No one sees it coming. We behold a stage bisected by train tracks that run straight toward the back wall. As we look into the distance where the tracks seem to meet, we presume we see a painted backdrop of a central vanishing point perspective. (In fact, we are wrong. Real tracks disappear down an actual four-mile corridor visible through the missing back wall of the theatre. The meeting of tracks is an illusion of convergence caused by distance—not, as we believe, an illusion of distance caused by convergence.)
Stage right of the tracks: a long, immaculately laid table with an overabundance of doilies, linens, teacups, carafes, tea sandwiches, vases, all white. A fine family sits around, silently sipping, cutting, passing the butter.
On the other side of the tracks: a vulgar slab, a great gnarled oak roughly split. It is heaped with oversized mugs of ale, straw, rusted goblets, dung, two great hogs farting and shitting. Servants laugh, belch, and weep silently as they spill beer all over themselves and take bites out of mutton legs.
Read over the microphone, passages from Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”; “Not one word, not one gesture of yours shall I, could I, ever forget….” And so on.
When we see a train in the distance, headed straight for us at full speed, we realize that the central vanishing point is not painted but real. The train comes closer. The tables begin to rattle. Stage lights crash to the ground. Finally, the steam locomotive rushes into the theatre building, down between the tables and straight into the auditorium. The ensuing catastrophe is shocking beyond all comprehension.
After the smoke clears, the two tables continue to dine as if nothing had happened.