Speaking In Tongues
Guided by Voices

Raphael Levchin


A Dramatic Poem

Translated from Russian by Kevin Carey

Act I

The stage is thick with fog. At front stage there is an enormous cleft stone with bas-relief depicting an angel of human proportions. An arch can be gleaned in the fog, its left side white, its right side, in opposition, is black. The fog gradually lifts.
At center stage stands the statue of a young woman dancing - she is 8 feet tall. The struggle between the masterful skill of the sculptor and the barbarous taste of the one who commissioned its undertaking is evident by her features. Possibly, it is this which makes her so lifelike, is spite of her size.
There is no longer any doubt that this Babylon - here and there can be caught glimpses of its hanging gardens. In the background stand imposing buildings resembling pumping stations. This is it, the unfinished Tower of Babylon, whose construction was begun by the predecessor of the present tsar, the tsar with the strange name of Nebuchadnezzar. From the white of the arch comes the First Luminary, from the black - the Second.
1ST LUMINARY. The tale begins in a simple way:
2ND LUMINARY. Before the coming of Christ's star…
1ST LUMINARY. In an ancient land now far away…
2ND LUMINARY. There lived a king called…
BOTH Together. Balthazar!!!
CHORUS Appearing from the arch.

1ST. But at the threshold who appears?
2ND. The prophet Daniel's drawing near!
1ST. Prophets in their own land are persecuted…
2ND. And tsars, as a rule, have them executed.
1ST. But wait! Go slow!
2ND Hastily. That was long ago!
Balthazar steps forward from the chorus. He clears his throat.
1ST. The tsar wishes to have a word!!!
BALTHAZAR. Ah… Salam… Er-uh… Guten Morgen! Hmm… Bonjour!



Very scantily clad young girls run on to front stage. They dance, as if mimicking the statue.
CHORUS Getting drawn into the dance.

General commotion and merriment.

Sudden silence.
A VOICE FROM THE CHORUS Ironically. Right away!
TSAR. Well?!!
TSAR. Am I your tsar, or not?!!!

1ST Reassuring. The tsar, the tsar...
2ND. Of course the tsar...
TSAR. If I'm your tsar, then bring forth the goblets! Quickly! Slaps the face of the 1st luminary.
1ST. Shchas! Slaps the 2nd luminary. Quickly! The goblets!!
2ND. Shchas!! Slaps the nearest chorus member. The goblets! Quickly!!!
Slaps and orders pass along the chain of command backstage, and can be heard for some time there. They return again with the passing from hand to hand of the goblet, which is big enough to bathe a small child in. The sparkling vessel stands at the tsar's feet. From inside it they take out another, smaller cup, and from this one, another one smaller still, etc. At that moment a fiery inscription alights upon the black arch.
TSAR Noticing the inscription. What is this?
TSAR Becoming enraged. Who is this?!

1ST Uncertain. Yesterday, who came, pray tell?
2ND Delighted. Maybe, it was, Daniel?!
CHORUS All together.

TSAR. Bring him to me right away!
CHORUS. As you wish, without delay!
Daniel is brought in. His attire is made up of pockets, patches, and a beard. Since his primary specialty is prophecy, an art that is not called for everyday, he has skilled himself in the most diverse subjects, which he now begins to enumerate.

TSAR Pointing. Did you write that? Answer me!
DANIEL Not yet looking, just in case. No, not I!
TSAR. Who then?!
DANIEL Only now making note of the inscription. ...G O D! ! !
TSAR. Stop diluting me with opium!
DANIEL. It is God, I say! God!
TSAR Ingratiatingly. And would you be so kind as to read it for me?
Daniel, moving his lips, reads to himself. He is transfigured. His eyes glaze over as he begins to prophesize.
DANIEL In a measured voice.

Dumbfounded silence.
1ST LUMINARY Uncertain. Lies...
2ND. And if not?
1ST Understanding. But really, if not?!!
2ND. Shshh! The tsar's about to speak!
TSAR Authoritatively. Lies!
CHORUS Relieved. Lies!!
DANIEL Insulted. We shall see!
TSAR. Well, some will see and some will not. Casually. Cut out his eyes and feed them to him, and then...
In runs a messenger, covered in blood and dust.

1ST. Ohh...
Confusion, panic.

TSAR. Just a minute here! When was war declared?
TSAR. And when did it begin?
MESSENGER. The day before yesterday.
TSAR. And who ordered it to be done thus?
MESSENGER. He himself. Says it's very convenient.
TSAR. Have all my spies executed!
MESSENGER. He has had them killed already - except for those, who work for him!
TSAR. And he has a large army, has he?
MESSENGER With the last of his strength. Elamites, Cananites, Sodomites and Caledonians, Galileans, Yezdians, Mennonites and Yaps, Illyrians, Almerians, Ligurians and barbarians, Akkadians, Ottomans, Bedouins and Lemurians, troglodytes and vampires, kobolds and nymphs, Bedlamites, Khaiberians, Berbers and imps, Effreets upon camels, gargoyles upon koalas, Atlantians upon leviathans, guerrillas upon chimeras, Dragons upon horseflies, Saracens and Saprophytes,Tartars and Apaches from Arizona City, Hundred-handed giants and block-headed musclemen... Catches his breath. All will enter the city tomorrow morning.
Falls to the ground. Fortunately, I'll be dead. Dies.


He takes off his crown and throws it to the ground, then loses himself in the chorus which wanders around the stage and finally backstage. Then begins a bacchanalia, with intermittent scenes of an orgy. Because there is nothing left to lose, everyone now drinks from the holy goblets. A couple runs out to the front stage. They dance and sing.

They kiss.

They kiss.
CHORUS Partly behind the stage.

A light illuminates the couple, following them where they go. Only now do we see that He is Ethiopian.

Leaning towards the bas-relief of the depicted angels, he begins to smother his lover with determination.
DANIEL About whom everyone has forgotten, still at front stage. What are you, crazy?! Are you really strangling her?!
ETHIOPIAN Not ceasing from his task. What do you think?!
DANIEL. But what for?!!
ETHIOPIAN Just as before. So that the enemy won't touch her!
CHORUS Behind the stage. Better to be deflowered, than beheaded!
The stage gradually becomes empty and dark. The bacchanalia, however, continues behind the stage with the participation of the production crew. The light shifts to Daniel.
DANIEL To the Statue.

The second light illuminates the face of the Statue.

A trap door opens in the side of the statue. Out crawls a strange creature - the child of Daniel and the Statue. He bears no resemblance to anyone or anything.
CHILD In a high voice. I am poor, I am harmful, I am imperceptible, irreplaceable, congenial; I am like a mime, starved of blood, I am the tender, vital throat of the roles; I am unknown, but interesting; multifarious, and yet, tasty; I am extraneous, I am tomorrow's world; I am patched together like a quilt: inadequate, indifferent, ambivalent; I am forever outside, born to things; I am infernal, unique, half of the gutter - but I have no shame; I am invisible. What a lot! Noticing Daniel. Papa! It's you!!!
Daniel jumps back in horror. The Child chases him around the entire stage. Unable to overtake him, the Child begins to cry.
STATUE. What? are you unhappy, child?
CHILD Unexpectedly in a bass voice. I'm having problems with my sex!

The child conceals himself behind the trap door and it slams shut.
The Statue turns to Daniel.

Falls silent.

Silence. Trumpets sound in the distance. The rhythmic falling of many feet is heard and grows louder. Already we can hear the soldiers' song.


A trap door opens in the side of the Statue - not the same one as before. Out jumps a small man wearing a crown. It is none other than Darius II himself.

Darius picks up the crown, which Balthazar had discarded and places it atop his own. He notices Daniel.

An executioner runs up to Daniel. He loves his work.

DARIUS. The hell with it! You can breathe easy.
The executioner, disappointed, withdraws.
DARIUS To the executioner.

The stage becomes bright. Now it can be seen that the number of soldiers is few, but they are well armed. It is well known that one man with two machine guns, is as good as two soldiers… The soldiers chase the chorus hither and thither around the stage. Goaded on by kicks, the luminaries saw off the Statue from its pedestal, and saw it into little pieces…
DARIUS To the executioner. Now, let's chop off that there head… Points into the auditorium. …and that one… and do not stop until you're satisfied…
The executioner proceeds to chop, using the stone with the bas-relief for a chopping block. The soldiers commit outrages, each to the satisfaction of his whims. Two bathe themselves with the wine from the largest of the holy goblets: one washes his face, the other - his feet. Darius notices the glowing inscription.
DARIUS. What is that?
The executioner fastidiously prepares himself for cutting off the head of the Ethiopian.
ETHIOPIAN Jumping up. I'll tell you! I will!..
DARIUS To the executioner. Hold it! To the Ethiopian. Speak.
ETHIOPIAN. That is a prophecy… from some god… that says the lid is closing upon all of us… Points to Daniel. There! He prophesied it!
DARIUS. Interesting… A prophet, eh? All right then! To the executioner. You can proceed.
The executioner chops the Ethiopian's head off.
DARIUS To Daniel. Well then, come forth!
Daniel approaches.
DARIUS. Would you be a prophet?
DARIUS. So, we need another turn of the screw, do we? Hey, dregs of the earth! Fly to us!
Several soldiers pull away the two washing themselves from the huge goblet, which they then proceed to fill with wine and bring to Darius. The smallest goblet offered to Daniel, who declines it with a gesture.
DARIUS. Drink! What's the matter, don't you respect me?!
They drink.
DARIUS Immediately drunk.

DANIEL Also slightly intoxicated. By the way, your majesty, the sun rises…

Daniel is silent.
DARIUS. Hey there! One for the road!
They drink.
DARIUS Almost completely drunk. How did you put it? The sun rises? Sun-ri-ses… and sun-s-sets… That's it, you're a poet! You'll have to be executed! It will make a wonderful song. But ours is better.

Are you going to prophesy, I ask you once again? Daniel is silent. Let's go!
DANIEL. Where, you majesty?
DARIUS. To the tower! To retch!
They ascend the Tower. Daniel pushes Darius.
DARIUS Reeling. I'm fall-ing!!! Falls.
DANIEL. Fall, fall, lighten my heart!
Darius, however, catches on to some kind of ledge, and hangs there.
DARIUS. Save me!!!
DANIEL. Save yourself!!! He hesitates, not knowing what to decide, then reaches down to the ledge and drags up Darius. They climb down from the Tower together.
DARIUS Absolutely sober. You make an attempt on my life, and then you save me. The former deserves a painful death; the latter merits a reward of your choice. Thus I reward you with the choice of the manner of your death.
DANIEL Without faltering. Allow me, your majesty, to leave for the desert, where I will die of hunger and thirst!
DARIUS. Good riddance!
Daniel goes. He walks past the lying Statue and closes the trap door. He walks through the frenzied drinking bout around him. The executioner chops. The stage turns.
Daniel is beyond the city gates. At an intersection there is a sign which points in two directions. One reads: 'To the desert'; the other: 'To the mountains'. Daniel catches up with a rather depleted chorus.
1ST LUMINARY. Daniel! Go with us! We are on our way!
DANIEL. To where?
1ST. To the desert! As you are, so are we!
DANIEL. But who are you?

DANIEL. Yes, by all means, go!!
2ND LUMINARY. Daniel! Your place is with us!
DANIEL. I don't like it, when others know better than I where my place
2ND. You almost killed that infamous emperor.
DANIEL. Almost doesn't count.
1ST. You understood that only God may mete out justice to the wicked!
2ND. No, you understood something else: a single act of violence solves nothing!
DANIEL. I don't like it, when others know better than I do what I understood.
2ND. You must join a party of partisan struggle! We need prophets!
DANIEL. I would be happy to find someone who does not need them!...
2ND. Don't think anyone intends to persuade you! All the same, you will come with us. He takes his place at the head 2nd Half of the Chorus, and follows the sign, which reads 'To the mountains'.
1ST. Daniel, is it true, that you come from the ancient tribe of Wise Men?
DANIEL. No, it is not true.
1ST. Daniel, is it true, that that tribe ruled throughout the Earth?
DANIEL. No, it is not true.
1ST. Daniel, is it true, that to you mysteries are revealed, that you can perform miracles, heal the sick with the touch of your hand?
DANIEL. No, it is not true.
1ST. But you can predict the future, can't you?
DANIEL. No, I only prophesize.
1ST. But aren't they one and the same?
1ST. You won't come with us?
1ST. As you wish. All the same, we will meet again. You are going to the very same desert, even as we are.
DANIEL. The desert, praise God, is very large.
1ST. Still, we will continue this conversation. He takes his place at the head of the 1st Half of the Chorus, and follows the sign which reads 'To the desert', while singing:

DANIEL. Standing at the crossroads.
End of Act I.

Act II

The stage is darkened. A faint light falls upon the face Daniel.
DANIEL Mumbling.

The lights gradually brighten revealing the desert. Daniel sits naked at the entrance to a cave. His face is covered with printed words, strange writings, passages from the bible, "infantilism", "idiocy" and "exhibitionism".

LIONS Poking out from the cave. Roarrrrrr!

Everything is now lit up, and a foot and head of the Statue can be seen sticking out of the sand not far from the cave.


LIONS Drawing back into the cave. M-mystic!
A UFO flies in at an angle. Upon closer inspection, it appears to be the Ethiopian carrying his head in his left hand. The head has no eyes.
ETHIOPIAN Slowing down in flight.

HEAD OF THE STATUE. Now, away with you then!
ETHIOPIAN. Warm greetings! Flies off with a nod from the reattached head, which is growing.
FOOT OF THE STATUE Pensive. The day insists, and the flesh splits in two…
DANIEL Showing interest. I do not understand, who splits whom?
FOOT. But I was not speaking to you, my friend!
DANIEL. With whom were you speaking then?
FOOT. To him there… the newcomer…
The Child springs up alongside the foot. He has changed greatly: shaved white hair, three horns, two of which twist intricately above his temples, and the third, sparkling, in the center of his forehead. This horn ends in an eye.
CHILD Softly humming to himself in the rhythm of a lullaby.

He is gradually obscured by darkness, starting with his feet, then his stomach and chest; finally it stops just before his horns, like a folding screen. They bend, wiggle and grow.
LEFT HORN. Mama, why have you forsaken me? Why have you forsaken me mama, like a broken chair?
I'm growing, I'm becoming a column, a sign of greatness…
I am crucified upon myself -- a majestic gem!
LEFT HORN Growing.

RIGHT HORN. Mnay, mnay, tekel, faresse!
Daniel passes pebbles back and forth between his hands.

DANIEL Profoundly. I wonder why it is that with people it behaves like normal loved ones, but towards prophets it stands cold as a statue? Must the city be set afire, before it show a little warmth? Unfastening his beard.
The darkness disperses.
CHILD. Aha, there you are! Death to you!
DANIEL. My son, why do you have three horns?
CHILD. The better to gore you with!
DANIEL. My son, why is your third horn so big?
CHILD. So I can gore you to death!
DANIEL. My son, why does your third horn have an eye, an eye so like a human eye?
CHILD. The better to see where to strike! He rushes at Daniel.
Daniel, using his beard as a matador's cape, fakes left, then right. They dance. Finally, Daniel gets his hands upon the middle horn and breaks it off. The Child falls at his feet.
DANIEL Reattaching his beard. On your feet! Striking the Child's shoulders with the fragment of horn. I now dub you: Alexander Two-Horns!
Two-Horns stands up.

2ND HALF OF THE CHORUS Appearing from the right.

Two-Horns bows and exits. The Half of the Chorus follows him.

Darius's messengers appear searching for Daniel.

They exit, driving before them the Lions and Daniel.
1ST CHORUS Appearing from the left.

Darkness. The stage turns. Babylon shows some signs of destruction, but is decorated festively. Darius sits upon the throne surrounded by the satraps and esculaps. They are drinking and singing:

The messengers bring in Daniel.
DARIUS. Well, well, Magus! It seems I have need of you after all! I am happy to see you are still alive!
DANIEL. Alas, I am not.

DANIEL. Nor do I.


Darius is struck blind and deaf, which is made apparent first by his awkward movements, and then by the following dialogue with Daniel.
DARIUS. You will die.
DANIEL. And you won't?
DARIUS. You will die.
DANIEL. Everyone dies.
DARIUS. You will die.
DANIEL. I am neither the first nor the last.
DARIUS. You will die in pain.
DANIEL. All of life is pain.
DARIUS. You will die in pain… Where are you?
DANIEL. I am still here. Are you?
DARIUS. You will die in pain.
DANIEL. But only once.
DARIUS. You will die in a foreign land.
DANIEL. People die in every country.
DARIUS. They will not bury you.
DANIEL. I will not notice.

Daniel and the Lions are dragged off across the stage. A rumbling can be heard - the first sign, an approaching earthquake. The messengers run in, one after another.
1ST MESSENGER. Tsar, Daniel does not drown in the water! There is trouble!!
2ND. Neither fish nor serpent will touch him - they refuse to eat!!


5TH. They must be -- Voltarians!
Daniel enters, wet, but full of life. The Ethiopian flies in once again.

DANIEL Shaking himself off.


DANIEL Taking off his beard. Yes, I lived with them in their cave for a time. And not a day went by when I was not extracting a thorn from someone's paw, or combing another's mane…

1ST SATRAP: Daniel, tell me now, and this time for real,
why the lions would not make you their meal?
DANIEL. Because they feel the earth quaking! Takes off his wig. Not even the smallest animal is thinking of his belly now…
Indeed, once again a loud crashing can be heard, this time closer. Darius's throne shakes, as does the crown on his head. The Tower of Babylon comes tumbling down.

DANIEL. I've heard this somewhere before…
DARIUS. Well, is Daniel dead?
SATRAPS. Alive!!!
DARIUS. Dead. That is good.
The din becomes deafening. Two-Horns appears at the head of the Second Half of the Chorus.

Panic. Darius remains imperturbable upon the throne. His entourage collides with the army of Two-Horns.

DANIEL. To he who told you so,
spit now in his eyes!

1ST SATRAP. But how is it you prophesize?

Two-Horns's army approaches the throne of Darius. The First and Second satraps kill Darius and then each other. Two-Horns ascends the throne through a host of corpses.


A nude Girl runs in, chased by seven lions. This is the Statue herself, only now she is alive and of normal stature. The lions take off their masks while still running, and turn out to be old men -- hunchbacked, lame, and blind in one eye…
OLD MEN. There she is… the Soul of the City!
DANIEL. Shut up!!!
The old men run across the stage and crumble into dust. Daniel embraces the Girl.
TWO-HORNS. Kill them!
Daniel and the Girl are killed.

The luminary from the first half of the chorus pours wine into the goblet, adding poison. Two-Horns drinks. He falls to the ground. They lay his body upon a funeral pyre and light it. It explodes. Darkness. Total light. Girls rush in -- as in the beginning. A dance takes place, led by Daniel and the Girl, which gradually draw in the participation of everyone.

The End

1. Play of Daniel (Lat.).