Beef, No Chicken

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Beef, No Chicken
Written by Derek Walcott
Original language English
Subject Modernization in a small Caribbean town.
Genre Drama
Setting 1969. Couva, Trinidad.

Beef, No Chicken is a two-act play by Caribbean playwright Derek Walcott, written in 1981. The play is set in the Trinidadian town of Couva. It follows restaurant owner Otto Hogan, whose refusal to accept graft delays the building of a highway through the center of the town.

Characters[edit]

Plot[edit]

Act I[edit]

Beef, No Chicken opens as Otto rushes into his roti restaurant, removing a dress as the sound of gunfire can be heard in the distance. It is soon revealed that he wears the dress in an attempt to create a folk legend about a spirit called "The Mysterious Stranger" haunting the construction of a highway though Couva. The chef employed by his restaurant, Sumintra, quits because Otto cannot pay her after his refusal to serve the construction crews working on the highway. Cedric Hart, an anchor on the local news, crashes his van into a ditch outside Otto's restaurant while doing a story on "The Mysterious Stranger." Otto's starstruck niece Drusilla leaves with Cedric. Euphony convinces the schoolmaster Eldridge Franco to play the role of the "Mysterious Stranger" as the guard dogs have caught on to Otto's scent. He escapes, but loses Euphony's hat at the construction site. The two bandits attempt to rob Euphony, but she dissuades them by telling them of fifteen thousand dollars in an unguarded payroll truck meant for workers on the highway. The mayor and the other members of the Borough Council unsuccessfully attempt to bribe Otto and the act ends with the unexpected return of a long lost fiance of Euphony named Cardiff Joe from Wales.

Act II[edit]

In the second act, Cardiff Joe and Euphony plan a date for their wedding. Cedric returns to film a commercial for Otto's restaurant. Cardiff Joe makes an anonymous bomb threat against the highway on the same day as his wedding to Euphony. The mayor uses the hat implicating Euphony as "The Mysterious Stranger" to force Otto into allowing the highway. The play ends with Franco and Sumintra joining Cedric and Drusilla on a live broadcast of the six o clock news.

Wordplay[edit]

In Act One, Otto complains about a sign painter's mistake in writing "DRIVE-IN FAST, FOOD SERVICE" instead of "DRIVE-IN, DASH, FAST FOOD SERVICE". Following a crash involving Cedric, Franco notes "So you're in a coma because of a comma." In a later section, Franco responds to an argument over the use of "I'm" versus "I am" with the line "Well, let's not go into a coma over a comma." The chef, Sumintra, begins most of her lines with "because", and Euphony and Franco discuss her resignation:

EUPHONY: Sumintra has resigned. She too insubordinate.
FRANCO: You find so? She began each sentence with a subordinate clause.

The play abounds with similar word play.

Undeveloped plot lines[edit]

Over the course of the play, certain sideplots are cut short or ignored, leaving them open to the imagination. Among these unresolved elements of the story are how Alwyn met the Deacon (and, more generally, who the Deacon actually is) and what happened to the two bandits in their later enterprise. Similarly, themes essential to the play: prejudice on the basis of language, largely coming from Franco, and racial prejudice, largely directed against Lai Fook, are introduced but rapidly discarded.