Saturday, August 14, 2010

Alfred Kreymborg | LIMA BEANS

Alfred Kreymborg

A Scherzo-Play

by Alfred Kreymborg

Lima Beans was originally produced by The Provincetown Players, Autumn, 1916

Original Cast

The Wife...................................................Mina Loy
The Husband...........................................William Carlos Williams
The Huckster..........................................William Zorach

Set and costumes designed by William and Marguerite Zorach

SCENE. The characters are four: husband, wife, the voice of a huckster and — the curtain. Husband and wife might be two marionettes. The scene is a miniature dining room large enough to contain a small table, two chairs, a tiny sideboard, an open window, a closed door leading to the other rooms, and additional elbow space. Pantomime is modestly indulged by husband and wife, suggesting an inoffensive parody, unless the author errs, of the contours of certain ancient Burmese dances. The impedimenta of occasional rhymes are unpremeditated. If there must be a prelude of music, let it be nothing more consequential than one of the innocuous parlor rondos of Carl Maria von Weber. As a background color scheme, black and white might not prove amiss.
As the curtain, which is painted in festoons of vegetables, rises gravely, the wife is disclosed setting the table for dinner. Aided by the sideboard, she has attended to her place, as witness the neat arrangement of plate, cup and saucer, and knife, fork and spoons at one side. Now, more consciously, she begins the performance of the important duty opposite. This question of concrete paraphernalia, and the action consequent thereupon, might of course be left entirely to the imagination of the beholder.

THE WIFE. (wistfully whimsical). Put a knife here,
place a fork there —
marriage is greater than love.
Give him a large spoon,
give him a small —
you're sure of your man when you dine him.
A cup for his coffee,
a saucer for spellings,
a plate rimmed with roses
to hold his night's fillings —
roses for hearts, ah,
but food for the appetite!
Mammals are happiest home after dark!
(The rite over, she stands off in critical admiration, her arms
akimbo, her head bobbing from side to side. Then, seriously,
as she eyes the husband's dinner plate
But what shall I give him to eat to-night?
It mustn't be limas,
we've always had limas —
one more lima would shatter his love!
[An answer comes through the open window from the dulcet
insinuatingly persuasive horn of the huckster
Oh, ah, ooh!
THE HUCKSTER. (singing mysteriously).
I got tomatoes,
I got potatoes,
I got new cabbages,
I got cauliflower,
I got red beets,
I got onions,
I got lima, beans —
THE WIFE. (who has stolen to the window, fascinated). Any fruit?
I got oranges,
I got pineapples,
I got bananas,
I got —
THE WIFE. Bring me some string beans!
[His head bobs in at the window.
The Wife takes some coins from the sideboard. A paper bag
is flung into the room. The wife catches it and airily tosses
the coins into the street. Presently, she takes a bowl from the
sideboard, sits down, peeps into the bag, dramatically tears it
open, and relapses into a gentle rocking as she strings the beans,
to this invocation.
THE WIFE. String the crooked ones,
string the straight —
love needs a change every meal.
To-morrow, come kidney beans,
Wednesday, come white or black —
limas, return not too soon!
The string bean rules in the
vegetable kingdom,
gives far more calories, sooner digests —
love through with dinner is quicker to play!
Straight ones, crooked ones,
string beans are blessed!
[Enter the husband briskly. In consternation, the wife tries
to hide the bowl, but sets it on the table and hurries to greet
him. He spreads his hands and bows.]

SHE. Good evening, sweet husband!
HE. Good evening, sweet wife!
SHE. You're back, I'm so happy —
HE. So am I — 'twas a day —
SHE. 'Twas a day?
HE. For a hot sweating donkey —
SHE. A donkey?
HE. A mule!
SHE. My poor, dear, poor spouse —
HE. No, no, my good mouse —
SHE. Rest your tired, weary arms —
HE. They're not tired, I'm not weary —
I'd perspire tears and blood drops
just to keep my mouse in cheese.
In a town or in the fields,
on the sea or in a balloon,
with a pickaxe or a fiddle,
with one's back a crooked wish-bone,
occupation, labor, work—
work's a man's best contribution.
SHE. Contribution?
HE. Yes, to Hymen!
SHE. Ah yes—
HE. But you haven't—
SHE. I haven't?
HE. You haven't—
SHE. I haven't?
HE. You have not
SHE. Ah yes, yes indeed!
(The wife embraces the husband and kisses him daintily six times.)
HE. Stop, queer little dear!
Why is a kiss?
SHE. I don't know.
HE. You don't?
SHE. No!
HE. Then why do you do it?
SHE. Love!
HE. Love?
SHE. Yes!
HE. And why is love?
SHE. I don't know.
HE. You don't?
SHE. No!
HE. And why didn't you know?
SHE. Because!
HE. Because?
SHE. Yes!
HE. Come, queer little dear!
(The husband embraces the wife and kisses her daintily six times.)
(solemnly). And now!
SHE. (nervously). And now?
HE. And now!
SHE. And now?
HE. And now I am hungry.
SHE. And now you are hungry?
HE. Of course I am hungry.
SHE. To be sure you are hungry, but —
HE. But?
SHE. But!
HE. But?
[The wife tries to edge between the husband and the table.
He gently elbows her aside. She comes back; he elbows her
less gently. This pantomime is repeated several times; his
elbowing is almost rough at the last. The husband reaches
the table and ogles the bowl. His head twists from the bowl
to the wife, back and forth. An ominous silence
String beans?
SHE. String beans!
HE. String beans?
SHE. String beans!
[A still more ominous silence. The husband's head begins
fairly to bob, only to stop abruptly as he breaks forth
HE. I perspire tears and blood drops
in a town or in the fields,
on the sea or in a balloon,
with my pickaxe or my fiddle,
just to come home
footsore, starving, doubled with appetite
to a meal of — string beans?
Where are my limas?
SHE. We had —
HE. We had?
SHE. Lima beans yesterday — we had them —
HE. We had them?
SHE. Day before yesterday —
HE. What of it?
SHE. Last Friday, last Thursday —
HE. I know it —
SHE. Last Wednesday, last Tuesday —
HE. What then, mam?
SHE. We had them
all the way since we were married —
HE. Two weeks ago this very day —
SHE. I thought you'd have to have a change —
HE. A change —
SHE. I thought you'd like to have a change —
HE. A change?
You thought?
I'd like?
A change?
From the godliest of vegetables,
my kingly bean,
that soft, soothing,
succulent, caressing,
creamy, persuasively serene,
my buttery entity?
You would dethrone it?
You would play renegade?
You'd raise an usurper
in the person of this
elongated, cadaverous,
throat-scratching, greenish
caterpillar —
you'd honor a parochial,
menial pleb,
an accursed legume,
sans even the petty grandeur
of cauliflower,
radish, pea,
onion, asparagus,
potato, tomato —
to the rank of household god?
Is this your marriage?
Is this your creed of love?
Is this your contribution?
Dear, dear,
was there some witch at the altar
who linked your hand with mine in troth
only to have it broken in a bowl?
Ah, dear, dear —
SHE. Dear, dear!
HE. You have listened to a temptress —
SHE. I have listened to my love of you —
HE. You, the pure, the angelic —
SHE. Husband, dear —
HE. Silence!
SHE. Husband!
HE. Silence!
(The wife collapses into her chair. The husband seizes the bowl to this malediction.)
I do not know from whence ye came,
but I know whither ye shall go.
My love,
my troth,
my faith
shall deal with ye.
from this domicile,
in the name of Hymen
(The husband throws the bowl and beans out of the window. The customary crash of broken glass, off-stage, is heard. A smothered sob escapes the wife. The husband strides towards the door. The wife raises her head.)
SHE. Husband!
HE. Traitress!
SHE. Love, sweet husband!
HE. Traitress, traitress!
(The husband glares at the wife, and slams the door behind him. The wife collapses again. Her body rocks to and fro. Silence. Then, still more mysteriously than the first time, the horn and the voice of the huckster. The wife stops rocking, raises her head and gets up. A woe-begone expression vanishes before one of eagerness, of housewifely shrewdness, of joy. She steals to the window.)
I got oranges,
I got pineapples,
I got bananas,
I got —
THE WIFE. Any vegetables?
I got tomatoes,
I got potatoes,
new cabbages,
red beets,
I got string beans,
I got—
THE WIFE. Bring me some lima beans!
THE HUCKSTER. I got onions,
I got—
THE WIFE. Bring me some lima beans!
THE HUCKSTER. Yes, mam! (His head appears again.)
(The performance of paper bag and coins is repeated. Excitedly, the wife takes another bowl from the sideboard. She sits down, tears open the bag, clicks her heels, and hastily, recklessly, begins splitting the limas. One or two pop out and bound along the floor. The wife stops. Pensively:)
THE WIFE. There you go,
hopping away,
just like bad sparrows —
no, no, more like him.
(She smiles a little)
Hopping away,
no, he's not a sparrow,
he's more like a
poor angry boy — and so soon!
(She lets the beans slip through her fingers.)
lima beans, string beans,
kidney beans, white or black —
you're all alike —
though not all alike to him.
(She perks her head.)
It's alike to me.
what's alike to him —
(She looks out of the window.)
though I'm sorry for you,
crooked strings, straight strings,
and so glad for you,
creamy ones, succulent —
what did he say of you?
(She returns to splitting the limas; with crescendo animation.)
Heigho, it's all one to me,
so he loves what I do,
I'll do what he loves.
Angry boy? No, a man
quite young in the practice
of wedlock — and love!
Come, limas, to work now —
we'll serve him, heart, appetite,
whims, crosspatches and all —
though we boil for it later!
The dinner bell calls us,
ding, dong, ding, dell!
[The husband opens the door and pokes in his head. The wife hears him and is silent. He edges into the room and then stops, humble, contrite, abject. Almost in a whisper:]
HE. Wife!
(She does not heed him. He, louder)
Sweet wife!
(She does not answer. He, still louder)
dear, dearest wife!
(She does not answer. He approaches carefully, almost with
reverence, watches her, takes the other chair and cautiously
sets it down next to hers.)

SHE. Yes?
HE. Will you —
I want to —
won't you —
may I sit next to you?
SHE. Yes.
HE. I want to —
will you —
won't you
forgive me — I'll
eat all the beans in the world!
[The wife looks up at the husband roguishly. He drops down
beside her with the evident intention of putting his arm
about her, only to jump up as, inadvertently, he has looked
into the bowl. He rubs his eyes, sits down slowly, looks
again, only to jump up again. The third time he sits down
with extreme caution, like a zoologist who has come upon a
new specimen of insect. The wife seems oblivious of his
emotion. He rises, looks from one side of her, then the
other, warily. At last, rapturously
Lima beans?
(She looks up tenderly and invitingly, indicating his chair.)
SHE. Lima beans!
(He sits down beside her. With greater awe and emphasis.)
HE. Lima beans?
SHE. Lima beans!
(A moment of elfin silence.)
HE. Sweet wife!
SHE. Sweet husband!
HE. Where —
how did it—
how did it happen?
SHE. I don't know.
HE. You do—
you do know—
SHE. I don't!
HE. Tiny miracle,
you do—
you're a woman,
you're a wife,
you're an imp—
you do know!
SHE. Well—
HE. Well?
SHE. Er—
HE. Eh?
SHE. Somebody—
HE. Yes, yes?
SHE. Somebody—
sent them—
HE. Sent them?
SHE. Brought them!
HE. Brought them?
SHE. Yes!
HE. Who?
SHE. Somebody!
HE. Somebody who?
SHE. I can't tell —
HE. You can.
SHE. I — won't tell —
HE. You will —
SHE. I won't —
HE. You will —
SHE. Well!
HE. Well?
SHE. You ought to know!
HE. I ought to?
SHE. You ought to —
HE. But I don't —
SHE. Yes, you do!
HE. I do not —
SHE. You do!
[The husband eyes the wife thoughtfully. She aids him with a gently mischievous smile. He smiles back in understanding.]
HE. I know!
SHE. You do not —
HE. Yes, I do!
SHE. Are you sure?
HE. Sure enough —
SHE. Who was it?
HE. I won't tell —
SHE. You will!
[He points at the audience with warning, goes to the keyhole and listens, draws the window-shade and returns. She nods quickly and puts her head closer to his, her wide-open eyes on the audience. He puts his head to hers, his wide-open eyes on the audience, then turns quickly and whispers something in her ear. She nods with secret, uproarious delight.]
HE. Yes?
SHE. Yes!
[They embrace and click their heels with unrestrained enthusiasm. The wife holds out the bowl to the husband with mock solemnity. He grasps it and together they raise it above their heads, lower it to their knees, and then shell the beans with one accord. They kiss each other daintily six times. The curtain begins to quiver. As before, but accelerando.]
HE. Stop, queer little dear! Why is a kiss?
SHE. I don't know.
HE. You don't?
SHE. No!
HE. Then why do you do it?
SHE. Love!
HE. Love!
SHE. Yes!
HE. And why is —
[They are interrupted. The curtain comes capering down! The last we behold of the happy pair is their frantic signaling for the curtain to wait till they have finished. But curtains cannot see — or understand?]
A poet, playwright, and champion chess player, Alfred Kreymborg became close friends with Alfred Stieglitz and his 291 group, editing The Glebe. As he later encountered Ezra Pound, and developed new friends with Skip Cannell, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens, he begin edition a new magazine, Others. Williams, Marianne Moore, and numerous others began regularly visiting his art colony (Grantwood) in Ridgefield, New Jersey, and Marcel Duchamp came to live there.
Copyright (c) 1916 by Alfred Kreymborg. Reedited by Douglas Messerli for this publication, copyright (c) 2010.

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