New Light on Riboflavin


A play by Kevin Killian


Jimmy Jay, security guard at the Berkeley Museum… David Kasprzak

May Trix, curator at the Berkeley Museum… Lindsey White

Marshall McLuhan, Canadian media theorist… David Brazil

Bob Bishop, reporter for the Berkeley Barb… Paul Ebenkamp

Kevin Killian, department secretary… Theo Konrad Auer

Lady Jay, the janitor’s wife… May Wilson

Anais Nin… Suzanne Stein

Dan Flavin, sculptor of light… Jordan Stein

Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian folksinger… Kevin Killian


Click here for a video of a performance at the Berkeley Art Museum on June 12, 2015.


[Lights fade up: a car has crashed into the Berkeley Museum and though no one is behind the wheel, the headlights are still shining.]


JIMMY JAY. Ms. Trix! Did you hear the crash?


MAY. Yes—I came running to see if—(pause)—well, never mind.


JIMMY JAY (as he spots the car). Whoa, dead ride!


MAY. Jimmy Jay, what has happened here? It’s Berkeley and it’s 1972 and we’re on the brink of real social revolution.


JIMMY JAY. Sorry, Dr. Trix, let me start at the beginning.


MAY. The eternal cycle of starting at the beginning.


JIMMY JAY. At approximately eighteen fifty-five, —


MAY. When? Tonight?


JIMMY JAY. Yes. Tonight a male suspect was seen crashing his car, a late model Chevy wagon, into the concrete wall of the two year old Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, interrupting the premiere of Maya Deren’s Medusa Haiku. The car door cracked open, reported Miss Deren, and the driver staggered away, possessed, she believes, by the divine gods of Haiti.


MAY. Colorful report!


JIMMY JAY. He hasn’t yet returned. Though he left behind—oh, never mind.


MAY. What?


JIMMY JAY. I don’t know what you want me to say. Dr. Trix!


MAY. Jimmy Jay, have you heard of riboflavin?


JIMMY JAY. Did somebody say I did?


MAY. Tell me, have you met our Matrix artist Dan Flavin?


JIMMY JAY. I am a janitor, Dr. Trix. I mean, literally, a janitor. And my wife—


MAY. Yes?


JIMMY JAY. —is a janitor’s wife.


MAY. Then answer me this, have you heard that scientists here on the Berkeley campus have invented a replacement for—


JIMMY JAY. For me? Like, a robot or something?


MAY. No!


JIMMY JAY. A robot janitor?


MAY. No! A replacement for the old electric light bulb of Thomas Edison?


JIMMY JAY. I’m here from Georgia, the land of rich peaches and much capitalist bullshit. There I was born without electric light. My mother had only the village nurse to guide baby Jimmy Jay into a cruel dark hot landscape.


MAY. I’m talking of course, about the modern fluorescent light.


JIMMY JAY. You got me there.


MAY. Wait, that man must be a scientist, look at his coat. He can explain it better than I can.


JIMMY JAY. Dr. Trix, you explain fine.


MAY. Fluorescent lights are the long tubes recently invented by NASA to provide illumination for the space program. Oh dear, you’re shivering, and it’s a warm June night.


JIMMY JAY (shivering). Tubes give me the creeps. Give me a flashlight any old day, with a Double A battery.


[Enter MARSHALL McLUHAN in a white lab coat something like a scientist’s.]


McLUHAN (whistling). Some smash, eh?


MAY. A terrible dust-up.


McLUHAN. Yes…. The collision is the collage.


MAY. You were at the Gordon Lightfoot meet and greet.


McLUHAN. I am a scientist, and my focus is on understanding media. But I’m something of a quick study, and I couldn’t resist the fun of a Gordon Lightfoot meet and greet.


JIMMY JAY. May Trix, this is Marshall McLuhan from University of Canada.


MAY. Oh, you’re Canadian, then you won’t know anything about NASA. Or vitamins.


McLUHAN. Try me.


MAY. Is there a NASA Canada?


McLUHAN. We are all one big nation today with our TV addiction and our long, cool, fluorescent tubes dusted with moon dust.


JIMMY JAY. When the rockets filled with Neil Armstrong landed, a terrible music hit the campus of Berkeley.


McLUHAN. Not music—not Gordon Lightfoot music—but what we in Toronto call “inhabitative noise.”


MAY. You seem very familiar, Marshall, with Gordon Lightfoot’s oeuvre.


McLUHAN. He’s been looking like a queen in a sailors dream, and he don’t often say what he really means.


MAY. He hasn’t been to the Berkeley Museum as often as he used to.


JIMMY JAY. Oh now I know who you’re talking about.


MAY. The gallery girls would tease me that I had a new boyfriend, folk singer Gordon Lightfoot.


McLUHAN. Have you asked yourself why Gordon has not been to see you in months?


MAY. If you could read my mind, Marshall McLuhan, what a tale my heart could tell.


JIMMY JAY. Aw, who needs him? May Trix here’s got a new show with an American artist we’re nuts about.


McLUHAN. Just like a paperback novel, the kind that the drug stores sell.


MAY. As one Berkeley professional to another, sir, will you help me?


McLUHAN. The vacillation is the visage.


MAY. Have you ever seen or touched a fluorescent light?


McLUHAN. I have, Miss Trix.


MAY. And?


McLUHAN. Like TV, they are the cooler emblem of a new cybernetic age. Our anecstors used heat, tamed dragons, roasted meats on spits, had sex. In the new age the temperature drops [voice drops] way down.


JIMMY JAY. Fluorescent lights are the devil’s dick, Miss Trix! Bulbs filled to bursting with a miasma, a thick crummy miasma, that can wilt a cabbage at thirty paces. Break a tube, you die screaming.


McLUHAN. That miasma could wilt a full size sequoia if one chose to harness fluorescence for evil, but luckily the miasma don’t know its own strength.


JIMMY JAY. Ms. Trix, Dr. McLuhan, what are you driving at?


MAY. I woke up this morning and said to myself, “May,” (for I am May Trix, founder of the Matrix program)… “May, it’s your day off but you better go down to the Museum and see what’s going on.”


JIMMY JAY. So you came in….


MAY. I came in and….


JIMMY JAY. Wait! Was the disoriented driver—are you trying to tell me—Maya con Dios, was the driver Dan Flavin? The man they call (pause) the sculptor of light?


MAY. Wait here please.


JIMMY JAY. Do I wait as witness or suspect?


McLUHAN. Wait nearby the car, sir.


JIMMY JAY. Inside the car is there miasma?


MAY. I would never ask you to endanger your health, Jimmy Jay.


McLUHAN. Just get over there.


JIMMY JAY. All right, I will stand near by the death car.


[He walks over to the car and puts a hand on the trunk, as though linked to the car.]


MAY. Heavens to Betsy—Dan Flavin and his quest for a new vitamin—has it led to this car crash?


McLUHAN. Wasn’t there an American cartoon where they say, “Which way did he go, boss? Which way did he go?”


MAY (to herself). Ironic how I, a respected West Coast curator, am reduced to acting like a private eye in a film noir movie, like Kiss Me Deadly, who gets burned in a three way strip.


[Enter BOB BISHOP from the Berkeley Barb.]


BOB. Dr Trix. A few questions from the press?


MAY. Why not?


BOB. I’m Bob Bishop from the Berkeley Barb.


MAY. The radical underground press.


McLUHAN. I will say goodbye—for now. I’m here on a Fulbright interpreting the ways our two countries differ. And I have a full load, as you say here.


MAY. The coursework alone must be an ample burden, Dr. McLuhan.


McLUHAN. In Toronto we say, “The coursework is the corsage.”


[Exit McLUHAN.]


MAY. Bob Bishop of the Berkeley Barb.


BOB. Dr. Trix, is your protégé, Dan Flavin of New York, smuggling the new fluoresecent lights into the museum under cover of darkness?


MAY. Dan Flavin is not my protégé. He belongs to the world, like all great artists of his stripe. I am but the humble curator, flicking a switch onto 1972.


BOB. Does the University receive funds from NASA?


MAY. Certainly not! I’m with the Matrix program and we’re doing a show with Dan Flavin. That’s all I know. I mean I know my Michael Fried and Clement Greenberg. And now that it’s 1972 my Linda Nochlin.


BOB. Does Marshall McLuhan work for NASA? The Canadian man.


MAY. Bob, you grew up in the shadow of the atom bomb, didn’t you?


BOB. Yes, from an early age I, a baby boomer, ducked and covered under the school desk or if I was at home, under the sturdy tool bench my dad had put up in his basement.


MAY. Did dad, or Mom, for we must not discount the power of the woman, ever tell you about vitamins? Or give you one or more to swallow?


BOB. Flintstones vitamins.


MAY. Here we are in the last rays of the sun, can you feel the heat dying on your face?


[BOB turns his face to the sun, rubs his forehead, his cheek.]


BOB. Yes—the dying, June sun.


MAY. Sunlght is a potent source of vitamin D.


BOB. In grade school they used some of the letters for the names of vitamins, there was vitamin C for orange juice, B for beans, A for apple…. There were so many letters left out, I felt quite sorry for them, I did.


MAY. Under the desk you felt sorry for them.


BOB. Kissing my ass goodbye I felt ever so sorry for F, G, H, I, J et cetera.


MAY. Dan Flavin is a talented sculptor using his art world push to provide a place here at UC Berkeley to help others invent a new, site specific vitamin – which we are calling Riboflavin.


BOB. Riboflavin? Isn’t that a thing already?


MAY. Is it? You know Dan was one of twin brothers, and the other one died.


BOB. I actually don’t know much about Dan Flavin.


[Enter ANAIS NIN.]


ANAIS NIN. Why not ask a woman?


BOB. Anais Nin!


ANAIS NIN. Yes, and this is the Chevy that Dan Flavin stole to make love to me in.


MAY. That’s a bare-faced lie!


ANAIS NIN. Is it, Dr. Trix? It was a love making site specific in its details. And what do you care, Dr. Trix? I, Anais, have loved many men, from Henry Miller to Gore Vidal, to Charles Mingus and Jackson Mac Low. Even my own father, if my legend is true. Yet no man has moved me such as the young Dan Flavin.


MAY. I see.


ANAIS NIN. Well, perhaps Gordon Lightfoot.


BOB. “If I could read your mind, girl, what a thought my mind could tell.”


MAY. Nothing annoys Gordon as much as a fan who cannot remember the lyrics


ANAIS NIN. Or makes them up.


MAY. His singing voice is a tenor perfectly suited for our cool, minimalist era.


ANAIS NIN. Yes, like a Canadian sunset. His actual Delta of Venus is small, quite small when compared to those of Mac Low or Flavin.


MAY. You will never be a Matrix artist! You are far too presumptuous.


BOB. Miss Nin, you have lived in California for nearly thirty years, what changes have you observed in your decades of sexual experience?


ANAIS. The long hair on the men. Like yours, Bob.


MAY. Dan’s twin brother was called Robert, but little Dan couldn’t pronounce it, and called him Ribo. So sad.


BOB. You act almost as if there was a tragedy in the Flavin family.


MAY. Young Ribo died of polio.


ANAIS. The chicken.


MAY. No, the disease, polio. Not pollo.


ANAIS. In Spain, when twins are separated, we call it the sundering of the two.


BOB. Impressive!


ANAIS. Old Spanish saying: “Take what you want, saith God—but pay for it.” God bought Dan Flavin a box of lights, the brand new miasma tubes in pastels and primary colors, and Flavin lit up the sky with them.


BOB. No wonder Dan Flavin feels such torment. Here he is, dean of American minimalism, yet his brother’s in Colma gathering dust.


ANAIS. I can still hear Ribo scream out, “Dan, Dan! Can’t you invent something? A vitamin or something?”


MAY. The terrible screams of a man drained of life.


ANAIS. “And name it after me,” cried the brother.


BOB. Didn’t you say something, earlier in this play, May, about how one always has to start at the beginning?


ANAIS. Very meta, May Trix!


MAY. Yes, I did. I remember now. “The eternal cycle of starting at the beginning.”


[Enter KEVIN KILLIAN, May Trix’ executive assistant.]


KEVIN KILLIAN. Dr. Trix, the press conference is beginning and nobody can find Dan Flavin.


BOB. Maybe he’s still installing.


MAY. He had nothing to do with this car crash, nothing, or my name isn’t Mabel Trix and this isn’t Kevin Killian, my personal assistant.


ANAIS. Who designed this building? [After a pause.] I slept with him! It’s coming back to me now. He was a brutalist, just like the heavy concrete that stopped this, how do you say, Flavin’s, how do you say, “hot rod.”


BOB. What strange green light hovers over this concrete creation?






KEVIN KILLIAN. The building was designed in 1970 by a Mario Ciampi. A mere two years old, like my little boy at home.


ANAIS. Yes, Mario! I gave myself to him and he was like a boy at Christmas to whom Santa had delivered his first architecture set of glass, concrete and steel.


MAY. Let us disperse and leave this scene. Kevin, how do I look?




ANAIS. Frazzled.


BOB. Like you’re hiding something.


MAY TRIX. Has Gordon Lightfoot been located? He swore to me he would sing some of his folk hits.


ANAIS. Like “Early Morning Rain.”


BOB. “Carefree Highway.”


MAY. “For Loving Me.”


BOB. “If you could read my mind, girl,”


BOB and ANAIS. “What a tale my thoughts would tell.”


KEVIN KILLIAN. “Just like a paperback novel,”


KEVIN KILLIAN, BOB, ANAIS. “The kind the drugstores sell.”


MAY. “In a castle dark—“


KEVIN KILLIAN. Dr. Trix, reporters are waiting under the huge Hans Hofmann.


MAY (to KEVIN KILLIAN). I hate to leave you alone like this.


KEVIN KILLIAN. Go and do your duty as the first female curator at Berkeley.


MAY. Will Gordon Lightfoot be there?


BOB. Follow me. Maybe we’ll find Dan Flavin.


ANAIS. I for one would welcome that opportunity.




KEVIN KILLIAN. It’s growing dark. Soon the whole world will be glowing red with radiation. Or green, if Marshall McLuhan is correct [Sings.] When the world gets cold—I’ll be your cover. Let’s… just… hold… On to each other. When it all falls, when it all falls down, we’ll be two souls in a ghost town.


[Enter LADY JAY.]


LADY JAY. Jimmy Jay! Where you got yourself off to? I declare, Jimmy Jay, you are the hardest man to pin down.




LADY JAY. Hi, y’all. I’m Lady Jay and my husband is your janitor—you know him, little bruiser of a guy, Jimmy Jay?


KEVIN KILLIAN. Of course I do! He’s the heart and soul of the Berkeley Museum.


LADY JAY. But now he’s AWOL! He had a break at six and I was supposed to meet him in the janitor’s closet. I was right on time and where was he? Don’t know! It’s like he’s being held hostage.


JIMMY JAY. Help! Help me, Lady Jay! I’m like stuck to this old death car.


[But his cries go unheard.]


KEVIN KILLIAN. Sorry, I haven’t seen him! He likes the salad bar at the student center.


LADY JAY. I put up his lunch, every day, in a brown burlap sack, like they do where we come from. He don’t need no salad whatever it is.


KEVIN KILLIAN. Bar. Salad bar. Invented in Berkeley in 1964, the salad bar is the modern-day equivalent of the smorgasbord of the Scandinavian Viking people.


JIMMY JAY. I don’t like salad bar, that’s government lies about me! Kevin Killian is bullshit, man.


LADY JAY. Everything’s the modern-day version of something superior. What happened to love—the love of a good woman. Jimmy Jay! Come and git it!


KEVIN KILLIAN. Lady—is that your name? “Lady Jay”?


LADY JAY. Yes—like Lady Bird Johnson.


KEVIN KILLIAN. I’ve worked for Dr. Trix for two years now, ever since the opening of the museum and the very first Matrix artist was Ursula Schneider.


LADY JAY. How many you up to now?


KEVIN KILLIAN. Oh goodness, we’ve done so many. Dan Flavin is Matrix 6. Or seven.


LADY JAY. That is a lot, but when I see the green lights in the sky I get a little—apocalyptic, Mr. Killian. There’s a man in the forest over there by the way.


KEVIN KILLIAN. Oh my God that’s our Matrix artist, stumbling from the trees! Dan Flavin!


[Enter DAN FLAVIN, stumbling from the trees.]


FLAVIN. Where do I go from here?


JIMMY JAY. And don’t forget, there’s me over here!


LADY JAY (approaching FLAVIN). Poor boy, you have suffered a bump on your head? May I feel?


FLAVIN. If you must.


LADY JAY. My mom taught me phrenology, long ago, in the backwoods of Georgia. It is the art of picking up the vibes of a man from the bumps in his lap. I mean, on his head.


KEVIN KILLIAN. He looks so woebegone!


LADY JAY. And you, Dan Flavin, are complicated.


FLAVIN. One bump’s brand new, woman of the South.


LADY JAY. Very complicated he is.


FLAVIN. I’m not complicated, lady, I’m just an ordinary guy whose twin died of polio, and so I seek a way to bring him back to planet earth, with a new forthcoming site-specific vitamin named after him..


[Enter ANAIS.]


ANAIS NIN. I have known and loved many artists, minimalists all of them, where it counted, in their lack of true value.


FLAVIN. It is here at Berkeley that multiple vitamins were developed, and now I want them to make me a Flavin vitamin. [To LADY JAY and KEVIN KILLIAN.] Find them and bring them to me.


LADY JAY. Hey, I’m still looking for my husband, Jimmy Jay.


KEVIN KILLIAN. He’s probably at the Hotel Durrant. He likes to go there and eat from their salad bar.


JIMMY JAY. Lies! Untruths! Lies of Nixon dimension!


FLAVIN. My scientists?


LADY JAY. We’ll find ‘em, skinny.




ANAIS. Is there not a “Riboflavin” already?


FLAVIN. People keep saying that, Anais Nin. But I don’t think so.


ANAIS. Henry Miller said, “Anais, the inventor.”


FLAVIN. My brother was called Ribo.


ANAIS (with a sharp intake of breath). Ribo Flavin? Polio?


FLAVIN. Did you know him?


ANAIS. He was my lover, like most American men born in the 30s.


FLAVIN. But Ribo had little or no experience with women, due to his illness.


JIMMY JAY. Maybe that’s what he told you! Men are just lying dogs!


ANAIS. He was in the Navy, and the Navy was in me, like molecules in your light saber, Dan Flavin. We used to see him nightly on the docks and wonder who would be the first to explore the crevices, the edges, the curls of his body.


FLAVIN. Some say that I am the greatest American artist, but in my heart, I know I am but a stand-in for my more talented twin.


ANAIS. Elvis says the same, Elvis Presley.


FLAVIN. Twins lie conjoined inside each other, like chrysanthemum stalks bundled for market.


ANAIS. Twins and triplets were my meat, when I walked Navy Pier. Your brother was strong man, Matrix artist. His little legs and arms were nothing, weak, flapping like flypaper, but perhaps in contrast, his qu’est-ce-que c’est, his Poteau was vast, like the north pole, Dan Flavin. With many penguins around it to give it noble strength and intensity, like a hundred stalks of mums bundled together for market.


FLAVIN. Well, I’ll be!


ANAIS. Flash that light in my eyes, make me feel even a thousandth part the dazzle I felt with your dead twin boy. If that is polio, every man in America needs it.


FLAVIN.   OK, you’re from France?


ANAIS. Born under the Seine.


FLAVIN. Do you know Niki de Saint-Phalle?


ANAIS. Tell me more about Ribo, the man who destroyed me.


FLAVIN. Top scientists from the Berkeley Biochemistry department, and the physics department, arrive at eight pm to combine their flasks of atomic miasma. From the four corners of the earth they come, with crystal tubes open at one end.


ANAIS. I see, for the ultimate cocktail.


FLAVIN. From the Nobel Prize of Sweden, I bring you Stephen Hawking, walking towards us before his diagnosis, bringing with him the beaker of DNA he invented.


[Enter JIMMY JAY.]


ANAIS NIN. That is Stephen Hawking?


FLAVIN. Wait—that’s the Matrix janitor!


JIMMY JAY. Trapped in a web of Berkeley lies, I saw me a vision. I say, a vision to rival that of Oppenheimer and Edward Teller, the Berkeley men who brought forth the atom bomb. I tell you this, I, Jimmy Jay of Georgia!


ANAIS. He’s a strong, handsome man but he’s been through [pause] très ordeal.


FLAVIN. Tonight is the night! [To JIMMY JAY.] Where’s that beaker of DNA?


JIMMY JAY. Here it is, like alphabet soup of the soul.


FLAVIN. Green rays of fluorescent light penetrate the concrete hulk of the museum.


JIMMY JAY. And I have seen—look, from the forest floor, the animals bringing gifts of acorns and squash—the healthy food from which riboflavin is derived.


ANAIS NIN. From cold Canada comes the media theorist Marshall McLuhan,


[Enter McLUHAN.]


Author of The medium is the Massage!


JIMMY JAY. He brings with him large cup of maple syrup and Canadian Club.


FLAVIN. Pour it into my beaker, McLuhan, hurry do, and don’t be stingy, baby.


McLUHAN. The tedium is the tiramisu.


FLAVIN. Step back, it’s about to blow!


McLUHAN. Rub it on the rear view mirror.


FLAVIN. Like this?


McLUHAN. We will consult the modern day gods of speed and resurrection.


JIMMY JAY. I have spent forty days and forty nights in that car, and have been vouchsafed a revelation.


McLUHAN. The mirror is the mirage.


FLAVIN. What was once hot is now cool.


McLUHAN. The garish is the garage.


[Enter LADY JAY.]


LADY JAY (to her husband). There you are, little rascal! Where have you been? [As he tries to explain.] Never mind, I know, you were at the salad bar, see I know your little temptations.


JIMMY JAY (slowly). Yes. I was at—the salad bar, Lady Jay.


LADY JAY. You don’t fool me with your disappearing act. Now hush up, this man is about to invent a new vitamin.


JIMMY JAY. I saw it in a vision, at the salad bar.


McLUHAN. The Manon is the mayonnaise.


JIMMY JAY. The Manon is the mayonnaise.


[Enter MAY TRIX.]


MAY. Dan Flavin, bad boy, you cracked up your car to give your curator a scare. Is that the riboflavin?


ANAIS NIN. It needed a woman’s touch. A woman with experience—and a woman with innocence. A curator’s naivete.


FLAVIN. Yes, it is ready.


MAY (looking around). But I am missing a man. The Apollo of our day, with the cool, mechanical voice of the 70s.


JIMMY JAY. I saw him at the salad bar. Look, here he comes now, in my vision.




BOB. Were you missing me, May Trix, or the Gordon Lightfoot of your imagination?




ANAIS. He is Gordon Lightfoot—the John the Baptist of Riboflavin.


McLUHAN. Sing, Canadian brother, sing.


MAY TRIX (to BOB). Don’t ask me who I miss! Just as my dreams of a woman-led Matrix come true. Gordon! I’m here.


BOB. “The eternal cycle of starting at the beginning.”


GORDON LIGHTFOOT. Hi everyone, I’m Gordon Lightfoot from Canada. “If you could read my mind, love, what a tale my thoughts would tell.
Just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstores sell.
In a castle dark, or a fortress strong, with chains upon my feet, but for now, love, ket’s be real.
I never thought I would feel this way, but I’ve got to say that I just can’t take it.
I don’t know where we went wrong, but the feeling’s gone, and I just can’t get it back.




KEVIN KILLIAN. What about me? I had a vision of an active, committed poets’ theater that would change the world. And yet it still seems to be 1972!


DAN FLAVIN (taking center stage, spreading his arms wide, palms outstretched.) Ladies and gentlemen, behold, I give you riboflavin!