The work begins with the main character, Marvin (Jesse Einstein), his son Jason (the talented young Major Curda), his psychiatrist Mendel (Chip Phillips) and his lover, Whizzer (Richard Hellstern) singing “Four Jews In a Room Bitching,” a piece laying out the difficulties each are facing. Marvin has left his wife, Trina (Lani Shipman) for Whizzer, but continues to insist upon a “tight-knit family,” demanding that both he and Whizzer continue to play an important role in Jason’s life.
Saturday, November 5, 2011
something bad is happeningby Douglas Messerli
William Finn (music and lyrics), William Finn and James Lapine (book) Falsettos / Third Street Theater, Los Angeles (the performance I saw was a matinee on Sunday, October 16, 2011)
There have been numerous revivals of William Finn’s operetta-like musical since its long 1992 run on Broadway (487 performances). Unlike most American musicals, Finn’s work, broken into two parts—March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland—has basically no spoken words, the story being told through the music and lyrics.
The work begins with the main character, Marvin (Jesse Einstein), his son Jason (the talented young Major Curda), his psychiatrist Mendel (Chip Phillips) and his lover, Whizzer (Richard Hellstern) singing “Four Jews In a Room Bitching,” a piece laying out the difficulties each are facing. Marvin has left his wife, Trina (Lani Shipman) for Whizzer, but continues to insist upon a “tight-knit family,” demanding that both he and Whizzer continue to play an important role in Jason’s life.
For her part, Trina is obviously hurt by the series of events, but still attempts to create a conciliatory relationship with her for husband and boyfriend. A trip to the psychiatrist, Mendel, however creates a new series of events, as Mendel, singing “Love Is Blind,” attempts to help her while at the same time falling in love. When Mendel demands to know more about Marvin’s relationship with Whizzer, in “Marvin at the Psychiatrist, a Three-Part Mini-Opera” Marvin details his relationship with Whizzer, concluding that he is in love with him, Mendel moving the conversation to Trina’s bedroom habits, as Marvin and Jason reply in counterpoint.
Jason, in turns out, is having his own difficulties, wondering whether his father’s homosexuality can be inherited (“My Father’s a Homo”). Whizzer suggests that Jason also visit Mendel, who now is in what might be described as personal relationships with the entire family.
Meanwhile, tension is building between Marvin and Whizzer, as the former attempts to put Whizzer in the position of homemaker. At the same time, Trina is increasingly feeling alienated by the situation, growing fearful that she is becoming less and less prominent in her family’s life (“I’m Breaking Down). A visit from the psychiatrist for dinner and therapy results in further involvement between Mendel and Trina, and before long he has made a marriage proposal to Trina.
Trina has mixed feelings which she expresses in “Trina’s Song,” but she realizes that Mendel’s love is sincere, and, in need of support, she realizes she could do worse. The men, all realizing their failures, together sing “The March of the Falsettos,” admitting that their roles as “masculine” examples represent a great deal of bluff.
Trina and Mendel announce their marriage plans, and Marvin reacts with anger, violently slapping his ex-wife, both painfully singing “I Never Wanted to Love You,” a sentiment Whizzer repeats to Marvin, and Marvin relays even to his innocent son.
By the end of the first part, Marvin has broken with Whizzer and created a gap between him and Trina. Attempting to salvage his connections with his son, he sings “Father to Son,” reassuring Jason that he will love always love him, however he turns out.
If the first part has been almost brittle with the dilemmas Finn presents us with, the second part is even more distressing. It is now 1981, two years later. The cast has now grown by two others, lesbian neighbors of Marvin, Dr. Charlotte, an internist, and Cordelia, a kosher caterer. These two women offer support and love to the lonely Marvin, but create new problems of their own.
Although Marvin has grown wiser (“About Time” being a song about growing up and getting over his selfish behavior), and has managed to retain a close relationship with Jason, the issue of his son’s Bar Mitzvah creates new tensions between Trina and him, she attempting to plan a large event, while Mendel (and Jason) encourage a more simple party. Caught in the middle, Jason is furious with both parents, which Mendel assures him is absolutely natural (“Everyone Hates His Parents").
In the midst of these adult dilemmas, Jason somehow manages to hit the ball, but is so nonplussed that he forgets to run!
Another “falsetto” piece relates their new traumas. And soon after Marvin and Whizzer return to their relationship. The war between Trina and Marvin, however, continues, until suddenly, in a racquetball game, Whizzer collaspses, and is taken to the hospital. Dr. Charlotte has already warned us through song that “Something Bad Is Happening,” young men increasingly becoming ill and dying. And we soon discover that Whizzer has AIDS.
In the trauma of the new situation, both parents offer Jason the option of “Canceling the Bar Mitzvah,” while all four of the gay figures, Marvin, Whizzer, Charlotte and Cordelia musically muse on how their love can last, “Unlikely Lovers.”
As Whizzer’s condition worsens, Marvin turns to God, singing—a bit like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof—“Miracle of Judaism.” Suddenly all break into Whizzer’s hospital room, Jason having decided that the Bar Mitzvah should be celebrated there, with Cordelia catering the event. For a few happy moments, “The Bar Mitzvah,” lifts everyone’s spirits, but suddenly Whizzer can no longer continue in their company, and is wheeled from the celebrations.
Left alone, Marvin sings his major love song of the work, “What Would I Do If You Had Not Been My Friend?” a piece which might melt away all the icebergs in Greenland, as we hear the news that Whizzer has died.
Marvin and his friends surround him to bid the audience farewell without another round of “Falsettoland.”
Finn’s work is, as I mention above, often touching and certainly affecting. The audience with whom I saw the production, clearly loved the work. But the constant stereotypes of both Jewish and gay issues the musical presents often transform it from a serious dialogue of its concerns into a kind a saccharine and even sanctimonious affair. At their best the lyrics remind one of Stephen Sondheim, with their cleverly satiric purposefulness, but just as often they can’t hold up the significance they attempt to portray, and the music—never reaching the heights of Sondheim in works such as Follies, Merrily We Roll Along (which is closest in spirit to Finn’s work) or Sweeney Todd—seem all to be of one piece without creating the variance of sound and structure that would lend the musical a richer sheen.
The cast I saw were all quite capable, at moments even wondrous, with the small musical combo on stage creating a feeling of a much larger cast than the work actually entails. Their acting also created a sense of absolute delight. So what, it’s not a perfect work? It certainly is worth a visit to the theater any night.
Los Angeles, November 4, 2011
The performance I saw the other day of William Finn’s and James Lapine’s operatic musical about the AID’s era dramatic drama, Falsettos, which I reviewed on HDBroadway streaming, was perhaps a far better rendition of the work that I saw in 2011 at the small theater in Los Angeles. With a wonderful set which literally demonstrated the breakdown of family life through a re-assimilation of the constantly changing reconstruction of the break-down moveable household constitutions of family life: chairs, tables, shelves, and even beds. This is a world in total flux, as the opera itself proclaims.
No wonder the young child Jason (Anthony Rosenthal in the 2016 revival production at the Walter Kerr Theatre I just saw) is confused. Since his father (Andrew Rannells) has suddenly run off with a gay lover (Christian Borle), he can only wonder whether he himself is also gay. His mother, Trina (Stephanie J. Block) is confused as well, with the lesbian neighbors, Dr. Charlotte (Tracie Thoms) and Cordelia (Betsy Wolfe) equally confused about what is happening in the world they inhabit. There are no answers to what is happening, particularly when the gay lover Whizzer falls sick with the pandemic disease of the time—which another inert president, in this case Reagan—could not imagine how to respond.
This was a statement of a stalemate between politics and leadership that reflects such a flaring light on our own time, that I could hardly view it without endless tears.
Watching this film recreation, the other day, I realized, yet again, how significant this work is for our own time.
Los Angeles, March 31, 2020
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Friday, September 2, 2011
For a printed copy of J. M. Barrie's play "The Old Lady Shows Her Medals," click here:
For a radio performance of Barrie's "The Old Lady Shows Her Medals," with the Barrymores, click below:
BOND OF AGE
by Douglas Messerli
J. M. Barrie "Barrie: Back to Back," Rosalind and The Old Lady Shows Her Medals / Los Angeles, Pacific Resident Theatre (the production I saw was on Sunday, August 28, 2011)
If Barrie's Peter Pan can be described as the refusal of youth to become old, a play about the attempt of the young to remain that way forever, the two short plays I saw this past Sunday— although still very much centered on the issues of young and old—might be said to hint at strange bonds between the two. One might almost be tempted to take that further and suggest a "bondage." After all, if Wendy and her brothers had not been surrounded by loving, if sometimes disapproving adults, there would have been no need to seek another world. Indeed, in Barrie's works, the desire for new adventures is not at all like Dickens' world, peopled with tortured children and waifs who must escape simply to survive. In Barrie's child-like fables, the figures reach out to other worlds simply for solace and psychological needs. As in our own youth-obsessed culture, so Barrie's adults and children simply prefer to stay young.
It is that relationship between the young and the old that is the focus of these two slightly sentimental, but still entertaining short plays. In "Rosalind," a middle-aged woman (Mrs. Page) sits in a country home which she has rented with her slightly older landlady (Dame Quickly) in attendance as they gossip—Mrs. Page greedily eating bon-bons or nuts while they speak. The conversation mostly centers on Mrs. Page's satisfaction about being middle-aged, her feeling that it is wonderful to be aging and much more enjoyable than the activities of her actor-daughter who, at the moment, so we hear, is in Monte Carlo. The somewhat disheveled, graying Mrs. Page is obviously proud of her daughter, Beatrice—she has her photograph prominently displayed—but she is not at all distressed that she seldom gets the opportunity to see her, and, she later admits, has never seen the girl upon stage.
Into this quaint tea-time setting stumbles a young man, Charles Roche, seeking, improbably, a short respite from the rain before his train returns to the city. At first he is refused by the landlady, as Mrs. Page pretends to sleep, but gradually he wiggles his way to the warm hearth, intending to read and leave the tenant to herself. But all that changes when he spots Beatrice's photograph! The actress is at the center of his attentions, and, we soon discover, he has met her and dined with her, unable to comprehend, accordingly, why her photograph should appear on the mantel of the "far from London" setting. Gradually he awakens the sleeping Mrs. Page, and, little by little, discovers that the woman he has just met is the actresses' mother.
So obsessed with Beatrice is Charles that he feels equally strong attachments to her mother, and opens his heart to her, telling the older woman how much he is in love with her daughter. Surprisingly Mrs. Page puts these sentiments and the trinkets that go with them (a photograph he keeps in his wallet across from the picture of his sister) into perspective, even mocking them. And in a quick dismissal of his emotions, Mrs. Page rips up the cherished photograph.
He is horrified, shocked by her behavior. But gradually discovers, through her knowledge of him and growing revelations (dear reader, go no further if you will not have the plot revealed) that the middle-aged woman before him and his beloved Beatrice are one and the same. Beatrice, it appears is not at all in Monte Carlo, but has escaped as Mrs. Page to be able for one of the few times in her life to discover herself at her true age instead of the eternally young figure she must play upon the stage.
Charles is stunned, disheartened, even perhaps horrified. How could such a beauty have been transformed into the woman standing before his eyes? Yet, as she reveals her's—and every young star's dilemma—he gallantly offers her marriage—in order to protect her in her old age! The gesture may be gallant but, of course, is ridiculous! It is also, perhaps, somewhat obscene. It is quite impossible that the young, handsome boy come out of the rain, can sit for the rest of his life gossiping with his aging wife.
Barrie, fortunately, has another surprise up his sleeve, as Beatrice/Mrs. Page is called back to London to play Rosalind in Shakespeare's As You Like It. Suddenly the actress is in a flurry, running to pack, to change clothes and accompany her potential "lover" back to the city. Her entry after dressing says it all: she is now young again, not a real human being plagued with age, but something of the stage, a made-up simulacrum of a young beauty for all her audience to love. In a sense, Mrs. Page has become her own Peter Pan, a reimagining of her own being.
The second of these solidly staged plays is simpler in plot, but far more complex emotionally than the first play. After bearing through a recitation of four charwoman's recountings of their sons, all at war (acted, unfortunately, as he have come to expect from small companies, with a babble of unfocused English accents), the play turns to the central character, Mrs. Dowey (excellently performed by Penny Safranek), whose son, so the vicar reports, has just returned for a leave from the front. His arrival is almost breathtaking, as a handsome, brawny, kilted man from the "Black Watch" enters Mrs. Dowey's basement hovel, while the other women are sent scurrying off.
The actor playing Kenneth Dowey (Joe McGovern) has the Scottish brogue down rather well, and is stunningly handsome enough that, despite his overly self-confident sense of being, his presence almost does take away the breath. Certainly, his appearance seems to have startled his mother. Rightfully so, for as we soon discover, although they share last names, they are no relation to one another. Mrs. Dowey has "stolen" his name and address from the local paper, and having herself no son or even previous husband, has felt so alien from the "war effort," and so excluded from her friends, all of whom have boys in service, that she has "made him up," so to speak, sending him cakes and other treats under a different name, and following his wartime adventures through the papers. The stack of letters she has shown her friends that he has written her are all blank.
At first the soldier is justifiably angry with the lying woman, but gradually, as he discovers the extent with which she had deceived everyone, including himself, and her explanations for her acts, he grows more tolerant. He, we soon discover, is himself an orphan, and her desperate interest in his being suits his high impression of himself. When she offers him a bed and clean sheets he cannot resist.
A few nights later, we discover, they have dined out each evening, he buying her a astrakhan, she serving as a doting and somewhat gay confidant for a lonely man in the city. By the end of the play, Kenneth kneels before her, as if about to propose, and does so: will she accept the role of his mother? It is a beautifully conceived, if sentimental, gesture. But it is also so revealing of the author's strange entanglements of youth and age. As in "Rosalind," youth bows to age always, although it understands itself as the superior. But it is just its own shining being that so attracts the old to it. There is a whiff here almost of "pedophilia," and given Barrie's own relationship with his mother—for whom he often played his preferred dead brother—and his deep (and apparently detrimental) involvement with the boys of the Davies family, there is certainly much more to be said about this "bond between the ages."
As Kenneth tearfully leaves, however, we are awarded the delightful sight of the old woman opening the package of trinkets, a hat, medals, etc., which he has awarded her. And we feel, despite her lies and, now, perhaps his self-deceptions, this bonding of the two has been nearly inevitable, and is surely a good thing.
Los Angeles, August 31, 2011
Thursday, September 1, 2011
To read Karel Čapek’s drama R. U. R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) of 1921, click here:
Czech dramatist Karel Čapek, writing several times in collaboration with his brother Josef, became one of the most noted names of Czech Expressionist drama. Among his works are R.U.R (1921)., The Insect Play (1921), and The Makcropoulous Affair (1923) , later transformed into an opera.
Saturday, August 13, 2011
To purchase a copy of Claudio Magris' Voices: Three Plays, click below:
To order Armand Gatti's Two Plays, click here:
To order Djuna Barnes' play The Antiphon, click here:
To order Kier Peters' play The Confirmation, click here:
To order a copy of Gertrude Stein's play Mexico, click below:
by Douglas Messerli
Eugene O’Neill Long Day’s Journey into Night, The National Theatre, Stockholm, 1956 New York, 1956
Eugene O’Neill Long Day’s Journey into Night (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1956)
Eugene O’Neill (w), Sidney Lumet (d) Long Day’s Journey into Night / 1961
Eugene O’Neill Long Day’s Journey into Night, Plymouth Theatre, New York, May 6, 2003
Unable to travel to New York to see the production of Long Day’s Journey into Night starring Vanessa Redgrave, I determined to reread the play. It had been a long time since my last reading, and I had forgotten how specific O’Neill is in most of his plays—and particularly in this one—with regard to the description of scene, and of characters and their actions. One does not usually encounter such lengthy—one might say exhaustive—descriptions. I often trim my comments to the minimum in my own plays, presuming that any director worth his or her salt would interpret the setting and movement of the actors in his or her own way. There is almost a sense of O’Neill attempting to recreate his actual family members on stage.
At the same time, the specificity of O’Neill’s descriptions (this, for example from his description early in the play of Mary Tyrone: “What strikes one immediately is her extreme nervousness. Her hands are never still. They were once beautiful hands, with long, tapering fingers, but rheumatism has knotted the joints and warped the fingers, so that now they have an ugly crippled look. One avoids looking at them….”) reminded me of the appropriateness of the acting in the movie version with Katherine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson and Jason Robards, Jr. I know that many feel that Hepburn’s performance of the “dear drugged mother” was, so to speak, “over the top.” But I have only to recall how she stroked her long, gnarled fingers to feel how precise was that performance—one I recall as the most brilliant of her career. I wish I had been able to see Redgrave’s interpretation, if only to free me from imagining Mary Tyrone as Katherine Hepburn. Or, for that matter, to free me from conjuring up Ralph Richardson’s golden trumpet of a voice in every word of James Tyrone and of hearing the cynical, side-mouthed sentences of Robard’s version of James Tyrone, Jr., the often drunken Jaimie.
I almost always forget the name of the actor who played Edmund, not because Dean Stockwell did not play him well, but because of the triumvirate of remarkable performers, Hepburn-Richardson-Robards, hardly give him any room. And, although I have heard that Robert Sean Leonard’s recent stage performance brought new dimension to the role of Edmund, I have always presumed—and did so through my newest reading of the play—that, in part, he was a less defined character because O’Neill had made him so. He was weaker than the others precisely because he was weak, was in ill health. And in the hothouse environment of the three raving,lunatic ghosts, he was an outsider, a figure standing apart. They—the unholy trio—are in control of the show.
And it is a show, a spectacle they are presenting for the young Hamlet-like prince; their representation of each other and themselves. Because he is so clearly a repre¬sentative to them of the potentialities of the future—as consumptive as that future may be—they all adore him, and, because they are doomed not to participate in that future, they hate him as well. He represents all their hopes and all their fears, and, accordingly each member of this addicted family reach out to love him and to corrupt him, offering—at a time when he is clearly ill and visibly weak—the temptation of something to drink.
The year, we are told, is 1912, the end of a golden age that with the rise of World War I will end the significance of their generation and will irreparably change American culture. One must also remember that, although all four characters of O’Neill’s family tragedy are ill (Mary, as we have mentioned, is an incurable morphine addict; James has destroyed his life and career through his petty greed, refusing to chance any role other than the romantic drama that has made him popular; and Jamie is a determined drunk), Edmund, diagnosed in the course of the play as
having tuberculosis, is the only one with any significant chance of being cured; the others are all doomed. Mary names the problem quite straightforwardly when her husband demands that she forget the past:
Why? How can I? The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future too. We all try to lie out of it but life won’t let us. (p. 87)
Given this situation, I have now come to realize that, far from being the weak link of this family, Edmund is nearly completely in control. And the family’s long slide into the unbearable night of their lives is orchestrated by Edmund’s actions and statements, most particularly his aloofness, his seeming noninvolvement. He is their audience, and in this sense—as the receiver and recorder of their lives—he is their only salvation, is the only one who has the potential to present them—to represent them—to the future, and in so doing possibly redeem the lives they have squandered.
It is perhaps for this reason that O’Neill is so exactingly particular in his dramatic instructions. As the playwright he also must be in complete control. For without his precise recreation of them, the characters would be only so much silent matter, the lives merely forgotten histories among the millions of such American self-destructions. Edmund/O’Neill allows them to haunt the American imagination, helps to rediscover the spirituality that Mary sought.
Los Angeles, January 2004
Monday, August 8, 2011
by Grzegorz Wróblewski
Translated from Polish by Adam Zdrodowski
GUNNAR, 70, a retired bank employee
JOANNA, 72, his sister, a former shoe-shop owner
A small town on the island of Falster, Denmark.
Gunnar’s old, ruined villa.
Gunnar is sitting on the floor. In front of him, a reproduction of Jan van Eyck’s painting “The Arnolfini Marriage”.
JOANNA (tapping a glass with a fork) Give it a break! Say something to your sister at last! We see each other so rarely.
GUNNAR (to himself) And yet she wasn’t pregnant. I’m sure she wasn’t. Nowadays sunken cheeks and dried breasts are fashionable, but then “pregnant look” was all the rage. Nothing’s changed. That is... everything’s changed, seemingly. A common fraud...
JOANNA Men and women. What do you know about it?
GUNNAR Giovanni and Jeanne...
JOANNA Remember that fashion was always controlled by calculating men.
GUNNAR Women... I never understood you.
JOANNA That’s why worms have infested your shutters. Just look at the floor! Completely ruined...
GUNNAR Can one ever understand a woman?
JOANNA A question of input.
GUNNAR Could it be that Jeanne has put a bag of sawdust under her skirt?
JOANNA You can still walk on your own, Gunnar. You should finally do something about this floor. She stands up and walks around the room. What a creak! What a horrible creak!
GUNNAR Interesting, where does all the perfidy come from?
JOANNA sits on the floor next to Gunnar.
GUNNAR (nervous) Be careful!
JOANNA Let me see what troubles you so much. Is it the same picture from the National Gallery that I saw last time? Oh, yesss! But you do have a character.
One motive, all week long.
GUNNAR I’m studying it.
JOANNA You’re drifting away from reality.
GUNNAR Cunning and hypocrisy!
JOANNA I think they look happy. But on the other hand, no...
GUNNAR (thoughtful) Happiness is an unattainable thing.
JOANNA There is something sickly about this painting. Something disquieting.
GUNNAR Giovanni let himself be taken in. It must have been all about his money.
He was a wealthy merchant, he had loads of money.
JOANNA Money complicates everything.
GUNNAR Money is essential!
JOANNA (to herself) To be retired and to burden your head unnecessarily with absurd paintings...
GUNNAR Merchants are always the most exposed. A common fraud and the lack of honesty. Common fraud...
JOANNA Merchants have no idea about what is going on in their own house.
GUNNAR Right. The enemy is always near.
JOANNA Whom do you mean in this case?
GUNNAR Everyone is suspected.
JOANNA (ironically) Even the maid and the maid’s cats.
GUNNAR The attack usually comes from where you don’t expect it...
JOANNA (concerned) But you’ve worked too long at the bank. You should have retired earlier. They’ve finished you off... (yawning) And what if she really was pregnant?
GUNNAR It’s one of the possibilities...
JOANNA (surprised) One of the possibilities? What do you mean exactly?
GUNNAR (in a animated voice) Look! She isn’t even looking into his eyes!
GUNNAR She’s concentrated on something else altogether.
JOANNA Painterly technique. Ordinary painterly technique. You’ve always been a naïve man, Gunnar. She caresses his head. Everyone took advantage of you, little brother.
GUNNAR There’s something vague in the air.
JOANNA Yolk on oil.
GUNNAR Painterly technique is one thing, and a specific scene... He screams. A specific scene!!! I know this is a specific scene!!!
JOANNA Is there any proof to it???
GUNNAR A specific scene, I can swear!
JOANNA (soothingly) All right, a specific scene, all right. Have it your own way – it’s a specific scene. Almost like a contemporary photograph! Have it your own way...
GUNNAR It’s not a photograph, you don’t understand anything.
JOANNA I’m sorry. I forgot about this shift in time...
GUNNAR And what if Giovanni had a vision?
JOANNA (to herself) Jeanne doesn’t matter, of course.
GUNNAR Maybe Giovanni predicted everything? It could have been a well-thought-out tactic on his part. After all, he isn’t looking in her eyes, either. Maybe he’s patiently awaiting further developments?
JOANNA Love and pregnancy. Nothing but complications.
GUNNAR It’s not absolutely sure that it was pregnancy...
JOANNA It’s absurd.
GUNNAR A conspiracy, probably.
JOANNA When was the last time you went out? Tell me!
GUNNAR Giovanni was patiently waiting.
JOANNA I don’t like this fellow.
GUNNAR Business means sacrifice.
JOANNA He tried to be too cunning.
GUNNAR He predicted everything...
JOANNA With you it’s likewise. Have you ever had time to spend your money? Then why did you work so much? For idealistic reasons? Working in a bank for idealistic reasons?
GUNNAR Modesty is essential.
JOANNA But meanness doesn’t lead to anything sensible.
GUNNAR You have to keep something in reserve in case an unpredicted cataclysm should happen.
JOANNA I’d recommend a sea cruise for you. You’d meet some interesting people on board. Somebody from the bank, perhaps? I’m dreaming of it. Binoculars and dancing.
Drinks... You cannot live and breathe art, endlessly. Suddenly she glances at the reproduction.
Look at these horrid clogs! An obvious lack of style! They could, at least,
have hidden them under the couch. (to herself) They could have maintained appearances...
GUNNAR It surely is an important sign. They knew very well what they were doing, I can assure you.
JOANNA (laughing) Nothing has changed since their times! Dirt is nothing new.
She sits at the table again and pours herself some fruit juice. After a while she begins to snore silently.
Gunnar is still on the floor. He turns the reproduction sideways and gently strokes the glossy paper.
GUNNAR (to himself) You’ve got a wonderful cap, top hat, hat... This cap explains a lot, Giovanni. It stresses the traits of your unique character. I bet it was the object of admiration and envy of mediocre people. Let alone Jeanne! She prayed to your headgear. (pause) I wonder if you ever took it off. It would be a great mistake. In a cap, even in bed in a cap! It matches your face. It matches everything. It’s just ideal! He screams. Can you hear?! It matches everything! Wake up, you vile men in the street, his cap matches everything! Wake up!!!
JOANNA (opening an eye) He can’t let you take a nap even for a second...
GUNNAR Giovanni! What a personality, what an inspiration!
JOANNA (opening another eye) Is it still Giovanni?
GUNNAR (in an excited voice) He walked the streets in it. There, people would bow to him with respect, they looked up to him, his opinion was important.
JOANNA Maybe he wasn’t a merchant at all?
GUNNAR It’s possible that he earned some extra money as the king’s adviser. It’s possible!
JOANNA (yawning) The streets used to be calm before.
GUNNAR All women would look when he was passing by. And only this fraudster...
JOANNA They let too many Turks in.
GUNNAR He had a personality...
JOANNA I’m afraid to go shopping alone.
GUNNAR ‘Cause there are no more knights in the world. Look at his eyes! Look and remember them carefully!
JOANNA I’m not talking about knights, but about a new government that would finally take some interest in its citizens.
GUNNAR But you must look at the eyes!
JOANNA I think they’re too small. It’s characteristic of cheaters.
JOANNA Giovanni looks like our chemist.
GUNNAR Look at him carefully!
JOANNA A stinge.
GUNNAR Would you prefer dreamy, unintelligent cow’s eyeballs? Remember that we come from the city. (pause) Animals are fascinating, but only from a certain distance.
JOANNA I’ve always dreamed about a Persian cat.
GUNNAR You’d become allergic immediately. The place of origin is essential. One has it in one’s blood.
JOANNA These times are over... from country or from city. It doesn’t really matter now. What counts is a pension! What counts is an appropriate pension. Net receipts, Gunnar.
GUNNAR (firmly) Net receipts, of course. But we come from the city. Remember the posts our father held.
JOANNA But we’ve landed close to the countryside. Very close.
GUNNAR What are you talking about? What about the post office, the bank, and the bookshop?
JOANNA (trickily) And a hat shop? Is there a hat shop here?
GUNNAR (to himself) I know something about it...
JOANNA They don’t have enough clean tables in the café. Have you noticed how they serve coffee here?
GUNNAR But there is the post office, the bank, and the bookshop...
JOANNA From here, it’s far away even to Amsterdam. And what is Amsterdam, compared to, say, Paris?
GUNNAR There is the bank and the bookshop!
JOANNA Does it mean that it’s a genuine city? A bank and a bookshop? Do you think they have Faulkner’s The Wild Palms? I don’t even feel like going inside.
GUNNAR They have a lot of other interesting titles.
JOANNA Cultivation and pig breeding...
GUNNAR (thoughtful) Before cities weren’t as crowded as today.
JOANNA Before I wasn’t afraid to go out in the street alone.
GUNNAR There is the post office...
JOANNA And Turks...
GUNNAR You’ve aged.
JOANNA Suddenly you don’t like me any more?
GUNNAR Your views, I mean your views.
JOANNA Life in the provinces has a bad effect on me.
GUNNAR Stop concentrating on cosmetics, and you may feel relieved.
JOANNA We live far from any civilization...
GUNNAR (embarrassed) One must go to the end of the world to buy a reasonable hat. That’s a fact. You don’t buy hats in just any button shop. Think about Giovanni. I bet it wasn’t serial production. He must have got it from abroad. (pause) But after all, our post office functions well.
JOANNA In those days everything was made to order. And don’t change the subject. Admit it! You don’t like me anymore, do you?
GUNNAR These are matters one shouldn’t discuss aloud... Why do women always demand public declarations?
JOANNA Experienced women, remember.
GUNNAR Experienced, experienced! I forgot that you’re in your seventies.
JOANNA I can feel that you don’t like me anymore.
GUNNAR The external appearance is not everything.
JOANNA It only seems so to you. Think about the hunchbacks. No social life, complete isolation...
GUNNAR The hunchbacks are an extreme.
JOANNA I’m waiting for your answer.
GUNNAR But you know it.
JOANNA We’re alone. (cheerfully) There’s no one in the room apart from us.
GUNNAR I like you, I always did. Are you satisfied now?
JOANNA Yes. And I am really thankful to you, Gunnar.
GUNNAR You’re in good shape. You look like a teenager, like a movie star, like Norma Baker towards the end of her stormy life...
JOANNA And I’m still interested in handsome men.
GUNNAR You’re never going to change.
JOANNA Handsome and eloquent. They’re difficult to find in the countryside.
GUNNAR Falster is good for your complexion! In Copenhagen you’d only get exhaust fumes.
JOANNA I feel fresh. Daily walks, skimmed milk... I care about myself. (pause) Does anyone drop in on you to play bridge?
GUNNAR Cards don’t intrigue me any more.
JOANNA You’re becoming eccentric.
GUNNAR I’m developing.
JOANNA And the colour of my hair? What do you think about it?
GUNNAR I can’t see anything... He starts observing the reproduction again.
JOANNA (to herself) Natural ingredients. There’s no risk that the hair will start falling out... The colour perfectly suits my evening dresses. Everything’s well thought-out!
GUNNAR I’m bald, just as he is. I always wanted to go bald and it happened after some years. (pause) Small eyes mean cunning and wisdom. You have to act concretely in life. No compromises!
JOANNA The bald always have some arguments. A bald one can only understand another bald one. (She is laughing) A solidarity of the bald. I wonder if Giovanni really was bald?
GUNNAR It emanates from the painting. I can assure you that he was bald.
JOANNA She looks at herself in the mirror. Everyone thinks I’m only 60.
GUNNAR I’m convinced that he discovered it early on. He took a look at her when she was asleep. And then he pretended that he didn’t know anything. Maybe he was even happy when she solemnly announced she was pregnant. Since then he had no illusions and was secretly working out his plan...
JOANNA How can you know, maybe she really was pregnant?
GUNNAR Yet another variant...
JOANNA Remember, women are a mystery.
GUNNAR (slowly) Was she... or wasn’t she?
JOANNA Does it bother you so much?
GUNNAR It torments me. You don’t even realize...
JOANNA But you can’t plunge into depression because of that.
GUNNAR He took action in an appropriate moment.
JOANNA (surprised) Who?
GUNNAR What do you mean, who? Giovanni.
JOANNA (suddenly) Why have you never married?
GUNNAR A marriage is a definitive thing. It’s a question of mutual confidence, the sharing of incomes and expenses. Unforeseen expenses and, God forbid... children. (in a whisper) Children empty your pantry and furtively take small change out of your purse. (pause) Just think of the Arnolfini. Do you think it was a planned pregnancy?
JOANNA Get back down to the earth.
GUNNAR Her gigantic belly!!!
JOANNA Gunnar, I beg you!
GUNNAR (thoughtful) It’s suspected.
JOANNA One has rights to something at this age. For so many years you’ve been slogging your guts out. Why concentrate on some sickly paintings?
GUNNAR At this age you cannot make any mistakes. One has to analyze, analyze, analyze...
JOANNA Do you think I should have a beauty spot painted? I thought of having it on the left cheek.
GUNNAR (to himself) The sharing of the income!
JOANNA Nobody has any idea about elegance and taste in this hole. (pause) A post office! That’s a strong argument!
GUNNAR I’m perfectly aware how it looks like in reality. I’m not solely a theoretician. One has heard a bit, one has also seen a bit. And some appropriate reading, works of art... That’s why I can voice my opinion.
JOANNA (she screams) Gunnar! Come out of this lethargy! We can do many things together!
GUNNAR (interested) What do you mean exactly?
JOANNA For example, we can stay together for the rest of our lives.
GUNNAR (cheerfully) Would you like to be my kept woman?
JOANNA I would like to put this house and you in order, and you, for your part...
GUNNAR I think... He starts scratching his bald head nervously. I think we once had the same mother and father. And we lived together. Did it lead to anything reasonable?
JOANNA You don’t understand anything. She approaches the window. Look, how beautiful the sun is today. Carefree birds...
GUNNAR I feel best in gloomy rooms. Nothing distracts me there.
JOANNA You don’t have children, who’s going to take care of you if you should suddenly become seriously ill?
GUNNAR (clutching at his heart) There’s nothing wrong with me.
JOANNA You don’t have children.
GUNNAR There are state run institutions. I’ve paid taxes for so many years... Besides, we see each other regularly.
JOANNA Would you like to end up like the majority of our friends?
GUNNAR Nursing homes aren’t so hopeless after all. Have you seen the programme about the orphans in Romania? One has to be happy with what one has.
JOANNA You’ve always been a minimalist, Gunnar.
Gunnar smokes a cigar and still carefully examines the reproduction of van Eyck’s painting.
Joanna arranges the plates and cutlery.
JOANNA Could you put out this stinker at last?
GUNNAR (to himself) Johannes de Eyck fuit hic... Jan van Eyck, Jan van Eyck...
JOANNA And put these papers down! It’s time for your favourite dish.
She goes out into the kitchen. Gunnar busy with the Arnolfini.
GUNNAR He must’ve been Giovanni’s partner. Giovanni confided his personal problems to him. And in those days they didn’t have cameras yet.
He wanted to have proof. He wanted to have a witness. Poor guy, he didn’t know how to be alone. He had to share it with somebody... That’s for sure. Van Eyck was his friend. Businessmen and artists must stick together. The world was, is and always will be, against them. People are envious. They envy money, talent and intellect. He slowly puts out the cigar. For decent citizens vintage tobaccos. He flicks the crystal ashtray several times. Businessmen and artists! An interesting combination... Joanna returns from the kitchen and puts scrambled eggs on the table.
JOANNA Stop philosophizing and get down to eating. You won’t say that you don’t feel like scrambled eggs?
GUNNAR (content) You always know how to please me. You’re so deceptively similar to our mother.
JOANNA She wasn’t as good in the kitchen as I am!
GUNNAR You shouldn’t tell bad things about a dead person.
JOANNA At least not aloud.
GUNNAR Mother was as she was...
JOANNA She surely won’t feel offended because of that.
GUNNAR (thoughtful) She always warned me about strangers. She was right, home should be essential...
JOANNA She isolated us.
GUNNAR (pushing away his plate) She only wanted our good.
JOANNA She isolated us and that’s why you ended up alone with woodworms! She knocks on the floor. Soon you will get through to the cellar.
GUNNAR I could study.
JOANNA Look at the cracked ceiling.
GUNNAR (pause) And your legendary excesses? Remember how you ran away to Aalborg with Kaspar.
JOANNA Apparently, there must have been important reasons.
GUNNAR Interesting. I would gladly learn something new on this subject.
JOANNA One thing is certain. At least I’ve never become indolent. I still have a joy of the spirit in me.
GUNNAR (angrily) A joy of the spirit. And what is, for Christ’s sake, a joy of the spirit? Does a joy of the spirit mean a change of tax, a higher pension?
JOANNA And the heart?
GUNNAR What heart...
JOANNA Only the converting of money, minuses and percentages! She pushes the plate towards him. Finish your dish before it gets completely cold.
GUNNAR I don’t complain about anything. As you get older, you get more and more mature and acquire dignity, you have a proper distance. Joanna moves closer to Gunnar. Be careful!
JOANNA (whispers) You make me feel good. You always have. Despite your hopeless rationalism. You don’t even know how much you mean to me...
GUNNAR (slightly surprised) Did you win something in a lottery yesterday or what?
JOANNA If I won, if only I won! Then we’d immediately go to Ibiza... She begins to ponder.
GUNNAR Personally, I’d prefer to stop off at the National Gallery or go to the Saint Bavo Cathedral! There I could additionally explain certain things to myself. Going to the tropics doesn’t make any sense. Dactyls and ice-breaking parties... A loss of time. It’s not for me. (pause) Would you like to leave Denmark for a while?
JOANNA Unfortunately, my bank account is empty. But you... you must have some secret nest eggs, do you?
GUNNAR (frightened) Don’t talk about it out loud.
JOANNA Are you afraid?
GUNNAR We don’t have the right to money. The pension, you know...
JOANNA The state can’t control you all the time.
GUNNAR You have always rebelled unnecessarily.
JOANNA Look! She shows her silver ring to him. Do you like it?
GUNNAR Certainly... He again concentrates on the scrambled eggs.
JOANNA Ordinary, average silver for a few hundred crowns. I deserve something much better though. Gunnar! Look in my eyes, immediately! Don’t I deserve something better?!
GUNNAR (embarrassed) Certainly, you do.
JOANNA Just so!!!
GUNNAR It’s your own fault to a large extent.
JOANNA (sadly) Nobody took care of me.
GUNNAR You sold our parents’ china. You squandered the last family mementoes...
JOANNA I was put away.
GUNNAR Give it a break. Nobody put you away.
JOANNA In the end... I’m a woman.
GUNNAR (surprised) Of course you’re a woman.
JOANNA (whispers) Our mother was jealous of me.
GUNNAR Do you mean your shoeshop? But she chipped in towards the starting up of it.
JOANNA Our mother was envious of everything. When our father read us fairy tales she told him that it was not pedagogical, that he was spoiling us, that toughening children up is most effective.
GUNNAR Incomprehensible! My beloved mother...
JOANNA You see, how much difference two years can make!
GUNNAR I have completely different memories.
JOANNA And she lent me the money at high interest. Can you imagine?
GUNNAR I would never have suspected. And you’re telling me about it only now! Though... the interest is not such a bad idea. Family is one thing, and percentages a different thing altogether. (suddenly) Do you think that Giovanni didn’t have a problem with that?
JOANNA And why should I care about Giovanni...
GUNNAR Jeanne nosed out that he had some small capital put aside.
JOANNA This is about real life. Gunnar, she lent it to me at 25 percent interest!!!
GUNNAR I would have to know all the details. Perhaps it was justified after all.
JOANNA Are you crazy? Do you know what the consequences were? Had it not been for the interest, we would now be sitting in your Ghent, maybe I could buy you the original canvas...
GUNNAR (thoughtful) Ghent...
JOANNA (angrily) Falster!
GUNNAR A proper interest is always a guarantee...
JOANNA I could import Italian shoes to Denmark then! Overrun the whole of Scandinavia. (suddenly) What are you talking about?! What guarantee??? A family should trust one another.
GUNNAR And as it is, you wonder... if, by any chance, I don’t have some banknotes hidden under the pillow.
JOANNA If we had money, we could have some fun.
GUNNAR (seriously) Joanna, I am really grateful for a delicious meal! I beg your pardon! I’ll go back to my work. He sits down on the floor in front of the reproduction.
Joanna in the kitchen.
JOANNA (to herself) Old fool. He only saved money for his coffin. He didn’t invest in anything reasonable. He bought a cheap reproduction of this lunatic, van Eyck... a squalid, ruined hut. What a comedown! So many years of hard, idiotic work at the bank only to pay for the coffin. And no pleasures, no entertainment. A hopeless hoarder. And what’s the use of all that? Dust and vermin. That’s what the wonderful men really are. Kaspar was identical. When I asked him for a new fur coat the coward immediately stopped informing me about his stock exchange speculations. He thought I was going to ruin him. I wonder where Gunnar has hidden his precious pearls? He must have hidden something somewhere. Maybe, if he had a drink, maybe he would become more talkative then.
She delicately opens the drawers and the cupboards. She looks into the sugar bowl and into the tea can. A fiasco! The kitchen’s not the right place after all. Maybe in the toilet, behind the mirror? Or, really, under the quilt? He’s seen a lot of stupid detective films, read loads of cheap love-stories... He could have hidden it under the quilt. Of course, he also hid the bottles! Liqueur, liqueur is indispensable... (she screams) Gunnar! Do you happen to have some liqueur? A glass of liqueur and some chocolate would do us good! (to herself) Alcohol cures everything.
GUNNAR (from the room) There’s still some pear aperitif left! It’s under the sink, next to the brown dish sponge.
JOANNA (to herself) So we end up drinking cheap aperitifs... But let it be a pear aperitif. Maybe he’ll finally wake up and disclose his secrets. She takes out the glasses and a half-empty bottle. She returns to the room. Gunnar, a short break! Something to stimulate your blood circulation.
GUNNAR (in an absent-minded voice) Do I really have to participate in all that?
JOANNA Your emergency supply! Fermented pears.
Gunnar reluctantly rises up from the floor.
GUNNAR You’re interrupting me at the most important moment. Joanna pours the liqueur into their glasses. I was just wondering why they had only one candle lit.
GUNNAR Cheers, cheers! (pause) A single candle probably stands for God. Giovanni was a pious man.
JOANNA Why a single candle? It’s just meanness.
GUNNAR (angrily) He was a merchant. He knew very well how difficult it is to take care of hard-earned money.
JOANNA Shall I pour you some more?
GUNNAR Half a glass.
JOANNA (to herself) I won’t beat him.
GUNNAR Alcohol distracts.
JOANNA You live too ascetically.
GUNNAR There’s still a lot to do when you’re old.
JOANNA I suggest you start from your own dump. She stands up and begins to walk around the room.
GUNNAR I feel exceptionally good here. All the books and art albums stand in their places.
JOANNA The father’s picture is covered with dust.
GUNNAR There are so-called priorities.
JOANNA She approaches the wardrobe. You should do a quick wash at least. Look, dirty shirts are sticking out of your wardrobe. (to herself) I wonder what else he keeps there...
GUNNAR (tetchily) Feel free! This is an improbable freedom in someone else’s house.
JOANNA In my own brother’s house. She plunges into the wardrobe. What do you need so many unfashionable ties for?
GUNNAR Would you like me to check your bag?
JOANNA (cheerful) I don’t mind at all. You’ll only find some change in the purse...
Gunnar takes Joanna’s bag from the back of the chair. Interested, he looks inside. He takes out a lipstick.
GUNNAR (to himself) Women’s landscapes... I could have expected.
JOANNA Red ties were worn in the seventies. I think I must buy you several navy blue ones.
GUNNAR (trying her lipstick on his hand) Do you mean you still use make-up? JOANNA (indignant) Haven’t you noticed yet?
GUNNAR At your age...
JOANNA (interrupting him) At our age!
GUNNAR All right, let it be. At our age...
JOANNA What do you mean, at our age?
GUNNAR (slowly) At our age it is not becoming to use make up.
JOANNA At our age it is not becoming to use make up?
GUNNAR We have too many wrinkles, make-up won’t help...
JOANNA You, certainly, shouldn’t use it.
GUNNAR I think it is unbecoming...
JOANNA Tell me then, what is becoming, at our age? She pulls out a long, green dress from the wardrobe. Surprised, she examines it silently. Gunnar nervously lights a cigar. Joanna rubs her eyes and bursts out laughing. This is what our well-behaved Gunnar is secretly doing... Storing women’s clothes in his wardrobe! (to herself) At our age it is not becoming to use make-up.
GUNNAR (embarrassed) As you know... I’m currently studying...
JOANNA Tell me. Whose dress is this?
GUNNAR It’s mine.
JOANNA What do you mean, yours?
GUNNAR Bought with my own money.
JOANNA I don’t understand. A sex change, or, perhaps, a new type of dressing gown?
GUNNAR (in a hushed voice) A dress for the chosen one...
JOANNA For the chosen one? You’re fibbing!
GUNNAR Let me explain.
JOANNA In the wardrobe of the innocent and women-avoiding Gunnar... Unbelievable.
GUNNAR You don’t understand anything. What I meant is the atmosphere at the Arnolfini’s. The atmosphere in their house, Jeanne who certainly wanted to exploit Giovanni.
JOANNA What does it have to do...
GUNNAR I’m examining the matter meticulously.
JOANNA (worried) Maybe you should see a psychologist?
GUNNAR They wanted five hundred for it, but I beat them down to three hundred...
JOANNA Who am I to suspect?
GUNNAR (confused) Jeanne and Giovanni...
JOANNA Is it only the dress? Or do you have perhaps any other interesting props? She laughs.
GUNNAR Do you want to know everything? He takes a deep drag on his cigar.
JOANNA I would never have expected it of you. And I still can’t entirely believe that it was all about the reproduction.
GUNNAR But you don’t want to say you suspect me of a relationship with a woman???
JOANNA Gunnar and a woman? You’re right, it’s rather impossible!
GUNNAR Let me explain it then.
JOANNA On the other hand... it wouldn’t be so stupid. After so many years! I would have someone to talk to about fashion.
GUNNAR I’m studying a particular situation. (pause) I think I have a vocation to do it.
JOANNA You’re in a bad way. And it’s getting worse and worse. I’ve always been telling you to go out more often.
GUNNAR There are important things going on in my life at the moment.
JOANNA I can hear.....
GUNNAR Can we be honest?
JOANNA Are you guilty of something else?
GUNNAR The dress... it’s not all.
JOANNA Nothing but revelations!
GUNNAR It so happened that...
JOANNA A bra?
GUNNAR I didn’t think about a bra.
JOANNA If you have a dress, you have to have a bra...
GUNNAR (whispers) I also have a pair of clogs and a hat.
Gunnar and Joanna next to each other on the floor.
JOANNA (cheerfully) There’s something lacking in here, for sure. She glances at the reproduction. Can you guess what I mean?
GUNNAR The candle is in the kitchen.
JOANNA There is the candle... but no chandelier. You’ve always been contented with half measures.
GUNNAR (surprised) You’re right.
JOANNA A chandelier would change a lot.
GUNNAR A chandelier... Where could I get a chandelier?
JOANNA I shouldn’t have mentioned it to you.
GUNNAR There is the candle and no chandelier...
JOANNA We’ll manage somehow.
GUNNAR After all we have the dress.
JOANNA You can put the candle on the table.
GUNNAR (suddenly) You’re still an attractive woman.
JOANNA (satisfied) Finally you’re talking sensibly. (pause) Sometimes one has to talk more seriously... Do you have any savings?
GUNNAR I knew what I was doing.
JOANNA You didn’t travel anywhere... You have to spend it on something.
GUNNAR Travel is a waste of time.
JOANNA Will you bequeath them to the cats?
GUNNAR (indignant) How dare you?!
JOANNA To the nuns?
GUNNAR There is still a lot to be done before us.
JOANNA Before us... Interesting.
GUNNAR If only you knew how to save, your life would have been different...
JOANNA Do you mean my Italian shoes? That was a series of unfavourable events. Bad luck, simply.
GUNNAR You didn’t have a proper adviser.
JOANNA There were too many of them and this is what knocked me down.
GUNNAR You didn’t know how to invest reasonably.
JOANNA And you, instead, wore the same gray suit for thirty seasons.
GUNNAR I provided for my old age... and I did something more, apart from that.
JOANNA I can just see, a dress, a hat... But you don’t have any idea about shoes. Instead of clogs, you should buy some reasonable court shoes. Even Portuguese, though they’re of poor quality.
GUNNAR Everything has to be original, no concessions. Just like in Jan van Eyck’s painting.
GUNNAR Like at Giovanni’s...
JOANNA But they had tailors! It was real craftsmanship and not what we have now!
GUNNAR Handicraft! We must return to this era...
JOANNA (pointing at the dress) What do you want to do with it?
GUNNAR (clearly disconcerted) We need to talk, Joanna.
JOANNA I’m waiting for it all the time! Tell me at last.
GUNNAR We must have a serious conversation.
JOANNA (interested) Yes? And what have we been doing until now? What have we been doing for the last several dozen years? We need to talk to each other, that’s a good one! Tell me quickly what you actually mean.
GUNNAR Since you already discovered the dress...
JOANNA A woman’s eye.
GUNNAR Since you already discovered...
JOANNA Clothes are my specialty, you know that very well. She laughs. You didn’t have the slightest chance, I had to put my hand into the right hiding place!
GUNNAR I wanted to inform you about it myself.
JOANNA But I nailed you earlier.
GUNNAR Such was the destiny.
JOANNA Aren’t you ashamed?
GUNNAR But this is all about something else. You don’t even expect it.
JOANNA Do you put it on in front of the mirror at night?
GUNNAR (outraged) What are you talking about! Where did you get this idea from?
JOANNA We have proof here.
GUNNAR I’m still normal.
JOANNA (cheerfully) A retired clerk... One could never have expected it of him...
GUNNAR The matter is unusually important.
JOANNA You haven’t had any contact with the outside world for too long. You overdid it.
GUNNAR It won’t be for free, of course.
JOANNA (interested) This already sounds much better.
GUNNAR I’ll pay you handsomely.
GUNNAR As you rightly suspect, I’m in possession of some reserves...
JOANNA Yes. This subject is of great interest to me. Continue, Gunnar!
GUNNAR My savings...
JOANNA Well, what about them?
GUNNAR But first, I would like to explain to you certain delicate matters connected with the Arnolfini.
JOANNA I’m at your service, though I have no idea what you mean in this case. What does your Giovanni have to do with it? You mentioned economy. You’ve always been good at it. Do you want to remunerate me? So?
GUNNAR I would pay you in cash or by cheque.
JOANNA (agitated) It can even be by cheque.
GUNNAR So it will be by cheque then.
JOANNA For sure?
GUNNAR I can sign it any time.
JOANNA By cheque?
GUNNAR By cheque.
JOANNA By cheque! You’ve changed beyond recognition. Maybe it’s because of the cigar? You shouldn’t drag on it. But wait a minute, what do you actually want to pay me for? After all, it’s so unlike you. Make a confession, immediately, Gunnar.
Joanna in the green dress. Gunnar touches her belly with pleasure.
JOANNA (ironically) Are you satisfied?
GUNNAR I think the size’s too small...
JOANNA You have to raise the stakes then.
GUNNAR (embarrassed) Even more?
JOANNA (laughing) Do you know what that involves?
GUNNAR I can realize that.
JOANNA We’ll add another zero...
GUNNAR Do you want to ruin me?
JOANNA But it’ll remain in the family.
GUNNAR (worried) Another zero...
JOANNA You won’t deny that these are exceptional circumstances?
GUNNAR (to himself) The spitting image of Jeanne de Cename.
JOANNA The belly will be enlarged...
GUNNAR (suddenly agitated) Really?
JOANNA But, I repeat, you’ll have to add something to this business.
GUNNAR Money, nothing but money!
JOANNA A large, wonderful belly...
GUNNAR A bottomless pit! All right then. Let’s be specific. How much?
Joanna whispers the sum into his ear.
JOANNA Does that suit you?
JOANNA Nothing’s for free!
GUNNAR (flushed) But it has to be like a balloon.
JOANNA I’ll do it professionally, don’t worry.
GUNNAR Twins or triplets.
JOANNA No problem.
GUNNAR Just tell me, I’ll turn away.
JOANNA You’re getting rid of your secret nest eggs in a strange manner... I can’t remember you going to the theatre.
GUNNAR So don’t think about it!
JOANNA Is it set?
GUNNAR Let it be.
JOANNA But first the right signature.
Gunnar writes out the cheque. Joanna moves towards the wardrobe.
GUNNAR Giovanni also had to pay. Such is the lot of an honest man. Nothing’s for free, even among your closest family. I wonder how she will look? (pause) He didn’t have the right to enter her bedroom. He couldn’t check anything. Maybe she was preparing to run away? One of the servants? Quite possible...
JOANNA (with a huge, stuffed belly) I look as if I was in the last month of pregnancy.
GUNNAR I’m impressed.
JOANNA I can barely move.
GUNNAR What a beautiful belly!
JOANNA A suit of armour.
GUNNAR This is exactly it...
JOANNA In that case everyone’s happy. You’ve got your Arnolfini, and I, at last, new stilettos. (looking at the cheque) It should probably be enough...
GUNNAR We have to celebrate it somehow.
JOANNA I think so too.
GUNNAR (lighting a cigar) A goose?
JOANNA What has come to your mind? What goose?
GUNNAR A roast goose.
JOANNA A goose? Out of the question.
GUNNAR Goose is a delicacy!
JOANNA I’d prefer grapes.
GUNNAR Do you think that in those days they didn’t eat goose? I’m sure they could afford such a luxury. Not every day perhaps, but once in a while... Whichever way you look at it, we have a celebration day today.
JOANNA You’re changing beyond recognition. I’m beginning to worry a bit. My mean Gunnar and a goose?
GUNNAR It’s an occasion.
JOANNA Do you know how much fat...
GUNNAR We’ll survive.
JOANNA Didn’t you like the scrambled eggs? Didn’t you have enough?
GUNNAR Forget it.
JOANNA It’s always been your favourite dish. I don’t understand anything.
GUNNAR It is a special occasion!
JOANNA And how much money...
GUNNAR You only live once!
JOANNA Mister Giovanni has a disastrous influence on you.
GUNNAR I can already see a beautifully set table.
JOANNA (arranging her dress) OK, let’s have a goose... Call the restaurant and order a goose. (to herself) Jeanne surely must have liked geese. He has paid. So one has to adapt.
GUNNAR After so many years on a diet, a little fat won’t do you any harm.
JOANNA Do you really think it’s worth spending so much money?
GUNNAR I put it aside especially for the occasion...
JOANNA Nothing but surprises.
GUNNAR (proud) We too come from higher social circles.
JOANNA I can take the skin off.
GUNNAR It’s our holiday!
JOANNA Don’t forget about something for dessert. For example, a good Spanish wine!
GUNNAR (resolutely) Alcohol is out of the question for obvious reasons! There will be, however, elaborate fruit and ice cream.
JOANNA For what reasons?
GUNNAR You mentioned grapes. There’ll be grapes then.
JOANNA A feast without wine?
GUNNAR If a belly... then no wine.
JOANNA (to herself) He’s starting to worry about the belly. She comes over to the reproduction with the Arnolfini. You got tangled up, Gunnar. You’re beginning to be off the wall. It’s typical for men at your age...
GUNNAR Don’t be afraid. You’d better think about your court shoes.
JOANNA I wouldn’t have agreed otherwise.
GUNNAR Think about wonderful, golden court shoes. (in a lofty voice) I pronounce that you’re beautiful!
JOANNA So many years of fruitless attempts, and now, suddenly, a stuffed dress... At last I feel appreciated.
GUNNAR Then be happy.
JOANNA The cheque raised my spirits.
GUNNAR There are many wonderful days and nights before us.
JOANNA Curious. Even nights...
GUNNAR Be happy!
JOANNA I’m doing my best, but, on the other hand, I’m slightly worried about you.
GUNNAR And this is how it should be exactly! In every decent relationship... a certain measure of worry.
JOANNA (surprised) Did you say... relationship?
GUNNAR I said, goose! Long live the goose and the desserts!
JOANNA Where shall I stuff it, I can barely breathe...
GUNNAR And maybe, indeed, triplets?
JOANNA You’re going to shoot the works.
GUNNAR There are priorities.
JOANNA It’s a pity there’ll be no wine.
GUNNAR Get out the best cutlery.
JOANNA The cutlery that our parents left us?
GUNNAR I’m giving you a free hand. From now on it’s your home as well! Plates and cutlery! Everything should be world-class!
JOANNA It hasn’t been used for ages. I’d forgotten you still have it. I must ask at the antique shop. They could be interested.
GUNNAR Is it possible that Giovanni counted on triplets?
JOANNA He was rather hoping that he’d have diamonds spawning.
GUNNAR And suddenly such a surprise!!!
JOANNA (to herself) Plates and cutlery... When I am at it, I’ll check what’s in the dresser.
Gunnar orders the goose by telephone.
Set table. Silver cutlery, Chinese plates and cups... The main item of the programme – a huge, roasted goose. Joanna in a stuffed dress, Gunner in a hat.
GUNNAR (looking at the platter) A delicacy.
JOANNA Pure cholesterol.
GUNNAR These stories aren’t proven. Some doctors claim that fat is also of use. After all, nobody thought about diet in the old days...
JOANNA (ironically) Beetroots and potatoes, beetroots and potatoes... They couldn’t afford anything else.
GUNNAR In this case we’re talking about an affluent social group...
JOANNA But they didn’t have dentists. She touches her teeth. Imagine a world without dentists.
GUNNAR Instead, they had craftsmen, painters and merchants.
JOANNA Pulling out teeth without anaesthetics!
GUNNAR They could go hunting.
JOANNA They could collect wild birds’ feathers. An interesting hobby...
GUNNAR So let’s get down to it! He starts to cut the goose.
JOANNA I’m not sure about this goose. After all, diet is essential.
GUNNAR It’ll do you good, you’ll see.
JOANNA I’ll act contrary to what they advise in the how-to books.
GUNNAR You need a lot of proteins now. Smiling, he glances at the reproduction of the painting. Then he examines Joanna’s stuffed belly.
JOANNA For me a microscopic portion without skin. And something to wash it down with to make it move quickly in the body.
GUNNAR (taking his hat off) It’s not becoming at the table, though I don’t feel comfortable without it.
JOANNA Sometimes you can act like a gentleman.
GUNNAR A question of motivation...
JOANNA If you didn’t have any secret nest eggs, there would be no show.
GUNNAR I know what I’m doing.
JOANNA (sulky face) Nothing but fat...
GUNNAR You’ll get used to it, slowly you’ll get used to it.
JOANNA A cheque for each session?
GUNNAR There’s a long evening before us.
JOANNA Think how suddenly your character has changed. Instead of eggs... a goose!
GUNNAR I didn’t spare any expense on the goose. He swallows a piece of thigh. The goose arouses my desires.
JOANNA A goose! You’ve no idea about real expenses. A good shoe and a suitable stocking! You don’t even realize what a good Italian shoe means. What is a bare female leg adorned with an Italian shoe.
GUNNAR It so happens that I’m only interested in your belly.
JOANNA It has grown slightly, but just at the thought of the cheque...
GUNNAR (suddenly) How do you feel?
JOANNA Terrible. More vegetables, Gunnar. At our age one has to eat more vegetables. Outdoor exercise, sea cruises. At least a minimum of luxury...
GUNNAR Just think how it was in Giovanni’s times. A carriage and bumpy roads! Cruel robbers in the woods and you have to complete orders, to deliver goods, you have to earn your living. (pause) One has to support the family...
JOANNA And meanwhile, here, they’ve chopped down the last groves. We have a pension and dust on the floor.
GUNNAR (joyfully) It’s going to change soon. There’s the goose! Here, (there’s) yet another well roasted piece.
JOANNA Enough! I’ve had enough. I’m beginning to feel a pain in my stomach. I told you it was not for me...
GUNNAR (thoughtful) The stomach ache doesn’t have to be necessarily caused by the bird.
JOANNA I think I should pull several rags out... She massages her stuffed belly. But an agreement is an agreement.
GUNNAR You have to hold on until the end.
JOANNA I’m doing what I can.
GUNNAR Giovanni sacrificed himself too. He risked. (bangs his fist on the table) He counted on his Jeanne! (slowly drawling his words) On his Jeanne de Cename...
JOANNA Calm down. Everything is going according to your plan.
GUNNAR Forgive me, men can get nervous sometimes. Especially, in the present situation.
JOANNA (to herself) He’s getting more and more mad...
GUNNAR One had to wait so long for the answer to the riddle that one can sometimes lose control of oneself.
JOANNA Loneliness and meanness upset you. And I didn’t have luck with shoes. That’s the whole riddle.
GUNNAR Your perfect belly... The work in the bank turned out to be of some use. He glances at the reproduction. Look how delicately they’re holding hands.
JOANNA (pushes away her plate) Awful! I’ve had enough.
GUNNAR It only seems so to you. A stomach upset is nothing unusual in this situation.
JOANNA You know a lot even about that?
GUNNAR I prepared myself in advance.
JOANNA Did you work out everything?
GUNNAR You know, I’m a professional.
JOANNA I think I must loosen it a bit.
GUNNAR (frightened) You’d better drink some mint!
JOANNA We overdid it, we should have made do with the scrambled eggs and gone to bed.
GUNNAR One doesn’t eat a goose on just any occasion.
JOANNA Gunnar, but the pain’s getting stronger and stronger.
GUNNAR Everything’s going to change soon.
JOANNA But I would like to live a little more.
GUNNAR (suddenly) Look, what wonderful teaspoons!
JOANNA I guess it’s the first time since our mother’s death...
GUNNAR It’s the first time.
JOANNA Don’t change the subject. I’m in pain.
GUNNAR Beautiful, especially for our evening.
JOANNA I feel as if I had a brick there.
GUNNAR (to himself) A good sign.
JOANNA Hadn’t it been for this wretched piece of paper with your signature...
GUNNAR Herbal tea is recommended.
JOANNA You did away with your sister.
JOANNA (surprised) What do you mean? Don’t you remember who I am? Did it have a bad effect on you, too?
GUNNAR Right, sister. He puts his hat on.
JOANNA Take this ugly thing off. It’s not becoming at the table. I praised you too soon.
GUNNAR Don’t get upset about anything. No unnecessary emotions...
JOANNA (looking at the belly) It’s going to blow up any minute.
GUNNAR Have patience!
JOANNA Think of nothing but the cheque, think of nothing but the cheque...
GUNNAR (unexpectedly) I’ll even give you a small shop.
JOANNA He’s gone mad, completely mad!
GUNNAR Of course, I’ll be in control of it.
JOANNA A small (shoeshop)...
GUNNAR We could of course expand our offer. (seriously) What do you think about hats?
JOANNA First a renovation of your dump! That’ll be the beginning of our common activity!
GUNNAR My experience in bookkeeping...
JOANNA Gunnar, where were you half a century ago?
GUNNAR A woman should have a decent job, but she has to be controlled so that she doesn’t forget about knitting. The division of activities...
JOANNA Where were you thirty, twenty, ten years ago? I still had some energy then. And now, pensioner’s fantasies! A shoe-shop!
GUNNAR Women... Don’t let them spend money carelessly. Many honest merchants went down because of that.
JOANNA (getting up) I won’t hold on like this much longer.
GUNNAR You’ll be able to buy yourself Italian shoes.
JOANNA Why did I consent to it at all? I could have refused to eat the goose! The dress and the belly would have been enough.
GUNNAR (worried) Should I call a specialist?
JOANNA Give me a break. I have simply put too much in there. If I took out several layers, I’d immediately feel much better.
GUNNAR Typical hysteria, but it’ll soon pass.
JOANNA If it doesn’t go away if I sit in the armchair...
Gunnar takes her by the hand and walks her to the armchair.
GUNNAR How is it?
JOANNA It doesn’t help.
GUNNAR One should get accustomed to fowl.
JOANNA Gunnar, I can’t hold on anymore.
GUNNAR (taking the hat off his head) You’ll see, I’ll buy you a shop. All you have to do is hold on until the end...
JOANNA I can even give up the cheque.
GUNNAR Many women have gone through the same thing. You’re not the first.
JOANNA Well, maybe not the whole cheque... You’ve seen your Jeanne, what else do you need?
GUNNAR Be patient, I beg you, be patient!
JOANNA (to herself) It’s my fault.
GUNNAR (whispering) Think about the future...
JOANNA I’m bursting with the goose and the rags and you keep fantasizing all the time!
GUNNAR One doesn’t eat a goose on just any occasion!
JOANNA Loosen it, just a little bit...
GUNNAR Shall I call the doctor?
JOANNA Call a psychiatrist when you’re at it.
GUNNAR You have no right to even touch your belly, it’s out of the question.
JOANNA (groaning) You’re merciless, but you won’t make it with me!
GUNNAR I rewarded you.
JOANNA Think in different terms sometimes. Money cannot buy you everything.
GUNNAR Life has taught me to be consistent...
JOANNA Gunnar, calm down. I only have to unbutton my dress, take out the rags, breathe some air. The goose was exceptionally bad for me.
GUNNAR (to himself) I’ve never fully trusted her.
JOANNA I’m hereby backing out from our agreement. The game’s over!
GUNNAR You’re feverish, you don’t know what you’re saying.
JOANNA I know that I’m already exploding. She’s holding her belly.
GUNNAR Herbal tea or the doctor. Decide!
JOANNA A madman...
GUNNAR Just think, you’re going to have everything. Shoes, carriage rides in the wood, wild bird hunting. You’re going to have things your friends haven’t even dreamed of.
JOANNA In what carriage, what wood?
GUNNAR The servants are going to serve you at the table.
JOANNA Scrambled eggs or geese?
GUNNAR Sometimes even geese...
JOANNA (ironically) Welfare workers distributing geese among pensioners... It would become a serious scandal! A larger political affair!
GUNNAR (with a glint in the eye) We could go dancing!
JOANNA Go dancing? With you, Gunnar?
GUNNAR You don’t know me so well.
JOANNA It’s true, you can still surprise me.
GUNNAR Shoes, a carriage... What else do you need to be lucky?
JOANNA You need love to be lucky.
GUNNAR There’s no time for love.
GUNNAR But money can compensate for everything. Good intentions and money.
JOANNA (sighing) You’re a wonderful man, Gunnar. But the goose was an exaggeration in the end. I can feel it flying away out of my stomach...
GUNNAR (proudly) A goose! Bought specially to celebrate our holiday!
JOANNA (decidedly) I’m going to sit on the floor and get rid of the load.
Joanna and Gunnar on the floor. Gunnar nervously smokes his cigar.
GUNNAR I beg you, don’t do it.
JOANNA Do you want to bury me under the table?
GUNNAR You must understand that many women have been in a similar position.
JOANNA I pity them.
GUNNAR (to himself) Triplets...
JOANNA I’m on the verge of an explosion. And don’t blackmail me with triplets. The solution is simple, I’m getting rid of the rags.
GUNNAR They’ve got to be saved. It’s my duty!!!
JOANNA You’d better save your sister.
GUNNAR (surprised) What sister?
JOANNA (ironically) We’re probably talking about me.
JOANNA It’s me, Joanna. Your sister. Of the same father and mother.
GUNNAR You’ve got everything mixed up in your head.
JOANNA I can’t catch my breath.
JOANNA Pensioners should avoid eating fat.
GUNNAR You’re being delirious.
JOANNA The explosion is due any moment now...
GUNNAR I can write out an additional cheque for you.
JOANNA But it won’t help me now.
GUNNAR But it’ll soothe the pain a little. Think about the cheque and the money, don’t give up. Something like a bonus.
JOANNA Money! My weak point...
GUNNAR Trolleys full of cosmetics, liqueur, fashionable pullovers!
JOANNA I’ll remind you about it in the nearest future.
GUNNAR But you know very well that for you I’d give up everything!
JOANNA (to herself) I made a fool of myself. I could have refused to eat the goose...
GUNNAR Everything your heart desires! Pearls, shoes, trinkets.
JOANNA At some other time. She puts her hand under the dress.
GUNNAR (menacingly) I categorically forbid you!
JOANNA The only thing that counts now is how I feel...
GUNNAR Refrain from it!
JOANNA I still have a couple of years before me.
GUNNAR You can’ even imagine what the consequences may be!
JOANNA Consequences? I’ll feel a relief at last.
GUNNAR We’ve been waiting for it for so long.
JOANNA Nobody’s been waiting for anything.
GUNNAR I wrote out a cheque for you...
JOANNA You could have written it out without making an effigy of me.
GUNNAR (shouts) I forbid you!
JOANNA And then we’ll send you to a sanatorium to tune down your nerves a bit.
She takes out the first piece of material. It was my fault. I shouldn’t have agreed...
GUNNAR A traitor!
JOANNA But nothing has happened, we can repeat the show tomorrow.
GUNNAR You’re off your head, you don’t know what you’re doing! He grabs her by the shoulder. Try to take a deep breath, not everything’s lost!
JOANNA Back away immediately! Gunnar presses her to the floor.
GUNNAR (unconsciously) She came from a false family, I’ve always felt that she’d bring me to ruin...
JOANNA Let go or I’ll start to shout. Do you realize what embarrassment it’ll be?!
GUNNAR Jeanne, I beg you...
JOANNA My name’s Joanna.
GUNNAR And now she’s showing her real face. She wants to deprive me of my only treasure! She cheated me...
JOANNA Let go off me immediately!
GUNNAR I’m lost!
JOANNA Speak quieter or the neighbours will come...
GUNNAR I should’ve listened to the inner voice!
JOANNA (petrified) He’s going to strangle me!
A tussle. Joanna bites Gunnar’s forearm.
GUNNAR So it has come to that, to that! The woman in my life, my love... and she bit me...
JOANNA (panting) Self-defence...
GUNNAR She bit me and I took her for carriage rides in the wood.
JOANNA This reproduction has made your brain a complete mess!
GUNNAR (desperate) And what am I to live for now?!
JOANNA My own brother! Incomprehensible!!! She manages to free herself from the stuffed dress. Smiling, she stands over Gunnar.
GUNNAR (unconsciously) She cheated me...
JOANNA Gunnar, look in my eyes. It’s me, your sister.
GUNNAR She bit me...
JOANNA It’s me, Joanna.
GUNNAR I don’t understand...
JOANNA You’ve had an attack.
JOANNA The goose has flown away. There’s no goose. The damned Arnolfini are gone...
GUNNAR (mumbles) She stuffed her belly... They weren’t triplets at all.
JOANNA You don’t fix triplets with a cheque. Remember that in the future.
GUNNAR I ordered the goose especially for the occasion...
JOANNA Promises were made, so she stuffed her belly. It’s logical!
GUNNAR (amazed) Stuffed her belly, just like that?
JOANNA And what else did you expect? You wanted to pay yourself! You wrote out the cheque, wake up at last. She wets his forehead.
GUNNAR (in a whisper) Did I have a vision?
JOANNA You kept a dress and clogs in the wardrobe so I wanted to help you.
GUNNAR What actually happened? He looks around the room nervously.
JOANNA It may be the beginning of a psychosis. Who knows...
GUNNAR (scarred) God... but it’s so unlike me.
JOANNA Everyone can get it.
GUNNAR Where’s Jeanne?
JOANNA You wrote out the cheque, so I wanted to help you.
GUNNAR Your wonderful belly...
JOANNA (to herself) It’s still keeping hold of him.
GUNNAR (shaking) Tell me, where’s Jeanne?
JOANNA Jeanne miscarried.
GUNNAR It can’t be!
JOANNA You landed again on Falster.
GUNNAR (surprised) Is it possible that we’re in Denmark?
JOANNA In the social democratic, notoriously foggy Denmark.
GUNNAR (coming to his senses) On Falster?
GUNNAR And you are...
JOANNA Yes, it’s me, Joanna. Your sister, Joanna.
GUNNAR Sometimes strange thoughts can absorb one’s head...
JOANNA You need a change of climate.
GUNNAR (looking at his hat) Giovanni, it seems, has died?
JOANNA And he has done well.
GUNNAR (coming to) What shall we do now with the dress and the clogs?
JOANNA Is it the most important thing at the moment? Just think, you could have strangled your beloved sister...
GUNNAR (firmly) We’ll sell the dress in the market place!
Joanna sets the reproduction of the painting on fire in the sink. Gunnar sits at the table, drinks tea and does a crossword.
JOANNA We’ll organize a Monet for you now.
GUNNAR (absent) A Monet...
JOANNA We’ll do something about the dust and scare the spiders out of your room. You’ll revive, I promise.
GUNNAR Quieter, I can’t concentrate!
JOANNA (whispering) We’ll set to work on the floor and the cupboards in the kitchen.
GUNNAR Only two answers left.
JOANNA The windows also need cleaning...
GUNNAR The last two answers and we’re sending the solution!
JOANNA I can see that you’ve returned to your old form.
GUNNAR Maybe I’ll draw for a book voucher?
JOANNA (to herself) He’ll be engrossed in the crosswords for the rest of his life.
GUNNAR Do you remember the name of the capital city of Mali?
JOANNA In every decent house there’s a Monet hanging on the wall...
GUNNAR Mali, Mali... It seems to me that I could remember it not long ago. Africa is always the most difficult part.
JOANNA We have to use up our time in a reasonable manner. Tomorrow, I’m going to buy some clothes for you... Maybe an attractive tour? She turns on the tap. The rubbish is finally liquidated! Who would want to paint such rubbish?! It’s a pity that the inquisition didn’t burn him. Perversion... Were he alive, I’d immediately take him to court! Maybe one should write to the National Gallery? Protect innocent children! (pause) And adults too.
GUNNAR Mambuko, Mamuko? I’ve got to look it up in an encyclopedia.
JOANNA I bet that this painting has driven a lot of people crazy...
GUNNAR I think I’m almost on the track.
JOANNA Monet would never create anything so disgusting.
GUNNAR (nervous) Stop raving!
JOANNA You’ve worked so hard all your life... She comes up to Gunnar and lights his cigar. You could do with a new pair of shoes.
GUNNAR (smiling) Bamako! Of course, it’s Bamako.
JOANNA You’re so intelligent!
GUNNAR I’m developing all the time.
JOANNA I’ve always looked up to you, Gunnar.
GUNNAR Several dozen years in the bank hasn’t come to nothing. The selection of information, the experience in contacts with people...
JOANNA (in a whisper) A little cheque?
GUNNAR (indignant) What has come to your mind? One has to save in one’s old age. You’d better learn it at last!
For a biography of Grzegorz Wróblewski, click here:
English language version, copyright (c)2008 by Adam Zdrodowski. Original copyright
(c)2006 by Grzegorz Wróblewski