“I Like It”
Caffè Cino, New York, June 20-26, 1963
I wrote “I Like It,” a skit-play about a young man in bed with his mother, as a Freudian joke dedicated to my psychoanalyst, Dr. John Cederquist, just as I was quitting analysis in early 1962. It was the first play I had written. I showed it to my friend Joe LeSueur, who was guest-editing an issue of the little magazine Kulchur, bankrolled by the art patron Lita Hornick, and he published it. Naturally I was thrilled to see my play in print, and I proudly sent a copy of the magazine to my parents in California. The play made my mother cry (I see why, now); she threw it into the fireplace and burned it up.
I was reviewing theatre for The Village Voice and began going to plays at the Caffé Cino, an Italian coffee house on an out-of-the-way Greenwich Village sidestreet, in early 1963. I liked the intimacy and informality of the cafe and the immediacy of theatrical effect. I was particularly taken with the waiter and sometime light man, John P. Dodd—wanted to see more of him—wanted to get in on the Cino scene, whatever it was. So I showed my little play to Joe Cino, the proprietor, and he gave me a date to put it on. Then and now, that’s the key to getting a play on: a place and a date. Roberta Sklar, a director working with my friend Joe Chaikin in the nascent Open Theatre, took on the direction. I don’t have a program and don’t remember who the actors were. I brought over my own bed from my apartment a few blocks away on West Third Street. The play ran for a week at the Cino, June 20-26, 1963
Later that summer my friend Paul Sand was going to the Spoleto Festival in Italy to act for Jerome Robbins, and he showed him the play. Robbins said he might do it, with Paul as Philip and Mildred Dunnock as Eleanor, and wrote me a note to that effect. He had just directed “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad” off-Broadway and put Arthur Kopit on the map, and I had understandable fantasies of similar lightning striking me. I went to Spoleto to be there. In the event, the play did not fit into Robbins’s schedule, but it was a great excuse for my first trip abroad.
The play was revived at a benefit for the fire-ravaged Caffè Cino organized by H. M. Koutoukas on March 15, 1965, at the Writer’s Stage Theatre. It is published in Return to the Caffè Cino edited by Steve Susoyev and George Birimisa (Moving Finger Press, 2007).
“I Like It”
play in 2 short scenes
Eleanor: appears to be in her middle forties, turning dowdy
Philip: appears to be in his early twenties, good looking
Maid: young, attractive (also functions as a secretary)
for J. C.
SCENE: A bedroom with an elaborate bed upstage center. At rise, ELEANOR and PHILIP, both wearing white pajamas, are in it eating breakfast.
ELEANOR: ... and that goddam P.T.A. Fifteen years on committees, one after the other, and what have I got to show for it? Now they want me to be treasurer. I ask you. A great honor, they say. And what a show they make of it—nominations, seconds, secret ballots, everything. All because they think I’ll accept the job. Of course I’m the only one of them who can add a column a figures—except a golf card or a bridge score—and they think I’m fool enough to accept the job. They’ve got another think coming… Here, let me fix you a piece of toast. (Feeds it to him.) Isn’t it good?
PHILIP: Mmmm. It’s good.
ELEANOR: If they paid any attention at all they’d know better. Haven’t I resigned from the Philharmonic board and the Ladies’ Aid and the fucking Junior League? I’m not playing games, you know. You know that, God knows. Take it from me, don’t join anything, because you’ll have to work like hell to get loose. I’ve learned the hard way. Let them have their lousy agendas. They ought to argue about them and pass them and then roll them up and stuff them where they might do some good… Here, have another piece of toast.
PHILIP: No, I don’t want any more.
ELEANOR: Of course you do, a growing boy like you.
PHILIP: I’m grown up enough. I haven’t grown at all in years.
ELEANOR: Of course, but eat your toast anyway. You need your energy, for screwing, if for nothing else.
PHILIP: Mother? Why do you talk so dirty?
ELEANOR: Oh Phil, don’t you like it? I thought you liked it. I’m sorry. If you say so, I won’t ever do it any more.
PHILIP: I don’t like it.
ELEANOR: The ayes have it then. Never again. (Crosses her heart. They eat in silence.) The coffee’s cold again. That girl can never do anything right. Ring the bell and we’ll get some more. (PHILIP does.) What’s wrong with your eyes this morning, Philip?
PHILIP: What do you mean?
ELEANOR: They look all red. Have you been rubbing them again?
PHILIP: They always look like this lately. It doesn’t matter. (The MAID enters and stands stupidly staring.) I haven’t been sleeping right. They itch all the time.
ELEANOR: Well, keep your hands away from them.
PHILIP: Yes, I will.
PHILIP: Yes, I promise.
ELEANOR (To MAID): Don’t just stand there gawking, you idiot. The coffee’s cold.
MAID: Yes, mum.
ELEANOR: Get some more. Hot.
MAID: Yes, mum. (Takes pot.) Mum, there’s some gentlemen downstairs.
ELEANOR: What do they want?
MAID: I don’t know.
ELEANOR: You don’t know what?
MAID: I don’t know mum.
ELEANOR: Then find out while you’re getting hot coffee. And tell them to go away. Tell them we’re asleep. (MAID goes.) That girl is going to drive me out of my mind.
PHILIP: I don’t think you should talk to her that way.
ELEANOR: Don’t say ‘I don’t think.’ Say ‘I think you shouldn’t.’
PHILIP: Well I do. Or I don’t.
ELEANOR: She’s an imbecile. How am I supposed to talk to her?
PHILIP: You could try being pleasant.
ELEANOR: I am always pleasant. I suppose they’re from the P.T.A., and just when I have to pee.
PHILIP: So do I.
ELEANOR: I for one am not going to move out of this bed. I’m going to spend the rest of my life here, P.T.A. or no P.T.A. (Squirms.) I can wait.
PHILIP: I can’t, but I’m too comfortable to move.
ELEANOR: Pee in the bed, then. I don’t care.
PHILIP (Giggles): What would you say if I really did?
ELEANOR: I’d think it was funny.
PHILIP: All right, then, I will. (Tries.) I can’t do it.
ELEANOR: Oh come on. Why not. You’re not self-conscious, are you? Not in front of your own mother. Try harder.
PHILIP: I’m trying as hard as I can, and I can’t do it. I’ll bet you can’t either.
ELEANOR: Of course I can. I just don’t want to.
PHILIP: I’ll bet you can’t. I dare you. I double-dare you.
ELEANOR (After a pause): Sometimes you’re an utter child, Philip.
PHILIP: You had asparagus for dinner, didn’t you.
ELEANOR: It’s easy. All you have to do is relax.
PHILIP: I’m trying to relax.
ELEANOR: Don’t try, just let it come naturally. You never had to try to wet your diapers. (MAID enters, unnoticed.)
PHILIP (Still trying): I’m grown up now. It’s different.
ELEANOR: Nonsense. It’s exactly the same thing. Come on, you can do it.
ELEANOR: You shut up.
PHILIP: No, that’s all. I can’t do it.
ELEANOR: You can.
PHILIP: I give up. I’ll get out of bed and go to the bathroom. In a little while.
MAID: Mum, them gentlemen downstairs…
ELEANOR: Where’s that coffee?
MAID: Here it is, mum. Them gentlemen downstairs is from the P.T.A.
ELEANOR: I knew it. Here, give me the pot. Have some more coffee, Philip, good and hot. It’s all right. Don’t feel bad about it.
PHILIP: Thank you, Mother.
ELEANOR: There. (Holds cup to his lips; he drinks.) All better now?
PHILIP: Yes, much better, thank you.
ELEANOR: Here, lean up against my sholder. (To MAID) Well, what did they want?
MAID: They said Master Philip here was your son, mum, and what was they to tell the Nominating Committee?
ELEANOR: Say to tell them I like it.
(Lights out on Scene 1; lights up immediately on:)
(Everything is exactly the same as at the beginning of Scene 1.)
ELEANOR: ... and that goddam P.T.A. Fifteen years on committees, one after the other, and what have I got to show for it?
PHILIP (Brutally): Shut your mouth, Mother.
ELEANOR: Now they want me to be treasurer. I ask you. (ELEANOR stops talking. PHILIP, eating, ignores her. After a very long moment—) Can I go on?
PHILIP: No. Shut your mouth and eat your breakfast.
ELEANOR (Childishly): I can’t eat with my mouth shut.
PHILIP: Everybody has a problem. That’s yours.
ELEANOR: Can I open my mouth if I promise not to talk? (No reaction.) Philip? (No reaction. Motherly:) Philip, I simply don’t understand what’s come over you lately. Some things I can tolerate—many things, in fact—but I cannot tolerate bad manners. I must insist that you show more respect for your mother.
PHILIP (His mouth full): Shove it.
ELEANOR: I don’t know. Maybe you had the wrong environment as a child. I tried so hard to give you only the best. I’ve made mistakes. Oh I know I’ve made many mistakes. But I never tried to hurt you. You have to believe that. Everything I did, right or wrong, I did out of…
PHILIP (Interrupts): Now, Mother, that’s enough. I thought we had an understanding. You know what’s going to happen if you go on this way. Don’t you?
ELEANOR: But Philip…
PHILIP: Don’t you?
ELEANOR (Chastened): You’ll get out of bed.
PHILIP: That’s right.
ELEANOR: But you wouldn’t really. Not really, would you? Not my sweet boy, not my darling little Phil?
PHILIP (Starts to get up): Here I go.
ELEANOR (Involuntarily): No, no. Wait, Phil. (He settles back.) Now look what you’ve made me do. You’ve made me spill my coffee. (No reaction. She pours saucered coffee back into cup.)
PHILIP: All right. Now I think we know where we stand. You know that I’ll get out of bed, I really will get out of the bed if you don’t behave, and I know you know. And you know I know you know. So there’s no problem. You’ll just have to grow up, Mother. Everything changes—people, situations, feelings, me—and you’ll have to get used to it.
ELEANOR: But Philip… Am I allowed to speak?
PHILIP: A little, yes.
ELEANOR: Phil, I don’t want anything to change. I don’t want you to change.
PHILIP: I’m changed already, and I’ll go on changing. You change too, and the sooner you realize it the better.
ELEANOR: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
PHILIP: Well T.S. on you. (They eat in silence. PHILIP finishes breakfast.) Ah, that was good. You’ll excuse me if I get to work?
ELEANOR: Yes, of course, dear. (PHILIP rings the bell. Immediately the MAID enters, cheerful and alert, dressed as a secretary.)
PHILIP: I wonder if you could bring your pad and step in for a few moments.
MAID: Yes sir. (Goes.)
PHILIP: I’ve got to get a few letters off. It won’t take long. Then we can snuggle.
ELEANOR: Do I annoy you, Philip?
PHILIP: Of course not.
ELEANOR: You must understand. I’m a very affectionate person by nature. It’s really nothing personal.
PHILIP: Don’t be silly, Mother. Of course I understand. Of course I don’t mind. I don’t know what’s come over you this morning. What is this compulsion to explain yourself? You know I like you best when you don’t say anything.
(MAID reenters with steno pad, sits on foot of bed, and prepares to take dictation.)
ELEANOR (To MAID): Dear, I wonder if you have a copy of Parents Magazine somewhere for me to read while you and Philip are working.
MAID: Of course, Madam. (Starts to get up.)
PHILIP (To MAID): No, don’t bother. (To ELEANOR) Mother, please.
ELEANOR: Oh, all right. Hand me my buffer then, will you? (PHILIP does. ELEANOR buffs her nails throughout the following.)
PHILIP: Now where were we. Oh yes. This letter goes to Bleak House, Washington. (MAID takes it down in shorthand.) Dear Jack, thanks for yours of whatever-it-was. I’m glad to hear that everything is working out in accordance with the plan we formulated that day Mother was asleep. Of course there are bound to be certain difficulties in the arrangement, but I’m sure you’ll finally agree that the savings more than compensate for this added strain. Paragraph. Several additional points have come to mind since I last spoke to you. One: information should be disseminated to the public with the utmost caution. I’m glad to see that you have at last learned to control this without seeming to. Two: space turns out to be a wreck, what with cosmonauts, clouds, etcetera. It was nearly hopeless anyway, considering the amount of alteration that would have been necessary. You might think harder about Venus, though. Several obvious advantages there. Three: just don’t worry so much. Remember, history is on our side, even if we don’t know which side we’re on. Paragraph. Love and kisses to the family and to you just love. Philip. (End of letter.) We’ll need eleven copies of that. I’ll give you the addresses later. I wonder if you’d read it back. It’s fairly important. (ELEANOR yawns elaborately. PHILIP deliberately ignores her.)
MAID: Yes, sir. Bleak House, Washington. Dear Jack, thanks for yours of whatever-it-was. I’m glad to hear that…
PHILIP: Oh never mind. You haven’t made a mistake yet. What came in for me this morning?
MAID: No mail yet, but there was a call from a Mr. Shuttlethwaite. I told him you and Madam were still in bed.
PHILIP: Who’s he?
ELEANOR: That call was for me.
MAID: Yes, Madam, but I have my instructions. (To PHILIP) Sir, he seemed somewhat disturbed.
ELEANOR (To PHILIP): Mr. Shuttlethwaite is the president of the P.T.A. I must speak to him and tell him I can’t accept the office.
PHILIP: What office?
ELEANOR: I told you, Philip. Can’t you ever pay attention to me? They’ve elected me treasurer.
PHILIP: Oh, of course. (To MAID) Call Mr. Shuttlethwaite back and tell him my mother will be honored to accept the position. (To ELEANOR) We’ll talk about this later.
MAID (Makes note): Yes, sir. There was also a cable from Rome.
PHILIP: Read it to me.
MAID (Does): Confusion here regards your intentions stop couldst clarify query stop regards John.
PHILIP: Splendid. Cable the following back to him. Dear John my message is love stop best to the girls stop I love you too stop ever. And sign it Philip. That ought to do it. One more letter, and then we’ll take a few minutes off. This goes to Joe, the Sincerely Invidious Corporation, Washington.
ELEANOR: But Joe’s dead, Philip.
PHILIP (Ignores her): Dear Joe, I understand you have publicly expressed interested in my private life. I believe you fail to realize that I have nothing to hide. I hope you will feel free to visit me at your convenience, bearing in mind that video and audio recording of our interview ill be de rigueur. Paragraph. I expect you would like my mother. Paragraph. I am quite certain, though, that the meeting would be more distressing to you than to me. For your own security—which I imagine interests you—I earnestly recommend that you realize that you will never understand, and just forget the whole thing. Respectfully, Philip. (Laughs.) How’s that, Mother? Oh, one more thing.(To MAID) Add a P.S. In any event, please believe that I am at least as sincere as you are. Underline the word sincere.
ELEANOR: I don’t know what you’re doing, Philip. Joe’s been dead for years.
PHILIP: I know that. (To MAID) You can type the letters up and send the cable off, and we’ll do some more later. Oh, and don’t forget to call Mr. Shuttlethwaite.
MAID: Very good, sir. (She goes.)
ELEANOR: Philip, I don’t want to be treasurer of the P.T.A.
PHILIP: I know, Mother, but it’s important. I don’t cut myself off from the life of my community, and you mustn’t either. Anyway, you have to learn sometime that we can’t always do just what we want. Close your eyes. (She does.) I’ll be right back.
(He gets out of bed and very quickly goes offstage. ELEANOR opens one eye, sees that he is gone, and shuts it immediately. She begins humming a tuneless little tune a little desperately. Ater a moment she stops humming, opens the eye again, sees that he is still gone.)
ELEANOR (Cries): Philip… (Immediately he comes back onstage and climbs into the bed again.)
PHILIP: It’s all right, Mother. You know I wouldn’t leave you for long. You’re the only person in the world I can be sure of.
ELEANOR: I think you need a taste of your own medicine. You just see how it feels. (She gets out of bed and starts offstage. Halfway out she stops, hesitates, then comes back to bed.) I don’t have to go now anyway. But you see what it’s like.
PHILIP (Kindly): Yes, Mother. Mother, I’m sorry to be so firm about the P.T.A., but it is important. I really think you’ll enjoy it once you get used to the idea. You’ll have all the meetings here, of course.
ELEANOR: Oh. I should have realized… Well, that’s all right, then. In fact, I’m actually beginning to look forward to it. Do you know Mr. Shuttlethwaite? He’s very attractive, I think, even if he does lisp.
PHILIP (Piqued): That’s settled then. Subject closed. (MAID enters.)
PHILIP: Yes, what is it?
MAID: I spoke to Mr. Shuttlethwaite, sir, and he seems to be upset. It seems to disturb him, your sleeping with your mother.
PHILIP: Yes? Well, so what?
MAID: He feels the Nominating Committee must be informed, and he wants to know what he should tell them.
PHILIP (To ELEANOR): Mother?... You remember, don’t you, Mother? Go ahead.
ELEANOR: Say to tell them I… (Steels herself.) Say to tell them I like it. (Covers her face with her hands. Sobbing.) Oh, Philip, I can’t I can’t say that.
PHILIP (Soothing): There now, Mother, that’s all right. Everything’s all right. (To MAID, firmly) Say to tell them I like it.
Copyright © 1963. All rights reserved.