“A Dog’s Love”
La Mama, New York, 1971 (as an opera, music by John Herbert McDowell)
Set on the nonexistent boardwalk in Miami Beach, “A Dog’s Love” features sunsets and sunrises that were intended as a gift for lighting designer John P. Dodd. The story is whimsical and thin: a bisexual opera director from New York and his wife, vacationing and on the outs, pick up a naive beach boy and each have little romances with him; then they get back together and leave him with nothing but a wheelbarrowful of money. The play did not amount to much and languished unproduced for several years until I had the idea of setting to music and turning it into a chamber opera. I sent it to Al Carmines, but he was too busy with his own projects at Judson Church and passed it on to John Herbert McDowell, who to my delight took it on and composed a really beautiful score for it, now regrettably lost. We did it at La Mama on a double bill with my one-act “Tony” (see SHORT PLAYS). I added some more words here and there at John Herbert’s request; below is the original text.
“A Dog’s Love” was presented by Ellen Stewart at La Mama E.T.C., 74A East 4th Street, May 12-16, 1971. It was staged and conducted by John Herbert McDowell.
|Costumes||Joyce & Jerry Marcel|
“A Dog’s Love”
(For Johnny Dodd)
The boardwalk at Miami Beach. We are looking out to sea. The boardwalk itself crosses the stage parallel to the proscenium, raised some feet above the floor. The area beneath it is in darkness, screened with hurricane fencing: action underneath is seen only in silhouette, action on top is brightly lit. Stairs down from boardwalk to beach on the upstage side. Some trash on the sand underneath. A gaudy sunset in the sky, constantly changing. Darkness comes quickly in the first scene.
EDNA, beautiful and 30, comes walking along the boardwalk, wearing a gorgeous beach outfit. She stops in the middle, arranges herself against the railing, more or less back to audience, and counts some money. ROD, beautiful and 20, walks across the stage and out. He comes on again. Edna drops a $50 bill like a demure lady dropping a handkerchief. ROD picks it up. Exit. ROD re-enters, leans back against the upstage railing facing EDNA and the audience and unzips his fly.
EDNA: My you’re beautiful. What are you? Hate is just one of many. My husband said he thought he wanted to be alone. It’s a freak-out. They’re doing ‘La Cambiale di Matrimonio’ tonight at the Steel Pier and he’s gone into the swamp after the Indians. All this money is mine. They have the shortest sunsets in the world here in Miami Beach. (It has been getting dark. Amazing colors in the sky. A gold spotlight on ROD.) Your fly is unzipped. No wonder. What’s your name?
EDNA: Cute name. My my they certainly do make them pretty.
(She puts the money in her beach bag and goes down the stairs and under the boardwalk. ROD follows. They are silhouetted against the failing sunset. They walk around each other. He zips up his fly, she unzips it. Hands clasped behind their backs they tenderly kiss. She suddenly throws him to the ground and falls on top of him. They roll on the ground embracing. Now it gets dark.)
EDNA: You’ve got sand on your penis.
ROD: What do you expect? You’ve got sand on your hand…. Oh stop spitting, that’s disgusting.
EDNA: I’ve got sand in my mouth.
ROD: What do you expect?
EDNA: What are we going to do?
ROD: Go in the water.
EDNA: I can’t swim.
ROD: Don’t think about that.
(He pulls her out into the waves. Sound of waves.)
EDNA: Oh oh I’m drowning.
(Thunder and waves. Lights on the boardwalk come on, empty stage; they shine only on boardwalk, not at all on beach. EDSEL enters. He is handsome and 35, dressed for the opera. He sings snatches of Rossini. He stops under one of the lights and counts some money. Nervous about time. Voices from below. He pays no attention.)
EDNA: That was fabulous, simply fabulous.
ROD: Thank you. What about your husband?
EDNA: I seem to have lost my dress. What?
ROD: What about your husband?
EDNA: He’ll buy me another. Oh he said he thought he wanted to be alone. Why do you ask? (Pause)
ROD: Sometimes they like me. (Pause. ROD comes up on the boardwalk, no shirt, pants wet clinging. He goes directly to EDSEL.) Excuse me, do you have a towel? (EDSEL dries him with a handful of money. ROD squirms and whines like a happy puppy.) Excuse me, do you have a dress?
EDSEL: Can you sing at all?
ROD: Never mind about that.
EDSEL: I can—
ROD: No offers. You could give me something to put in my mouth. Call it audition for your own fantasy fun. (EDSEL unzips ROD’s fly and puts a $50 bill in. ROD zips it up. EDSEL unzips it. ROD takes the money out and puts it in his wet pocket. EDSEL looks at his watch.) Are you on some kind of a schedule?
EDSEL: I don’t know if that’s anything to worry about.
ROD: Do I have to like Rossini? Can I be Raggedy Andy? I do 3-D blue movies if you’re a voyeur.
EDSEL: Never mind the pitch. It’s too bad you can’t sing.
ROD: I’m not impressed with anything but the money.
EDSEL: That’s the simplest thing. I’m neurasthenic.
ROD: Sure. We’ll see about that.
(ROD does a series of gymnastics using the railing as a bar. It is beautiful to watch, a poem of grace and virility. The golden spotlight shines on him. At the climax EDSEL swoons dead away. ROD holds the final attitude before an imaginary mirror, looking out over the audience and smiling peacefully. Then he goes to EDSEL and makes him comfortable. EDNA comes up the stairs from the beach carrying her basket and wearing only ROD’s T-shirt.)
EDNA: I’d like you to meet my husband Edsel.
ROD: Do you have another?
EDNA: You’re not expected to make conversation.
ROD: Conversation is watermelon.
EDNA: Not required. Not required!
ROD: We’re having our first fight.
EDNA: You’re not pretty enough. (ROD leaves. EDNA goes on talking to him louder and louder across EDSEL’s body.) I like your hair and your profile but that’s all. I like your tassel of course, I like about 75 percent of everybody’s., you’re not so special. You think you’re so special. I like your stud bad manners. It’s a floating market, it’s just like the stock market. I like your hairless chest. I like the cover of darkness. Thank you very much! You’re pretty but you’re not pretty enough! This is Miami Beach!
(She bursts into tears. ROD enters and crosses the stage without stopping. EDNA pulls herself together. She takes out some money and dries her tears with it. EDSEL stirs, waves his hands about in the air before his eyes without opening them, rises eyes closed and comes toward EDNA with his arms outstretched.)
EDSEL: Divinity! (EDNA falls into his arms. He opens his eyes.) Oh it’s you darling. (Kisses her sweetly and fondly touches her hair.) Your body is wet, are you all right? Forgive me. (Looks at watch.)
EDNA: Did you see the Indians?
EDSEL: I was too lonely for a trip. How can I keep making the same mistakes about myself? I’m embarrassed. (She straightens his tie.) Do you want to come? I’ll see you later. Was there someone here with me?
EDNA: I drove him away by mistake.
(Exit singing Rossini. EDNA goes out the other way. The lights go off immediately. The dawn appears on the horizon and rapidly brightens. The sun rises out of the sea and ascends to heaven. Full Florida daylight. ROD dressed in white crosses, sweeping the boardwalk. He pauses in the middle, picks up a $50 bill, and puts it in his pocket. Exit sweeping. A boat sails past. EDNA enters in another gorgeous outfit, looks around. ROD crosses carrying the broom.)
EDNA: Good morning.
ROD: I beg your pardon?
(Exit. After a moment EDNA goes out the way she came in. EDSEL enters humming Puccini counting money. He goes down on hands and knees searching the boardwalk. ROD enters and watches him. Finding nothing EDSEL looks over the boardwalk’s edge, then goes down the stairs and searches the sand below. ROD drops a $50 bill over the railing. EDSEL sees it, looks up, sees ROD.)
EDSEL (from below): You’re too kind. May I buy you a cup of coffee?
ROD (from above): No.
EDSEL: Shall we talk about the opera?
ROD: I hated it. I hate fast operas. You were fine. We don’t have to talk. Your wife didn’t want to talk.
EDSEL: We are concerned with different things.
ROD: Partly. Do you want to come up to my level or shall I descend to yours?
EDSEL: I haven’t the time. It’s fifty dollars for fifteen minutes.
ROD (going down): Give me the money first. Give me a hundred and relax.
(Pause. ROD takes off his shirt. EDSEL gives him $50. ROD unzips his fly. Pause. ROD unzips EDSEL’s fly. EDSEL gives him another $50. ROD runs upstage toward the water and out of sight. EDSEL runs after him. Waves. The lights proceed to sunset, as before. The two of them come up from the water wet, EDSEL leaning on ROD. Under the boardwalk in the dark ROD drops EDSEL, who collapses exhausted on the sand. ROD climbs the stairs to the boardwalk and starts his exercise routine. EDNA enters.)
EDNA: Well as I was saying to Rodney, such a sweet boy, it’s all the same really. I don’t want the ears covered. What do you think I am? He does just what I tell him. No balls of course. (She puts a $50 bill in ROD’s wet pocket. He continues.) My you’re awfully good at that. You should go on the stage. My husband has a marvelous sense of rhythm. He gives me plenty of satisfaction.
(ROD finishes, with the same self-admiring stop and peaceful smile. EDNA gives him another $50. ROD rips off her dress, picks her up in his arms, and drops her over the railing. EDSEL catches her. ROD skips down the stairs, takes EDNA by the hand, and the two of them run off toward the water, leaving EDSEL standing alone. Darkness. Thunder, waves. The lights come on on the boardwalk. EDSEL comes up the stairs confused, indecisive, and cold. He tries a little Strauss. Voices from darkness below.)
EDNA: That was sensational, there’s no other word for it.
ROD: Not a word.
EDNA: You’re plenty pretty enough.
ROD: Someday I’ll drown you, that’ll be something.
EDNA: Oh! Oh! My hurricane!
ROD: Shut up now.
EDSEL (talking to some money): There I am transfixed by tenderness and she is deliriously destroyed. (Shouts furiously down over railing) Do you like it better than I like it!!
EDNA (to ROD): He fell in a heap but I’m all fresh and loving. (Shouts furiously up) You like it better than I like it!!
(Stillness. Gentle waves. ROD comes up the stairs mildly, goes to EDSEL and kneels before him, hugging his legs like child before loved and feared father. EDSEL strokes and scratches his head like man with big loved pitied and respected hunting dog. EDNA comes up the stairs, in T-shirt again, goes to EDSEL and touches him wifely, stands quietly with him in a family way looking down at ROD.)
ROD: Woof woof. (Bites EDNA in the leg. EDSEL immediately slaps him hard in the face. ROD cringes. EDNA kicks him.)
EDNA: We’ll have to get rid of him. (Gives him $50)
EDSEL: Think of the children. (Gives him $50)
ROD (to EDNA): I love you. (to EDSEL) I love you. (to audience, or himself) I love you. (Pause. To despair) I really do. (Pause)
EDSEL: Did you hear a bark?
EDSEL: A growl?
EDSEL: A whine?
EDNA: I don’t know. (Pause. ROD drops the game and gets up. Exit.) I can’t hardly remember. Why couldn’t you have brought the orchestra? Phooey on Miami Beach. What good’s an orchestra if it’s not there when you’re in the mood?
EDSEL: I’m not in the mood. You’re blue, I’m cold.
EDNA: You’re blue with cold.
EDSEL: You’re blue with a hot memory. The waves say remember or forget. They say pleasure and pain are nothing to a good lay in the swim. That’s a cold thing to forget.
EDNA: I like it better than you like it.
EDSEL: I like it. I doubt it. What is it?
EDNA: You wear a waterproof watch, tick tock in the tide. Don’t we have a bed someplace?
EDSEL: Don’t we have everything? What’s sharp eyesight on a dark night?
EDNA: We’ll give him all the money.
EDSEL: All the money. (Pause. Dawn breaks.)
EDNA (Ecstatically): He’ll hire us for servants.
EDSEL: He’ll fire us.
EDNA: We’ll live in the mountains.
EDSEL: We’ll live in the dry desert. We’ll be tenderized, we’ll be ruined.
EDNA: We’ll be ravished, we’ll be killed.
BOTH: Ah sweet disaster!
(In a buoyant, lyrical mood they depart together. Dawn completes itself, the sun rises. ROD sweeps his way across the stage, in a melancholy rhythm, and out. The boat sails past. ROD returns, leans broom against railing, takes off shirt, and begins exercises. EDNA and EDSEL enter gaily pushing wheelbarrows heaped high with money. ROD does not look at them, they do not look at him. They empty both wheelbarrows onto the boardwalk directly in front of him, making a huge pile of money. They go down on hands and knees and play in it like delighted children. ROD continues. They wrestle and roll about. After they are good and excited, suddenly they leap to their feet, scoop the money back into a pile, and run thrilled hand in hand forgetting everything down the stairs and off to the water. Wild waves. ROD finishes his exercises exactly as before, with gold spotlight. Then he sits down on the railing and looks blankly down at all the money. Then he sits down on the boardwalk with the pile of money before him. With little energy he scoops a maximum armload of it up into the air. It falls to nearly cover him. Pause.)
ROD (quietly): Real love. True love.
(Lights fade out.)
Copyright © 1966. All rights reserved.