee Doodle Noodle) J [Knocking on door and letting herself in] Hello? Hello?! Where the heck does that mean old lady go after each lesson? [snickers] She probably goes out back and swats flies with that awful ruler. [J thinks that over, and then looks suddenly down at her fingers and gasps] Eeeuuuw! [Eyes piano, looks nervously over her shoulder, sits down at piano and starts to play Yankee Doodle, sort of.] T [Enters stage left and creeps up slowly, this time; once again, she slams the ruler on or near J's hands] J [flinches and yelps] T What on earth do you think you were doing? J I was playing Yankee Doodle! T You... most... certainly... were... NOT!!! And what did we say about attempting songs before we have mastered the scales and chords? J Well, "we" didn't say anything, but you said not to. T Well, then, let's hear your scales in F and Bb. J [Plays quite a bit of the exercise in F; during this time, T at first waves the ruler in the air to keep time, but gradually she moves to the left, and eventually disappears offstage. J switches to Bb and starts again, but noticing T has left the room, she slips into the intro from "See You Sometime".] T [from offstage] I can hear you!! J [Sighs, and switches back to just doing regular scales.] Blackout/Curtain Noodle 3 As usual, T is not in evidence when J knocks and enters. J [goes over to the piano and sits down. It's obviously hard for her not to just start playing, but she is very nervous. She looks over her shoulder several times, looks at her watch, and then finally shrugs and starts to play the intro to "Blonde In The Bleachers.] T [appears stage left, but doesn't immediately rush up with ruler as per usual. Instead, she keeps silent and lets J play for a little while. Gradually, she makes her way to the piano and then says in a normal tone of voice] What is that? Is that Stravinsky? J [nearly jumps out of her skin] God, you make me so nervous, my mom took me to the doctor, and he said I should take up smoking to calm my nerves. T [back to business again] Well, young lady, that's the most sensible thing I've ever heard you say. I hope you've taken his advice. J Oh, yes, ma'am, I'm at a pack a day, two on piano lesson days. T Hmmph. Well, let's see whether you've been practicing your G, D and A scales. J [Sighs, and starts the scales.] God, I need a cigarette... Blackout/Curtain Noodle 4 J [knocks and enters as usual. Calls out several times -- no response. She looks balefully at the keyboard, and then, after one more look over her shoulder, she begins playing "Ludwig's Tune"...] T [predictably, creeps up as J begins playing, hesitates briefly when J starts to sing; then she continues to sneak up on her until she SLAMS DOWN the ruler just after J finishes the line, "That don't seem like much"] J [SCREAMS outright] T [stonily] What... was... that, young lady? J [panting] Oh my god. [Checks hands, to see if all the parts still work] My doctor said that if I break -- [looks up meaningfully] -- if you break just one more of my metacarpals, I won't be able to write, dial a phone, or hold a cigarette. He gave me some pills [digs into pocket and pulls out a vial, looks at bottle and sounds out the name] VAL-LI-UM, and he told me I should give up smoking and take these instead. T Well, perhaps you should give up smoking -- J [sotto voce] That'll be the day... T Your voice does sound a bit low for your age. Now you didn't answer my question -- what was that nonsense you were playing? It sounded a bit like Stravinsky again [getting agitated] -- or even that evil jazz music I heard once by accident on a radio. J It wasn't nonsense! I learned in school how Beethoven-- T [interrupting] It's pronounced "BEE-though-ven", dear. J [ignoring her] how Beethoven lost his hearing but still went on writing music even though he'd never be able to hear it again except in his head, and that made me kinda sad, so I started writing this song about him... T Young lady, what have I told you about all this silly noodling around? J [defiantly, standing to full height] No! I don't have to listen to you anymore! T [obviously frightened] Jesus, you're big for 7!! J I'm not taking any more piano lessons! When I grow up-- T [looking her up and down] Grow "up"? J [on a roll now] When I grow up I'm gonna be an artist. I'll go to art school, where no one ever tries to force to paint any one way! [Storms off stage right, slamming imaginary door] T [Shakes head and cackles evilly] Art school, eh? [shouting at door] I'll see you there! [continues to cackle as she walks offstage left] Final Curtain


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