Welcome back to Theatre Thursdays. This week we chalk another one up to Feminism in the 20th Century.
I was in this play in college. I played Clovis, the mentally disturbed wife. I was hilariously anorexic at the time (it was riotous!) so I definitely pulled off the sick look. What I didn't pull off, and why I think that no one under, say, 25 should be allowed to act? Emotional intelligence. First of all, being anorexic or bulimic for any length of time (clinical diagnosis only begins after 3 months of sustained symptoms) is the equivalent of shooting Novocaine into your emotional center. Second of all, to play a wife and mother? I don't think you necessarily have to be a wife or a mother, but you sure as hell have to understand the world more thoroughly than a pampered 21-year-old does.
Don't get me wrong: This is a play that intends to be something more original that what it is, inspired by a groundbreaking work of poetry (Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich), and about characters based on Impressionists including Édouard Manet. But the ideas are there, and I wish I had appreciated them at the time. It's about women with men, and women with women, and husbands and wives, and complacency and frustration and devotion. It's about girls with their fathers, and boys with the women who raise them. It's a play on how differences between us and our beloveds make and break our lives.
DOLORES. When I was young, I went with any man who wanted me and I stayed with them until they didn't want me anymore. I kept thinking that if I had someone, someone of my very own, it would be more than happiness. It would be like discovering the reason for my existence, the very reason for being the person I am.
Then I came here. Because of a woman. The first place I'd ever come not because of a man. I'd worked at the hospital eight years when your mother was carried in bald and screaming. When I met her, she asked me who I was, and I said, all I know of myself, where I come from, who I am, is that my name is Dolores, which means sorrow. (SHE laughs.) Well, it is funny because I've always thought of myself as a rather contented person. Clovis said, I like your name. So I came here.
*These two monologues essentially open the play, and are interspersed with a scene between Dolores (Clovis' nurse), Clovis, and Clovis' nine-year-old son Mylo.
(LIGHTS fade on Dolores and Mylo and come up slowly, illuminating CLOVIS in the graveyard. CLOVIS kneels at the altar she has built around one of the grave markers. [Her creation is something similar to altar boxes or to Joseph Cornell's shadow boxes and assemblages.] CLOVIS faces a small headstone. Glued to the surface of the headstone are shards of colored broken glass. The altar piece is filled with shiny things that catch and refract light. Colored glass jars, a string of glass beads, a ladies' hand mirror, half-filled bottles of perfume, silver earrings, shiny stones, a ruby ring, a piece of Venetian carnival glass, glittering pieces, reflective surfaces. This place is Clovis' sanctuary.
SHE holds out the shiny stone. SHE fixes the bottles working on her sanctuary. SHE talks to someone she senses is there. We glimpse a vision of a LITTLE GIRL. A mirage. A flutter of a skirt, a wisp of hair, a whisper.)
CLOVIS. I like this place at dawn. I breathe easier out here away from the house.
The party is tonight. I hope I'll be fine. Victor says it's time. A year and a half. I should be able to manage a dinner.
I keep having this dream where I'm eleven and my father and I run through a field up a hill. We're out of breath and laughing. It's a beautiful sunny day and we're surrounded by light. I lean back my head, close my eyes, and smell the most extraordinary fragrance. Cinnamon. My father says to me, you can take this moment with you for the rest of your life.
That day with my father I felt I could run and laugh forever and would always be surrounded by the most extraordinary smell. (CLOVIS looks around her sanctuary.) This is now my field of cinnamon.
Dream of a Common Language, Act 1, scene 1
by Heather McDonald