GODDESS UNDERACHIEVER (A One-Act Play By JRS)
Itís just a stage, where the main character will combine monologue, and interchanges with other voices and characters. I imagine the play begins on a somewhat darkened stage with only a stool in the middle, on which she will occasionally sit.
Goddess Underachiever (Aspasia Browne): A creative, "artist chick" - into writing and the theater. She may act as though she were different ages throughout the play, but now she is probably in the mid to late thirties, though she could be a bit older. She is attractive and interesting, and the amount of success sheís had in life is far below what her talent deserves. (Producers: youíll need an actress with an excellent memory, as well as great expression, range, timing, and also movement and pantomime skills. This is HER show, to make or break. Lots of cue cards and a good prompter wouldnít hurt!)
Mother (Semele Browne): Aspasiaís mother. An exotic and vivacious counterculture figure and fashion designer, filled with curiosity, life, and the desire to experience. She is the one who set Aspasiaís life pattern into motion - she was a brilliant underachiever, herself. When Semele appears on stage, she should be in her prime - in the thirties or early forties, tops. She passed away when Aspasia was in high school, so her appearances reflect Aspasiaís memories and thoughts.
Aunt: Emily, Semeleís older sister, and Aspasiaís aunt. Emily also materializes in Aspasiaís thoughts and memories. Semele often left Aspasia with her aunt, while she went off on her "adventures." Emily, who has also passed, is conventional, and frequently critical of the two "artists." She could be in the forties or fifties.
Group Leader: This person is leading a group of adults playing "Simon Says" in a metaphorical representation of the "work world" which Goddess Underachiever hates so much. Itís a very small part.
Simon Says Players: A group of several people who are needed onstage to play "Simon Says" with the Group Leader.
VOICES: Various characters appear only as voices from off stage. These include:
Classmates : Six different "voices" of classmates from Aspasiaís school days are needed.
Juan: One of Aspasiaís former boyfriends, a Latin, who should be able to speak a few lines of credible Spanish.
Tom: Another former boyfriend of Aspasia: one imagines him as white and middle-class.
Not many: wardrobe concerns (Semele must be dressed well); carnations; 2 replicas of ancient Egyptian sistrums (should be able to make sounds like rattling bells or chimes); a couple of books (they are supposed to be sex books); the stool; off stage, a sound system to play a piece of Steppenwolfís "Born To Be Wild." Other song fragments will just be sung a cappella, by Aspasia (she should have a fair voice, but this isnít singing for singingís sake!)
A NOTE TO THE DIRECTOR:
Please exercise flexibility in the staging. For example, when directions call for voices to come from off stage, feel free to bring characters on stage, and to direct them as desired, if that works best for you.
GA: My name is Goddess Underachiever. You heard me right. Iím no ordinary failure. Iím Goddess Underachiever, approaching my final days. [Begins to fence wildly against an invisible opponent] "Here lies Hercule-Savinein De Cyrano de Bergerac - Who was all things - and all in vain!" Remember that? Right. Thatís me. [Remembering a scene from the Winter Olympics, when a skater imitated DíArtagnan] Wasnít Philippe Candeloro cool? I mean not just because he was in a frozen arena skating on ice, butÖ[imitates skating and fencing again] I wonder if he had a brain, or if he was just some kind of madeover jock. Mmm. Somehow, when I imagine him reading poetry, it just makes me light up. [Walks around] How can I get this off my chest? I mean my whole life. And screw those jokes about [looking at bosom] "the chest." Itís "Anatomy 101", period; buy Playboy if thatís all you can think about. [Walks around more] How could I let you know who I am before it doesnít matter any more? [Thinking] The Green Knight. Yeah, a cross between a female Green Knight [kneels and crosses herself]Ö and Mata Hari [does exotic dancing]Ö and the Invisible Man. [Goes off stage, disappearing, then calls from off stage] Can you see me?! My lifeís on fire, Iím burning down, and youíre like Nero, just standing there and fiddling. No. No. Iím like the red spot of JupiterÖ that giant storm that keeps spinning around and around; that giant cyclone thatís bigger than the planet earth, but you never see it, it never even enters your mind. [Silence, sheís still thinking] The swans! Thatís it! The Wild Swans at Coole: "I have looked upon those brilliant creatures, and now my heart is soreÖ" [She returns from off stage, flying like a swan. Then stops and seems to watch them fly away] "I have looked upon those brilliant creatures, and now my heart is sore."
AUNTíS VOICE: Aspasia, will you grow up?!
GA: Shut up! [Lets us know, softly] My aunt.
AUNTíS VOICE: The amusement park closes at night. [Aunt begins to appear from offstage, like a specter] "Everyone out!" You have to leave. They close the gates. Same thing with childhood. One day, you have to leave. You have to grow up.
GA: Damn, people really say that kind of crap? Get out of here, go, this is my show!
AUNT: Got to grow up. You arenít a child anymore, Aspasia, or even a teenager.
GA: [Singing part of Dylan song, "Youíre a Big Girl Now"]: "Oh I know where I can find you - oh - oh - In somebodyís room. Itís a price I have to pay. [Looking at herself] Youíre a big girl all the way." [Seeing her aunt still there, she repeats a part, loudly] "Oh - oh - in somebodyís roomÖ" [Aunt leaves] She hates it when I sing. Not that I sing bad. I used to sing with this folk group that had "going nowhere" written all over it, but when Tom, that was his name, tried to go electric, it was even worse, it was like Queen Victoria trying to do Bruce Lee - or something like that. [After a while] Anyway [sitting on her stool], I have this feeling that time is running out. I donít know why. I just do. Itís not like Iím contemplating suicide or anything, though I think I have as much right to do it as anybody. Itís just thatÖ You remember that scene in The Wizard Of Oz when Dorothy has been captured by the Wicked Witch of the West, well, really by the flying monkeys, who got an edge up because of the poppy field? And sheís sitting there, a prisoner of that awful bitch, locked up in her castle. And the sand is running out of the clock, and that hideous laughter [imitates the witch laughing] is ringing through her brains? - Itís sort of like that. And Iím hoping against hope to see a lionís tail twitching from underneath the coat of one of those evil guards, who are singing like the Volga boatmen, but I just keep waiting and waiting, and the sand is almost all at the bottom of the clock, nowÖ Itís likeÖ thereís something I needed to do. Some place I needed to be. Like the last train left an hour ago, and Iím all alone in this ghost town, with this sense of dread, like a demon or a guillotine is waiting for me, or just nothingÖ I can see itÖ myself trading places with that girl in the painting: [gets off of stool again] you know, the one whoís rolling that hoop along the deserted street, with the shadows falling, and the door of the ominously empty cage left open, like maybe one of the circus animals has escaped, and is stalking her, waiting around the cornerÖ If it was only about sex. Just sex and losing girlhood - adolescence - good-bye innocence! - but there seems to be something more to it. Like all the failures of my life are a pit I have been digging. Digging and digging for treasure, deeper and deeper into the earth. So far down, that, now, thereís no way back up. I wasnít paying attention, or thinking of climbing out, I was just thinking of the gold, and suddenly, I found I had created a tomb for myself, with no escape, and I was trapped, like Antigone, or Aida, or one of the Vestal Virgins who got caught with a guy. Too many years, too many mistakes. And now, my shovelís just hit a stone, and Iím thinking maybe my holeís in the wrong place. And Iím calling up, "Hey, can anyone lower a rope down here?", and itís like, reap what you sow, artist bitch! You didnít want to be like us, like, there was something wrong with us? Reap what you sow, artist bitch! - My resume is like a case study of a psychotic. I mean, produce my play, or I die. Record my song, or feed me to the lions. The only one who will hire me, now, is Cheops. [Thinks for a while] They say that when Joan of Arc died, when she was being burned at the stake, because she chose her voices over life - as the flames consumed her, and her body finally slumped down, like a piece of inert wood with fire crawling all over it, the life in it broken by the pain and cruelty - that one of the English soldiers who was guarding her suddenly saw a white dove fly out from her heart [imitates it with her hand] and start back for her home in France. He knew, then, that it was her soul. And thatís when the horror of what theyíd done hit him. "God forgive us, weíve just killed a saint!" he criedÖ A white doveÖ [imitates its departure from Joanís body with her hand, again] A white doveÖ Thatís what I want. Before the final curtain. A white dove to come out of my heart, and fly back home. [Walks around] I couldnít be like everyone else. I couldnít! Just starting with the name.
MOTHERíS VOICE: Aspasia!
GA: [Surprised, with love and the pain of having missed her so much] Mamma!
MOTHERíS VOICE: Aspasia! Iím going to be away for a month. In Europe. Will you get along with Auntie this time?
GA: AspasiaÖ What a whacked name! I mean, it was great back in the Golden Age of Athens. Pericles liked it just fine.
VOICES OF SCHOOL KIDS: [Teasing, through the years] Aspasia! Aspasia!
Ass - pasia!
What part of Asia?
Aspasia - I wanna take ya - I wanna lay ya - I wanna taste ya - then Iíll pay ya -
GA: F***g immature shithead!
FRIENDLY SCHOOLMATE VOICE: Aspasia, what kind of name is that?
GA: An embarrassing one.
BUREAUCRATíS VOICE: Miss- A - A - As-pace-ia Browne. Miss A - A -
GA: Yeah, thatís me! Here I am! [Aside, to us] Jesus Christ, donít say it again!
MOTHERíS VOICE: Aspasia is a very distinctive name. And thereís a great soul in it. She was a genius, baby. She was a thinker, an intellectual, a beauty, a trendsetter. Her words were as amazing as her face and body. Socrates and Euripides came to study with her. Pericles became her satellite. The light of Athens came partly from her. While other women were hidden, by jealous and uncaring husbands, behind locked doors - like those white worms underneath a rock - Aspasia taught philosophy in public places, and mingled boldly with the greatest minds of the day. She fought to bring women out of the home, and give them a chance to learn. She was like the blossoming flower that is the crown of a dull bush, that rescues it from being ordinary. She was a genius!
GA: A genius. [Pause] A prostitute, also, as I later learned. [Talking to mother] Mamma, I went to the library today. Did you know that Aspasia was a prostitute?!!
MOTHER: [Comes onstage, wearing an exotic, sexy dress] A courtesan, baby. Not a prostitute. A courtesan.
GA: [Reciting something from a dictionary] Courtesan: a prostitute. From French "courtisane" and Italian "courtigiana."
MOTHER: [Arranging her hair as she examines herself in a hand-held mirror. Correcting Aspasiaís accent in French, which wasnít bad to begin with] "Courtisane." [Aspasia just watches her. Mother, noticing, doesnít take it seriously] Originally, it meant a lady of the court. [Aspasia still watches her] Courtesan implies a woman of a certain class. A woman with some elegance and character. [Sees Aspasia still looking at her] You havenít read The Scarlet Letter yet?
MOTHER: Our puritan heritage. Bad pilgrim, put him in the dunking stool! [With mock horror] LUST!!! [Aspasia doesnít get it] Look, darling, before I go out tonight, Iím going to show you where I keep my Kama Sutra. - Anyway, no one will ever know. Itís not like your classmates are Arnold Toynbee. [Aspasia looks at her] For them, Homer is not the author of The Iliad, heís a fat slob who lies around on a sofa eating doughnuts.
GA: [Imitates beginning of the show] "The SimpsonsÖ" I hope youíre right. [After a while] Ma, donít you think your hair is OK, yet? I mean, who are you going out with, Vidal Sassoon?
MOTHER: Did you ever hear of John Dee, Aspasia?
MOTHER: John Dee. He used to look into mirrors, and see angels. Spirits and angels. [Puts away mirror, at last] Youíre right, I donít need to be so meticulous. Iím going out with a loser, tonight. Just to do something. You know, strange and broken men are really more interesting that Mr. Perfect. My dating lately has been like a Jack Kerouac novel. The one tonight - I can picture him reciting mantras in a prison. [Looks down at her dress] Howís my dress?
GA: Nice, mamma. That one came out really nice.
MOTHER: I was going to wear the imitation Minoan one. The Knossos dress. But - why get busted?
GA: Mamma - [laughing] youíre too much! [They hug]
MOTHER: Donít get in trouble while Iím gone.
GA: You just told me to look at the Kama Sutra.
MOTHER: Thatís so you can get in trouble tomorrow, not today! [They laugh and hug again]
GA: So - where is it?
MOTHER: [As she begins to lead her off stage] In the bedroom - of course! You can look at Senses of the Orient, too, but donít freak out. Itís not for real people, really. Itís for Elastic Man or snakes, or cartilaginous creatures from the primeval seas. - Donít wait up for me either.
GA: Are you sure this guy youíre going out with isnít a nut?
MOTHER: [Theyíre off stage now] Aspasia, Iíve had it up to here with normal guys, for now. If I donít get the clothing contract, Iíll start to look for businessmen, again, but until that time, I want to be with nuts. - Donít worry, heís not a dangerous nut.
GA: You said you could imagine him in a prison.
MOTHER: Reciting mantrasÖ
GA: Well, so how did he get into prison - in your imagination?
MOTHER: Hereís the book. - [Answering her question] Well - in my imagination - for dancing naked in the fountain outside the Plaza Hotel - he was overpowered by the force of life, on a spring day, and intoxicated by the smell of nearby horsesÖ
GA: [Laughing] Mamma, youíre too much!
MOTHER: Letís see, now, if I have my keysÖ
GA: Woah! This bookís crazy!
MOTHER: Donít look at it now! Wait till I go!
MOTHER: It makes me feel like an indecent parent. - Wouldnít you rather have the thrill of reading it on the sly?
GA: But you just gave it to meÖ
MOTHER: Well - pretend that I didnít. Put it back on the shelf. Sneak into my room when Iím gone.
GA: What, are you teaching me to be a thief?
MOTHER: You know, Hermes was a thief. Remember, how he made off with Apolloís cattleÖ
GA: So, is that a yes?
MOTHER: Robin Hood, too. It depends on what you steal. Hearts? OK. A millionaireís jewels? Donít forget to wear your black gloves. If you can come down from a rope like a ninja, so much the better. Secret government documents, a cover-up? Blow that whistle, girl! - Candy from a baby? A fogieís cane? No. Thatís the world, not us. - If Iím not back by tomorrow at noon, call the IRA.
GA: Bye, Mamma, be careful.
MOTHER: See you sweetie.
GA: [Comes back on stage, with books in her hands. Thinking] MammaÖ I guess it wasnít in the cards for me to live a normal life. Like somebody shot out of a cannon in the circus, you arenít going to be able to just walk from one side of the tent to the other like anyone else, you have no choice but to fly through the air.
AUNTíS VOICE: Aspasia!
GA: Damn! Her again!
AUNTíS VOICE: Aspasia! Youíre just like your mother. Two of a kind. Treating the world like itís one big game, one gigantic prank. An eternal April Foolís Day. A play.
MOTHERíS VOICE: "The worldís a stage!"
AUNTíS VOICE: Sem, you may be the jewel in the crown, but youíre no mother!
MOTHERíS VOICE: Donít question my motherhood, Emily!
AUNTíS VOICE: Using your kid as an excuse to bare your breasts in public doesnít meet my definition of motherhood.
MOTHERíS VOICE: Iím the modern-day Freydis.
GA: When I was maybe twelve or thirteen, Mom and I read this Viking saga together - it was a longtime favorite of hers - about a woman named Freydis who bared her breasts and shook them as the Viking camp in the New World was being attacked by Skaelrings, or the original Natives. The poor Skaelrings didnít know what to make of it, and split.
AUNTíS VOICE: Youíre the modern-day Helen of Troy. Youíre always running off with some man or other, and dumping Aspasia on me.
GA: How do you like that? Dumping? Well, I donít like you either.
AUNTíS VOICE: Helen ruined Troy, and also wasted the cream of a generation of Greeks, because she just couldnít stay put. She just couldnít stay at home, like everyone else. For her, her own pleasure came first. She started a war, but did she care?
MOTHERíS VOICE: Well, if it wasnít for her, what would Homer have done? Spent a lifetime bumping into walls? Youíre just jealous, Emily, you always were.
AUNTíS VOICE: Jealous of what?
MOTHERíS VOICE: You tell me. My brains? My looks? My talent?
AUNTíS VOICE: Youíre nasty, Sem.
GA: Not to me. Only your absence gets to me, mamma. And your constant state of distraction. Youíre like a cat in a room filled with flying canaries, everything excites you, drives you mad. I know you love me, but you canít focus on me for more than a minute, before something gets in the way.
MOTHERíS VOICE: BS, Emily, Iím only as nasty as a bullet-proof vest is to a bullet. You were always so bossy, you wanted me to be like your little doll. Adjust her arms. Adjust her legs. Put her to bed. I wasnít born to be controlled by anyone, least of all you. Iím like Midnight, the rodeo horse, try to ride me, and Iíll throw you.
AUNTíS VOICE: Youíre never there for Aspasia.
GA: O shut up, bitch, donít use me like that! Sheís closer to me when sheís off in Paris or Athens or Dublin or London, than you ever were! With that fake love, for one minute. I put up just a little bit of resistance, and your patience is gone. And then itís "Youíre just like your mother!" Iím not really demanding when it comes to love. I donít give a hard test. But you fail it every time. [Looks at books she brought out] Kama Sutra. Elastic San. How was I going to turn out normal? Of course, I ended up artistic, kinky, ambitious, confused, needy, always needy. - I wonder if the sun is needy, if thatís why it shines? I wonder what would happen to it, if nobody ever came out of their house? [Pause] So, I was supposed to turn out like Emily Bronte, or Margaret Mitchell, or Grace Slick, or - Aspasia? I was like the little bird, in the nest, slowly growing wings of its own as I watched my mother leap off of the cliff, and soar through the skies, night after night. I could tell from what she looked like in the morning how things had gone. The party. The business meeting. The date. Sometimes she was like a lampshade, trying to be discreet, but with all the glowing light just pouring out from her. Sometimes she came back like a wet rag, that had been used to clean a dirty floor. Not that she ever looked dirty, because she was impeccable. Always impeccable. Her appearance was an obsession - well, an art. She was a fashion designer, and a character. Great clothes, she made. Great clothes. Unique. She came close to the mountain top.
AUNTíS VOICE: Sem, if you werenít so damned unstable, you would have made it. The French villa wouldnít have just been one beautiful year. It would have been your whole life.
MOTHERíS VOICE: Great souls experience great triumphs and great defeats. And besides - who says the battleís over?
GA: The French villa. That was the high point. The fairy tale. The one she took me to. Most of the time, she left me behind. "Iíll bring you when things are set," she always told me, and they never were. [Remembering, from those days] Mom, can I go to Nepal with you?
MOTHERíS VOICE: No, honey, itís too rugged. Dick wants us to be alone. Sort of like a honeymoon.
MOTHERíS VOICE: Iíll bring you back pictures of Everest. [Needs to offer something more] Iíll try to get one of those yeti scalps. The ones the monks have. Iíll try to talk them into giving me one. If they gave one to Marlin Perkins, why not me?
GA: Mom, canít I go to Japan with you?
MOTHERíS VOICE: Itís a show, Aspasia, itís business.
GA: I want to see the pyramids.
MOTHERíS VOICE: Iím not sure things will work out with Henry, just yet. Letís see how things go. I would be anxious if you came, Aspasia, Iíd want to keep an eye on you every minute, and that would pretty much doom things with Henry. What a boring name! I wonder if heíd be willing to change it? You know, there are scorpions in the desert. And Iíve heard stories that men over there are crazy for American girls, you never know what they might do.
GA: Here she was, staying out late, going out with all types of guys, who could turn out to be like the Zodiac or Jack the Ripper, going to all sorts of places, drinking, partying, roaring down lifeís fast lane, and worried about me?
AUNTíS VOICE: You always leave her behind! Adventures, affairs, what about Aspasia?
GA: Enough, bitch, leave her alone!
MOTHERíS VOICE: Iím leaving her in good hands. Arenít I?
AUNTíS VOICE: Where are you going now? And with who? And for how long?
MOTHERíS VOICE: Iím going with Jules Verne. In a balloon. For five weeks. Or is it off on a comet?, I canít recall.
AUNTíS VOICE: Youíll never change.
MOTHERíS VOICE: Iím changing all the time. You just donít know how to look. Africa and South America used to be one continent, and now look at them. Thatís how much Iíve changed.
AUNTíS VOICE: Youíre full of it. Youíre the same crazy little sister I could never straighten out. You never understood, it wasnít for me. It was for you.
MOTHERíS VOICE: Well - off to Gay Paris!
GA: I know how it seems. But itís not like we were ever rich. Not like the rich are rich. We were more like Bedouin raiders, who came in from the desert. We might seize a palace or a mansion for a day, before the rightful owners returned, and drove us back into the wilderness. - "A loaf of bread beneath the bough - a jug of wine, a book of verse - and thou, beside me, singing in the wilderness: oh, wilderness were paradise enow!" - [Thinking] We went through some hard times. [Thinking more] Maybe those were the best times, because then, we were inseparable.
MOTHERíS VOICE: Damned idiot wonít fix the heat! Who does he think we are? Weíre not just "tenants." Weíre fallen angels. We deserve better.
GA: Mom, Iím cold. Iím not Yukon Cornelius.
MOTHERíS VOICE: [On the phone] Yes, this is apartment number 205. This is the second time Iíve called. Yes, the heat. Itís not a question of patience. Thatís like asking Kitty Genovese to be patient. Iíve got a kid. Look, Iíll call the city. No, thatís not a threat, itís called justifiable kicking your butt. Yeah, hang up, bitch. Be like that! The Devilís warming up a place for you. - Damn! Hell wouldnít be such a bad place to be, today. Honey, Iím going to bring you another coat.
GA: In the end, she put on a Dylan record: "In this room, the heat pipes just cough. The country music station plays soft. But thereís nothing, really nothing to turn off. Just Louise and her lover so entwined. And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind." [Thinks] We froze that winter, after some guy who couldnít make up his mind whether he wanted to be a bohemian artist or stockbroker dumped mom - or ran away from her because she was eating him up alive - and the capital heíd promised her for a new flurry of designing, and the connections he was supposed to have, went out the door with him. - But at least we enjoyed the snow. One beautiful, snowy day, we went out into the park, and made a snowman. We kept ourselves warm with soup and tea.
MOTHER: [Appears onstage, in a long white garb, with two sistrums - ancient Egyptian instruments, something like rattles or chimes - and two bouquets of flowers] Aspasia!
GA: Oh yeah. And that! Now, there was some "quality time"!
MOTHER: The sun is rising, child. Itís time to worship.
GA: That was her Isis phase. We would get up to greet the sun, standing by the window. That wasnít in the slum, we were out, by then, that was in a nice brownstone in Brooklyn.
MOTHER: [Hands Aspasia a sistrum and one of the bouquets of flowers] I couldnít come by lotus blossoms, so, weíll have to make due with these carnations. [Turning towards the window, she raises her arms, the sistrum in one hand, the flowers in another. She begins to shake the sistrum, and Aspasia follows suit] Greetings Great Amon Ra, Sun Of Life. Praise to thee, and to thee Isis, heart of devotion and love, ever present and ever caring. Ever there for me, weeping for my sorrows, smiling for my joys, catching me in your arms, whenever I fall. [Then, she begins to chant a kind of mantra] Ra Ra Ra Ra Isis Isis Ra Ra Ra Ra Isis Isis Ra Ra Ra Ra. [She continues for a while, until Aspasia suddenly breaks down laughing. Her mother tries to ignore her, at first, though she looks over at her, then must respond] Whatís so funny? Aspasia, this is supposed to be serious. Isis is as real as Jesus, or Mary. [She is disturbed, but not in a nasty way, and, in fact, is trying not to catch her daughterís laughter] Ra Ra Ra Ra Isis Isis Ra Ra Ra Ra. [Aspasia is still laughing] Stop it! Whatís so funny? [Aspasia grabs her mom]
GA: Mom, we sound like two f*****g Egyptian cheerleaders. [She imitates cheerleaders] Isis! Isis! Rah! Rah! Rah! Isis! Isis! Rah! Rah! Rah!
MOTHER: [Her mother shoves her, laughing] Stop that, Aspasia!
GA: Give me an I! Give me an S! Give me an I! Give me an S! Who do we want? Isis!
MOTHER: I donít know ancient Egyptian, Aspasia, Iíd like to get my hands on some real prayers for Isis -
GA: Rah! Rah! Rah!
MOTHER: - but for now, Iím just - well - winging it. Amon Ra was the sun - and Isis was Isis. I could also say Horus and Osiris and Anubis and Sekhmet and Nut and Set and Hathor and "miu", I remember that, the word for cat that sounds just like "meow." [She imitates a cat] "Mi-u, mi-u!" I could also say Rameses, Thutmose, Hatshepsut, and Cleopatra. And that's about it. What do you want? This is 20th-century New York!
GA: Ma!Ö Ma! [Laughing. They both hug, laughing. As her mother keeps praying, Aspasia approaches us] We had good times. In some ways, she was like Isis, who stuck with her kid through thick and thin. [Thinking] In other ways, she was like a cuckoo, who left me in Auntieís nest. [Thinking more] But her heart was with me. Turns out, my daddy was a young scholar who ended up becoming a famous archaeologist. It was a fling. She told me. Nothing lasting was there, I mean, he was trying to decode Linear A, and make sense out of ancient Minoan writing, and she was flying like a rocket into deep space. Burning up fuel like there was no tomorrow. Lighting up the sky, but with no direction. Her whole life was like taking a shot in the dark, while he was this really meticulous guy, who turned the great adventure of uncovering the mysteries of a lost civilization into some kind of gigantic boring grammar puzzle, that was as maddening as an itch. - When I visited my father, one day, he was colder than that apartment where ma and I nearly froze to death. He thought mom had sent me to try to get money, or something. And I could tell he also resented her, for being a flirt, for being someone he wasnít able to fascinate for more than a few days. Maybe like a student who yawned in his class. And he took it out on me. [Pause] I felt like a piece of crap that day. Like I was some kind of gold-digger or thief, just because I wanted to have a dad. [Pause] Oh well. Another single-parent-family, another f***ed-up kid. [Pause] But I keep going on and on about my mom. [Her mother discreetly leaves the stage] Like there was nothing to my life besides her. Like I was nothing without her, just another one of her planets. Like I had no existence of my own. - Tonight - searching for what to say - for something to say, while thereís still time - to make a statement of my own - to plant my flag on the earth before Iím gone - I wonder just exactly what it is I have to say. What should I put in my farewell address? What should I leave behind as my legacy? Do I have anything to say, anything to give, thatís not Mom, that doesnít come from her, that I didnít learn from her, or pick up from her? Is there anything more to my life than being with Mom, and trying to be Mom, and missing Mom?
HOSPITAL OFFICIALíS VOICE: Aspasia Browne, please?
GA: Shut up, I donít want to go through that again.
HOSPITAL OFFICIALíS VOICE: Iím calling from
GA: Shut up, I know, the hospital.
HOSPITAL OFFICALíS VOICE: Are you the daughter of Semele Browne?
GA: It was New Yearís Eve. Well, really early New Yearís Day. Like 4 AM, maybe. Why the f**k didnít they just stay put?!
MOTHERíS VOICE: Happy New Yearís, baby!
GA: Weíd talked on the phone just a few hours before. She was flying high, so filled with life, armed with a whole bunch of new resolutions, and she had a [with irony] "wonderful new man."
HOSPITAL OFFICIALíS VOICE: You need to come right away.
GA: [Thinking] If heíd really been the perfect one - you know - it might have been all right. Who doesnít want to die that way? Right beside the one you love? A flaming wreck, going together, holding hands into the next world. [Sings from Bruce Springsteen] "I want to die with you, Wendy, on the street tonight, in an everlasting kiss." [Talking to the doctor] Iím on my way! Iím on my way! [Pause] But it was just another temporary thing. I could tell. She always got high when she met someone new, and thought it was for forever. Always! But that guy wasnít cut out for Mom, she just saw him through this kind of drunken haze, cause she was drinking a lot in those days, though I have to say, she tried to hide it from me, God bless her, she didnít want to be the bad influence that Auntie said she was. And in that haze, the guy looked good. - He was just like an empty Christmas tree, and she put all the lights of her hope and dreams on him, until he looked beautiful. He was like a bum in rags, and I donít mean that as a put-down to poor people, I mean thatís what his soul was next to hers, and she dressed him in the beautiful clothes of her heart. Once she stopped living in her own mind - once the drinks wore off, and she got a good look at reality - she would have left him in one minute. They were an absurd match, really. And I think thatís what hurts the most. That that god-damned idiot is the one who got to die with her. - It should have been me.
AUNTíS VOICE: Iím so sorry, Aspasia.
GA: Yeah, sorry. My new guardian. Thank God I was near the age to break out. And when the time came, I was off faster than those settlers in the Oklahoma Land Rush.
[MUSIC from off stage begins to play. From Steppewolf: "Get that motor running/take it down the highway/looking for adventure/or whatever comes our wayÖ" Aspasia sings along]
GA: "Get that motor running! Take it down the highway! Looking for adventure, or whatever comes our way!" True, it was Momís record. But it was my life. I cleared out, fast, left Auntie Em behind in Kansas, so to speak. Right away, I knew I had to live the whacked artistís life - to create something beautiful and different. I donít know why. I think itís the same power thatís in a flock of migrating geese, beating its wings through the night. [Imitates geese honking] Got to get there. Where? There. Got a map? No, I got a feeling. Say what? I just know itís this way. "You must plan your education carefully, considering the job market, and what professions are best suited to your personality and skills." Yeah, right! According to the occupational aptitude test, I was best suited to work in advertising. After that, it was a park ranger. For me, I always knew it was going to be either poetry, the novel, or the theater.
AUNTIEíS VOICE: Youíll end up being a waitress, Aspasia.
GA: Thanks for the positive energy.
AUNTIEíS VOICE: You know, you donít get anywhere in that world unless you -
GA: [Waiting for the rest of the sentence] Yes?
AUNTIEíS VOICE: Unless you - [Aspasiaís still waiting] - accommodate those in powerÖ
GA: "Accommodate"? What a way to say "f**k"! I donít mean, like, "Iím going to f**k you, you bastard, I mean like "f**k me, baby, here I am!" Auntie always thought I was some kind of undisciplined fruit loop, who might write one or two good lines per hundred pages, and that my only way to get anyoneís attention was to strip for them. [Thinking] Honestly, I would have done it, if the director, or producer, or agent, or whoever it was, looked halfway decent - I mean, I wouldíve left the Hunchback of Notre Dame for Esmeralda. Not that Iím hung up on appearances or stuck-up, I just want a certain level of aesthetic bearablity. I think sitting on your butt in an office all day is a worse form of prostitution than sleeping with a casting director - I mean, prostituting your soul for money, isnít that worse that prostituting your body? - worse than being a streetwalker? Spreadsheets or spread legs? Excel and PowerPoint, or condoms and K-Y Jelly? Big difference. And honestly, doesnít picking up guys sound like more fun? - But, really, Iím just shooting my mouth off. I wasnít like that. I think I sort of wanted to be, but something held me back. The quiet cradle of creation. The silence from which the storm is born. The desert rock where the prophet sits, before he comes back to turn the world upside down. I was always seeking that quiet place. That place haunted by ghosts. The fairy path. The place where you wait for your Muses, empty like a house with an open door, thatís for them only. All that flash, all that movement, "Hey, honey", "I thought we might go out tonight", "Yes, Iíll go", "Do you have a light?", "Iím a great admirer of yours", buzz, buzz, like a bee trying to talk his way into the hive, buzz, buzz, buzz. [Reflects] Not me. [Pretending to silence someone, who is making noise] Shhh! Be quiet! Iím listening for my Muse. Donít you know, Muses whisperÖ ShhhÖ ShhhÖ Sure, I danced, I played, I went around, I hung out, I drank, sometimes thinking of my mother and hoping to join her; sometimes just wanting to know why she did what she did, and finding out: that great feeling of drunken invulnerability when you canít be touched, and you donít give a damn, and itís like youíve just taken a suicide vow with your dreamsÖ But I was never much of a networker, or businesswoman, I was a creator, trying to give something beautiful to the world - or maybe, only, to have someone say, "Bravo!" [Claps her hands] "Bravo! Hats off to Le Enfant Terible! She deserves to live, after all. Save room for her on the lifeboat!"
AUNTíS VOICE: Youíre not getting any younger, Aspasia. You better get some stable job while you still have some vestige of credibility.
GA: Mamma died, and she lived - and lived. Why couldnít she just say, "I never want to see you again as long as I live!" Why did she have to keep on calling, and trying to help me? No wonder mamma couldnít stand her.
AUNTíS VOICE: Artists donít make a living. They just end up torturing themselves. Aspasia, youíre a smart girl -
GA: Yeah, too smart to let my guard down with a compliment -
AUNTíS VOICE: - and a lot of companies would be happy to have someone like you aboard. You would be a perfect receptionist - you know, phones, light typing, that winning smile - you really can be charming, just like your mother, except that she only used that quality to get herself into trouble - and receptionists get benefits, Aspasia, and money put away for their retirement -
GA: Yeah, all the good stuff. Like I should live my whole life for my old age. Give up all my crazy dreams and risks, so I can afford a room with a view at the retirement home.
AUNTíS VOICE: Soon, no one will even consider you for work, except bars and restaurants.
GA: And messenger companies - a banshee on wheels; and maybe an escort service [imitates a whip smashing down] Never too old for roleplay! [Imitates whip again] "On your knees, worm! Crawl for me. Crawl for me. I said ĎNoí when the world told me, ĎCrawl for me.í But you like it, donít you? Crawl for me, worm." Or if Iím really old: "Youíve been a bad boy, drop your pants, and touch your toes." Boom, right across the butt. The stern English governess. [In English accent] "Today, we shall modify that most unruly and unbecoming behavior of yours." See, I can do theater, after all.
[Several Individuals dressed in black come out onto the stage. They line up as in some kind of exercise class, and the leader begins to direct them in a game of ĎSimon Saysí]
GROUP LEADER: Simon says do this! Simon says do this! Simon says do this! Do this! [They continue with the game]
GA: Work. Thatís how I see it. [They continue playing, with Simon calling out, and doing things] What a stupid way for a human being to spend his life. - You know how few times, in the city, you ever actually manage to look up and get a real look at the sky - I mean, to get a sense of its vastness, its scope, all the clouds moving through it, like a fleet of divine ships that never stop coming? And you can feel the wind, and all the life of the planet lying underneath it, united by it? And this dumb little bitch theyíve made you into, suddenly realizes sheís a sacred, special being in a sacred, special place? And then [pointing to the Simon Says game], they give us this??? [She goes in to join the group, for a moment, but does other things than what Simon is doing, including many irreverent gestures - gives him the finger, the fist, turns around and slaps her butt, yawns, spins around dancing, seems to be looking for something thatís been lost, on her hands and knees, etc. At times he protests]
GROUP LEADER: Excuse me, miss, I donít think you understand. Would someone like to explain how this game works?
GA: Donít tell me, you try to tag me, and I run and try not to get caught.
GROUP LEADER: No, thatís tag!
GA: [Playing dumb] Oh - this isnít tag?
GROUP LEADER: No -
GA: Oh, so I put on a blindfold, and try to pin the tail on the donkey -
GROUP MEMBER: No, thatís not it, either!
GA: Oh - now I know! You make a bridge with your hands, and I try to get underneath them before your arms drop. "London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down, London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady!"
GROUP LEADER: Perhaps you could just listen.
GA: [Looking around, pretending to be playing tag] Whoís "It"? Whoís "It"?
GROUP MEMBER: No, thatís not what weíre doing, why donít you let him explain?
GA: [To us] Sycophant! Working his way up the corporate ladder.
GROUP LEADER: In this game, I am Simon, and [he continues to explain the game]
GA: Bla bla bla. BLA BLA BLA. BLA BLA BLA. [Announces] If you are wearing spectacles, please remove them! [Finally, makes an awful, sustained opera-like note. The leader gives up trying to explain] Ah, Verdi, if only Iíd been born in your time. You think youíre famous, now?
[The group is back to Simon Says. Aspasia joins in, again, imitating a horse running around, neighing. Then she stops and sings a part of a song:]
GA: "Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass growsÖ"
GROUP LEADER: [To her] Youíre out. You lose.
GA: What, youíre talking to me?
GROUP LEADER: Yes, you! Youíre out! [GA laughs] Your action didnít match mine, which means you lose.
GA: [Imitating him] "Your action didnít match mine, which means you lose."
GROUP LEADER: Youíre out!
GA: Like I was ever in. What a f***g moron.
GROUP LEADER: Please go to the side, and sit down.
GA: [From a song, sings] Ziggy played - guitar!!!! [Comes to front of stage, looking at them derisively, as they begin to leave. Then, she appears more solemn.] My life - in a nutshell.
AUNTíS VOICE: Aspasia! Poor dear. Youíve shot yourself in the foot. Your motherís shadow - itís fallen over you. So much promise - repeating itself - the tragedy, repeating itself.
GA: [Reflective] Aunt Emily was OK, in the end. It was like - she was color blind. She couldnít see all the colors that were in my momís world, and my world, so she never knew why we had to go to the most beautiful, impractical flowers. To her they were gray, like all the other flowers. "Why go to those ones?" she thought. "Theyíre harder to get to than the others." She didnít see the crimson, the violet, the white and pink, the yellow that was just like the sun - the colors that made us ruin our lives. - She tried her best. I think she cared for us, in the end. Mamma was too hurt to understand that - and in some ways, mamma was cruel, she could not tolerate mediocrity - and I - I wasnít wise enough to accept Aunt Emily as she was. - Now sheís gone, too. A sickness. Just her way to die. My mom in a fiery crash. Emily in a dark bed, with the shades drawn down. Iím sorry, Auntie. Rest in peace. Iím really sorry.
JUANíS VOICE: Mi amor! Ven! Estoy aqui!
GA: No, no. None of that. Boys - men - just illusions.
JUANíS VOICE: Perdoname, mi amor. Todavia hay tiempo para arreglar las cosas.
GA: [With a gesture, waves away the plea] Heartbreaks, time lost. You try to ride their virile bodies away from the disaster, but they wear out. You forget about their d**k, which they led with, like a battering ram, and try to talk with them, and their voice comes out like thunder; they donít know how to land on you, like a butterfly. You hold them, when theyíre wounded - just like Michelangelo made Mary hold Jesus, after they brought his body down from the cross. Then you find out theyíre seeing somebody else. And all that time, you could have been writing a novel, or reading a good book. All that theyíre good for is pain. - True, pain is the artistís paint. Without it youíd be nothing. But one boyfriend, and six months, would have been enough to fill my pain tank for the rest of my life.
TOMíS VOICE: So, are you coming to Boston with me, or not?
GA: Iíve got too many dreams here, Tom. Iíve pissed all over this town, just like a dog, lifting his leg up everywhere he goes; this is my territory, now. These are the streets which I used to walk down with my ma; traces of my invincibility still lie here. This is where Iím going to make my stand, and make it, or go down, fighting.
TOMíS VOICE: You sound like a cat, Aspasia. They donít give a shit about the people they live with, itís all about their territory - their apartment or their house.
GA: Fine, let him think Iím a cat, even though he doesnít know them. Iím just glad to be rid of him. He was becoming like a ball and chain. His art sucked, and yet, he was trying to drown my art with his. He fed off me, used me. Thatís what he called love. [Thinking] Juan - he was better. More tender. But also poisoned with that macho shit. A pretty girl, and he couldnít resist, even if I was standing right there. Itís good we broke up. If he had been like Jung or Otto Gross, or one of those crazy polygamists, it would have been different. I would have followed his Roberto Duran eyes straight into a cult. But, as it was, he was a firm believer in conventional monogamy, but just couldnít handle it - from his side. But underneath his veneer of being fair and liberal, I was supposed to be like some Saudi Arabian princess, hidden behind a veil. I mean, he wanted me to be pretty and to flirt, so other men could catch a glimpse of how lucky he was. But, then, if I went out for a drink with another guy, even someone from the theater, forget about it - [puts her fist up to her nose] manos de piedra, in my face. He needed his freedom, and I needed some respect. Society doesnít respect me too much, and I need any man I might be with to help build me back up, not keep tearing me down. - As for Ernest, well, he wasnít really so earnest. And Kyle - good for one smile. [Sighs, after that explanation] My love life. [Pause] Which leaves me with me. No Mom. No Dad. No Auntie. No Man. Just me, with my dream. My art. My city. And this little bit of time, which may be my last chance of communicating something to you. [Pause] Why I say that - I donít know. I really donít. A premonition? A fear? Maybe Iím just being dramatic, like Aunt Emily said, blowing things out of proportion. Still - itís my instinct. And Iím wondering. Do I have anything to say? [Walks around, trying to gather it together] Iím Aspasia, and I wanted to be more than I am. Iím Aspasia. Though I should still have a lot of time left, I feel that my lifeís almost over. And that Iím not going to make it. [Quoting Edna St. Vincent Millay] "My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends - it gives such a lovely light!" Yeah. "My shining palace, built upon the sand." [Continues walking] I never had a child. I could have. But I didnít. My nomad heart. My empty womb. My art is the child I wanted to have. - No one should go through life without giving birth to something. - Come on, just working, coming home, and staring at the TV until you die? What was that movie, where the guy said his whole life, it was like heíd been in a coma? - [Nodding] I wanted to have a child. The kind of child that might have come from Euripidesí brain, born right out of his forehead, like Athena was born to Zeus. A dark, beautiful child who everyone would look at, and say, "Brilliant - cool - holy f**k!" Like they were reacting to something truly amazing, like a cross between Baby Jesus and a tarantula. I wanted to make them drop to their knees in reverence, and to jump back, freaked out, like theyíd just heard a rattlesnake sounding off in the bushes, two yards ahead of them. I wanted to make them fall in love with me, and to become their sex object and their enlightened guide, all in one. - For Christís sakes, I wanted to make a dent! Some kind of dent in this cold steel place! [Goes through motions, in the air, of smashing a wall] Boom! Boom! Aspasiaís here! Notice me! Need me! Boom! Boom! Aspasiaís here! The new SAMO. The new Kilroy. I wanted to leave my tag on the subway wall of my generation. My intellectual tag. My passionate tag. Jorge Luis Borges meets the Maenads. [Pretends to spray paint it] "Aspasia - Genius Artist Bitch" - Well, "Bitch", at least. Give me that much credit, at least. [Walking, still trying to get it out] One minuteÖ Say I was going to die in one minute. What would I say? - PeaceÖ LoveÖ Wake up! "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." "What profits it a man to gain the world, but lose his soul?" "Beauty is truth, truthís beauty. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." "Greece is my child." I donít remember how the rest of that goes. I just see her - Iphigeneia - beautiful, young, dressed in her pure white wedding gown, realizing she has been deceived, that she is not to be married, but slaughtered, still giving herself up, willingly, to the sacrifice, so that the Greeks will receive the wind needed to carry their ships to Troy. Her blood, for their glory. Her death, the secret life force of their triumphs. Beautiful IphigeneiaÖ
And then - thereís mom. Iíd like to pull her out of obscurity. To give her the pedestal she deserved. To rescue the silver lining of her squandered life, and say something that would make the world bow its head, in awe of who she was, and shed tears for her. "If only weíd known. If only weíd recognized her. If only weíd tried harder to keep her here among us." My mother deserves a temple - and worshippers. I really mean that. But for now, Iím the only one who goes there, to her memory, the only one who takes her shoes off, and kneels down by the dreams she had.
I hope the world never again uses the atom bomb. I hope New York doesnít end up in the history books next to Hiroshima. I hope the "Free Mandela", and "No Blood For Oil", and "El Pueblo Unido, Jamas Sera Vencido" buttons which Iíve saved from over the years, are not needed in other times and places; that we can finally get things right.
I hope that eternal truths do not perish. That love, and joy remain, forever - and hope - that we never cease trying to be the best we can - and even - yes, even, that we never lose our illusions. Our little foolish friends in the darkness, that are so precious, before we discover we are just idiotsÖ Illusions. [Sings] "Itís lifeís illusions I recall, I really donít know why, at all."
Well - thatís more than a minute. What can I say? I could never finish anything on time. I was always late, or messed up something because I didnít read the directions. [Momentarily bright] It helped to make me more interesting. [Somber again] Well. Thatís me. I thought I had more to say - something like an earthquake. Something like Haydnís miracle symphony, when the chandeliers fell downÖ Something like Fatima. But all Iíve got is me. Lonely. Tired. Sad. An undiscovered world. Only me. Only meÖ Goddess Underachiever. [Slowly she walks off stage] Mamma, I wonít be long.
Creative Safehouse Contents