Fiction, Monologues, Plays & More
a play by Laura Lee Bahr
The continuation of ACT1, Scene 1: Mercy and The Dress of Eleanora Duse
(CLICK HERE to read The Weight of Words: Part 1)
(CLICK HERE to read The Weight of Words: Part 2)
(CLICK HERE to read The Weight of Words: Part 3)
PRICILLA: (to the author) Don’t you have art to make?
AUTHOR: (ignoring Pricilla, to Linda, touching the dress) I so love this dress.
LINDA: Try it on.
AUTHOR: There’s no way I could ever afford 20,000 for a dress.
LINDA: It’s a very special dress. It belonged to Eleanora Duse, a famous actress from the turn of the twentieth century.
AUTHOR: I know Eleanora Duse!
PRICILLA: (bitterly) Of course you do! (to herself) This show is rigged.
AUTHOR: She inspires me. She was at the same time as Sarah Bernhard, but while Sarah Bernhard was very presentational, Duse was all about the spirit, the soul- when she came on stage- people were mesmerized. She would milk the moment- the living moment. (She turns to Pricilla) See- you should like that- milking the moment- you’re all about milk and money’s worth and-
PRICILLA: Ew. What are you talking about?
AUTHOR: I was incorporating what you were saying, about cows and milk- “no one wants to buy the cow if they can get the milk for free”- so there’s life all around you, but in the play- you pay to watch the moments get milked-
PRICILLA: No one’s talking about that anymore-
LINDA: She’s just talking about art- she’s an artist-
AUTHOR: I’m trying to tell you that this is what it’s about. Eleanora Duse. So that everyone who saw her could feel that something was happening- something real happening through the artifice of the play. Eleanora Duse- and Lord how she paid her dues- nearly starved as a young girl, traveling with her family from city to city, working for pennies and crumbs- dedicating herself to acting like a nun to Jesus! Now there’s an actress!
LINDA: Well, that is the dress she wore when she played ‘Isabella’ in “Measure for Measure”.
AUTHOR: What a coincidence, I just said nun- and that’s the one where she played the nun!
PRICILLA: (rolling her eyes) Yeah. What a coincidence.
LINDA: I don’t know it-
AUTHOR: Oh, it’s all about mercy- and forgiveness, even for the most egregious acts and nefarious people-
PRICILLA: I’m sure you’ll tell us all about it-
AUTHOR: Yes! There’s this fascist-type guy who’s come into office and he’s enacting all the old laws that nobody follows because they’re so draconian- like that you shouldn’t sleep with anyone before your married under the punishment of death and anyway, Isabella, this chaste nun is pleading for the life of her brother, who’s knocked up this girl- and she says to the Duke:
The AUTHOR steps forward and delivers the monologue full-strength commitment.
“O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous to use it as a giant… Could great men thunder the way Jove himself does, Jove would ne’er be quiet, For every pelting petty officer Would use his heaven for thunder: nothing but thunder- Merciful Heaven! Thou rather with thy sharp and sulfurous bolt, Splitt’st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak Than the soft myrtle; -but man, proud man! Dress’d in a little brief authority,- Most ignorant of what he is most assured, His glassy essence,-like an angry ape, Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven As makes the angels weep; who, with our spleens, would all laugh themselves mortal.”
PRICILLA and LINDA are taken by this, PRICILLA despite herself.
PRICILLA: (softened) Whatever. If you ask me, the whole problem is there’s too much mercy in this world. Everybody just makes excuses and justifies everything-
LINDA: Oh, Pricilla, come on.
PRICILLA: Okay, I’ll think about it again after lunch. I need my Hero. (to the author) my fiancé’s name is Hero.
AUTHOR: Like the Shakespeare Character?
PRICLLA: No, like the sandwich. Ha. It’s joke. Nobody gets my jokes.
AUTHOR: Oh. Haha.
PRICILLA: Don’t blame me, I didn’t name him.
AUTHOR: Oh, so it’s Hero who’s taking all the cold showers…
PRICILLA: Right. But he gets it. He has religion.
AUTHOR: Oh. Good for him.
LINDA: (To the AUTHOR) That was beautiful. You’re very talented.
AUTHOR: Thank you!
LINDA: You must try on the dress. Put on the dress and do it for us again- channel her spirit-
LINDA: Channel the spirit of Eleanora Duse and do it for us again.
AUTHOR: Oh, I will!
(The AUTHOR takes the dress to a door which functions as both a dressing room and storage room. The audience can see this area of the stage, though the other actors cannot.)
PRICILLA: (rolling her eyes, to Linda) “Artist.”
LINDA, smiling, turns back to her bird.
Hero’s going to be here in a few minutes with lunch, can I take an extra half-hour?
LINDA: Of course… Hero is such a wonderful man.
PRICILLA: I know. That’s why I’m going to make it happen.
LINDA feeds the fake parrot a cracker.
LINDA: Polly wanna cracker? Pretty bird. Pretty bird.
PRICILLA: I’ve never heard her talk.
LINDA: Oh, she talks all right. After you go home. She’s delivered entire Shakespeare soliloquies.
LINDA: (singing to the bird) “In the springtime, the only pretty ring time, birds sing…”
PRICILLA: What’s the story with Tom.
LINDA: Oh, it’s on again, off again, hot then cold- you know, Pricilla, I really have a very different attitude toward relationships-
PRICILLA: I just don’t see how if you say you love him you can allow him to see other women.
LINDA: What’s with allow? He doesn’t belong to me. He’s his own person- he does what he wants. What am I gonna do? Tie him up? Hold him at gunpoint? I see other men.
PRICILLA: Yes, but only to get even.
LINDA: Oh, you don’t know anything about it. Don’t even talk to me. Don’t even ask.
There is a weighty silence.
LINDA: (again to the parrot): “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate…” (the light and LINDA’S voice change as she talks to the audience)… beauty fades- the first blush, the tightness- it all blossoms outward and falls like petals. It’s beautiful in its own way, the passing of time, if you know how to look at it. When I was younger, I thought it was all about how you looked at it. Free love, free life, I didn’t worry about anything for so long- I still don’t—worry—how can I worry- when I am just- here- now? And I have made this- this store, mine- and it’s just the way I dreamed it would be- only better, because it’s real. I painted the ceiling- look- it was once just that ugly stuff all industrial ceilings are made of- and I painted it blue like a midnight sky and filled it with stars- so the store doesn’t even seem to have a ceiling- and every day that I’m alive, something incredible happens to me… (the light changes back and LINDA is singing to herself) “in the spring-time, the only pretty ring time, birds sing.”
PRICILLA clears her throat to catch LINDA’S attention, then points to the dressing room door.
PRICILLA: Do you need any help in there?
AUTHOR makes a grunt. The dress is stuck on her.
AUTHOR: Okay, fourth wall… just between us… (the lights come up in the backroom and we can see the author, stuck with the dress over her head. She is not wearing a bra) I didn’t count on this- she was small- before hydrogenated fats and junk food made everybody fatter. I’m can’t take it up or down. And what with this whole cow discussion earlier I am not feeling really comfortable inviting these ladies in to assist me, so what can I say but… (to the other side of the door) “No, thanks! I’m fine!”
Laura Lee Bahr is the author of the short stories Happy Hour and The Liar (available in the anthologies DEMONS, winner of the Bram Stoker award and PSYCHOS, edited by John Skipp and published by Black Dog & Leventhal). She is the award-winning screenwriter of the feature films Jesus Freak and the little Death. Her first novel, HAUNT, received the Wonderland Book Award.