Tell-Tale Heart

THE TELL-TALE HEART – a musicabre

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Text: Edgar Allan Poe

Adaptation and Music: Danny Ashkenasi

Tell 39

FringeNYC 2006 Award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics

recorded live at the Metropolitan Playhouse, 2006

 

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1. True Nervous

 

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2. A Pale Blue Eye

 

Tell 31

3. You Should Have Seen Me

 

Tell 18

4. Upon the Eighth Night

 

Tell 15

5. The Groan of Mortal Terror

 

Tell 36

6. Wide, Wide Open

 

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7. The Beating of the Old Man’s Heart

 

Tell 16

8. He Was Stone, Stone Dead

 

Tell 21

9. Officers of the Police

 

Tell 6

10. A Ringing in My Ears


 
Tell 53

11. His Hideous Heart

 

Tell 46

 

THE TELL-TALE HEART
a musicabre

Text: Edgar Allen Poe
Adaptation and Music: Danny Ashkenasi

CAST:
Protagonist
3 Cellos (Cellists)

LEGEND:
Spoken text
Sung text
(Stage directions)

 

#1 TRUE, NERVOUS

(3 cellists (and their instruments) surround a man, the protagonist
He is seated in a chair. There is no other furniture.
As the Cellos start playing, the light slowly comes up on the protagonist
He hears but doesn’t see the cellos. He addresses the audience.)

PROTAGONIST:
True, nervous
Very very dreadfully nervous
True, nervous
Very very dreadfully nervous
I had been and am

But why will you say…
True, nervous
Very very dreadfully nervous
Very very dreadfully very dreadfully
Very very dreadfully very dreadfully nervous
I had been and am

But why will you say that I am mad?
The disease had sharpened my senses
The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre 2
Not destroyed
Not dulled them

True, nervous,
Very very dreadfully nervous

Above all was the sense of hearing acute
I heard all things in heaven
I heard all things on earth
I heard many things in hell

How then am I mad?
How then am I mad?

True, nervous
Very very dreadfully nervous
Very very dreadfully very dreadfully
Very very dreadfully very dreadfully
very very dreadfully very dreadfully
dreadfully dreadfully dreadfully

(He pauses while the cellos chatter disturbingly)

Hearken!

And observe how healthily
How calmly
I can tell you the whole story

(He and the cellos settle down,
although one nervous twitch in a cello does slip by before he suppresses it.)

 

#2 A PALE BLUE EYE

PROTAGONIST:
It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none.
I loved the old man.
He had never wronged me.
He had never given me insult
For his gold I had no desire.
I think it was his eye.

Yes, it was this!

One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture.
A pale blue eye
With a film over it
Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold.

And so by degrees –
Very gradually –
I made up my mind to take the life of the old man,
And thus rid myself of the eye for ever

 

#3 YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN ME

PROTAGONIST:
Now this is the point
You fancy me mad
Ha!
Madmen know nothing

But you should have seen me
You should have seen me
You should have seen how wisely I proceeded
With what caution
With what foresight
With what dissimulation I went to work

I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.

Yes you should have seen me
You should have seen how deftly I proceeded
With what wisdom
With what prudence
With what consideration I played my part

And every night
About midnight
I turned the latch of his door
And opened it
Oh so gently

And then
When I had made
An opening sufficient for my head

I put in a dark lantern
All closed closed
So that no light shown out

And then I thrust in my head

Oh you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in!

I moved it slowly
Very very slowly
So that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep

It took me an hour
To place my whole head
Within the opening so far
That I could see him
As he lay upon his bed

Ha!
Would a madman have been so wise as this?

And then
When my head was well in the room
I undid the lantern cautiously
Oh so cautiously
Cautiously
For the hinges creaked

I undid it just so much that a single thin ray
Fell upon the vulture eye

And this I did for seven long nights
Every night
Just at midnight
But I found the eye always closed

And so it was impossible to do the work
For it was not the old man who vexed me
But his Evil Eye

And every morning when the day broke
I walked so boldly into the chamber
And spoke courageously to him
Calling him by name in a hearty voice
And inquiring how he had passed the night

Ah you should have seen me
You should have seen how wisely I proceeded
With what caution
With what foresight
With what wisdom
With what prudence
With what insight
With what feeling
With what considerate
Deliberate
Dissimulation I went to work

So you see
He would have been a very profound old man indeed
To suspect
That every night
Just at twelve
I looked in upon him while he slept

(A cello sighs)

 

#4 UPON THE EIGHTH NIGHT

PROTAGONIST:
Upon the eighth night
I was more than usually cautious
In opening the door

A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine

Never before that night
Had I felt the extent of my own powers
Of my sagacity
I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph

To think that there I was
Opening the door
Little by little
And he not even to dream
Of my secret deeds or thoughts

I fairly chuckled at the idea
And perhaps he heard me
For he moved on the bed suddenly as if startled

Now you may think that I drew back
But no
His room was black as pitch
With the thick darkness
For the shudders were close fastened through fear of robbers
And so I knew he could not see the opening of the door
And I kept pushing it on
Steadily steadily

I had my head in
And was about to open the lantern
When my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening
And the old man sprang up in the bed crying out:
“Who’s there?”

(silence)

 

#5 THE GROAN OF MORTAL TERROR

PROTAGONIST:
I kept still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the
meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening – just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

(the cellos moan)

Presently I heard a slight groan
And I knew
It was the groan of mortal terror
It was not a groan of pain or of grief
Oh no
It was the low stifled sound
That arises from the bottom of the soul
When overcharged with awe

I knew the sound well
Many a night, just at midnight
When all the world slept
It had welled up from my own bosom
Deepening
With its dreadful echo
The terrors that distracted me

I say I knew it well
I knew what the old man felt
And pitied him
Although I chuckled at heart

I knew
That he’d been lying awake ever since the first slight noise
When he’d turned in the bed
His fears had been ever since growing upon him
He’d been trying to fancy them causeless but could not
He had been saying to himself

“It is nothing but the wind in the chimney
It is only a mouse crossing the floor”
Or “It is merely a cricket that has made a single chirp”

Yes he’d been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions
But he had found them all in vain

All in vain
Because Death
In approaching him
Had stalked
With his black shadow
Before him
And enveloped the victim

And it was the mournful influence
Of the unperceived shadow
That caused him to feel
Although he neither saw nor heard
It caused him to feel

The presence of my head within the room

 

#6 WIDE, WIDE OPEN

PROTAGONIST:
When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down
I resolved to open a little
A very very little crevice in the lantern
So I opened it
You cannot imagine how stealthily stealthily
Until at length, a single dim ray
Like the thread of a spider
Shot out from the crevice
And full upon the vulture eye

It was open
Wide wide open
And I grew furious as I gazed upon it
I saw it with perfect distinctness
All a dull blue
With a hideous film over it
That chilled the very marrow of my bones

But I could see nothing else
Of the old man’s face or person
For I had directed the ray
As if by instinct precisely upon the
Damned spot

 

#7 THE BEATING OF THE OLD MAN’S HEART

(the cellos pluck out a quick steady heartbeat)

PROTAGONIST:
And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses?

Now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull quick sound, much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton.

I knew that sound well too
It was the beating of the old man’s heart
It increased my fury
As the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage

But even then I refrained and kept still
I scarcely breathed
I held the lantern motionless
I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye

Meanwhile the hellish tattoo of the heart increased
It grew quicker and quicker and louder and louder every instant
The old man’s terror must have been extreme!

It grew louder, I say
Louder every moment
Do you mark me well?

I have told you I am nervous, nervous
Very very dreadfully nervous
So I am

And now at the dead hour of the night
Amid the dreadful silence of the old house
So strange a noise as this
Excited me to uncontrollable terror

Yet for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still

But the beating grew louder louder
I thought his heart must burst

And then a new anxiety seized me
The sound would be heard by a neighbor

The old man’s hour had come

(the cellos attack)

With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room
He shrieked once – once only
In an instant I dragged him to the floor and pulled the heavy bed over him

Then I smiled gaily
To find the deed so far done

(the plucked heartbeats resume)

But for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound

This however did not vex me

It would not be heard through the wall

(the heartbeats wane and slow down,
trickling down to few and far between,
before stopping)

At length it ceased
The old man was dead

 

#8 HE WAS STONE, STONE DEAD

PROTAGONIST:
I moved the bed and examined the corpse
Yes, he was stone, stone dead
I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes
There was no pulsation
He was stone dead
His eye would trouble me no more

(the cellos play a fugal lamentation)

If you still think me mad
You will think so no longer when I describe
The wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body
The night waned and I worked hastily hastily
But in silence

First of all I dismembered the corpse
I cut off the head and the arms and the legs

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber
And deposited all between the scantlings

I then replaced the boards so cleverly cleverly
So cunningly cunningly
That no human eye
Not even his
Could have detected anything wrong

There was nothing to wash out
No stain of any kind
No blood spot whatever
I had been too wary for that
A tub had caught all ha! ha!

(the cellos cry)

 

#9 OFFICERS OF THE POLICE

PROTAGONIST:
When I had made an end to these labors, it was four o’clock – still dark as midnight. As
the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door.

I went down to open it with a light heart – for what had I now to fear?

(he acknowledges the cellists)

There entered three men who introduced themselves
With perfect suavity as officers of the police
A shriek had been heard by a neighbor during the night
Suspicion of foul play had been aroused
Information had been lodged at the police station
And they, the officers, had been deputed
To search the premises

I smiled (ah) for what had I to fear?
I bade the gentlemen (mm) welcome
The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream
The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country

I took my visitors all over the house
I bade them search – search well
I led them at length to his chamber
I showed them his treasures
Secure, undisturbed

In the enthusiasm of my confidence
I brought chairs into the room
And desired them here to rest from their fatigues

While I myself, in the wild audacity of my
Perfect triumph, placed my own chair down
Upon the very spot beneath which

Reposed the corpse of the victim

 

#10 A RINGING IN MY EARS

PROTAGONIST:
The officers were satisfied
My manner had convinced them
I was singularly at ease

They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted familiar things
But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone

(the cellos create tinnitus)

My head ached and I fancied a ringing in my ears

But still they sat and still chatted

The ringing became more distinct

It continued and became more distinct

I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling

But it continued and gained definitiveness

Until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears

 

#11 HIS HIDEOUS HEART

(a cello strums a heart beat)

(a second heartbeat)

(another, more defined, heartbeat)

(another)

PROTAGONIST:
No doubt I now grew very pale

(two cellos create the heart beats)

But I talked more fluently and with a heightened voice

Yet the sound increased

(the heartbeats slowly accelerate)

and what could I do?

It was a low,
Dull,
Quick sound
Much such a sound
As a watch makes
When enveloped in cotton

(he gasps)

I gasped for breath
And yet the officers heard it not
I talked more quickly
More vehemently
But the noise steadily increased

True, nervous
Very very dreadfully nervous
I had been and am

I arose and argued about trifles
In a high key and with violent gestures
But the noise steadily increased

Why would they not be gone?
I paced the floor with heavy strides
As if excited to fury by the observation of the men
But the sound steadily increased

Oh God!
What could I do?
I foamed
I raved
I swore
I swung the chair upon which I’d been sitting
And grated it upon the boards

But the noise arose above all
And continually increased
It grew louder
Louder
Louder

(all three cellos are strumming the heart beats)

I heard all things in heaven
I heard all things on earth
I heard many things in hell

And still the men chatted pleasantly and smiled
Was it possible they heard not?

Almighty God!
No no!
They heard
They suspected
They knew

They were making a mockery of my horror
This I thought, and this I think

Very very dreadfully nervous
Very very dreadfully very dreadfully
Very very dreadfully very dreadfully
Dreadfully dreadfully dreadfully dreadfully

But anything was better than this agony
Anything was more tolerable than this derision
I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer
I felt that I must scream or die

And now again!
Hark!
Louder!
Louder!
Louder!
LOUDER!

Villains!
I shrieked
Dissemble no more
I admit the deed

Tear up the planks
Here, here!
Tear up the planks
Here, here!

It is the beating of his hideous heart!

(the cellos scream their outrage,
faster and faster,
until suddenly cutting off)

(black)

Tell 22

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